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Free things to do Hiking in Israel Trip Planning Tips

The Israel National Trail: Ultimate Preparation Guide

Just before the coronavirus arrived, I got the chance to hike for a month on various parts of the Israel National Trail, or in Hebrew, “Shvil Israel.” I was traveling with a large group of people, so when we reached the middle of the trail, the restrictions stopped us. The first half was incredible, and now I’m dreaming of completing the second half. Edit: I’ve completed the part from Dan to Jerusalem on October-November 2020. In this post, I’ll share some useful things to know if you want to get prepared for the Israel National Trail.

Table of contents:

  1. A few words about the Israel National Trail
  2. A few words about the physical side
  3. When should you start the hike?
  4. How to reach the beginning of the trail?
  5. Accommodation on the Israel National Trail
  6. What about food?
  7. Water on the Israel National Trail
  8. Packing for the Israel National Trail
  9. Pay attention to the weather forecast
  10. My experience from the segments
  11. Some useful links
  12. Conclusion

A few words about the Israel National Trail:

The Israel National Trail spreads to a length of around 1,000 kilometers, which is about 621 miles. It connects Eilat in the south to Kibbutz Dan in the north and passes through breathtaking landscapes, ancient sites, and modern-day settlements on the way. You’ll be hiking colorful mountains in the desert, passing by ancient ruins from around 2,000 years ago, enjoying natural water pools, and meeting fabulous people on the way.

After hiking the northern part of the trail, I understood that there are many ways to hike the trail. You can take it easy, hike only half a day, stop to volunteer in certain places along the way, OR you can challenge your limits, hike 25-30 km a day or more, race through the beautiful landscapes, and feel exhausted, yet satisfied, at the end of the day. Of course, you can also do something in the middle, not too slow and not too fast. You can sleep outdoors the entire trip, in tents or only sleeping bags, OR you can combine some Trail Angels and paid accommodation options along the way. The options to experience the Israel National Trail are endless.

How long does it take to hike the Israel National Trail?

It takes about two months to complete, but if you’re fast, you might be able to complete it within a month and a half, hiking on average about 25-30 kilometers per day. If you want to take it easy, you can spread the trail over a larger amount of time.

How does the trail mark look?

The trail is marked by an orange-blue-white marker on rocks and signs along the way. You should see this marker quite frequently. If you haven’t seen it for more than a few hundred meters, you should stop and see if you’re on the right track. Though there are some segments that are not marked very well, so it’s best to keep an eye on the paper or online map.

I’ve stumbled upon this beautiful video by Łukasz Supergan that gives an overview of the trail:

See the marker on the rock?

A few words about the physical side:

The Israel National Trail is full of beauty, but it isn’t easy. You might have hiked some challenging day hikes in the past. But that doesn’t necessarily make you ready for the challenges of this trail. Remember that you’re going to carry all your belongings on your back, sleep outside of your comfy home, and hike day after day. If you’ve already done some treks in your life, then you probably know how it’s going to feel. If it’s your first long trek, here are some tips to make the hike a bit more pleasant:

Carry as little as you can.

I’m going to talk about the packing list later, but the key is to carry as little as possible. Carry only what you will definitely need. This way, your back will be thanking you on the trail. It’s recommended to carry maximum 17 kilograms. If your body weight is small, try aiming towards the 11 kilograms on your back. Take into account that you will need about 3-5 kilograms of water in the north and 5+ kilograms of water in the south. That should be calculated into the total weight on your back.

Take long walks with your backpack a few days before the start of the trek.

To get used to the weight, I recommend packing all your equipment in your backpack and going on long walks with it in your nearby surroundings. This way, you’ll understand if you need to get rid of some more equipment and get used to the feeling of the backpack on your back. If I would have done that, maybe I would have felt better on my two first days of hiking.

Listen to your body and take a rest when you need it.

The Israel National Trail is your opportunity to become a close friend of your body. Listen to it, recognize when it is painful, understand its limits, and take rest when you need it. It’s possible that you will need multiple stops throughout the day, shorter segments, or more frequent day-offs. You may have a dream to complete the trail super fast, but you need to be realistic. You don’t want your body to fall apart on the way.

