5 Days in Israel with Jerusalem as Your Base

I’ll start with the truth – 5 days is not enough for Israel. It is only enough for the classics – Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and the Dead Sea. If you want to get a deeper understanding of the country and see destinations like the Sea of Galilee, Haifa, the Negev Desert, and Eilat, you’ll need more days. But, if you’re short on time, here’s a 5-day itinerary to help you plan your trip to Israel. If you have more days, you can use this itinerary as your base and build on top of it.

Please note that this itinerary is only a suggestion. Feel free to change it based on your interests, schedule, and pace.

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Some things to consider when planning your 5 days in Israel

  • This itinerary assumes that you’ll arrive the night before and have 5 full days in Israel. If you’re arriving on the first day of the itinerary, you might want to change things a bit so you won’t get too exhausted on your first day. 
  • Try to avoid arriving or departing on Shabbat, which starts Friday afternoon and ends Saturday evening. There’s no public transportation on Shabbat, so if you’re landing at the airport, you will have to use a taxi instead of taking the train. Therefore, if you’re traveling on a budget, try to arrive and depart Israel on a weekday (Sunday to Thursday). Also, if one of your travel dates falls on Shabbat, ensure you don’t require public transportation on that day. Learn more about Shabbat in Israel
  • If you want to travel by public transport, you will need a Rav Kav or a public transportation payment app. Read more about it in my full guide to public transport in Israel.
  • Make sure to take the weather into account. It’s always good to check the weather. If you’re traveling in the hot season (usually from the end of May to September), you might want to change the order of the sites so that you’ll be in an indoor place during the hot afternoon. If you’re traveling when there might be rain (usually from December to March), make a plan B in case there’s rain. Check out my ultimate packing list for the different seasons
  • Make sure to pick a good place to stay. In this itinerary, I chose Jerusalem as the base because accommodation and food in Tel Aviv are usually pricier. By staying in Jerusalem throughout your trip, you will probably be spending less. Also, it’s closer to the Dead Sea, which makes traveling easier. Read my guide to where to stay in Jerusalem for relevant tips. 
  • This itinerary does not include night activities. Check out my guide to what to do in Jerusalem at night for some ideas. 
  • If you’re unsure what to wear, read my post about the dress code for women and men in Jerusalem. 

Getting from the airport to Jerusalem

The distance from the Ben Gurion International Airport to Jerusalem is about 50 kilometers. When there’s no traffic, it takes about 40 minutes to drive. But I don’t recommend driving to Jerusalem because there’s heavy traffic inside the city, parking is scarce, people drive like crazy, and fuel is SO expensive. Instead, I recommend taking the train from the airport – outside Terminal 3 – to the Yitzhak Navon Train Station in Jerusalem. The ride takes about 25 minutes, but consider that it takes another 10 minutes to get out of the station. Once you reach Jerusalem, you will probably use the light-rail train to reach your accommodation. You can read my guide >> How to get around Jerusalem?

When does the train operate?

Usually, the train between the airport and the Yitzhak Navon Train Station operates every 30 minutes, almost 24 hours a day, from 1 AM to midnight. On Fridays, the train service stops in the afternoon, more or less three hours before Shabbat enters. It renews its service on Saturday night, about three hours after Shabbat ends. So, there is no train service from or to the airport between Friday afternoon and Saturday night. If you’re landing or departing on Shabbat, you will need to take a taxi to Jerusalem. 

How to purchase a ticket?

