I’m not so objective, but Israel is one of the most fascinating and beautiful countries on earth. It’s an intersection of religion, culture, and longtime history. It’s also a paradise of food and wine. So, there’s no wonder you’re thinking of visiting it. But before you pack your bags and get on the first airplane, here are 15 things you should know not to do in Israel. Make sure to read them before you start planning because, hopefully, they will help you plan everything properly.
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Don’t plan to visit Temple Mount on Friday or Saturday
Temple Mount is the holiest place for the Jewish people and the third holiest place for the Muslims. Today, it is home to the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque, but in the ancient past, it was also the site of the two Jewish Holy Temples.
I’ve come across many tourists who thought they could visit Temple Mount on Friday or Saturday. So no, you can’t. On Friday and Saturday, Temple Mount is open only to Muslims. If Temple Mount is important to you, plan to visit Jerusalem sometime between Sunday and Thursday. This way, you will have a better chance of visiting Temple Mount. Still, remember that it is open only in restricted hours – in the summer, from 7 AM to 11:30 AM and from 1:30 PM to 2:30 PM, and in the winter, from 7 AM to 10:30 AM and from 12:30 to 1:45 PM.
For more information, read my post >> The Story Around Temple Mount.
Don’t forget to bring a power adapter
The power outlets in Israel are type C and H and require 230 V and 50 Hz. If you’re from a country with different power outlets, the best solution is to bring an international power adapter. Many hotels and hostels also have USB plugs for charging your phone, but it’s always better to be on the safe side in case they won’t have it.
Recommended >> My ultimate packing list for Israel.
Don’t fly into or out of Israel on Shabbat
Another important thing to consider when traveling to Israel is the Shabbat. The Shabbat is the holy day of the Jewish week, starting on Friday eve and ending on Saturday eve. In this timeframe, there is very limited public transportation. This means no trains or buses are running to or from the airport. Also, taxi drivers charge more on Shabbat. So, if you arrive or depart Israel on Shabbat, it will be much more complicated and expensive. Try not to do it.
Read more >> There’s no public transportation on Shabbat.
Don’t get on public transport without a Rav Kav
Today, there’s no option to buy paper tickets on all the buses in Israel – except for the bus to and from Eilat – and on the light rail train in Jerusalem. Instead of paper tickets, you need to use Rav Kav, Israel’s transport smartcard. You buy it for 5 ILS and then load it with additional money or a travel plan. If you prefer not to walk around with a physical card, you can pay for public transportation using a payment app like HopOn Rav Pass or Moovit.
If you don’t pay with either the Rav Kav or a payment app, you might get caught by an inspector and will get a fine. It’s not fun.
Buying the Rav Kav physical card is possible at the airport, at Tourist Information Centers, or in Rav Kav Service Centers in the main cities. It’s best to get it right when you land, but it’s not open on Shabbat. So, in this case, you can use the payment app – as long as you have an internet connection.
Read more >> My full guide to public transportation in Israel.
Don’t take a taxi without a meter
When taxi drivers see tourists, they see an opportunity to get more money. If you don’t want to get ripped off, ask the driver to put on the meter before entering the cab. If a taxi driver refuses to do so, just let them go. They will try to tell you that there’s a lot of traffic and they can offer you a good price, but usually, it’s not the case, and the price they’ll offer will most likely be at least twice the price you’ll pay with a meter.
To raise the chances of getting a taxi driver that uses the meter, you can use the Gett app. The drivers you use this app are supposed to use a meter, but you still need to be alert. I’ve had Gett taxis who canceled the ride and then showed up a second later and offered to take me for a fixed price. There were also Gett taxis who picked me up but didn’t confirm the ride in the app and didn’t really turn on the meter. So… Ask them to use the meter anyway.
A taxi ride from Ben Gurion Airport to Jerusalem should cost no more than 340 ILS. A taxi from Ben Gurion Airport to Tel Aviv should cost no more than 200 ILS. And inside a city, it usually should not cost you more than 50 ILS no matter where they go, unless traffic is REALLY bad.
