Most of your bargaining experiences will happen at souqs, flea markets or in taxis, which despite being required by law to use a meter, rarely miss the chance to fleece tourists for a few shekels. As with bargaining across the world, it pays to keep your cool and – particularly with souvenirs – remember that as the buyer you ultimately have the advantage.
When it comes to taxis, the incessant overcharging can be exhausting. Avoid picking up cabs outside nice hotels and if a driver is being unreasonable, just move on. If a driver refuses to use the meter, always negotiate a price before you get in the car. Bear in mind that prices on holidays or at night will be severely inflated.
Dangers & Annoyances
Israel is generally a very safe place to travel and violent crime against tourists is extremely rare. However, the country has some unique challenges visitors should be aware of.
- Use hotel safes where available. Don't leave valuables unattended, particularly on the beach.
- Be careful when visiting border regions, particularly those close to Syria and Lebanon or between Israel and the West Bank.
- Keep your eye on the news and don't be afraid to ask at your hotel or hostel for advice.
- Always avoid demonstrations, particularly in Jerusalem, which can quickly descend into rioting.
- If you are asked about the political situation, be aware that feelings run high and discussions can quickly get heated.
A Hostelling International (HI) card is useful for discounts at official HI hostels. An International Student Identity Card (ISIC) doesn’t get anywhere near as many discounts as it once did – none, for instance, are available on public transport.
Some museums and sights offer discounts to senior citizens, though to qualify you may not only need to be senior but also a citizen.
If you’re visiting lots of the national parks and historical sites run by the Israel Nature & Parks Authority (INPA; www.parks.org.il), you can save by purchasing a Green Card, valid for 14 days, that gets you into all INPA sites for just 150NIS (a six-park version costs 110NIS). With membership of the Israel Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (www.natureisrael.org) you'll get discounts on accommodation at field schools and outings.
Embassies & Consulates
While Israel may claim Jerusalem as its capital, unresolved political issues have led most diplomatic missions to set up shop in or near Tel Aviv. A few countries maintain consulates in Jerusalem, Haifa and/or Eilat.
Emergency & Important Numbers
Entry & Exit Formalities
Many visitors will have heard the horror stories about Israeli immigration, and it is true that entering the country is an experience in itself. Whether coming by air or by land, visitors will be quizzed robustly on the purpose of their visit and those with Palestinian or Arab heritage could be held up for some time.
Israel allows travellers 18 and over to import duty-free up to 1L of spirits and 2L of wine, 250ml of perfume, 250g of tobacco products (200 cigarettes) and gifts worth no more than US$200. Pets can be brought into Israel but require submitting advance paperwork to the Ministry of Agriculture.
Bringing drugs, drug paraphernalia, mace (self-defence tear gas), laser jammers (to confuse police-operated laser speed guns), fresh meat and pornography are prohibited.
Israel grants on-arrival visas to most nationalities.
Israel no longer stamps tourists' passports (though it retains the right to do so). Instead, visitors are given a small loose-leaf entry card to serve as proof of lawful entry. It's easy to lose, but keep it somewhere safe as it's your only proof that you're in the country legally (eg to avoid paying VAT at hotels).
We’ve heard reports of Israeli authorities at Allenby/King Hussein Bridge and Ben Gurion Airport issuing ‘Palestinian Authority Only’ entry permits to travellers with family or personal connections in the West Bank, making it difficult or impossible to get past the IDF roadblocks that regulate traffic from the West Bank into Israel, including Jerusalem.
Students require a student (A/2) visa; kibbutz volunteers must arrange, through their host organisation, a volunteer’s (B/4) visa.
Visitors from most Western countries are eligible to receive single-entry, three-month visas for Israel at the three border crossings with Jordan.
Going the other way, Jordanian visas on arrival are only avaliable at the Jordan River–Sheikh Hussein crossing, 30km south of the Sea of Galilee.
As of 2017, the Yitzhak Rabin–Wadi Araba crossing, a few kilometres north of Eilat and Aqaba, and the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge crossing, did not give Jordanian visas on arrival.
Contact a Jordanian embassy or consulate (abroad or in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv) for a visa in any of the following cases:
- You want to enter Jordan via Allenby/King Hussein Bridge.