There are two ways to purchase a train ticket: 

  • Pay with a Rav-Kav card. The Rav-Kav is a rechargeable Israeli public transportation card. You can get it at the Public Transportation Information Center at the Arrivals Hall and load it with money for the ride. You will need to swipe it over the entry gate to the train station when you come in and also when you come out.
  • Pay with a payment app. There are two main public transportation payment apps in Israel – Moovit (available on Android or iOS) and Rav-Pass (available on Android or iOS). The applications are better because they automatically calculate the best price packages for you, but the problem is that you need an internet connection. If you don’t have a stable internet connection, you might prefer a Rav-Kav. Like the Rav-Kav, you’ll need to scan the payment app at the train station gateway when you enter and when you exit. Please note that when paying with a payment app, you can only pay for one person. So, if you are traveling with several people, each person will need to have their own app installed. 
The train station in Jerusalem

Day 1: Mount of Olives – Old City Tour

Start your first day in Jerusalem with its highlight – the Old City. I recommend taking a taxi up to the Mount of Olives Viewpoint and then either walking or taking the taxi down to the City of David, which is right next to today’s Old City. Then, you can spend a whole day wandering around the Old City and exploring its different sites.

This suggested route is perfect for travelers who plan to explore independently. If you would like to join public guided tours and not explore on your own, you can switch the order of the sites. I recommend booking your tours with Abraham Tours, Israel’s leading budget travel operator. You can start with their Old City tour in the morning and then take their Mount of Olives tour in the afternoon. With this schedule, you won’t be able to fit the City of David on this day, so you can try fitting it on another day.

If you don’t like crowded group tours, you can book a private tour with me. I’m a tour guide in Jerusalem and would love to show you around. Find out more about my tours on my other website – Israel Walking Tours.    

Stop #1: Mount of Olives

One of the best ways to begin the day is by enjoying the beautiful view from the Mount of Olives Viewpoint. In the morning, and if the weather is good, you can clearly see the entire Old City of Jerusalem and the more modern parts of the city. 

After enjoying the view, you can continue to the next destination by taxi or climb down the mountain on foot while passing by some famous churches, including Dominus Flevit, the Tomb of Mary, and Gethsemane. Learn more about what to see on Mount of Olives. 

Important to note: Some churches on Mount of Olives close during the afternoon, from around 12 noon to 2 PM, so it’s best to visit before noon or in the late afternoon. 

How to get to the Mount of Olives? The easiest way to get to the Mount of Olives Viewpoint is by taking a taxi. I recommend using Gett (available on Android and iOS) to order the taxi. Usually, the Gett drivers put on a meter, but it’s always good to ask the driver before you start the ride. Tell the driver that you want to get to the viewpoint next to the Seven Arches Hotel because sometimes they don’t understand which viewpoint you are talking about. It should cost you no more than 60 ILS from the city center. 

How long does it take? It depends on you. You can spend a few minutes admiring the view or sit down and enjoy the view for longer. 

Stop #2: City of David

The City of David is where most archeologists believe that the city began more than 3,000 years ago. Some findings suggest that people started settling there even 5,000 years ago, around the Gichon Spring, the largest water spring in the area. In any case, it was most likely the city King David conquered from the Canaanites when he arrived here in the 10th century BCE. 

Today, the City of David is an archeological site right outside the walls of the Old City. Here are some of the main things to see in the City of David:

  • Area G: In this area, you can see the remains of houses destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. Those houses most likely belonged to the upper-scale society of the First Temple period, maybe people who were part of the government at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction. Try to spot the toilet seat next to one of the houses, a sign of luxury.  
  • The ancient water system: You can enter the ancient water system that dates back to the 18th century BCE, to the time of the Canaanites. At the end of the system, you can walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, an ancient water tunnel dating back to the 8th century BCE, which is still full of water coming from the Gichon Spring. If you prefer a dryer experience, you can walk through the ancient Canaanite tunnel, which no longer has flowing water.
  • Siloam Pool: At the bottom of the City of David, you’ll find the Siloam Pool. Today, it is empty, but during the Second Temple, it was most likely a large ritual pool used by the pilgrims arriving in Jerusalem. According to Christian belief, it is also where Jesus healed the blind man.  
  • The ancient drainage system: From the Siloam Pool, you can either take a shuttle back to the City of David entrance for a small fee or walk through the ancient drainage system dating to the Second Temple period. 
  • The Givati Parking Lot dig: This is one of the largest active archeological excavations in the City of David. You can see the archeological excavations at work and also view some of the new findings. 

