Jaffa Gate is one of the sites in Jerusalem

Ultimate Israel Travel Guide

This travel guide for Israel features the top places to see, how to get around, safety, money matters, logistics, and more to help you plan the ultimate independent visit.

Israel packs in a lot for such a small country. Best known for Jerusalem, its top destination, which is loaded with important ancient religious sites including the most revered Holy sites for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, there’s really so much more. There’s Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus, the Art on the West Bank Wall, which mostly expresses anti-wall sentiments, Jericho, the oldest city in the world, the fascinating Dead Sea, hip Jaffa, a booming travel destination full of important history and lovely Mediterranean beaches, Tel Aviv, Israel’s, second biggest city, full of outstanding food, museums, and much, much, more. If you’re considering Israel, read on to learn more.

Note: All the information in this ultimate travel guide and posts on Israel are updated as of April 2023.

Ultimate Israel Travel Guide: Top Attractions

The Holy City of Jerusalem

Jerusalem is one of the oldest, holiest, and most historically besieged cities in the world. Its sites and stories, that date back over 7,000 years, are truly amazing.

The Old City of Jerusalem, encircled by its 16th century Ottoman walls, is home to the most revered holy site to Jews, the Western Wall, and Christians, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the third holiest site for Muslims after Mecca and Medina, the Temple Mount.

The significance and stories behind these three are staggering in themselves, yet there are many, many other sites of key historical and religious importance here too. This includes the city walls themselves, its many historic gates, the Tower of David, the site of the last supper, many tombs, gardens, and churches, rich with history, as well as the the four ethnic quarters: Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim.

There’s so much here, you really need more than one day to see it all. See more details in Top Things To Do In Jerusalem, where I summarize the best places to see here.

The Western Wall is a top site in the Ultimate Israel Travel Guide
Western Wall, Jerusalem

Jaffa

Jaffa, also known as Yafo, Yafa, Japho, or Joppa, is another ancient city here full of fascinating history. This city is about 4,000 years old. Tel Aviv grew out of this city and eventually engulfed it. The combined area is now called Tel Aviv-Yafo.

It’s one of the oldest port cities in the world. This Israeli city is also full of amazing history, considered the port that Jonah left from the book Jonah and the Whale, and the port where King Solomon imported timber for the highly revered First Temple in Jerusalem. It’s also the mythological site of Andromeda’s Rocks, and the area the Apostle Saint Peter stayed in while doing missionary work here.

Today, Jaffa attracts travelers from around the world, a cool travel destination with fascinating history, a charming cobblestoned Old City, beautiful Mediterranean beaches, hip cafes and bars, boutique hotels, and seriously-out-of-this-world hummus.

The Old Port of Jaffa is a top site in the Ultimate Israel Travel Guide
Ancient Port of Jaffa

Tel-Aviv

Tel Aviv is Israel’s second largest city, its commercial and cultural capital.

This modern city has a vibrant atmosphere, world-class cafes, beautiful beaches, an UNESCO world heritage area of Bauhaus architecture, fun markets, great museums, a thriving art scene, and a lively nightlife. Like New York, Tel Aviv is also referred to as ‘the city that never sleeps’.

It’s also powerful, ranked as one of the world’s top tech startup locations, and has an astounding number of world renowned innovations, many that touch your life daily. Did you know they are responsible for the technology behind FaceID, the facial recognition used in Apple iPhones? Or that the cherry tomato was born here? It’s staggering how many unicorn companies and inventions come from Tel Aviv.

Florentin

Florentin, Tel Aviv’s gentrified hipster area is full of street art, cool cafes, bars, and Levinsky Market, the best street food and spice market in the city. It’s located in southern Tel Aviv. This run down area, brought back to life by street artists and hip cafes, is now a trendy, can’t-miss stop.

It’s best to take a tour to see its highlights, especially as this area is always evolving. There are some self guided tours you can find if you Google them.


As there are many workshops in this area, and some streets are very narrow, the best time to visit is when they are closed, which means evenings (when it’s cooler) and weekends.

Bethlehem

Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus Christ, is located in Palestinian territory, a few miles south of Jerusalem. Top sites here include the Church of the Nativity, Jesus’ birthplace, the Milk Grotto, where the Holy Family hid before their flight into Egypt, and Shepherd’s Field, where angels announced Jesus’ birth.

