One of the main questions people ask before arriving in an unknown land is “How will I get around?” In Israel you can choose to explore the country by joining an organized tour, by renting a car, or by using the different types of public transportation. In this post I’m going to try and make public transportation in Israel a bit easier for you.
Let’s start from the two most important things that you have to know when using public transportation in Israel: the Shabbat and the Rav Kav.
The Shabbat is the holy day of the week for the Jewish people. It begins on Friday evening and ends on Saturday night. One of the Jewish religious laws regarding the Shabbat states that you cannot ride or drive a vehicle during the holy day. Because Israel is a Jewish democracy, most public transportation does not operate during Shabbat. Taxis do operate and there are some Palestinian buses operating in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, some public transportation lines operating in Haifa and some private transportation companies operating in the main cities, but other than that, most public transportation lines are shut down between Friday evening to Saturday night. You should take this into account when planning your trip. For ideas of what to do with transportation on Shabbat, read There’s No Public Transportation on Shabbat.
The Rav Kav is Israel’s public transportation smartcard, which you can use to pay on buses and trains in Israel. From last year, it has become a must on buses in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. This means that without it, you cannot use the buses in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In other places and in between cities you still don’t have to have it, but I suppose that sometime in the future it will become mandatory. Meanwhile, I recommend you get it even if you’re not planning to visit Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, because it’s much easier to use it than to pay the drivers actual money and it saves you some money, especially if you’re going to use public transportation a lot. *Important to note – The Rav Kav doesn’t work on Palestinian buses.
If you’re coming from Ben Gurion Airport, you can find a Public Transportation Service Center at the Arrivals Hall, from where you can get your Rav Kav right when you arrive in Israel. The service center is open Sundays to Thursdays from 7AM to 11PM and on Fridays from 7AM to 3PM.
I was told that tourists can get the card for free with their passport (if not, it costs just 5 ILS). You can also get the card in central bus stations. Then, you will need to load it with money so that you can use it on public transportation. You can either load money into the “stored value” on your card or purchase an all-day ticket, which is worth it if you’re planning to take at least 3 rides in one of the cities. With the “stored value” you can pay for more than one person using the same card by asking the driver for two tickets (not possible on the light-rail train in Jerusalem), but with the all-day ticket you can only pay for one person per card.
If you use the “stored value”, you can load 30, 50, 100, 150 or 200 ILS to the card. Whatever sum you load, you will get 25% more value on your card. For example, if you load 30 ILS, you will have 62.5 ILS on your card and if you load 100 ILS you will have 125 ILS.
Where can you load your Rav Kav? I highly recommend loading it in central bus stations and train stations, but there are loading points all around the main cities (wherever you see the “Charge your Rav Kav here” sign). In Jerusalem, you will find plenty of points along Jaffa Street and inside the Old City. In Tel Aviv there are some points around Rothschild Boulevard and a lot of points near Gordon Beach. You can charge by using shekels or a credit card. If your phone has a NFC feature, you might also be able to load your card using the HopOn app. Make sure to load before getting on the transportation.
How do you validate your ticket? There are several ways:
- On buses – You can either validate it at the bus driver’s stand (good if you want to validate for two or more people) or use one of the Rav Kav screens inside the bus (not all buses have those screens), swipe your card on the screen and wait for the green light that signifies that you’ve validated the ticket.
- On trains – Before going to the train barrier, use the machines near the ticket vendors to “buy” a train ticket. The ticket will use the money you have on your Rav Kav. Then, you can proceed to the barrier and swipe your Rav Kav on it to be able to cross through.
- On the light-rail train in Jerusalem – Swipe your Rav Kav on the Rav Kav screen at the entrance to the train and wait for the green light that signifies that you’ve validated.
Read more about the Rav Kav in Egged’s official site.
Now, two good public transportation apps for your trip:
Google Maps – This is my favorite. It has great maps in English and you can use it to see exactly where you need to go. Sometimes it even shows the live bus arrival times. But, it’s approximate arrival time to destinations isn’t always so accurate. You can also try the Offline Maps.