Don’t drive in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv
Save yourself from the headache, and do not drive in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv while in Israel. Traffic is HORRIBLE. People are honking without mercy, lanes are unclear, and parking is scarce and VERY pricey. In Tel Aviv, scooters and electric bikes are everywhere, and they don’t mind risking their lives on the road, cutting in between cars, and passing crossings without looking left and right. Bottom line – If you’re used to driving on quiet, relaxed roads, driving in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv is not for you.
Both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have good public transportation, so you can get around easily. If you’re staying in the city center, getting around on foot to the main attractions is easy.
On Saturdays, the traffic is less massive, so renting a car for Shabbat is okay.
Don’t drive your Israeli rental car into the Palestinian cities
I’ve had some tourists who planned to drive their Israeli rental car into the Palestinian territories, aka Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jericho, and so on. So, before you start planning the same – know that Israeli rental companies do not allow to drive their cars into the Palestinian cities. If you do that, you will have no insurance. Also, you might risk being attacked by the Palestinian residents who do not like Israeli presence in their towns – even Israeli cars (check out this video of German tourists who were attacked because they drove into Nablus with a vehicle rented from the Tel Aviv Municipality).
There are car rental companies in the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem where you might be able to rent cars that can be taken into the Palestinian territories. But I have not heard recommendations about any.
The best way to visit the Palestinian towns is by taking a taxi from East Jerusalem or joining a guided tour. You can take Abraham Tours’ Best of the West Bank Tour, their Bethlehem Half Day Tour, or the Hebron Dual Narrative Tour.
Don’t leave your valuables unattended
Like anywhere else, you need to keep watch of your stuff. I was on the bus from Eilat to Jerusalem one day, got sick during the ride, stopped the bus to breathe some air outside, and left my bag with my wallet unattended on the bus seat. When I arrived home, I went to the emergency clinic, took out my wallet to pay, and found out all my money and credit card was missing.
I’ve also heard about thieves lurking for innocent people on the Tel Aviv beach, waiting for them to leave their stuff and get into the water so they can steal them.
So – don’t leave your valuables unattended, no matter where you are!
And there are even more clever thieves, who can steal from you when you’re right in front of them. For example, there are people at the Mount of Olives Viewpoint who sell posters and souvenirs. At first glance, they look innocent, but some of them are far from it. They convince you to buy their poster, and then they steal your money straight from your wallet without you noticing. Here’s a video by T and E that talks about this scam:
Another note about unattended bags in Israel – If you leave your bag unattended for too long, it will most likely make people panicked. In the past, terrorists concealed deadly bombs in bags, left them somewhere crowded, and those bags exploded, killing innocent people. So, people get suspicious when they see unattended bags and might even call the security forces to take care of them. If you want to go somewhere for a few minutes without your bag, ask someone to keep watch of it, so people will know who the bag belongs to.
Don’t dress immodestly at holy sites
No matter if you go to the Western Wall, a synagogue, a church, or a mosque – you should dress modestly. Both women and men need to cover their knees and shoulders. First of all, it’s respectful of the place. But if that’s not enough, dressing immodestly will most likely keep you out of the holy places, especially the churches, where they do not let people in if they are not covered. If they don’t stop you at the entrance, someone will most likely come up to you at some point and ask you to cover up. In most cases, they will have a shawl to offer you. But it’s not the most comfortable situation, and it’s best to avoid it by dressing up before entering.
Read more >> What to wear in Jerusalem.
Don’t enter a kosher meat restaurant with dairy food and vice versa
Most of the restaurants in Israel are Kosher. Kosher is a complex Jewish system regulating food preparation, processing, and consumption. There are many details connected to Kosher food. So, to fully explain it will require a full post. In short, mixing meat and dairy products together is not allowed. If a restaurant is Kosher, it means that it does not serve both meat and dairy food. It is either a meat restaurant or a dairy restaurant. And to keep their Kosher certificate, a meat restaurant cannot have dairy products in it and vice versa.
So, if you just bought a meat shawarma and your friend wants you to sit with them in a dairy restaurant – you should refuse. Finish your shawarma outside, and then go sit with them.
Don’t forget to leave a tip
Tipping is common in Israel. It is customary to leave a 10-15% tip, especially in restaurants, but also when you hire a tour guide, order drinks in a bar, or use the services of a bellboy.