- You need a multiple-entry visa.
- At-the-border visas are not available to people of your nationality.
Single/double/multiple entry visas, valid for two/three/six months from date of issue, cost a hefty JD40/60/120.
Note: if you crossed into the West Bank and/or Israel through Allenby/King Hussein Bridge and re-enter Jordan the same way, you do not need to apply for a new Jordanian visa, provided you return while your Jordanian visa or its extension is still valid. Remember to keep the stamped exit slip and present it on returning.
Unsurprisingly, Israel can feel like a bit of a minefield when it comes to etiquette, but there are a few rules that will help prevent from from offending sensibilities.
- Avoid politics Unless you know someone well, it usually pays to avoid expressing an opinion on the conflict – or at least consider your audience when doing so.
- Be polite Even if it feels like nobody else is! Israelis are famously brusque – almost proudly so – so don't be surprised if interactions don't come with Ps and Qs.
- Dress appropriately In Orthodox Jewish or Arab neighbourhoods. Although in most Israeli cities and certainly in Tel Aviv, anything goes.
Israel has a very lively gay scene. Tel Aviv has plenty of rainbow-coloured flags, a huge Gay Pride Parade and plenty of hang-outs. Haifa and Jerusalem have smaller gay communities. The resort town of Eilat is gay friendly, although the scene is mostly Israeli tourists. Most local organisations offering support, information, contacts and events are based in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Orthodox Judaism, Islam and almost all of the Holy Land’s Christian churches adamantly oppose homosexuality, so it’s appropriate to be circumspect in religious neighbourhoods. There are no laws in Israel against homosexuality. Israel does not have gay marriage but does recognise gay and lesbian marriages performed abroad.
It’s always a good idea to take out a travel insurance policy before leaving home. In addition to the usual coverage for sickness (visiting an emergency room/casualty ward can be expensive) and theft, make sure that your coverage is appropriate for your specific needs. For instance, if you plan to scuba dive, skydive or ski, make sure your policy covers these activities. Almost all policies exclude liabilities caused by 'acts of war'.
Worldwide travellers’ coverage is available online at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance.
Even as a tourist, it's possible to get pretty complete medical coverage at reasonable rates through one of Israel's excellent HMOs provided you’ll be staying for at least three to six months. For details, drop by one of the offices of these organisations:
Maccabi Healthcare Services (www.maccabi4u.co.il) Look for details on its Well-Come program.
Me’uchedet (www.meuhedet.co.il) Provides coverage under its Foreign Members Plan.
Wi-fi hot spots can be found all over (eg in almost all cafes and many restaurants). Wi-fi is also available on many intercity buses and trains, though it’s rather slow. Tel Aviv offers free wi-fi in dozens of public spaces all over the city. HI youth hostels and more than a few fancy hotels charge for both wi-fi and the use of internet computers; at ILH hostels and B&Bs and in midrange hotels, wi-fi is usually free.
The police have been known to arrest people for having minute quantities of drugs in their possession, despite official policy being more lenient.
Visitors – unlike Israeli citizens – are not allowed to proselytise. Religion is a sensitive matter, so sharing your faith’s ‘good news’ too enthusiastically can lead to angering locals and complications with the police.
If you’re arrested, there’s little your embassy can do for you while the legal process plays itself out, other than sending a low-ranking diplomat to visit you.
Tourist office maps, when available, tend to be rudimentary. Excellent road maps are published by a Tel Aviv–based company called Mapa (www.mapa.co.il/maps) and sold at all bookshops; its website has a detailed Hebrew-language map of the whole country. The databases used by Google Maps and GPS-based navigational devices are not as developed as in most Western countries.
For hikers, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (www.natureisrael.org), known in Hebrew as HaChevra l’Haganat HaTeva, publishes a series of 20 1:50,000-scale topographical trail maps (mapot simun shvilim), available only in Hebrew. Not only do they indicate nature reserves (shown in green with the name in purple) and all marked hiking trails, but they also show areas used by the IDF for live-fire military exercises (shitchei esh; indicated in pink) and the location of old minefields (sdot mokshim; in pink with a border of red triangles). The maps are can be purchased directly from the SPNI (eg at field schools) and are also available at bookshops and come in waterproof versions.