Moovit – A good map for public transportation. It is possible to type destinations in English, but the map is in Hebrew. It shows you live bus arrival times and gives you good approximate arrival times to your destinations.
Main Public Bus Companies in Israel:
Egged: This is the biggest bus company in Israel. The Egged buses are completely green. They are usually the intercity buses (expect for some cases in the northern part of Israel). They are also the main players in most of the Israeli cities, except for the Tel Aviv area. Check for routes and timetables through the Egged website.
Dan: This bus company is the strongest in the Tel Aviv area. The Dan buses are white, with a blue stripe all along the bottom. You’ll probably use them when travelling around Tel Aviv.
Afikim: This bus company is useful for those of you who want to get between Ben Gurion Airport and Jerusalem. Afikim buses are white with a green arrow painted in a green circle on their side. Every hour, a bus leaves from Jaffa Street, near Jerusalem Central Bus Station, to the airport. From the airport, the bus leaves every hour from floor number 2 at Terminal 3, also passed through Terminal 1. The price is 16 ILS a way and it takes about 45 minutes to arrive at the destination.
Nateev Express: This bus company operates in the northern parts of Israel and you will need to take it to reach Safed, for example. There’s no Nateev Express line from Tel Aviv or from Jerusalem, so if you need to use this bus company, you’ll need to take a bus ride to a different town, such as Karmiel or Afula, and take Nateev Express from there. The Nateev Express buses are white and orange.
Arab-Run Buses: Those buses operate in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. They are mostly colored white with blue or green stripes of them. Most of those buses depart from the East Jerusalem Central Bus Station on Sultan Suliman Street near Damascus Gate. Check the main East Jerusalem lines here.
Taxis in Israel:
Taxis are very common in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and you can hail them down from the street. Outside of those cities, you’ll see less taxis on the streets. If you plan to use a taxi, you should download Gett for Android or iOS. With Gett you can order a taxi wherever you are and pay through the app.
Rides inside cities will usually cost between 25 to 60 ILS, depending on the distance you take. The fare can go up during Shabbat. Taking a taxi from the airport to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv or any other place can cost around 150-300 ILS at the least. There are also Sherut Taxis (Shared Taxis) from the airport, which are significately cheaper. To learn more about transportation from the airport, read Entering Israel by Air – All You Need to Know.
The taxis in Israel are white with a yellow cap. Sherut taxis usually have more yellow on them.
Getting Around Israel:
By Bus: Egged buses run regularly between the main cities in Israel. You can catch them from the main bus stations in each city. Some towns are reachable only by other bus companies. For example, Safed is reachable by Nateev Express. You can find suitable routes by using Google Maps or Moovit app. Prices between the cities change. Between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem the price is 16 ILS per way, but if you take a bus for a farther distance it will cost you more. For example, a bus from Jerusalem to Eilat costs 70 ILS, You can check the price beforehand by using the Egged website. After choosing your destination, you’ll get a timetable and you can click the orange “Price & Itinerary” on the right hand to see the prices.
Buses also stop at main attractions such as Masada and Ein Gedi. Again, it is best to check the route on the Egged site.
For intercity buses you do not have to use the Rav Kav, although it is recommended. You can pay the driver in ILS cash.
If you are travelling to or from Eilat, it’s recommended to book a seat in advance so you won’t have to stand the whole way or will not be able to get on the bus. If you plan to ride to Eilat and back, it’s also recommended to book the return ticket when booking the first ticket, because that will save you a few shekels. For more info on booking a ticket in advance for the ride to Eilat, read Buying a Bus Ticket in Israel.
By Train: The Israel Railway is well connected throughout the country. It can take you from Nahariyya or Acre (Ako) in the north to Be’er Sheva in the south (you’ll need to change some lines for that route, but it’s possible). If you want to visit Haifa, Netanya, Acre, Beit She’an, Tel Aviv and Be’er Sheva, this could be a good option for you. There’s also a train to Jerusalem (not the one from the airport), but it takes you to Malha Station, which is very far from the city center, next to the zoo. Prices change according to destination. If it’s more farther away, it’s more expensive. You can check fares on the Israel Railway site. See the full list of stations and lines here.