Take the difficulty level more seriously.

Many segments of the trail are labeled easy or easy-moderate. I also label some of them that way. You need to understand that the segment might be easy on the paper, but the fact that you’re carrying many kilograms on your back and tiredness from the other day may make the segment a bit more difficult. The difficulty level is directed towards day-hikers, who come with a small backpack and lots of energy. Relate to your hikes accordingly.

Bring a good sleeping mat and sleeping bag.

It’s super important to get good sleep on the trail. If you plan to sleep outdoors, make sure to bring a good sleeping mat, that will support your back and a sleeping bag that fits the forecasted temperature.

Bring a first aid kit.

Most likely that you will need it. Most people experience blisters in the first couple of days, so bring something for that. All kinds of bandages could also be helpful, and iodine.

When should you start the hike?

There are two major seasons for hiking the Israel National Trail – spring (from February to April) and fall (from September to November).

If you start the hike during the spring, it is best to start from Eilat in the south and hike northward. This way, you’ll reach northern Israel just in time for the major flower blossom. The temperatures should still be pleasant, and the waterholes and springs will probably be full, which means you can refresh yourselves along the way. We began the hike in late February from Eilat and experienced only three days of rain while in the desert. Most days were very pleasant, even a bit warm during the afternoon, and the blossoming flowers around Ramon Crater were fantastic!

If you start the hike during the fall, it is best to start from Kibbutz Dan in the north and hike southward. The temperatures might be hot in the beginning, which means you’ll need to start your hikes early morning, but when you’ll reach the desert, the temperatures should already be mild or even cold, so make sure to pack something warm. The route from north to south is easier, as it includes less ascends, so if you’re a beginner, it might be better to start in the fall. 

Can you hike the trail outside the season? It’s possible but much less ideal. In winter, the days are shorter, the temperature is colder, and you might experience a large number of rainy days. In summer, the temperature is usually very high, which makes it almost impossible to hike. You’ll have to wake up very early to try to beat the heat and take long breaks in the afternoon.

How to reach the beginning of the trail?

Reaching the beginning of the trail is very easy, no matter if you choose to start in the north or in the south.

To reach the trail in Eilat: Order a bus ticket to Eilat and get off at the central bus station. From there, take Egged bus number 15, which leaves from outside the central station. Get off at the station called “Derech Mizraim/ Beit Sefer Sadeh” (in Hebrew: ” דרך מצרים/בית ספר שדה”). You can ask the driver to get off at the Eilat Field School, in Hebrew “Beit Sefer Sadeh.” The trail begins behind the field school. There’s a big sign at the beginning. If you can’t find it, ask at the field school.

To reach the trail in Dan: From Tel Aviv, take bus number 845 to Kiryat Shemona and from there, take bus number 55 or 56 to Dan. From Jerusalem, take bus number 963 to Kiryat Shemona and continue to Dan. You do not need to purchase bus tickets in advance, only from the driver.

Accommodation on the Israel National Trail:

When we hiked the Israel National Trail in February-March, we mainly camped outdoors, in free designated places for camping. But another accommodation option along the trail are the “Trail Angels,” which I’ll write about in a moment.

Camping: You will find many free camping sites along the way, which do not include any facilities or include very few facilities. In the boundaries of a nature reserve, those free sites are marked by a big sign with a camping icon on it. Please camp in these designated areas while hiking in nature reserves, so that you will not disturb the wildlife during the night. In some of these free camping sites you might find water faucets, from which you can fill up water, but don’t count on it. Outside nature reserves, the camping sites are not always marked and theoretically, you can camp anywhere that looks like a camping site. There are also a number of paid camping sites along the way.

Check out my Google Map, which shows the main camping sites and hostels along the way. If you know about any more places, please let me know in the comments and I’ll update:

Trail Angels: Aside from camping, there are also “Trail Angels,” people who open their homes for hikers on the Israel National Trail. Many of them offer their showers, laundry machines, and an area to sleep. Please only use this option if you are stuck, as they are limited space and not always are available for hosting. Also, if you do choose to stay at am angel’s place, see if you can help out with house chores or at least, don’t leave a mess behind you. Get the list of Trail Angels here.