When travelling in this region, you should regularly check the media for news about possible safety and security risks.
- Haaretz (www.haaretz.com) The English edition of Israel’s left-of-centre newspaper is sold at most newsstands.
- Jerusalem Post (www.jpost.com) Right-of-centre and widely available.
- Yediot Aharonot (www.ynetnews.com) Has an English-language daily.
- Jerusalem Report (www.jpost.com/Jerusalem-Report) Bi-weekly, analyses current affairs.
- IBA World Service (www.iba.org.il/world) Has 15-minute English radio bulletins daily at at 6.30am, 12.30pm and 8.30pm in major cities.
- BBC World Service Broadcast from Cyprus and can be picked up on 1323 kHz AM/MW.
- Channel 1 Local TV broadcasts nine minutes of English news at 4.50pm Sunday to Thursday.
ATMs are widely available, except at border crossings with Jordan and Egypt. Credit cards almost universally accepted.
ATMs are widespread, and Visa, MasterCard and, increasingly, American Express and Diners cards are accepted almost everywhere. Most – but not all – ATMs do Visa and MasterCard cash advances.
The shekel is divided into 100 agorot. Coins come in denominations of 10 and 50 agorot (marked ½ shekel) and one, two and five NIS; notes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200NIS.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
Banks charge a hefty commission so the best exchange deals are usually available at post office branches able to handle foreign currency and from independent exchange bureaux, neither of which charge commissions.
Tipping is not expected in most circumstances, but is increasingly common.
- Restaurants Waiters and waitresses will expect a tip, 10-15% is fair.
- Pubs Usually have tip jars on the bar; 10-15% of your bill is fair.
- Guides It's always good to tip guides. Organise a whip around among other guests; 10-20NIS each is probably fair.
- Hotels 10NIS to 20NIS a night for housekeeping is a nice touch.
- Taxis Will not expect tips, but you can round up the price of the fare.
Banks 8.30am–12.30pm, occasionally 4pm–6.30pm Monday to Thursday. Many branches open on Sunday, some also open Friday morning.
Bars and clubs 12 pm–midnight.
Post offices 8am–12.30pm, occasionally 3.30pm–6pm Sunday to Thursday, 8am–noon Friday. Earlier closing times during holidays and in July and August.
Restaurants 8am–10pm, closed Shabbat. During Ramadan, almost all restaurants in Muslim areas, except in hotels, are closed during daylight hours.
Shopping malls 10am–9.30pm Sunday to Thursday, until 2pm or 3pm on Friday.
Shops 9am–6pm Sunday to Thursday, until 2pm or 3pm on Friday.
The Jewish Sabbath, known in Hebrew as Shabbat, begins 18 minutes (36 minutes in Jerusalem) before sundown on Friday and lasts until an hour after sundown on Saturday (technically, until three stars can be seen in the heavens, according to Jewish law). In mostly Orthodox neighbourhoods (eg much of Jerusalem), the arrival of Shabbat is marked with a siren.
Halacha (Jewish law) prohibits the conduct of business on Shabbat, but in many Jewish-majority areas of Israel, including West Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, ‘status quo’ agreements allow restaurants, places of entertainment (theatres, cinemas, discos, bars), museums and small groceries – but not retail shops or full-size supermarkets – to stay open on Shabbat.
On land owned by kibbutzim (eg Kibbutz Shefayim) and in parts of Tel Aviv (eg in the Namal/Port area), boutiques and shops sell things on Shabbat, using non-Jewish staff to avoid fines from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, which – to avoid employing Jews on the Sabbath – sends out only non-Jewish (usually Druze) inspectors!
In general, public transport does not run from mid-afternoon on Friday (the exact time depends on when sundown is) until sometime on Saturday afternoon or evening. Exceptions: certain bus lines in the religiously mixed city of Haifa that have been running seven days week since the time of the British Mandate; some long-distance intercity buses, eg to Eilat; and bus lines that serve mainly non-Jewish towns. However, many intercity service taxi lines do run on the Sabbath, as do regular taxis.