Most people visit Bethlehem as a day tour, however an independent visit is very possible. I was the only person in the (very crowded) Church of the Nativity not with a tour group. Thankfully, they were kind enough to let me bypass the long, long lines and head in first. If you do visit independently, avoid this by visiting early or late.

Bethlehem is a 30-minute walk or 5-minute taxi ride south of Checkpoint 300, the main entrance to Palestine for Bethlehem and the West Bank Wall.

Palestine, West Bank Wall

The section of the West Bank Wall near Bethlehem is a riveting stage for artistic expression of the separation wall itself. Banksy, possibly the most famous artist living today, created his first artwork here in 2005. Today, he has a hotel/museum here, making it easy to visit and learn about this area, while seeing his work along with many others here. I found it very feasible, and moving, to visit and explore the artwork on my own.

Most of the art is easy to find, located between Checkpoint 300, a few miles south of Jerusalem, and Banksy’s hotel, just a 10-minute walk from the checkpoint. See my post, Art of the West Bank Wall, for more details.

Banksy art is a highlight in the Ultimate Israel Travel Guide
Banksy’s Armoured Dove of Peace


Jericho

Located in Palestinian territory, Jericho is about an hour drive northeast of Bethlehem. Best known for the Biblical story of the Israeli victory over the Canaanites, Jericho is known as the oldest, continuously inhabited city in the world.

Dating back to 9000 BCE, some think the ruins here are the remains of the world’s first walled city.

In addition to ancient Jericho, there is Hisham’s Palace, Jesus’ Baptismal site, Quruntal Monastery on the Mountain of Temptation, and the Qumaran Cave complex, where the Dead Sea scrolls were written and found.

Dead Sea

Located 1,371’ (418 m) below sea level in the Negev Desert, the shores of the Dead Sea, which is actually a lake, are the lowest place on earth. It’s a fascinating place to visit as the salt level is so dense, 6-8 times normal saltwater, there are no fish or plant life (except microorganisms and algae).

It’s kind of cool…because of its density, you can easily float here without a floatation device. Rich with minerals, it’s popular to slather yourself with mud from along the shore, which is considered to be fantastic for your skin (just this is not the place to wear your best bathing suit, especially not a white one).

Masada

This barren plateau, perched thousands of feet above the Dead Sea, houses the mountaintop fortress ruins of Masada. This is where King Herod’s once mighty palace stood, one of top historic attractions in Jerusalem today. The name, Masada, means strong foundation or support in Hebrew.

Built by Herod the Great, King of Judea in the last century BC, it was destroyed by Romans in 73 AD. Legend is that the citizens all committed suicide rather than be taken prisoner by the Romans.

You can hike up Snake Path to get there, which takes about 60-90 minutes, or take the cable car. It’s popular to hike up to catch the sunrise at the top. Also a good idea as sometimes Snake Path closes during the day due extreme heat.

Haifa

Sitting atop Mount Carmel in northern Israel, near the border of Lebanon, is Haifa, Israel’s third largest city. This town is famous for the Bahá’í Gardens (bahai gardens), a sacred site to the Bahai and a pilgrimage site. Walk to its peak for a stunning view of the gardens and Haifa Bay. Below the gardens find Haifa’s German Colony, full of Templar-era streets lined with cafes.

Nazareth

Nazareth, famous for being the place of Jesus’ boyhood, is located a little over an hour northeast of Tel Aviv. Here you can visit the Church of the Annunciation, built over the spot Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce Jesus’ arrival. There’s also St. Joseph’s Church, believed to be the carpentry workshop of Joseph.

There is a walking trail here called the Jesus trail, it follows 40 miles (65 km) of paths traveled by Jesus from Nazareth to Capernaum, and beyond. The walk takes about 3-4 days. Search for the Jesus Trail for more details and accomodation.

Ultimate Israel Travel Guide: Best Time To Visit

Weather-wise, the best time to visit is spring, March to May, and Fall, September to November. Temperatures can get quite hot in the summer months. December to February is cooler with frequent rain, and when prices are lowest.

If traveling to Jerusalem, avoid Jewish celebration and High Holy Days, like Passover and Sukkot. Both of these major celebrations occur on different days annually, so check before making plans.

Also, it’s good to know that most public transportation stops running (except taxis) on Shabbat, which occurs from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, every week. Try to plan your trips around this.