Public Transportation In Jerusalem:
Most of the main attractions in Jerusalem are very near each other, which means you can easily walk between them. Though, you might want to use public transportation when coming from the central bus station to the city center and when visiting the Israel Museum and the Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl area, which are a bit farther away from the center.
In Jerusalem there are three types of transportation:
The Light-Rail Train: This is the easiest way to get around Jerusalem. It costs 5.9 ILS for a one-way ride. You can either buy a paper ticket at the machine in the station or use your Rav Kav. You must validate your paper ticket or Rav Kav the moment you get on the train. You need to put the paper tickets inside the slot of the validating machine or swipe your Rav Kav card on the flat surface of the machine, where a picture of a Rav Kav is illustrated. Make sure you get a green light. Ticket inspectors get on the train regularly, sometimes even twice during one ride, so make sure you’ve validated.
The Light-Rail Train currently (March 2019) has only one line, but it connects most of the main points around the city. It is very frequent during the morning and afternoon hours, but at night its frequency goes down and a train arrives every 15 minutes or so. It drives a bit slow, but during rush hours (7-9AM and 4-6PM) it is the best way to get around, as it skips all the traffic jams. At times, it can be very-very crowded on the light-rail train and there are never enough seats for everyone, so be ready for it.
The train operates from around 6AM to midnight. On Fridays, it operates only until around 3:30PM and on Saturdays it operates only from around 8PM.
Buses: The main bus company operating in Jerusalem is Egged. You have to use the Rav Kav to take a ride on the buses in Jerusalem and they must be preloaded before you board the bus. A bus ride costs 5.9 ILS. If you get on another bus within 90 minutes from your first boarding, you get a free pass, but you still have to validate your card.
Buses in Jerusalem can get you anywhere, but it can be a bit tricky to take them. Most stations don’t have English signs in them and you will have to figure out which bus direction you need to your destination. One of the destinations which you’ll probably need a bus is the Israel Museum. Line number 66 or 66א goes from the city center to the museum. Try checking possible routes with one of the transportation apps I suggested at the beginning of the post.
Public Transportation In Tel Aviv:
Main attractions in Tel Aviv are a bit farther away from each other compared to Jerusalem, but you can still walk between most of them if you’d like. The main way to get around Tel Aviv is to use the buses and the sherut taxis. In a few more years we might also have a light-train running through Tel Aviv as well, but now it’s just under construction.
In Tel Aviv there are three types of transportation:
Buses: The main bus company in Tel Aviv is Dan. The ride costs 5.9 ILS and you have to use a Rav Kav, so make sure to load it before boarding the bus. Bus stations don’t always have signs in English. Try checking which station and which bus line you need through one of the apps I suggested in the beginning of the post.
Sherut taxis: They look like big taxis and have room for about 10-12 passengers. They have specific routes, which they take through Tel Aviv. You can see their line number on the windshield and if it’s good for you, you can wave for it to stop and get on it. Then, you can sit down and ask the driver how much to pay him for a ride to your stop (it should be around 7-10 ILS for a ride inside the city). It is not possible to use Rav Kav on the sherut taxis. The sherut taxis have fixed routes, so it’s not like regular taxis. The two most popular lines are line number 4, which goes from Central Bus Station through Allenby and Ben Yehuda streets to the Tel Aviv Port, and line number 5, that goes from Central Bus Station through Rothschild avenue, the Dizengoff Center, Dizengoff street Nordau Street, Ibn Grvirol Boulevard to Weitzman Street and Kikar Hamedina.
What’s good with the sherut taxis is that they operate on Shabbat.
Train: The Israel railway has four stations in Tel Aviv: University, Savidor Center, HaShalom and HaHagana. Most likely is that you’ll only use it to get into the city and out of it. But, as I’ve already mentioned, you’ll need to buy your ticket at the ticket vendor area using the ticket machines or through the vendor and only then will you be able to proceed through the train station barrier.
Wishing you an easy trip to Israel!
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