In predominantly Muslim areas (East Jerusalem, Akko’s Old City, parts of Jaffa, the West Bank and Gaza) many businesses are closed on Friday but remain open on Saturday. In mainly Christian areas (eg Haifa's Wadi Nisnas, Nazareth, Bethlehem and the Armenian and Christian quarters of Jerusalem’s Old City), businesses are usually closed on Sunday.
National parks, nature reserves and most museums are open seven days a week but close an hour or two earlier on Friday afternoon. Christian religious sites may be closed on Sunday morning, while mosques are often closed to visitors on Friday.
Letters and postcards sent with Israel Post (www.israelpost.co.il) to North America and Australasia take seven to 10 days to arrive; to Europe it’s a bit less. Incoming mail takes three or four days from Europe and around a week from other places; packages are much slower.
For express service, options include DHL (www.dhl.co.il) and UPS (www.ups.com); Israel Post’s EMS (Express Mail Service) is cheaper but slower and not as reliable.
Between the myriad Jewish and Muslim festivals and holy days that are marked (both officially and unofficially), it can often feel like there is a rarely a day in the calendar that isn't some sort of national holiday.
Bear in mind that during Jewish holidays such as Passover, most restaurants, bars and even supermarkets will close in Jerusalem and other religious areas, while Yom Kippur makes travelling by road anywhere in the country virtually impossible.
As well as the religious holidays, there are a number of national holidays that can have a impact on your stay.
Holocaust Memorial Day Yom HaSho’ah is a solemn remembrance of the six million Jews, including 1.5 million children, who died in the Holocaust. Places of entertainment are closed. At 10am sirens sound and Israelis stand silently at attention wherever they happen to be. (1–2 May 2019, 20–21 April 2020, 8–9 April 2021)
Memorial Day Commemorates soldiers who fell defending Israel and the victims of terrorism. Places of entertainment are closed. At 8pm and 11am sirens sound and Israelis stand silently at attention wherever they happen to be. Falls on the day before Israel Independence Day (7–8 May 2019, 27–28 April 2020, 14–15 April 2021).
Israel Independence Day Ha’Atzma’ut celebrates Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948. Marked with official ceremonies, public celebrations with live music, picnics and hikes. (8–9 May 2019, 28–29 April 2020, 15–16 April 2021)
Yom Kippur The Jewish Day of Atonement is a solemn day of reflection and fasting – and cycling on the empty roads. In Jewish areas, all businesses shut and transport (including by private car) completely ceases; Israel’s airports and land borders close. (8–9 October 2019, 27–28 September 2020, 16–17 September 2021)
Hanukkah During the Jewish Festival of Lights, expect Shabbat-like closures on the first and last days only. Some Israelis go on holiday, so accommodation is scarce and room prices rise. (2–10 December 2018, 22–30 December 2019, 10–18 December 2020, 28 November–December 6 2021)
- Smoking Banned in all enclosed public spaces; violators can face on-the-spot fines.
Taxes & Refunds
Israel has value-added tax of 17% that is included in all purchases. Israeli citizens have to pay VAT when staying in hotels, but tourists are exempt.
Foreign tourists are entitled to a VAT refund on items worth a total of at least 400NIS purchased from certain shops (look for a sticker reading 'tax refund for tourists' in the window). Purchases must be sealed in partially transparent plastic and accompanied by a tax-refund invoice (a standard receipt will not suffice). Claim your refund – subject to a handling fee of up to 15% – when you exit the country by air or land. At Ben Gurion Airport, the refund desk is in the Check-In Hall; tax officials must see your purchases so take care of refund formalities before going through security.
Domestic landline-to-landline calls are cheap, but depending on the company and the plan involved, calling a mobile phone from a landline or another mobile can cost 0.80NIS a minute or more. Be careful when you use the phone in your hotel room – hotels often charge exorbitant rates.
All but the remotest areas have excellent mobile and data coverage. Local prepaid SIM cards available.
Although overseas mobile phones and smartphones work (on gadgets that can handle 900/1800 MHz), roaming charges can be ruinous. Fortunately, Israel’s various mobile phone operators, including Orange (www.orange.co.il), Pelefone (www.pelephone.co.il), Cellcom (www.cellcom.co.il), Hot Mobile (www.hotmobile.co.il) and Golan Telecom (www.golantelecom.co.il), offer pay-as-you-go SIM cards as well as cheap monthly plans with a variety of data options. A number of online companies sell Israeli SIMs internationally.