A few years ago, I was eating in a restaurant with my family. We didn’t like the service. So, we decided to not leave a tip. We paid the bill and started leaving the restaurant. The waiter came running after us, saying, “You didn’t leave a tip.” We told him: “We don’t want to leave a tip.” He tried a bit more, but we were stubborn about it. It wasn’t a pleasant situation, but the service was really bad.
So, if the service was good or at least acceptable, remember to leave a tip. If you don’t leave a tip, the waiter might chase after you.
Don’t go to the Dead Sea after shaving
One of the top things not to do in Israel is to go into the Dead Sea a day or less after shaving. It’s going to BURN! If you plan to float in the Dead Sea, shave at least two days in advance. Also, DO NOT enter the Dead Sea if you have any open wounds. And, of course, do not put your face in the water. It’s very salty. It will sting, and it might even lead to you drowning. It’s dangerous!
Recommended >> My guide to the Ein Bokek beach.
Don’t touch an Orthodox person of the opposite sex
This is most relevant for tourists traveling to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, there is a much larger Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community than in other places in Israel. According to Jewish law, a man cannot touch a woman because of modesty issues. Some ultra-religious Jews take a step further and don’t look at a woman. So, try to not touch an Orthodox Jew of the opposite sex. This means no handshaking or any other contact. Don’t feel too bad if you accidentally touch them on the bus or train. Just don’t do it on purpose.
But how can you know if the person before you is Orthodox? Usually, the men will wear black and white clothes. If not, you can check if they have a kippah on their head. The women will wear long skirts and long shirts, even if it is summer. To be on the safe side, you can simply avoid shaking hands while in Israel. If the other person initiates the handshake, you can go ahead and shake.
Read more >> 8 facts about the Jews in Israel.
Don’t drive on Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people. On this day, many Jews fast, avoid using electrical devices and do not drive. Most people in Israel – even if they are not Jewish or religious – avoid driving on this day. Children get on their bikes and start driving on the roads, and people walk around on foot. So, if you’re in Israel on Yom Kippur, plan to stay wherever you are. Don’t drive.
Yom Kippur takes place on the 10th of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. Every year, it falls on a different date in the common Gregorian calendar, but usually sometime in September or October. So, make sure to check when it falls before coming.
Don’t walk when the remembrance siren starts
There are two important days to consider when traveling to Israel – the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day and the Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Actions of Terrorism. The dates of these days change because they are marked on the Hebrew calendar. But usually, they fall sometime in April-May.
On these days, remembrance sirens go off in the evening and in the morning. If you happen to be in Israel on one of those days, make sure to stop whatever you are doing when the siren goes off. It is customary to stand in silence for a minute or two to respect the memory of the Holocaust victims, the fallen soldiers, and the victims of terror. If you will walk or talk while people are standing, it will be seen as disrespectful.
Some things you can actually do
I have read some Don’t Lists about Israel and saw some things that I’m afraid I have to disagree with. So, here are things that I actually think you can do while in Israel:
- Talk about politics – Yes, talking about politics might make some people mad, but if you’re already here, why not ask about it? It’s your chance to learn about the situation from the locals. Of course, you shouldn’t just ask random people on the street. But if you get to know someone and that someone seems reasonable, don’t be afraid to talk about politics. But remember – it’s better to ask questions and not make accusations. Check out my blog posts about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to learn more about this topic before you come.
- Hitchhike – Most Israelis do not hitchhike because they feel it is dangerous. Well, it can really be dangerous because you can fall on a terrorist, but that’s not so common. Sometimes you don’t have a choice but to take a ride with someone. If you do choose to hitchhike, just be careful. Try picking a ride with a family or a woman, which will lower the chances of getting into a dangerous car.
- Walk in shorts – Israel is not a religious country where you must completely cover yourself. If you read it somewhere, it’s nonsense. In most places, you can walk around in shorts. Even in Jerusalem, you can walk in shorts as long as they are not TOO short. Feel free to feel free.
Israel is a wonderful country. If you plan your trip properly, keep watch of your valuables, and stick to the points I discussed in this post, you should be completely fine. Even if you don’t stick to all my points, you’ll be okay. Don’t worry – Israel is not TOO crazy!
Save it for later!
Have anything else to add to my Don’t list? Tell me in the comments.
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