From five-star hotels to camping grounds, Israel has accommodation to suit all budgets.
- B&Bs Particularly popular in the Galilee, family-run B&Bs are a great place to meet locals.
- Camping Israelis love to camp, and there are opportunities for wild camping on the beaches and in some parks.
- Hostels Israel is well served with youth hostels, which are great places to meet fellow travellers.
- Boutique hotels An increasing number of small, stylish hotels have opened in recent years.
- Hotels Many of the major chains are represented in Israel; those that cater to pilgrims can be a mixed bag.
Accommodation prices vary enormously with the day of the week and the season.
Weekday rates generally run from Saturday or Sunday night through Wednesday or Thursday night. Weekend rates apply on Friday and sometimes Thursday (many Israelis don’t work on Friday) and/or Saturday night.
High-season pricing is in force during July and August in most parts of the country. The exceptions: extremely hot areas such as the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee.
High-high-season prices occur on Jewish holidays such as Rosh HaShanah, Shavu'ot and the weeklong Passover and Sukkot festivals, especially in popular getaways such as the Galilee, the Golan Heights and Eilat. At these times, book well in advance.
Accommodation prices given in shekels include Israel's value-added tax (VAT) of 17%, which foreign tourists do not have to pay, so most places (though not some B&Bs) charge non-Israelis significantly less than their shekel prices.
Prices given in US dollars, and those generated by hotel booking websites, do not include VAT so Israeli citizens will find an extra 17% tacked on at checkout.
The most common form of accommodation in the Upper Galilee and Golan is the tzimmer (or zimmer). No one really knows how the German word for 'room' came to symbolise for Israelis all that’s idyllic about a cabin in the country, though the term may have been inspired by the ‘Zimmer frei’ signs you often see at German guesthouses. Prices are generally upper-midrange or higher. It's not always possible to check in late at night.
A tzimmer is often a room or cabin in a rural area with rustic, varnished-pine decor, satellite TV, a kitchenette and – in more luxurious units – a spa bath. Some places serve great breakfasts but others offer beds without breakfast.
To find a tzimmer, keep an eye out for signs on the street or check the following websites:
- www.weekend.co.il (in Hebrew)
- www.zimmer.co.il (in Hebrew)
If you're on a tight budget, staying in a tent (or at least a sleeping bag) is a great way to save some serious shekels.
Camping is forbidden inside nature reserves, but various public and private bodies run inexpensive camping sites (www.campingil.org.il) at about 100 places around the country, including 22 operated by the Israel Nature & Parks Authority (www.parks.org.il) next to nature reserves. Some are equipped with shade roofs (so you don’t need a tent), lighting, toilets, showers and barbecue pits. In Hebrew, ask for a chenyon laila or an orchan laila.
Camping is particularly popular on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Some organised beaches – offering toilet facilities, a decent shower block and security – charge per-person admission fees, but others are free if you arrive on foot (visitors with wheels pay a per-car fee).
Hostels & Field Schools
Almost three dozen independent hostels and guesthouses belong to Israel Hostels (www.hostels-israel.com), whose members offer dorm beds for 100NIS, good-value doubles and unmatched opportunities to meet other travellers.
Israel’s 19 official Hostelling International (HI) hostels and guesthouses – significantly upgraded since the days of no-frills dorms and timer-activated communal showers – offer spotless, institutional rooms that are ideal for families, and also offer copious breakfasts. For details, check out the website of the Israel Youth Hostels Association, www.iyha.org.il.
The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (www.natureisrael.org) runs nine field schools (beit sefer sadeh) in areas of high ecological value. Offering basic but serviceable accommodation, they're popular with school groups and families. Book well ahead, especially during school vacation periods.
Pilgrims’ hostels run by religious organisations serve mainly, but not exclusively, religious travellers. As you would expect, they lack the party atmosphere of some independent hostels but offer solid value.
Hotels and guesthouses range from gorgeous to grim; most belong to chains. Generally speaking, hotel prices are highest in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Eilat.
Hotels are famous for their generous buffet breakfasts. Although most hotel restaurants serve only kosher food, they remain open on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.
Capitalising on their beautiful, usually rural locations, quite a few kibbutzim offer midrange guesthouse accommodation. Often constructed in the socialist era but significantly upgraded since, these establishments allow access to kibbutz facilities (including the swimming pool), have a laid-back vibe and serve deliciously fresh kibbutz-style breakfasts. Prices are sometimes as low as 350NIS for a double without breakfast. For details and reservations, check out the Kibbutz Hotels Chain (www.kibbutz.org.il).