Israel Travel Guide—Tips for Traveling to Israel

Israel — By on March 21, 2011 at 6:00 am

By Maggie Parker
Special to The Lost Girls

Country Overview

Israel has it all: big cities, small towns, culture, religion, history, beaches, hiking, and nightlife. There is not much you can’t do in this country—you can even ski! Many think the only reason to go to Israel would be for a religious experience, but that is only a small portion of it. For a sightseeing, rugged trip mixed with a relaxing resort getaway, Israel is a great option.

Best Places to Visit

Jerusalem

Included in a trip to Israel must be at least a day in Jerusalem. Enter the gold walls of the old city to be taken back in time to when the Last Supper occurred. At the same time, you will see what daily life is like for an Israeli in Jerusalem. You can hear kids chanting Hebrew from outside the classrooms that you pass while making your way to the Western Wall. The past and present meet in the old city of Jerusalem. Don’t forget to shop in the famous shuk!

Tzfat

This is where Kabbalah originated, before Madonna took over. Here you can learn about its beginnings or, if you aren’t interested in that, enjoy wandering through the small alleys drenched in blue paint, and the incredible views of Israel. If you are into candles, check out the famous Safed Candle shop to see some of the most unique, intricate, and creative candles.

Tel Aviv

Some people say Tel Aviv is like Miami, and I can see the comparison. Not only is it a beautiful beach town with a wild nightlife, the city is bursting with rich history. There really are no words to describe this city; you just have to see it for yourself.

Judean desert

I had no idea deserts like this really existed. As you enter the desert, you will see sheep being herded and you will feel like you just got out of a time machine. The theme of gold continues with the beautiful sunsets that make the entire desert glow. Visit with the Bedouins to learn about a unique culture and, of course, ride a camel.

Things to Do

Western Wall and Old Jerusalem

Like I said, a visit to Israel is not complete without roaming through Old Jerusalem. It is even more incomplete without visiting the Western Wall. For an emotional charge, walk up to the wall and add a note of your own to those left by all the grieving and hopeful Israelis. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, enjoy this historical sight from afar and observe an Israeli and Jewish tradition.

Camel rides

Self-explanatory. Most tourists want to do this, although the Israelis will laugh at you. It’s just something visitors want to try at least once, so enjoy it!

Masada

When in the Judean Desert, hike your way through Masada where the ruins of King Herod’s palace remain. Enjoy views of the Dead Sea and other countries that surround Israel.

Swim in the Dead Sea

This is another tourist must-do. Everyone wants a picture of themselves floating along without a raft. Just don’t open your mouth, and definitely don’t go in if you have any open wounds! You can literally see the salt in the water—it’s incredible. Lounge at the beach club when you’ve had enough of the saltwater, if you’re not too uncomfortable from the salt.

Mahane Yehuda Market

Enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, falafel, pastries, and more at this famous outdoor market in Jerusalem. Come on a Friday afternoon to see how Israelis prepare for Shabbat. The market will be packed and everyone will be yelling and running around trying to get their last-minute necessities before sunset. It will open your eyes to the Israeli lifestyle. This is the perfect way to get a glimpse of the locals and what daily activities are like for them.

Sunbath in Tel Aviv

If the weather is nice, definitely enjoy a day on the beach in Tel Aviv. You will feel like you are in Miami and forget about the immense and complicated history that is only steps away. You can soak up the sun and lose yourself for as long as necessary after a few exhausting days of sightseeing. It is like two vacations in one.

Where to Eat

Anywhere that sells falafel, hummus, or shawarma. If you are a fan of this kind of food, there is no need for you to ever set foot in a restaurant during your stay in Israel. Wander around the shuks until you find something that looks good; I even found bagels there when a craving set in one day. Israeli food is quick and convenient, you can find little falafel and shawarma stands anywhere. If you do want to go to a restaurant, there are plenty of nice options on the port in Tel Aviv and on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem. In Tzfat there is a tiny place that makes Yemenite food, which may have been my favorite meal in Israel.

How to Stay Safe

Obviously one of the main concerns when planning a trip to Israel is the unsteady relationship between Israel and it’s surrounding countries. Be sure to check the conditions in Israel up until the moment you leave. I found that Israelis are excellent judges of safety; just keep checking and asking before you go to any city as the situation change in an instant. Going on a group tour is a great way to stay safe—the guides are well-informed about which spots to hit, and there are usually guards that travel with you to provide extra protection.

How to Save Money

  • Stay at guesthouses or hostels instead of hotels. The guesthouses I stayed at called themselves hostels but were nicer than some hotels I’ve been to. They had private bathrooms, TVs in the rooms, dining areas, etc. and it is a lot cheaper than a hotel
  • Stay outside of the major areas. I stayed in Jaffa instead of Tel Aviv, they are within walking distance from each other and staying in Jaffa definitely helped me save money
  • Dine at falafel and shawarma carts instead of restaurants. You should be eating the local food anyway when in Israel, which can be found at counters you pass on the street for a lot less money than a meal at a restaurant

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