Few places on earth stir up passion the way that Israel does: the breathtaking beauty of its hills and valleys, the eerie stillness of the Dead Sea, the multi-coloured canyon of Makhtesh Ramon, and the ancient walls and pathways of Nazareth and Jerusalem. The call of the muezzin and the quiet prayers of Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall reflect how the religious devotion of the Muslims, Christians and Jews who live here runs through every facet of life.
As, of course, does the political – and visitors will rarely leave without encountering the country’s complex politics. But there are also plenty of ways to relax: the bars and beaches of Tel Aviv and Haifa, the wineries of the Galilee and tables loaded with mezze. For the curious visitor, Israel never fails to challenge and confound, excite and surprise, leaving an imprint that lingers long after the return flight home.
Budget: Less than 350NIS
- Dorm bed: 100NIS
- Meals of falafel or hummus, and supermarket picnics: 100NIS (per day)
- Travel by bus or sherut (shared taxi): 50NIS
- Swim at free public beaches
- Double room at midrange hotel (per person): 150–220NIS
- Meals at midrange restaurants: 100–150NIS
- Private taxi travel: 100–150NIS
Top end: More than 600NIS
- Luxury double room or B&B (per person): from 300NIS
- Meals at the finest restaurants: 300NIS
- Travel by midsize rental car or with guide: 400NIS
Israel Nature & Parks Authority (www.parks.org.il) Nature reserves and archaeological sites.
Israel Ministry of Tourism (www.goisrael.com) Background, events and a virtual tour.
ILH-Israel Hostels (www.hostels-israel.com) Independent hostels.
Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com/israel) Destination information, hotel bookings, traveller forum and more.
- Take religious holidays (and the weekly Shabbat) into consideration when planning your trip: many sites (and shops, bars and restaurants) will be closed and room prices much higher.
- Bear in mind that while walking is a great way to get around in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Nazareth and parts of Jerusalem, the hills can be gruelling, particularly in summer.
- It can be difficult to avoid talking politics with Israelis, but avoid expressing viewpoints that are overtly critical of Israel, particularly with strangers.
- Approach military checkpoints with caution, particularly close to borders with the West Bank and Lebanon. Remember that soldiers may not know you are a tourist.
- Israelis are famously brusque, which can come across as rude. It always pays to keep smiling!
- High-Speed Trains
A new line connecting Haifa and Beit She'an opened at the end of 2016, and a high-speed train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv was due in the spring of 2018, slashing the distance between the two cities to just half an hour. There is also talk of a line that will connect Eilat with Tel Aviv.
Israel has never been short of entertainment, and new offerings on the festival circuit include the Shutka Festival, bringing Balkan music to the Negev, and the Rising Spirit Festival, bringing dance music to the Golan.
- Arab-Israeli Food
Arab-Israeli cuisine has become increasingly popular in cities such as Nazareth and Haifa, and the Galilee, with gourmet Palestinian and Levantine food cooked up by local celebrity chefs.
- Ein Bokek Beach
The new public beach on the Dead Sea at Ein Bokek is one of only a few places where the water can be accessed in Israel (for free at least). Here you can also grab an essential post-swim shower.
- Tel Aviv Tech
Always healthy, Tel Aviv's tech scene is now thriving with shared working spaces, including WeWork and Mindspace, opening in the coastal city in recent years.
- Vegan Food
Once a rarity in Israel, vegan restaurants are popping up all over the country, many marked by 'Vegan-friendly' or 'HappyCow' (www.happycow.net) stickers.
- Five-shekel Bakeries
Cheap bakeries where every item on the menu is just five shekels have become popular in Jerusalem in recent years and since spread to other cities – an excellent stop for a cheap lunch.
Smartphone apps in Israel for tracking everything from taxis to rocket attacks have taken Israel by storm. One essential app is Waze, which helps drivers navigate Israel-specific delays such as army checkpoints. Taxi booking apps have made life in Tel Aviv far easier.
- Craft Beer
Like everywhere else in the world, Israel is craft-beer mad. Check out one of numerous breweries dotted throughout the country or a specific brew pub like Libira in Haifa.
Not a year goes by in Israel without new cycle routes opening up, whether inside cities such as Tel Aviv or through deserts and forests. Check out Israel Ride for organised routes.
When to Go
High Season (Jul & Aug)
- Warm in Jerusalem, muggy in Tel Aviv, infernal in Eilat, Tiberias and the Dead Sea.
- Hotel prices spike and rooms are scarce.
- Jewish holidays of Passover, Rosh HaShanah and Sukkot are also high season.
Shoulder (Sep–Nov & Mar–Jun)
- Sometimes rainy but more often warm and sunny.
- Spring wildflowers make March and April ideal for hiking.
- Local tourist demand spikes during the week-long Jewish holidays of Passover and Sukkot.
Low Season (Dec–Feb)
- Chilly or downright cold in the north, especially at higher elevations.
- Popular time to head to the warmth of Eilat and the Dead Sea.