If you’re planning to travel to Israel, then good for you, Israel is an amazing destination. Like for any other place that you’re traveling to for the first time, there are some things you better know about Israel before you go. Those are my best Israel travel tips for first-time visitors and what else you can expect wandering around the country.
Israel had been on my travel wish list since forever. My aunt visited the country twice when I was still in school and she was always telling me such nice things about it. Some things have changed since she visited Israel for the last time, but one thing currently hasn’t – that Israel is an amazing country to travel to.
I wanted to visit Israel back in October 2017, but then I went to Morocco instead. The reason why I did so was that I knew how expensive Israel is and I couldn’t afford it back then. At the beginning of 2018 when I went on my first trip to SE Asia, I told myself that I need to go to Israel after I come back from Asia. And that’s exactly what I did. I came back home at the beginning of April, found an extremely cheap flight from Sofia to Tel Aviv, and 6 days later I arrived on Israeli land.
Streets of Jerusalem
I spent 15 days in Israel: One week in Tel Aviv, 6 days in Jerusalem, 2 more days in Tel Aviv, and then 2 days in Nazareth. Originally, I was planning to visit more places, but then I like Tel Aviv so much that I didn’t want to go anywhere else. I also spent a lot of time in Jerusalem. However, I’m sure that I’ll be going back to Israel at some point and I can even imagine myself living in Tel Aviv for a while.
If you don’t have that much time, I recommend you checking this 7 day Israel itinerary.
So here’s what you need to know before starting planning your trip to Israel:
Visa & Entries
Citizens of 100 countries can enter Israel visa-free for up to 90 days – that includes all citizens of the EU, USA, Australia, Canada, etc. Make sure to check if your country is on that list before you start planning your trip to Israel.
You also need to know that there is an exit fee for leaving Israel. If you leave the country by plane, this exit fee is already included in your ticket, so you’ll never know about it. If you leave the country by land, as I did, you’ll be most likely advised that you need to do that.
The exit fee is 106 ILS. Please note that I cross the border to Jordan from Nazareth. If you’ll be crossing borders somewhere else, the exit fee might vary.
Israel does not stamp passports anymore
Now that’s some very important travel tip for Israel first-time visitors.
Israel does NOT stamp passports any longer, so you don’t need to worry about having an Israeli stamp in your passport. Instead, you’ll be given a paper when you’re entering and leaving the country. This paper works as a visa and you need to keep it with you until you leave the country.
Security checks are no joke
I was warned about that prior to my flight to Tel Aviv. Entering Israel might be a rather difficult and annoying experience due to those security checks. I personally didn’t fall into the group of people who get through that ”interview”, but you never know for yourself.
Be extra cautious if you have stamps from countries that Israel doesn’t get along with. But that’s not the only reason why you might get questioned. I know a Bulgarian girl who has an Israeli father and when she went to visit her relatives there and started talking in Hebrew with the officers at the airport, the questions started raining. They needed to know all – how does she speak Hebrew, who her father was, who are her relatives, their address, everything.
Those are example questions that you might receive:
- ”Why did you decided to visit Israel?”
- ”What are you going to do in Israel?”
- ”Do you have any Israeli friends?”
- ”What do you do for a living?”
- ”Are you religious?”
- ”Why did you visit Malaysia (for example) and did you make any friends there?”
- ”What’s in your bag?”
Israel is EXPENSIVE
Israel is well known for being an expensive country, but seriously, some things are ridiculously expensive. The fact that I knew how expensive Israel is has been stopping me from getting on a plane and visit it sooner, but then I just couldn’t resist my desire to go to Israel any longer and so I did. And even though I knew that it would be expensive, I was still surprised by some of the prices.
Israel is a very expensive country to travel to, but it’s absolutely worth it. You just have to have this in mind, and save enough money for your trip to Israel, so you can have a great time and don’t worry about your spendings that much. Although, you probably still will.
A beer in a bar costs about 28 ILS and more. That’s about 7 EUR or 8+ USD, it’s insane!
The street food is not budget-friendly either. Falafel pita can cost from 12 ILS to 17 ILS and probably even more. The Shawarma pita cost as much as the beer.
The cheapest street food, you can find in Tel Aviv is at the Carmel Market. At the market, there is a guy making falafel pitas for only 7 ILS. That’s the best price I found and it was also very delicious.
I wish you were cheaper Israel!
View of Jerusalem
Israelis are some of the nicest people
The Israeli people are so warm, nice, and friendly. If you need any help, they will always help you. It’s easy to travel around Israel because everyone speaks English, and also because the local people are always ready to help you out or give you a recommendation.
I have met numerous Israelis outside of Israel and when I finally knew that I’ll be going there, I was wondering if the local people will be as nice and friendly as the Israelis I have met outside of the country.
In my experience, Israelis really are one of the nicest people ever, along with Filipinos and Jordanians – my top 3 friendliest nations so far.
Locals in Tel Aviv
Israel is SAFE
Israel is absolutely safe to travel to. Of course, some situations are more intense in this part of the world, but Israel is still a safe destination.
When I went to visit Israel, it was when it was the moving of the US embassy and some things were being written in the media that weren’t really describing the real picture. People outside of Israel didn’t know what’s actually going on and the mainstream didn’t help as well. I got a few messages from people sending me articles from news websites and asking me how am I doing. In reality, everything in Israel was very calm and relaxed.
Generally, I found Israel to be a very safe place to travel to as a solo female traveler.
The official languages in Israel are Hebrew & Arabic. However, English is widely spoken, so you won’t have any issues communicating with locals or asking about anything.