There are also some stay options, which offer discounts for INT hikers.

What about food?

It’s very important that you eat throughout every day of hiking. In the north, you can get supplies almost every day because there are many settlements and gas stations along the way. In the south, you’ll need to measure your portions and carry food that doesn’t get spoiled over time. Food that doesn’t get spoiled includes cornflakes, bread, peanut butter spread, halva, tuna, corn in a can, nuts, and dried fruit. It’s recommended you bring some field cooking equipment, so you can make ptitim or rice with lentils. The most important thing is to be creative.

Water on the Israel National Trail:

One of the most important things to carry on the trail is water. You’ll need at least 3 liters of water for the northern part of the trail, and more on hotter days. Southward from Arad, you’ll need at least 5-6 liters of water. The weather in Israel is usually quite hot, so most of the water is for drinking. You’ll also need it for cooking and general hygiene. I recommend buying a hydration system or reusable water bottles, that can hold together at least 5 liters of water.

There are many settlements and gas stations along the northern part of the Israel National Trail, where you can fill your water supplies. Usually, you won’t fill water in those places, because there are water faucets along the way. Make sure to check where the faucets are for each day and carry water accordingly. Southward from Arad, you won’t come across many places with water. That’s why it’s crucial to order water caches.

Water caches on the Israel National Trail:

Several service providers bury water bottles for you at specific camping sites along the way. You should talk with a service provider at least two weeks in advance and tell him where you want them to hide you some water on the trail. After paying the service provider, he will send you photos of the water cache location as well as precise directions. Make sure to write it down on paper, so you can find it even if you’re battery will be dead. Once you’ll take the water from the cache, you’ll need to inform the service provider.

One of the most recommended water suppliers on the Israel National Trail is Yanir BaMidbar. Prices are around 10 ILS for 1 liter of water, so it should cost you about 60 ILS for 6 liters. But prices may be higher if the service provider needs to drive to a specific place especially.

Here are some of the major water cache locations:

  • Be’er Milhan Camping Site.
  • Nahal Barak Camping Site.
  • Gev Holit Camping Site.
  • Nahal Gevanim Camping Site.
  • Nahal Hava Camping Site.
  • Hod Hakev Camping Site.

If you don’t want to use water caches, I’ve come across a blog that tells how you can cross the desert without water caches.

Every drop matters! Drink enough!

Packing for the Israel National Trail:

The less you pack, the better. Here are some of the most important things to bring with you on the Israel National Trail:

Essential equipment:

Backpack: You’ll need a backpack to store all your equipment. Most people hike with a backpack with a capacity of 60-80 liters, but you can also get along with 45 liters if you won’t carry too much.

Hiking shoes: It’s important to choose shoes that are comfortable and good for various terrains. Make sure to walk with them a bit before the hike, to make them flexible. If you want, you can also bring sandals or flip-flops for walking in water or for the evenings. It’s also important to get good socks, which will reduce the chance of getting blisters.

Sleeping bag: A good sleeping bag is very important. Temperatures are very cold at night, sometimes close to 0 degrees Celsius, especially in the desert. I had a hard time sleeping in early March in the desert because I didn’t have a very warm sleeping bag.

Foldable foam mat: You can take any kind of mattress, but I really recommend the foldable egg mattress made of foam. It folds like an accordion, weighs almost nothing, and is super comfortable. Take into account that the terrain changes from one camping site to another, so one day you might camp on grass and the other day on very rocky terrain. Make sure the mattress is thick enough, so that you won’t feel the terrain beneath you.  

First aid kit: Very important for minor injuries! You might also want to pack an ointment for joints pain.

Hygiene products: Pack whatever you think you can’t go without. You can pack a toothbrush and toothpaste, a hairbrush, alcagel, a small bottle of shampoo, soap, and whatever more you need.

Garbage bags: It’s important to clean after yourselves, and you can also use the garbage bags to store dirty clothes or other equipment.