How to get to the City of David? If you’re going down on foot, get on the road separating the viewpoint from the Seven Arches Hotel and walk a bit north. After a short while, you’ll see a short staircase to your left. Walk down the stairs and then continue down the road all the way to the base of Mount of Olives. On the way, you’ll pass by some churches. When you reach the end of the road, turn left, pass by Gethsemane, and then continue straight toward the junction with the traffic lights. At the intersection, turn left onto Derekh HaOphel Street. Walk on this street until you reach the left-hand towards the City of David. You’ll find the entrance to your left. The whole walk takes about 20 minutes. View the location on Google Maps.    

How long does it take? About 2-3 hours, depending on your pace and interest level. It also depends on whether you go through the water tunnel or the dry tunnel and whether you get back to the entrance with the shuttle or through the drainage system. 

For opening hours and ticket rates, check out the official website of the City of David

Stop #3: Old City

From the City of David, you can enter the Old City through the Dung Gate. There are many sites to see in the Old City, so you can spend the rest of your day there. Next to the Dung Gate, you can find the Western Wall (beyond the security checkpoint), the Jerusalem Archeological Park, and the entrance to the Temple Mount (to the right of the security checkpoint). Keep in mind that the Temple Mount is open only during restricted hours during the day and closed on Friday and Saturday, so you might not be able to visit. Read more about the Temple Mount here.

After visiting the Western Wall, you can continue to explore the Old City. Here’s a map with some of the main sites to see in the Old City: 

If you need some more ideas, check out my post about the top free things to do in the Old City of Jerusalem.

How to get to the Old City? From the City of David, walk up to the main road and then turn left. Continue on the road until you see the Dung Gate to your right. It’ll be a gate in the Old City walls. View the location of the Dung Gate on Google Maps.  

How long does it take? Depending on what you want to see and do there, you will need around four hours to explore the Old City. 

Day 2: Yad Vashem – Ein Karem – Ultra-Orthodox Neighborhoods – Machane Yehuda Market

On your second day in Jerusalem, I recommend focusing on the more modern side of the city. Begin your day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, and then go down to the picturesque neighborhood of Ein Karem. You can eat lunch at one of Ein Karem’s restaurants and then continue to the city center, where you can visit the Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and finish your day at the lively Machane Yehuda Market. 

Stop #1: Yad Vashem 

I recommend starting your day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. Visiting the museum requires a time slot, so if you start there, you won’t feel hurried throughout the day. 

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum tells the story of the Holocaust from its very beginning to its very end. The museum starts with a video showing the Jewish life in Europe before World War II. Then, it talks about the rise of antisemitism, the ghettos, the concentration and extermination camps, the mass murder of Jews, the people who tried to rescue Jews, and finally, the end of the war and the immigration of some of the Jews to the Land of Israel. The different galleries include video testimonies of survivors, authentic artifacts from the time, and many videos and signs that explain each topic. While you have an option of purchasing an audio guide, I don’t think it’s necessary. All the signs are in English, and you can easily get around without an audio guide. 

After you finish the museum, you can wander around the vast grounds of Yad Vashem, which include several monuments and memorials. One of the most moving memorials is the Children’s Memorial, a tribute to approximately 1.5 million children who were murdered in the Holocaust. 

How to get to Yad Vashem? From the city center, you can reach Yad Vashem by taking the light train to the “Mount Herzl” station. Then, from the station, walk about 10 minutes on the Yad to the entrance of the museum. View the location on Google Maps.  

How long does it take? The visit usually takes around 2 hours, but if you want to read all the signs and watch most of the videos, it might take you longer. I’ve been with a group that spent about 4 hours in the museum.  