Anyways, as in every foreign country, locals will appreciate if you learn some key Hebrew phrases. Here are some to start off with:
- Shalom – it literally translates to ”peace”, but it is used both for hello & goodbye
- Todah – Thank you
- Slicha – Sorry; Excuse me
- L’chaim (la haim) – Cheers
One of the must-know things for Israel first-time visitors is Shabbat and what Shabbat is.
Shabbat is Judaism’s day of rest and the seventh day of the week. Every Friday at sunset Shabbat begins and everything in Israel shuts down until Saturday evening. Of course, there are a few expectations, but generally, all businesses close for Shabbat and there’s no public transportation available.
Keep this in mind when you’re making travel plans for Israel. I would advise you to avoid moving from one place to another during Shabbat. Public transportation is not available, but there’s still a way of moving around. Taxis are running and also ”sherut” is available, which is a minibus, but it would cost you twice the usual price of the normal bus.
In Israel, the week starts on Sunday. Our Sunday is their Monday and the weekend is on Friday and Saturday. And although it’s Shabbat some bars and clubs will be open and working.
Israel is a small country
Israel is very small and getting from one end of the country to the other doesn’t take long. This means that you can cover a lot of areas and visit lots of places in a shorter period of time. Going on day trips it’s very easy and a good way to explore more of the country.
… but has a very diverse nature
Southern Israel is dominated by the Negev desert, which covers more than half of the country’s total land area. North of the Negev desert is the Judean desert, which at its border with Jordan, contains the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth, at -417 meters below the sea level.
Israel has a small coastline on the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea makes the majority of the Western border.
In the winter, you can even ski in Israel. Mount Hermon in the far north is home to Israel’s only ski resort. It takes up to 3-4 hours to get there from Tel Aviv.
Dead Sea & Masada
But not only the nature in Israel is diverse, the population as well.
The majority of the population in Israel are Jews. These Jews are descended from all over the world – Poland, Ethiopia, Morocco, etc. Arab Muslims and Christians make up over 20% of the Israelis population.
Everyone is welcome to Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is one of the cities with the biggest gay communities and that’s because they are welcomed there. Actually, Tel Aviv holds one of the biggest Gay Pride Parade’s worldwide.
Don’t be surprised when you see people of the same sex showing love to each other on the street.
If you’re an LGTB traveler, Tel Aviv is definitely the city for you to visit completely stress-free!
Tel Aviv plays, Jerusalem prays
There’s nothing else to add to this, except that both cities are very different in so many ways – you’ll see for yourself.
Guns and soldiers are everywhere
For Israel’s first-ime visitors, it might be a little bit shocking at first seeing people with guns walking around everywhere. Of course, you’ll see plenty of soldiers, but as well, some civilian people wear guns too. For some people, it might be more difficult to get used to it. Personally, it wasn’t bothering me at all – yes, it was somehow weird, because usually, I’m not used to seeing this, but in Israel is something completely normal.
In Israel, it doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl. After finishing high school, everyone joins the army for a few years of military service.
So, whether you are at the beach, or just wandering aimlessly the streets, you’ll never be too far away from the Israeli soldiers.
Israeli soldiers in the Old Town of Jerusalem
Israelis eat good food
Israel travel tip #1: fest on the insanely delicious food!!!
Israeli cuisine is very delicious and Israelis generally eat good food. Interesting facts are that the Israelis are the biggest consumers of fruit and vegetables in the world, as well as chicken.
You’ll also find many traditional foods for the Mediterranean cuisine and foods widely eaten in other Middle East countries.
Don’t miss to try the hummus, falafel, shakshuka, tahini, baba ganush, different meats, etc.
The 7 ILS falafel pita
Israelis love to party
And you’ll love to party along with them.
Tel Aviv is known as one of the best cities in the world for nightlife. The party life in Jerusalem is not something unheard of as well. There is a big community of students in Jerusalem and they love to have fun, too.
Bargaining is common
Bargaining is something very common if you’re at the market. If you start bargaining about the price of something you want to buy, no one will see it as something unusual or unacceptable. The prices could be very flexible, whether you’re buying food, clothes, or whatever.
How to dress in Israel?
In Tel Aviv, you can dress however you like. In Jerusalem, however, it’s advisable to dress modestly. Especially if you’re visiting religious sites, it’s absolutely essential to be covered. In the Old Town of Jerusalem being dressed appropriately is advisable too.
If you’re a woman, you should cover your shoulders and your knees. Make sure to have a scarf in your bag and use it when necessary.
In Jerusalem (I have a scarf in my bag)
Power in Israel
In Israel, the power plugs and sockets are of type C and H.
The best time to visit Israel
And last, but not least, when is the best time to visit Israel?
The broad answer is that Israel is a great destination to visit all year round, but it might be worth comply with the different seasons depending on what are you interested in.
For beach lovers, summer is the best time to visit Israel, while for Christian pilgrims the best time to visit the country would be Christmas and Easter. Spring and Autumn are the best seasons to travel around the country and spend more time in the outdoors.
Be aware that in summer temperatures can get as high as 40C in the South and around 30C+ in the center of the country. In Spring and Autumn, temperatures are on average in the low 20C.
If you’re interested in traveling in Israel, you might also want to read:
- Tel Aviv: Fun things to do around the city
- A day trip to Masada & Dead Sea from Tel Aviv
- Visiting the West Bank in Palestine
Also, you might want to check my similar article on Jordan travel tips for first-time visitors, and what to know before visiting Morocco.
And that’s all folks. Those are my best Israel travel tips for first-time visitors, which I hope will help you plan your future trip. If you have any questions or concerns about traveling to Israel, don’t hesitate to contact me.
Thanks for reading,
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