My foam matress

What to wear:

I would recommend minimizing the number of clothes you bring with you. I believe you can get along perfectly well with 3-4 sets of clothing and even less. Make sure to bring breathable long-sleeved shirts and long breathable pants to protect your skin from the sun. It’s also good to bring a wide-brim hat and sunglasses. For the night, you should pack microfleece clothes and a warm hat, as it can get very cold. If you want to get into water sources, you can also bring a swimsuit, but you can enter in your regular clothes, too.

Cooking equipment:

Try to take the minimum amount of equipment you need for cooking outdoors: a small camping stove, gas can, lightweight cooking pan, and plastic reusable eating utensils.  

For the nights:

Flashlight: Even if you have a phone with a flashlight, don’t count on it. Buy a good flashlight which you can use after dark, for cooking and getting around the camping site.

Navigation and logistics:

Phone with an internet connection: I recommend traveling with a phone, that can also connect to the internet on the go. This way, you can always get in touch with logistic providers, Trail Angels, and also get updated on the latest news, which might affect your trail. Read more about sim cards and phones in Israel here. You can also use it to call the emergency number – 100 – if needed.

Power bank: If you’re not going to stay at Trail Angel’s houses or hostels, you won’t have anywhere to charge your phone. It’s best you turn it on only when you really need it, like to check the weather forecast before you start the day or to let your family members know that you’re alright. To make sure the battery won’t die, you can also bring a power bank.

Maps: There are maps for all parts of the trail, which are sold in every shop for travelers in Israel, but I don’t think there are any paper maps in English (correct me if I’m wrong.) At the bottom of this post, I’ve given links to online maps, which do include English on them. It’s important to be familiar with the route and print the maps of the trail or have an app for navigation.

Optional:

Walking poles: It isn’t a must, but if you don’t want your knees to hurt too badly, walking poles could help. One is not efficient, so make sure to bring two.

Laundry soap: There will be places where you can do some laundry on the way, so I recommend you bring a soap. Try to bring an eco-friendly one. If you want, you can also bring a rope to hang your laundry.

Tent: Not everyone hikes with a tent on the Israel National Trail, because it can weigh a lot. But if you are travelling with a number of people or have a light-weight tent, I recommend a tent. It will block the winds and give you some privacy. A rain resistant tent is a bonus. In October-November 2020, we didn’t carry tents and slept outside with sleeping bags. At first, it was very comfortable and quite warm, but as we got closer to December, it was quite cold and there were days when it rained, which wasn’t so fun without a tent. If you choose to go only with a sleeping bag, make sure to bring water-proof coverage for yourselves and your equipment.  

These are the most important items that came to my mind. Of course, you can also take a book or an E-book with you, so that you’ll have something to read during the night. I personally just wanted to sleep after each day of hiking! If you think I forgot something important, let me know in the comments.

Pay attention to the weather forecast:

It is crucial to know the weather forecast before starting each segment of the trail. If it’s supposed to rain, don’t hike that day as it could be dangerous, especially in the desert. Even if it’s supposed to rain in Jerusalem, it can affect the desert. Also, if the weather is too hot (above 30 degrees Celsius,) you should also plan your hike accordingly. Start your hike early in the morning and aim to rest in the hot hours of the afternoon.

Check out the Israel Meteorological Service for weather alerts.

Sunny with clouds – is the perfect weather!

My experience from the segments:

As I’ve already mentioned, you can divide the segments the way you want to divide them. I haven’t documented all the segments, but here’s a list of what I’ve documented so far, from north to south:

#1 – From Dan to Kfar Giladi.

#2 – From Kfar Giladi to Nahal Kedesh. (missing here – the part from Nahal Kedesh to Nabi Yusha)

#3 – From Nabi Yusha to Gesher Alma.

#4 – From Gesher Alma to Horvat Hamama.

#5 – Climbing Mount Meron on the Israel National Trail (from Horvat Hamama to HaPitul Campground).

#6 – Hiking Upper Nahal Amud on the Israel National Trail (from HaPitul Campground to Nahal Akbara Campground).