Tel Aviv From Old City Jaffa

Ultimate Israel Travel Guide: Languages

Hebrew and Arabic are the two official languages of Israel. Most also speak English.

Try to learn a few phrases in both languages for your visit. You may need to guess which to use, especially if you’re in mutlicultural Jaffa, but you will find a warm smile if you pick the correct one.

Ultimate Israel Travel Guide: Money

Currency: The currency of Israel is the Shekel, or Sheqel (even in Palestine). Common abbreviations are NIL and ILS. Conversion rates as of January 1, 2024 are as follows.

  • USD (1)=₪3.60
  • Euro (1)=₪3.97
  • CNY (1)=₪.51

Although you may find some places that accept dollars or euros, the conversion rate will not be in your favor. It’s best to get cash at an ATM, especially if you use a debit card with no fees, like Charles Schwab.

Credit Cards: Credit and Debit Cards are widely accepted, especially MasterCard and Visa. Smaller shops, cafes, and taxis may only accept cash, so have some on hand.

ATMs: ATM’s are widely available. Always select the home currency conversion if given the option for the best rate. It’s better to use your phone to calculate the conversion yourself and only takes a second. Pins are 4-digits, so if yours is longer, change it before traveling.

Tipping: Standard tipping at a restaurant in Tel Aviv is 12-15% if service is very good, 10% most other places. It’s best to tip with cash rather than card to ensure it gets to your server. In Israel, it is not required to tip taxi drivers.

Ultimate Israel Travel Guide: Safety

Crime is rarely a problem in Israel (the actual rate of crime in Israel is about half that of the USA), but pick-pocketing and petty theft does occur. Especially in touristy areas. Take normal precautions, always being vigilant and aware of your surroundings. Don’t carry too much cash and keep a close eye on your purse or wallet.

Terrorism and random acts of violence also occurs and things escalate between the Israelis and Palestinians from time to time. This, however is rare, and not usually in touristy areas. Avoid demonstrations and large crowds, and be aware of what is going on around you at all times. There is a higher risk of violence in the West Bank, although I traveled here solo and felt safe.

It is not recommended to visit Gaza for safety reasons.

Always check the latest situation on your government website. It’s also a good idea to sign up for STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program), or similar with your country to be updated if an issue does arise.

Door In Old City Jaffa

Ultimate Israel Travel Guide: Scams

I could not find any specific scams noted for Israel. Other than terrorism and random acts of violence, Israel is a fairly safe place. Avoid scams that are common in most touristy areas like the ones below.

Scamy Taxi Drivers

Make sure your taxi driver turns on the meter when you get in the taxi (it’s actually law here to use it). Know the approximate cost and map the route in advance so you know if you are being taken advantage of. See more information on taxis below for all the details.

Tampered ATMs

Use ATMs located in a bank lobby or connected to a bank to avoid tampered ATMs. Check the card scanner to make sure nothing has been added and there are no cameras to see you enter your pin. Cover your hand while you enter it. Never accept help from strangers while at an ATM.

Overly Friendly Strangers

Always be cautious of people who are overly friendly, especially if they invite you for a drink at a location of their choice. They may try to pickpocket you, or you will end up with an overpriced bill from a location they’re in cahoots with, while they disappear.

Incorrect Change

Get to know the what the bills/coins look like to quickly understand any change you get and make sure you do not receive the old Shekel, as it is no longer in circulation. I think this would be rare, but still good to know.

Ultimate Israel Travel Guide: Getting Around

Fly Into Tel Aviv

The international airport is Ben Gurion, which is about a 30-minute drive southeast of Tel Aviv-Yafo.

Getting To Tel Aviv From Ben Gurion

Train To Tel Aviv From Ben Gurion

Trian is the least expensive option and easy to use, taking about 20-minutes to the center of Tel Aviv. There are several station stops in Tel Aviv, so ask your accomodation which is the best stop for you. You may need to take a taxi from that stop to your accommodation. The train station at the airport is located in the lower level of terminal 3. Trains do not run on Shabbat.

For more details on routes and prices, see Israel Railways. The website, www.rail.co.il, seems to be down as of this update. If it is still down when you read this, try the Israel Railway App.

Taxi To Tel Aviv From Ben Gurion

Taxis are available outside of the arrivals hall. There are fixed prices by city and time of day. You can also order a taxi through one of the ride hailing apps in Israel. See ‘Taxis’ below. Taxis do run on Shabbat, but at a higher price.