To reserve a time slot, visit the official website of Yad Vashem. Please note that reservations will be charged a handling fee starting 1 April 2024.

Stop #2: Ein Karem

After your visit to Yad Vashem, you can go down to the lovely neighborhood of Ein Karem. This neighborhood was once an Arab village, which was abandoned during the 1948 Independence War. When the State of Israel was established, the village was used to house new immigrants. Today, it is part of Jerusalem and one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city. 

Lovely green landscapes surround the neighborhood, and in the spring, there are also flowers. You can walk around the streets and admire the charming houses, pop into some of the workshops and art galleries, and, if interested, visit some of the beautiful churches. According to Christian tradition, Ein Karem is the birthplace of John the Baptist, so you will find two important churches in the neighborhood – the Visitation Church and the John BaHarim Church. Learn more about the Christian sites in Ein Karem.

If you’re hungry, you can also stop at one of the restaurants in Ein Karem. Just take into account that the restaurants here are a bit expensive. If you prefer cheaper options, you can try to buy something to eat at Yad Vashem or wait until you finish Ein Karem and then return to the city center, where you can find plenty of food options.

How to get to Ein Karem? You can walk out of Yad Vashem on Ha-Zikaron Street. If you would like to walk down to Ein Karem, look for stairs that lead down to the valley to your right. Then, walk through the valley for about 1.5 kilometers until you see a road to your left that leads into Ein Karem. Walk up the road called Ha-Tzukim Lane. At the end of the road, go down Homat HaTsalafim Street until you reach the main Ein Kerem Street. Turn left, and you’ll soon be in the center of the neighborhood. The whole walk takes about 30 minutes. View the location of Ein Karem on Google Maps. Another option is to take a taxi or to take bus number 28 from the En Kerem/Herzl Blvd station, near the light train station, down to the neighborhood.  

How long does it take? An hour should be enough.    

Stop #3: Jewish Ultra-Orthodox Neighborhoods

Unlike what you might imagine, Jerusalem is not full of religious-looking Jewish people. There are also many secular people walking up and down the streets. If you would like to see the ultra-Orthodox side of Jerusalem, you should return to the city center and go to the area north of Jaffa Street. I recommend going to Malkhei Israel Streetthe main street in the Ultra-Orthodox area. There, you can see some typical shops selling Jewish books, religious items, and Jewish Ashkenazi pre-prepared food. The area around Malkehi Israel Street is usually friendly to tourists as long as you dress respectfully. If you go beyond Malkhei Israel into the neighborhood of Mea Shearim, they might be less welcoming over there. 

Learn more about the Ultra-Orthodox way of life: If you happen to be in Jerusalem on a Thursday, you can get a better understanding of the Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods by joining the Meet the Orthodox Jews Tour by Abraham Hostel. This tour will take you into the neighborhoods with a local member of the Ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem, so you’ll be able to learn more about the lifestyle from the guide’s first-hand experience.

How to get to the Ultra-Orthodox area? From Ein Karem, you can walk back up or take bus number 28 back to the “Mount Herzl” light train station. Then, take the light train to “Machane Yehuda” station and go to the northern side of Jaffa Street. 

How long does it take? If you walk around on your own, it will take about 30 minutes, depending on your level of interest. If you’re coming on a tour, it would probably take about 2.5 hours.      

Stop #4: Machane Yehuda Market 

Near the evening, you can go to the Machane Yehuda Market, the most popular market in Jerusalem. During the day, the market is full of shops and stalls selling fresh vegetables, fruits, pastries, spices, meat, fish, and whatnot. At night, all the shops close, and you can see beautiful graffiti works on the shutters made by Solomon Souza. 