#7 – Hiking Lower Nahal Amud on the Israel National Trail (from Nahal Akbara Campground to Migdal).

#8 – From Migdal to the Jordan River.

#9 – From the Jordan River to Kfar Ksich. (missing here – the part from Kfar Ksich to Mashad)

#10 – From Mashad to the Hermits Mill.

#11 – From the Hermits Mill to Yagur.

#12 – Hiking Mount Carmel on the Israel National Trail (from Yagur to Nahal Oren Campground) (missing here – the part from Nahal Oren Campground to Ein Hod).

#13 – From Ein Hod to Ofer Junction (missing here – from Ofer Junction to Shfeya Junction).

#14 – From Shfeya Junction to Beit Hanania.

#15 – From Beit Hanania to Sdot Yam.

#16 – From Sdot Yam to Bet Yanai Beach.

#17 – From Bet Yanai Beach to Poleg Beach.

#18 – From Poleg Beach to Herzliya.

#19 – From Herzliya to Tel Aviv (missing here – from Highway 20 to road 482).

#20 – From Tel Aviv to Tel Afek

#21 – From Tel Afek to Shoham

#22 – From Shoham to Moshe Shaiyah Lookout

#23 – From Moshe Shaiyah Lookout to Mahal Memorial

#24 – From Mahal Memorial to Beit Meir

#25 – From Beit Meir to Ein Karem

Mount Carbolet

From Mount Yoash to Mount Zefahot

Some useful links:

Tapatalk forumFor more questions about the trail or to find hiking partners, you can check out the forum on Tapatalk.

Israel Hiking Map – This online map is handy if you want to go over the trail before you set off. You can also access it while hiking, but for that you’ll need enough battery in your phone. The map is also in English. You can use it to determine elevation change and terrain, so that you can be ready for the more challenging parts of the trail in advance. To find the beginning of the trail, you can search for “Dan” or “Eilat”. On this map, the trail is colored in light orange.  Another nice online map is Amudanan, which I personally used during my hiking.

“Hike the Land of Israel” Book – Many say that this book is good for hiking the Israel National Trail. I didn’t read it, but because of all the recommendations, I’m recommending it too.

Walk About Love–For those of you who want to travel with more people, “Walk About Love” might be great for you. They bring together hikers from Israel and abroad and hike the entire trail together. You can also use their logistic services if you don’t want to carry a backpack and other equipment.

Conclusion:

Now that you know all you need to know about the Israel National Trail, you can start planning your hike. Plan how many kilometers you’ll hike each day, make sure you know where you’re going to sleep each night, and get everything ready for your trip.

If you need any advice or help in planning, you’re welcome to contact me via my Facebook page or via email at lior@backpackisrael.com.  You can also contact me for tours on segments of the trail 😊


If you liked this post or found it useful, I would appreciate a like, a share and a comment. If you have anything to add, you’re free to tell me in the comments (:

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And plan a great trip to Israel by using my app – Travel Israel by Travelkosh for Android and iOS.

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Transportation Trip Planning Tips

Parking in Israel: All You Need to Know

Should you rent a car when traveling in Israel? If you only plan to visit the main cities, there’s no need to rent a car. There’s good public transportation in the tourist areas of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and other central cities. Also, parking could be a headache in those places. If you plan to venture outside the big cities and visit national parks, archeological sites, and smaller towns, a car might come in handy on those specific days. Whether you plan to rent a car for the entire trip or only for a few days, it’s important to know about parking. In this post, I’ll try to cover everything and parking in Israel.

Before I begin, I want to confess that I barely drive. So this post is mainly based on my experience as someone who accompanies others who drive and park. I’ve parked a lot of times with others. If you’ve done parking in Israel as a tourist and have some important information I haven’t mentioned, feel free to let me know through the comments. I’ll be happy to update the post. 

Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. This commission will help me expand my work on this blog. Thanks!

Post last updated: 17 July 2021.