Bus To Tel Aviv From Ben Gurion

Bus is not recommend from the airport to Tel Aviv as there can be many connections and schedules are inconsistent. Ask for details for your location at the information center at the airport if you are keen on this option. Buses do not run on Shabbat.

Jaffa flea market in old city Jaffa, Israel


From Tel Aviv To Jerusalem

Train From Tel Aviv To Jerusalem

There are frequent trains from Tel Aviv HaHagana and Ben Gurion airport to Yitzhak Navon Station in Jerusalem. The ride takes about 30 or so minutes. For more details and prices, see Israel Railways. The website, www.rail.co.il, is down as of this update. If it is still down when you read this, try the Israel Railway App.

Yitzhak Navon Station, named after Israel’s 5th President, is located near the Jerusalem Central Bus Station and Light Rail. See the Light Rail Map for details on transportation upon arrival (or use a taxi). This train does not operate on Shabbat.

Bus From Tel Aviv To Jerusalem

Bus #485 runs from Ben Gurion airport to the Jerusalem Central Bus Station (and a few other stops). The ride takes about 1 hour. From the bus station you can take the light rail or a taxi to your destination. For more details, see the Light Rail Map. This bus does not run on Shabbat.

If you are coming from the Tel Aviv Bus Station, use bus #405. If coming from Tel Aviv’s Arlozorov Bus Terminal (next to the Tel Aviv Central Train Station), use bus #480.

Sheruts From Tel Aviv To Jerusalem

Sheruts are shared taxis, or minuvans with 8-10 seats. They are less expensive than taxis (as they’re shared). They run along routes, like bus routes, although run when full, not according to a set schedule. You can begin at the starting location, or flag one down if you know the route (and if they have space).

From Ben Gurion you can take a sherut to Jerusalem. Find them on the ground floor arrivals area (near the taxi rank). They, conveniently, run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which is great when other public transport is not avialable.

Getting To Other Cities in Israel

Getting To Jaffa

Jaffa is located about 2 miles south of downtown Tel Aviv. Walking along the beachside promenade is a beautiful way to get to Jaffa, or you can catch a taxi. Buses are also available. Uber and Gett are the ride hailing apps in Tel Aviv. See Taxis below.

Getting To Bethlehem/West Bank Wall

Many people take a tour here, intimidated by the news and the fact that this is a border crossing, but it is possible to do independently. As Palestinians also use this checkpoint to come and go for work, try not to enter during rush hour. There is only 1 turnstile and it can get very crowded.

Bring your passport. They may not check it, but you will not be able to get in if they do request it. I do not recall mine being asked for.

Taxi

Although only a few miles (km), you cannot take an Israeli taxi into the West Bank or Bethlehem, as Israelis and Israeli taxis are not allowed to enter. If you find an Arab taxi in Jerusalem, they will be able to drive you in.

Alternatively, you can take an Israeli taxi to Checkpoint 300, the border cross point, walk through the checkpoint and catch a Palestinian taxi on the opposite side. The taxi drivers here are very aggressive though. I found them so annoying, I refused to drive with any of them and walked to my destination. Despite being told I could not walk to the Art at the West Bank Wall, or my hotel, I found them to be wrong.

Self Drive

You cannot take an Israeli rental car into the West Bank as Israeli rental car companies do not insure vehicles here. Look for vehicles from Arab owned eastern Jerusalem car rental companies.

Bus

Buses run frequently from the Arab Bus Station (outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem) to Checkpoint 300 (like I did) or to Bab El Zkak (Beit Jala intersection). The bus number is #324 and the cost is about 5 Israeli Sheckels (cash only). Try to avoid taking the bus when everyone is returning home from work as the bus will be very full. I can’t remember what time I went, but I was squeezed into the very last seat at the back of the bus. This was fine, but I think I was lucky to get a seat.

The ride is about 30 to 45-minutes. As these are not Israeli buses, they do run during Shabbat.

Once inside Palestine, taxis will be waiting for riders. I found them to be extremely aggressive, so bypassed them all. See taxis above.

If you do not feel comfortable with these options and still want to travel independently, visit the website tourstisrael.com. You can book a private transfer from Jerusalem to Bethlehem for around $99/person.

Getting To Jericho

Bus 36 and 63 goes from the Arab Bus Station near the exit at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem to Al Ezariya (Bethany). From there, ask where to catch the shared taxi/sherut to Jericho. Download an Arabic translator before you go to help find the shared taxi (which may be challenging from a language standpoint).