It’s a perfect place to stop for dinner. Some of my favorite restaurants in the market include Pasta BastaJachnun BarNunaAricha Sabich, and Hachapuria. There are, of course, many other options. You can get some more ideas in my post >> My favorite budget places to eat in Jerusalem

Day 3: Jerusalem – Ein Gedi – Masada – Dead Sea – Jerusalem

On your third day in Israel, I recommend going on a day trip to the Dead Sea area. Being in the lowest place on Earth and floating in the Dead Sea is a once-in-a-lifetime experience! The main attractions in this region are the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, the Masada National Park, and, of course, the Dead Sea. There’s also Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered, but there’s not much to see there, so it’s not a must. To get a detailed itinerary for this day, check out my post >> Jerusalem to the Dead Sea: A Perfect 1-Day Itinerary

The best way to get around the sites on your own is by rental car. You can rent in advance through Rental Cars. You can also get to the Dead Sea area by bus, but then you would have to either skip Ein Gedi or Masada because you will probably not be able to fit everything in one day. 

If you prefer to go on an organized tour to the Dead Sea area, you can try one of Abraham Tours’ self-guided tours. They organize the transportation for you, but there’s no guide. The Masada Sunrise, Ein Gedi, and Dead Sea Tour includes all the sites in this itinerary, including an early sunrise hike to Masada on the Snake Trail. If you only want to go to the Dead Sea, you can choose their Dead Sea Chill Tour.

If you would like to tour the Dead Sea area with a private guide, you can contact me. I can guide you in your rented car, travel with you via public transport, or organize a driver and car for the day. Contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com or through this page for more info and prices. 

Day 4: Jerusalem – Tel Aviv – Jerusalem

On your fourth day, I recommend going on a day trip to Tel Aviv, which is only 65 km – 40 miles – from Jerusalem. The best way to get to Tel Aviv is by train from the Yitzhak Navon Train Station. You can read more here >> How to get from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and vice versa? 

When you get to Tel Aviv, you can focus on the highlights of the city, which is Old Jaffa, the Carmel Market, and the seaside promenade. If you’re traveling in the swimming season, from the end of March to mid-October, you can also spend some time on one of the beautiful beaches. Just make sure to check if there are jellyfish.

Stop #1: Old Jaffa

It’s best to start the day at Old Jaffa, the highlight of Tel Aviv. 

Old Jaffa is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, with its origins tracing back over 4,000 years ago. Many people have passed through the city and its port. When visiting Old Jaffa, you can walk around its beautiful alleys, view the ancient gateway of the Egyptian king, Ramesses, visit the Church of St. Peter, and walk around the old port, which was, for centuries, the official gateway to the Land of Israel. Check out my recommended route in Old Jaffa.   

How to get to Old Jaffa? If you’re traveling to Tel Aviv by train, the nearest train station to Jaffa is Ha’Hagana Station. From there, you can walk about 45 minutes to Old Jaffa or take bus number 236 from the station to Jaffa, which will take you about 15 minutes, depending on traffic.

How long does it take? It depends on your pace and interest level, but it usually takes around one hour to visit Old Jaffa. 

Stop #2: Neve Tzedek

From Old Jaffa, you can continue on foot through the neighborhoods of South Tel Aviv to Neve Tzedek, the first Jewish neighborhood that was established outside the old city walls of Jaffa, when it still had walls, in 1887. The name of the neighborhood means “Oasis of Justice,” which is what the Jewish founders of Neve Tzedek hoped for when they left the crowded old city.

Today, Neve Tzedek is one of the most picturesque and charming neighborhoods in Tel Aviv. It has cobblestone streets and beautifully renovated houses in a variety of colors. There are also many boutique shops, art galleries, and cafes. It is worth walking through this neighborhood on your way to the Carmel Market.  

How to get to Neve Tzedek? Neve Tzedek is about 1.5 km from Old Jaffa, so it takes about 20 minutes to reach it by foot. 

How much time does it take? You can just walk through the neighborhood or spend some time in it, whatever you wish. 

