Who’s going to Israel? Here’s everything you need to know!

This week tons of people jumped on an El Al fare “sale” and booked tickets to Israel for as little as $300 round trip from JFK to TLV.  Turns out it wasn’t really a sale and instead a mistake made by a 3rd party vendor responsible for posting the prices.  El Al has confirmed today that they will honor all tickets that were sold at that price.

I’ve added some new content (In green) 8/10/12

What everyone needs to know:

  • Don’t show up late to the airport – they really do take security very seriously
  • Make sure you pack appropriate clothing if you plan to visit any holy sites – ladies, you need to keep your shoulders and upper arms covered. Pants or skirts below the knees.  Guys, your head will need to be covered and you shouldn’t wear any tank tops or shorts.
  • If you’re going in the summer, it’s going to be hot…it’s a desert! If you’re going in the winter, it cold be cool or cold depending on where you are.  I remember my sister sending pictures of snow in Jerusalem one winter.  So pay attention to the weather.
  • From sundown on Friday through sundown on Saturday, Jews observe the Sabbath.  If you go to Jerusalem on a Fri/Saturday, be prepared that most things will be closed.
  • The currency is the New Israeli Shekel and you’ll see it abbreviated as NIS. However, when you’re looking at exchange rates look for ILS.  Not surprisingly, this can be confusing to some people.

Next, how to get around Israel:

  • Ben Gurion International Airport is the main airport and serves both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  There are other smaller airports, but Ben Gurion is the one you’ll be flying into.
  • You can’t really fly between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem so you’ll have a few other options
    • Rental Car – you can rent a car from Avis or EuropCar.  But it can be expensive and people really drive crazy in Israel, so be prepared.  You also must have an International Drivers License – you can get one from AAA in the US.
    • Cab – you can get a cab from one city to the other, but it will probably cost you around $150 USD each way
    • Bus – there are lots of public buses and they’re cheap, but I wouldn’t recommend the bus.
    • Sherut – a Sherut is a shared van that will take you from one city to the other and makes many stops.  From what I can tell, prices are about $20 USD each way
    • Train – there is a train, but it’s the slowest mode of transportation and I couldn’t find any current pricing.
    • By car, cab, bus or Sherut, your travel time will be about 1 1/2 hours each way and can vary depending on traffic (up or down).  I understand that the train is about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
This is my favorite poster. We got it on our first trip to Israel in the early 80s – and believe it or not – it hangs in my mother’s house to this day!

My Flight To Israel

What to do in Israel:

If you’re on a short trip, you’ll probably want to focus on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  I would suggest at least two days in each city. If you’re there for a bit longer, you could explore Haifa or Eilat and spend some time at the Dead Sea.
In Jerusalem:
  • Everyone will want to visit the Old City and you should enter through the Dung Gate
    • Via Dolorosa – the Way of the Cross
    • The Wailing Wall or Western Wall
    • Church of the Holy Sepulcher
    • In the Jewish Quarter, you can go shopping in the Cardo and find amazing antiques and a little bit of everything
    • The Dome of the Rock and Temple Mount (if they’re allowing visitors)
  • Other things to do in Jerusalem:
    • Take a walk through the Shuk Machane Yehuda an outdoor market where you will find everything and anything you could possibly want.
    • Tour the Israel Museum where you can see the Dead Sea Scrolls (check online to see what exhibits will be on display during your visit)  This is one of the few things that is open on Saturday in Jerusalem.
    •  Visit Ammunition Hill – a national memorial site which tells the story of the Six Day War
    • Spend time at Yad Vashem – the Holocaust Museum.  There is no entry fee, but you should be aware that children under 10 are not permitted. The museum is closed on Saturday and public holidays.
In Tel Aviv
  • No trip to Tel Aviv would be complete without a visit to the beach.  If you can, stay at a hotel along the promenade for an amazing view of the Mediterranean Sea.  The promenade is an amazing place to walk and people watch.
  • Stroll the streets of Neve Tzedek – an artsy neighborhood with galleries, bars and restaurants. It’s a very hip and cool place to spend an afternoon.
  • Spend some time on Shenkin Street – a funky shopping district with unique boutiques, cafes and restaurants.
  • If you want to check out some museums, stop by the Diaspora Museum to learn the history of the Jewish people or one of the many art museums.
  • A trip to old Yafo pronounced Yāfō in Hebrew (also spelled Jaffa & pronounced Yāfā in Arabic) is a must.  A visit to the historic port city is like walking back into time.   In Yafo, you can see Andromeda rock,  the rock to which Andromeda was chained in Greek mythology.  The alleys are like mazes that lead you through the city to the harbor. There are beautiful churches, mosques and synagogues to visit as well.  If you saw the 1981 film, Clash of the Titans you’ll recognize some of the scenes as they were filmed in Yafo.
  • Nachalat Benyamin-  Stop by on Tuesday afternoon and Friday mornings when you’ll find great arts and crafts- local artists set out on the streets selling their one of a kind items. 
  • Azriely Towers-  In addition to the shopping mall there is a nice restaurant at the 50th floor with a great view of Tel Aviv!  A very cool way to see the city.
  • Bugrashov Street- want a local experience?  This isn’t a tourist attraction but for locals (and my family) this is Tel Aviv.  If you want to get a sence of the local atmosphere and see the real Tel Avivians, just sit down at one of the coffee shops and enjoy.  One of our family favorite coffee shops is Olive. You’ll love it.
  • Looking for some Gay friendly spots? You won’t have to look far. Tel Aviv is welcoming to everyone (unlike Chick-fil-a) Check out the nightlight at  “Evita.”  On Sunday evening the bar has a special atmosphere with songs from the Eurovision Song Contest (Europe’s Song Olympics) – very good atmosphere. If your gay & like the gym, we recommend the “Holmes Place” inside the Dizengoff Center.