Alternatively, you can hire an Arab taxi for the day, or rent a car from and Arab rental car agency (no Israeli vehicles).

Getting To The Dead Sea

The bus for the Dead Sea leaves from the Jerusalem Central Bus Station. It does require some walking upon arrival. Leave early to maximize your time. The last bus from the Dead Sea back to central Israel leaves in the late afternoon so be careful not to miss it! See the bus from Jerusalem for information. Buses to the Dead Sea do not run on Shabbat or public holidays.

There is also a shuttle bus from Jerusalem and the Dead Sea that provides time to relax at one its beaches with minimal walking. It includes the entrance fee in the price, making it comparable in cost to the bus. See touristisrael.com for more details.

Getting To Masada

From Jerusalem, you take the same bus as from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea (above), but stay on the bus until you reach Masada.

Getting To Nazareth

Buses to Nazareth run from Tel Aviv (about 2 hours) and Jerusalem (about 3 hours). Use the Egged Bus Planner to find routes and prices.

Getting To Haifa

Train is the easiest way to get to Haifa, running from all 4 stations in Tel Aviv to all 3 stations in Haifa. The ride takes about 40-minutes. Bus #910 goes from the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv to Hof Ha Carmel Central Bus Station in Haifa. The ride is about 90-minutes. The train and bus do not run during Shabbat.

Self Driving In Jerusalem

Road and infrastructure in Israel are good, although drivers here have a reputation of aggressive driving. If you do decide to drive, it’s done on the right side of the road. In addition to your drivers license, you will need an International Driving Permit.

Taxis In Israel

Taxis are a common way to get around in Israel. A meter must be used legally, although the driver may try to talk you out of it. If they do, make sure agree to a price in advance. If unsure, ask at your accommodation or ask a local before you hail one down.

There are surcharges for trips during Shabbat, at night, from the airport, for luggage, for arranging a taxi in advance (except via app), and more. Make sure to ask about all possible surcharges.

It is not common to tip taxi drivers in Israel, so the price you agree to is the full price.

Ride Hailing Apps In Israel

Traditional Uber operations are banned from Israel, but in 2022, Uber started a new model (in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem). You can use the Uber app to book rides, but the rides will be with standard licensed taxi drivers. The app will provide options, so you can select your preference. I’ve tested this, but do not see prices with the options listed. Since this is new, I’m sure there will be some tweaks in the near future.

Gett is a popular app for ordering taxis. You can download it to your phone (use a SIM card if you need to). Yango is an alternative option.

Beaches of Jaffa are a top site in the Ultimate Israel Travel Guide
Beaches of Jaffa

Visa Information For Israel

Israel does not stamp your passport, so you do not need to be worried about having your passport rejected in countries that are not on good terms with Israel. Israeli Customs will give you a small piece of paper, about the of a fortune cookie fortune, with the stamp. Keep it in your passport while traveling in Israel. If the purpose of your visit, however, is business, your passport will be stamped.

You should not be rejected if you have stamps from countries that are not on good terms with Israel, but you may be asked about them. Especially if they are recent. An official spotted my stamp from Jordan in a second (amongst my 100 or so other stamps) and wanted to know why I traveled there. I said it was for touristic reasons and that was as far as it went. If anything suspicious is sensed, you will be interviewed in more depth. I have read, however, that exit stamps from land borders in Jordan and Egypt will bar your entry. Do more research if this is in your plans.

Airport Security

Ben Gurion airport is one of the most secure airports in the world with lots of security. It will take longer than usual upon arrival to go through customs. During your departure, you will be approached by security before you even get to the check in counter. I was approached while standing in line.

If you look suspicious for any reason, you may be pulled aside and talked to. It’s really best to dress well and be on your best behavior. You may also be asked to open your email or social media accounts. If you are a person of interest and do not have a computer, you will be asked to log onto one of theirs.

Ultimate Israel Travel Guide: Top Destination Details

Click the icons below for more detailed information on the key sites in Israel I’ve visited, and other interesting details on Israel.

Thanks for reading my post. If my ultimate travel guide has been useful in planning a visit to Israel, or just dreaming about it, or if you just have a question, please add a comment below.

Safe Travels!

Julie

Read About Me to learn more about me and my thoughts on travel.

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

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