 

Stop #3: Carmel Market

From Neve Tzedek, you can continue on foot to the Carmel Market, Tel Aviv’s most famous marketplace. At the Carmel Market, you can find a variety of souvenirs and also grab something for lunch. There are plenty of options, but some of the best places to eat in the Carmel Market are Panda PitaHaBurikaHaMitbahon, and Falafel Rambam

Local tip: If you’re coming to Tel Aviv on a Tuesday or Friday, you can visit the Nahalat Binyamin Arts & Crafts Fair, located right next to the market. The fair operates in winter from 10 AM to 5 PM and in summer from 10 AM to 7 PM. On Fridays, it closes at 5 PM regardless of season. 

How to get to Carmel Market? The Carmel Market is about 1 km from Neve Tzedek, so it is about a 15-minute walk. 

Stop #4: Tel Aviv Promenade

After the market, you can head on to the beach. The Tel Avivian beachline stretches to a length of around 14 kilometers. You can walk along the main promenade, which connects Old Jaffa and the Tel Aviv Port, or, if the weather permits, you can spend some time on one of the beaches. All of Tel Aviv’s beaches are well-maintained. My favorite one is Charles Clore, which is the closest to Old Jaffa. 

How to get to the Tel Aviv Promenade? The Carmel Market is about 500 meters from the beachline, which means you can easily get there on foot. 

How long does it take? It depends on what you want to do on the promenade. If you want to walk on it to the Tel Aviv Port, it would take around an hour, depending on your pace.  

Optional: Visit a museum

If you have extra time, you can also visit one of Tel Aviv’s excellent museums. It might be best to fit it in before or after lunchtime. Here are two museums that might interest you in Tel Aviv:

  • The ANU Museum – Museum of the Jewish People – This museum tells the story of the Jewish people from the Biblical days until today. It shows different aspects of the Jewish people, including traditions, religion, and culture. This museum is located quite far from the center of Tel Aviv, so it might be best to get there by taxi. 
  • Tel Aviv Museum of Art – This is Israel’s first art museum. It includes a vast collection of modern and contemporary artworks by Israeli and international artists. The most unique part of the museum is its galleries dedicated to Israeli art, where you can learn about Israeli history and society through the different artworks.   

Travel back to Jerusalem 

At the end of the day, make your way back to your hotel in Jerusalem. As I’ve mentioned, the best option is to take the train. 

Day 5: Filling up the gaps in Jerusalem

On your last day in Israel, you can use your time to visit whatever you didn’t have time to visit yet. Here are some ideas of things you can do on your fifth day in Jerusalem:

  • Visit the Israel Museum –The Israel Museum is one of the world’s leading art and archeology museums. It includes the Model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period, the Shrine of the Book, which holds the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, and the most extensive collection of Biblical and Holy Land archeology in the world. You can easily spend at least half a day in the museum, walking around its different galleries. Learn more about the highlights of the Israel Museum. 
  • Go on a tour to Bethlehem – Bethlehem, one of the holiest cities to Christianity, is about a 30-minute drive from Jerusalem. The city includes the Church of Nativity, where it is believed that Jesus was born. You can get there on your own by taxi, but the best way to visit it is by a guided tour because you need to pass a checkpoint and it would be easier as part of a tour. I haven’t been there because it is not allowed for Jewish Israelis to enter Bethlehem, but I have seen that many travelers have recommended this guided tour.
  • Explore more of the Old City – If you have extra time in Jerusalem, you can also spend some extra time in the Old City. There is always something to do there. 

Conclusion

If you only have 5 days in Israel, it’s best to focus on the three most popular destinations—Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, and Tel Aviv. If you have extra days, you can expand your exploration to the Galilee in the north or the Negev Desert in the south. No matter what you choose to do, I wish you a fun and inspiring time in Israel! 

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If you need any more advice, please don’t hesitate to send me a message on my Facebook page or to contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com.

If you’re searching for a tour guide in Israel, I also offer private tours in Israel.

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Yours,

Lior

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