What to eat:

 

The food is one of the best parts of a trip to Israel.  I love Israeli food.  I’ve complied a list of my family favorites
Tel Aviv :
  • Catit – a fabulous Mediterranean restaurant with lots of fresh fish and French/European inspirations
  • Mul-Yam – which means “across from the sea” in Hebrew is one of the best sea food restaurants you’ll find.
  • Tzion – a Yemenite restaurant Tel Aviv unfortunately they don’t have a website, so you’ll have to ask your hotel for directions but here’s their phone #03-5107414
  •  Lechem Erez cafe – known for its delicious breads and salads, you’ll find several locations in Tel Aviv.  The website is Hebrew only, so ask your hotel for directions
  • Benedict – a breakfast restaurant in Tel Aviv (though it’s open 27/7), the eggplant and feta Shakshuka is highly recommend.  Benedict is located on the corner of Allenby and Rothschild.
  • Clara – If you’re looking for a place to get drinks, check out Clara at the old Dolphinarium.
  • Susanna – Sit outside at Susanna in Neve Tzedek, again, no website, but a local favorite. 9 Shabazzi St, Tel Aviv
  • Barbounia – located next to the Adiv hotel (one of my hotel suggestions later in the post) and an absolute family favorite.
  • Humus anyone?  Some great spots for Humus are
    • Humus Gan Eden on Allenby and Geula streets.  Try the mushroom humus.
    • Humus Abu Dabi on King George near the Dizongoff Center.  Try the mishausha humus there.
  •  Dizengoff center- on Friday there is a  “food market” which is basically the best ever Jewish food, it’s like home-made cooking
Jerusalem
  • The YMCA Jerusalem, Three Arches Restaurant – yes, I said the YMCA.  This is one of my favorite memories and a great experience when visiting Jerusalem. You can make reservations to see cultural dancing and then head to the restaurant for dinner.  There is tons of outdoor seating and its known for its salads and meat pies.  In Israel, salads are served with most meals and consist of things like humus, Tahini, a Moroccan or Israeli Eggplant Salad, and more.
  • Caffit – a great, traditional restaurant in the German area.  There is no website, so here’s the address 35 Emek Refaim St, Jerusalem

Where to Stay:

This is where it gets tough.  Many of you have already learned, after booking your very cheap flight, that hotels aren’t so cheap! So here are some suggestions

Tel Aviv:

  • Upper End
    • Stay on the promenade
    • Sheraton Towers is very nice and very pricey (rooms go for about $300 USD or 12k points/night) You can also check out SPGs Beat The Timer website for deals – I’ve seen them occasionally
  • Middle – Upper Middle End
    • Dan Panorama Hotel
    • Park Plaza Orchid (Club Carlson) – I stayed there before it was a Park Plaza hotel.  Great views!
    • Sea Hotel Executive Apartments  – looking for something a little different?  These apartments are a great choice and a family favorite.
    • Leonardo Basel on Hayarkon st – this is the most reasonable recommendation yet. Around $140- 150/night in December! 
  • Middle Range
    • Hotel Basel Tel Aviv – my family has stayed here. It’s very clean and simple.  Across the street from the beach.
    • Arbel Suites Hotel – another place the family has stayed, this is a very simple hotel.  There’s no restaurant but it’s very welcoming and more centrally located.
    • Adiv hotel which will reopen in Dec 2012 as the Mendeli Street Hotel – a great location and used to be great prices, but not sure what will happen when it reopens.
 Jerusalem:
  • Upper End
    • The King David hotel – the most obvious splurge hotel in all of Israel. The King David is famous for a reason.
  • Middle – Upper Middle End
    • Dan Jerusalem – for a great hotel in Jerusalem, the Dan chain is a good choice ‘
    • Crowne Plaza Jerusalem – I’ve listed this as middle-upper middle due to the prices. It’s a great location, but pricey.  Good option if you have points.
    • Inbal Hotel – while neither my family or I have stayed here, it’s been recommended by friends
  • Lower End
    • Abraham Hostel – the most gorgeous hostel you’ll ever find! If you’re looking for budget accommodations, this is your best bet
Outside of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem
If you’re looking for a really unique and typical Israel experience, here are a few options:
  • Negev Eco Lodge – if you love the outdoors, this desert experience is made for you
  • Kibbutz – a Kibbutz is a collective community living environment.  Many families live on a Kibbutz, work on the Kibbutz and provide for the greater community.  Kibbutz hotels are a great affordable option.
I would like to say a special thanks to my family for all their input into this post.   Thanks to Eyal, Alex, Yanir, Gilly, Carly and mom!
I’ll continue to add more to this post as I get great suggestions!

From the readers: 

So many readers have submitted great suggestions, so I’m posting some of them here: 
  • Bottom-Feeding the High Life (Doug) suggests Heritage House hostel (//www.heritage.org.il/)
  • Katherine suggests Harmony Hotel in Jerusalem. It was reasonably priced and well located.  She also suggests the Best Wester Regency Suites in Tel Aviv 
  • Westman812 recommends the Tel Aviv Hilton as a higher end place to stay. He says it’s a little bit outdated but is very well kept has a decent location on the beach.  In Jerusalem he suggests the Dan Boutique located just a short walk from the old city.
  • Usairelite recommends a swim in the Dead Sea.  (I noted that it’s more like a float in the Dead Sea.) 

23 Comments on "Who’s going to Israel? Here’s everything you need to know!"

  1. I am a big fan of your blog, I am Jewish, and live in Jerusalem.
    A few points:
    1. Thank you for mentioning the clothing modesty issue. The locals greatly appreciate it when women make an effort to dress appropriately. However, men need not cover their head unless they are Jewish. This is a very common misconception
    2. You are right about the weather, but even in the summer, temps can drop below 50 at night, so pack for it.
    3. If you have a US license, you don’t need an international license to rent from Avis, Hertz, or Budget. I am unsure about others, but I doubt they require it.
    4. Cabs are less than $100 (should be in the $75 range) to Jerusalem at the Taxi stand. Israeli taxi drivers are notorious for trying to rip people off, so make sure to keep the paper from the Taxi stand attendant. Maybe even repeat the price to him a few times, so he understands that you are not going to be a victim.
    In addition there is a company called Daka. You have to order when you land. I believe their prices are 150 NIS, and 5 or 10 NIS for every additional suitcase over 2. Their number is +972-3-686-8888
    5. Trip time by car from TLV to Jerusalem, is under an hour in light to moderate traffic.

  2. Also I think the Intercontinental should be added to the list of Upper End in TLV.

    It also may be worthwhile to note that the city of Tel Aviv (especially the beach area) is about a half hour or more from the Airport.

  3. You forgot to mention the passport issues. If anyone one of you have stamps in your passport from a middle eastern nation, it will be very hard to clear passport control and you might be denied entry as well.