Mobile phone numbers start with 05 plus a third digit. When calling a local landline from a mobile phone, always dial the area code.
If you are near Israel’s borders (especially with Jordan), you may discover that your mobile phone has switched to a Jordanian network. Manually switch your gadget back to your Israeli network or you may clock up pricey roaming charges.
Israel’s country code is 972. To call from abroad, dial your international access code followed by the country code, the local or mobile phone area code (minus the zero) and the subscriber number.
Several competing companies, each with their own three-digit international access code, offer international dialling. International direct-dial rates can be as high as 3.80NIS a minute, but if you sign up in advance, fees can be remarkably cheap (as little as 0.05NIS a minute). Companies include 012 Smile (www.012.net), Netvision (http://netvision.cellcom.co.il), Golan Telecom (www.golantelecom.co.il) and Hot Mobile (www.hotmobile.co.il).
Prepaid local and international calls can be made using a variety of phonecards, sold at post offices, lottery kiosks and newsstands.
For most of the year, Israel is two hours later than GMT/UTC, seven hours later than New York, 10 hours later than Los Angeles and eight or nine hours earlier than Melbourne. Israel goes on and off daylight savings time at almost the same dates – in very late March and very late October – as Europe.
Toilet facilities in Israel are very good and most are Western style, although you may find squat toilets in more remote areas. Toilet paper can be an issue, and it is always good to keep some on you.
Nearly every major city has a tourist office offering brochures and maps; some also organise city walking tours.
Jaffa Gate Helpful office in Jerusalem.
Free Tours Haifa Great place to start your visit to Haifa.
Useful websites include:
- www.goisrael.com – Israel’s Ministry of Tourism.
- www.igoogledisrael.com – Tips on travelling and living in Israel.
- www.parks.org.il – Israel Nature & Parks Authority.
- www.travelujah.com – Comprehensive information for Christian travellers.
Travel with Children
Travelling with children is generally a breeze: the food’s varied and tasty, the distances are short, there are child-friendly activities at every turn and the locals absolutely love children. For general tips, see Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
Best Regions for Kids
- Tel Aviv
Pitch up on the beach – perhaps beneath a shaded gazebo – and enjoy the sun, sea and surf.
- Dead Sea
Bob around in the salty waters of the lowest sea on earth.
Ramble through the Baha’i Gardens and then check out Bengal tigers at Haifa Zoo.
- Upper Galilee
Get out and about in the forests and parks of the Galilee.
Take a break from the beach at the amazing underwater marine park.
- Golan Heights
Pick your own fruit at one of the Golan's many farms.
Check out the five epic water slides at Tiberius's Gai Beach water park.
Israel for Kids
Israeli society is very family-oriented, so children are welcome pretty much everywhere. At every turn, your children will encounter local children out and about with their parents, especially on Saturday and Jewish holidays and in July and August.
Israel's beaches are usually clean and well equipped with cafes and even playgrounds. Make sure you slather on the sunblock, especially in summer, and stay out of the midday sun. (The Dead Sea, because it's so far below sea level, poses less risk of sunburn, but kids have to be extra careful to keep the water out of their eyes.)
Most nature reserves are fantastic for kids, and older children will enjoy the hikes – some gentle, some more challenging – on offer throughout the country. As park wheelchair access has improved in recent years, so has the ease of getting around with a stroller.
Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Mitzpeh Ramon and Eilat offer a wide variety of things kids will love, though the alleys of Jerusalem's Old City are tough for strollers.
- Underwater Observatory Marine Park Take in scuba-quality reef views without getting wet; there's also a petting pool.
- Rosh HaNikra Kids will love the cliffside cable car and the deep blues of the sea-battered grottoes.
- Water Hikes A hike along – and through – a spring-fed stream is especially glorious during the hot, dry days of summer (try the Ein Gedi, Banias, Yehudiya and Majrase Nature Reserves).
