I recently returned from an amazing trip to Israel - a country full of historical wonders and archaeological sites. Israel fails to disappoint on food, people and culture. Jerusalem is sacred to three main world religions - Christianity, Judaism and Islam. In 20 years of travelling, never have I experienced such a phenomenal and spiritual trip.
Despite the bad press and negative media attention that centres on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I actually found it safe and easy to travel around Israel. Today I’d like to share with you my 5 ‘Know before you go’ top tips for travelling to Israel.
#1 Travelling in Israel is not that Cheap!
I’m from the UK and the prices in Israel surprised me - it’s more expensive than England (for general cost of living) in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Make sure that you check out the prices in advance and pre-book your accommodation if possible. Believe me, accommodation and food are not cheap.
Also, make sure that you pre-order Israeli Shekels before your trip. You will need Shekels (ILS) immediately - exchange rates are high in the airports.
#2 Security can be an Issue - Expect Questioning and be Vigilant
Due to its turbulent history, the political climate is changeable in Israel and you will need to read up and be alert in advance of your trip. It is a good idea to read up on the Foreign Office website or take your governments advice before you travel. Get good travel insurance and be aware of areas that you should avoid, such as certain borders with Egypt and Syria and Orthodox or extremist areas of cities.
If you are in the old town of Jerusalem and shutters start coming down on the shops quickly and unexpectedly, that’s probably a sign that you should get yourself safely back to your hotel.
Check with locals that public transport is safe to use - many terrorist attacks happen on the metro or buses. These are rare, but be aware that they can happen. The situation in Israel is volatile and can change extremely quickly.
Also, do expect some questioning when entering or leaving the country. I was subjected to extensive questioning at Ben Gurion Airport (Tel Aviv), particularly as I had several Arabic stamps in my passport. If you have nothing to hide, remain calm and answer everything honestly, you will be fine during questioning. Expect drugs checks or swabbing of your belongings to check for explosive residue. It’s better to know that security are doing a good job and nothing to be scared of.
#3 Prepare yourself for the Cultural and Religious Diversity!
Israel, particularly Jerusalem, is extremely religiously diverse. You may be eating in a Halal restaurant in the Muslim quarter or walking past a Jewish Bar Mitzvah in the Jewish quarter. I highly recommend that you read up on the basics of the three main religions represented in Jerusalem to get the most out of the walking tours and trips to religious points of interest.
Also, check out religious calendars to see if there are any particular festivals or holidays before you go. Religious tensions can be high, particularly in Jerusalem around religious holidays, so these times may be best avoided. However, I arrived in Tel Aviv during Purim, which was a wonderful surprise and extremely enjoyable.
#4 Use Tel Aviv or Jerusalem as a Base
During my trip, I used Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as two main bases, exploring these cities extensively and taking trips to other places of interest from there. I found Tel Aviv to be more modern and relaxing as a base. Jerusalem is an amazing city, but very intense with culture and as previously mentioned, there can be tensions.
Israel is not a large country, and you can base yourself in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem and then travel north to Haifa or East to the Dead Sea for Day trips. Day trips can be booked very easily once you are there. I booked mine through Tourist Israel and Abraham Hostels.
If you have more time on your hands (over 2-3 weeks) you will be able to get off the beaten path and stay overnight in places such as Haifa or Jericho. You could even explore parts of Palestine such as Hebron.
#5 You don’t really need to Pre-Book Travel!
Pre-book your accommodation if you can - it can be expensive and busy during high season and holidays.
However, you don’t really need to pre-book train and bus tickets. It’s very easy to travel around Israel and I had no problem securing tickets to get to and from the airports and other cities.
The train from Ben Gurion airport to Tel Aviv is quick and easy. Ticket booth staff and most Israelis speak English extremely well, so you don’t need to worry about a language barrier.
There is a train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem which is very comfortable and scenic. However, most people take the bus on this route, because the train station is a little further out of Jerusalem centre. You can take Taxis in Israel, but they are very expensive, so make sure that you negotiate.
Israel is a fantastic country. I recommend that you spend at least 2-3 weeks there to fully appreciate the main cities and sites. Enjoy Israel!
Article Credit: Amy Trumpeter of www.templeseeker.com