  4. James Kunz | August 9, 2012 at 1:34 pm |

    Great, great post. But please change the title to “Who’s” for grammatical correctness purposes

  5. Eize yofi! I can’t wait to go in January with this great deal!

  6. Usairelite | August 9, 2012 at 2:02 pm |

    What about swimming in the dead sea?

  7. westman812 | August 9, 2012 at 2:26 pm |

    Great info, I would love to just add a few points; Transportation- if you’re considering visiting few cities and don’t want to break the bank but also don’t want to waste time on buses, renting a car is highly recomended(although the driving is crazy). If just transferring to J-town, Sherut is best and pretty much leaves when they fill up which is quite often.

    Hotels Tel Aviv- just want to recommend the Tel Aviv Hilton as a higher end place to stay. IT’s a little bit outdated but is very well kept has a decent location on the beach, and I’ve spotted some pretty important people there on visits. Also try to upgrade to the executive floor which will give you access to the PH club lounge, which will feel like you’re sitting on the Mediteranean.

    Jerusalem- For a reasonable rate(starting at $150’s) in a great location try the Dan Boutique located justa short walk from the old city. Recently renovated, you’ll find much value for your money, while staying in a modern, clean hotel.

    Remember, Israel has many different climates, so there’s pretty much anything you would want to do in that very small country. Have Fun!

  8. dealswelike | August 9, 2012 at 2:35 pm |

    me! thanks for the guide

  9. Thats great! How did I miss this deal?!?

  10. Stacey, thanks so much for this amazing post! Wow!

  11. Well done.Very informative.

  12. @usairelite – you mean floating in the dead sea? Yes, that’s always a good break from the norm

  13. Whose or who’s? 😉

  14. Thanks everyone for the spelling help. My mom would be disappointed in that mistake!

  15. The white text on black background is strenuous for the eyes. Nice article though.

  16. Thanks. I already booked for Abraham Hostel. I just added another night as I will need to change the date from Saturday to Sunday morning. This way, with the non-stop flight, I will have 6 1/2 days in Jerusalem instead of 5 1/2.

    thanks

  17. Great article! (renal cars)

  18. @Marlene – don’t tell my mom about the renal cars!

  19. We stayed at the Harmony Hotel in Jerusalem. It was reasonably priced and well located. There were tons of restaurants and shopping nearby and most of the attractions were within walking distance.

    In Tel Aviv, we stayed at the Best Wester Regency Suites. It was also reasonably priced, located right at the beach and all of the rooms were suites.

    The main problem that we had with driving was the lack of signs. We couldn’t find our way out of Jerusalem, but once on the expressway, it wasn’t a problem.

    Jerusalem also kept Kosher at most of the restaurants, which is an adjustment if you are not used to it. Tel Aviv had a ton of restaurants that were not kosher.

    Haifa and Cesarea can be done as a day trip from Tel Aviv. Haifa is gorgeous and worth the trip.

    Also, best Hummus that I ever had was at Abu Hassan in Jaffa. It is a hole in the wall on Hadolphin St and is very difficult to find.

  20. @Katherine – great tips!
    @Sil – have fun and let us know how you enjoy the Abraham Hostel.
    @Angelina, can’t wait to read your trip report!
    @Westman812 – thanks for the additional info! Good tips.

  21. Don’t forget about the falafel… it’s the best in the world, and just about everywhere, and inexpensive.

    For young Jewish singles, there is also the Heritage House hostel (//www.heritage.org.il/), where you can stay cheaply or sometimes free in the Old City. They will encourage you to take a one-day class at one of the English-speaking yeshivas. I’m secular/agnostic but found it to be interesting and would recommend it.

    Also, in Tel Aviv, many people think they speak English better than they actually do, and they will all try to give you directions. Almost all of their directions will be wrong.

  22. First of all the food in Israel is the best, not only the falafel but many more good and healthy, very tasty dishes. you should try them out, whether or not you already tried stuff or not, there is nothing like the real deal!!
    Jerusalem, the pitas, the kabab, and the humus!!
    you can go on a group tour via Israel daily tours!
    //www.goldcarpet.co.il/page.aspx?id=44

    EDITORS NOTE: The link provided in this comment is not affiliated or endorsed by VeryGoodPoints

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