- Desert Cycling Tweens and teens will enjoy mountain biking through the desert along a dry wadi bed. There are many routes in the Judean Desert, but it is best to go on an organised tour.
- Ya’ar HaAyalim This animal park is in Odem, on the Golan.
- Gangaroo Pet kangaroos and feed lorikeets in the Jezreel Valley.
- Mini Israel Midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, this park shrinks 350 of Israel’s best-known attractions to scale-model size.
- Play Areas in Malls Most shopping malls have a meeschakiya (play area) for babies and toddlers – a great place to meet local kids (and on occasion their colds), especially on rainy days.
Disposable nappies (diapers; chitulim), wet wipes (magavonim), baby formula (formoola), baby bottles (bakbukim l'tinok) and pacifiers (dummies; motzetzim) are available in supermarkets and pharmacies, but prices are higher than in most Western countries. If your baby is picky, it pays to bring familiar powdered milk from home. Jars of baby food are also available, though in fewer flavours than in the UK or USA; organic baby food is available in some places. Medicines for children are easily obtained; almost all pharmacists speak English and are happy to assist.
A lightweight, collapsible (ie umbrella-style) stroller is convenient for travelling, but for the narrow cobblestone alleys and staircases in places such as Jerusalem’s Old City, Akko and Tsfat it’s a good idea to bring a wearable kid-carrier.
Access to public amenities for people with disabilities, including those in wheelchairs, is approaching the levels of Western Europe and North America. Almost all hotels and HI hostels are required to have one or more rooms outfitted for wheelchair users, and many tourist attractions, including museums, archaeological sites and beaches, are wheelchair accessible to a significant degree. Quite a few nature reserves offer trails designed for wheelchairs (see www.parks.org.il and www.kkl.org.il), with new ones are being added each year. Restaurants are a mixed bag because few have fully wheelchair-accessible bathrooms. Kerb ramps for wheelchairs are widespread.
For details on accessibility, check out the website of Access Israel, www.aisrael.org. Yad Sarah Organisation (www.yadsarah.org) lends wheelchairs, crutches and other mobility aids free of charge (deposit required).
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel
Israel abounds with volunteer opportunities. These are often on archaeological digs, at ILH hostels or environmental organisations. Check the websites of The National Council for Volunteering in Israel (www.ivolunteer.org.il), Israel Hostels (www.hostels-israel.com/volunteer-in-a-hostel).
If you’re between 18 and 35, it’s also possible to volunteer on a traditional kibbutz in Israel. Volunteers interested in a taste of the lifestyle at these communal agricultural centres can expect to spend two to six months helping with manual labour, which could include anything from gardening to washing up or milking cows. Food and accommodation are provided and sometimes a small weekly allowance. For more information, visit www.kibbutz.org.il/eng or read about one Brit’s personal experience at www.kibbutzvolunteer.com.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures The metric system is used.
Female travellers will generally feel as safe and comfortable as they would in any Western country. On some beaches foreign women may attract unwanted attention.
When you plan your day, keep in mind local expectations regarding modest attire. While tight-fitting, revealing outfits are common in urban centres such as Tel Aviv, they are inappropriate in more conservative areas and are likely to be met with overt hostility in ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods such as Me'a She'arim in Jerusalem. When visiting conservative areas and when visiting all religious sites – Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Druze and Baha'i – wear clothing that covers your knees and shoulders. In Muslim and Christian areas, long trousers are OK, but in some Jewish areas – and at all Jewish holy sites – only a long skirt is acceptable.
It’s a good idea to carry a shawl or scarf with you at all times. You will need this to cover your head and shoulders when visiting Muslim holy sites (mosques, tombs and Temple Mount/Al Haram Ash Sharif), and it can come in handy if your definition of modest attire doesn’t align with that of the caretaker in charge of a religious site.
In buses and sheruts, a woman sitting next to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man may make him uncomfortable. Depending on how you look at it, that's either his problem or a local sensitivity you should respect.
Working legally requires a permit from the Ministry of the Interior and, as in North America or Western Europe, these aren’t easy to get – with one exception. If you would qualify for an oleh (immigrant) visa under the Law of Return – ie if you have at least one Jewish parent or grandparent and have documents to prove it – you can arrange a working visa with relative ease.