Table of Contents:

Some words about renting a car in Israel

Sidewalk markings

Paying with parking apps

Parking in paid parking lots

Free parking lots

Some words about renting a car in Israel:

Although this post is mainly about parking in Israel, I want to mention some points about renting a car in Israel:

  • In most companies, you must be over 24 years old to rent a car. Drivers must be over 18 and holding an international driver’s license.
  • It is highly recommended to reserve a rental car before arriving in Israel, especially if you plan to arrive during one of the Jewish holidays.
  • Make sure to obey the traffic rules while driving your rented car. Do not drive over 50 kilometers per hour in urban areas, and do not drive over 90 kilometers per hour in rural areas. If there is a speed limit sign that says otherwise, obey it. On Toll Road #6, you can drive up to 120 kilometers per hour. Also, DO NOT turn right on a red light. In Israel, a red light means you cannot drive at all. And finally, do not hold your phone while driving. All these can lead you to get a fine.
  • When renting the car, make sure to read all the Terms, including the kilometer coverage. If you drive more than the mileage quoted, you will need to pay extra.
  • Before you start driving the rented car, make sure to take footage of it from all sides. If any doubts arise regarding damage to the car, you can show the supplier how it looked before you took it. Anyway, if you see anything damaged before starting your trip, please tell the supplier so that they will be aware and not blame you later.
  • Most Israeli rental companies do not allow entrance to the Palestinian territories. This includes Bethlehem, Jericho, Ramallah, and other Palestinian cities. So if you plan to go there, ask the rental company if you can do it with its car. I recommend avoiding entering those areas with a rented car. Instead, join a guided tour or use public transportation. 
  • The rental companies I can recommend are Shlomo Sixt and Eldan.

So now… about parking:

Sidewalk markings:

There are many paid parking lots in Israel, but if you want to save money, try parking along sidewalks or within dirt parking lots. Of course, make sure there’s no sign saying you need to pay. The sidewalks in Israel are marked in various colors. Each color has a different meaning:

  • Free parking – No sidewalk markings: Usually, when there is no sidewalk marking, the parking is free. Though, I do recommend looking if there are any signs around. If there are, see if they say that the parking requires payment during selected hours of the day. For example, there are places with no markings, but a sign says you need to pay from 8 AM to 7 PM.
  • Paid parking – Blue and white markings: When there are blue and white markings on the sidewalk, you will need to pay for that spot. It costs about 6 ILS to park on the street. Check the sign located near the parking area. It will tell you if you need to pay in the evening, too. Parking is usually free in the evening but never count on it. Read further to learn about the paying process.
  • Prohibited parking – Red and white markings: DO NOT park next to a sidewalk marked in red and white stripes. It is forbidden and will most likely end with a traffic ticket and a hefty fine.
  • Reserved for public transportation – Red and yellow marking: This marking is also a place where you CANNOT park. It is where buses, taxis, and other forms of public transportation need to stop. If you park here, it will interfere with public order and end with a fine. 

No matter where you park, make sure to look around, see the sidewalk markings and read the signs nearby. Signs can tell you the parking duration, at what hours do you need to pay, and if the parking spaces are only for city residents.

Here is one of the parking signs:

This one says you can park for up to 2 hours. You also need to pay only between 8 AM to 7 PM on Sunday-Thursday and between 8 AM to 1 PM on Friday:

I guess this also exists in other places around the world, but only to make it clear – DO NOT park in a space marked for the disabled. On the parking space, there will be an icon of a man in a wheelchair. 

Paying with parking apps:

Israel is slowly-slowly removing all the parking vending machines from its streets. So you should know the various parking apps in Israel. The people I drive with usually use Pango, but I’ve looked at their app and it seems less friendly to tourists. Another great app is Cell-O-Park. When you first open the app, you can switch to your language using the globe icon at the top. Then, you will need to Sign Up. You can put in an international phone number and then will need to fill in your details – Full name, email address, car plate number. You might also be asked for an Israeli ID number. Since you don’t have one, you can try filling in your passport number or this number #00000018 instead. I recommend signing up for the app before you need to park. This way, you won’t have problems when parking.

After filling in your details, you should get a code to your phone, which you will need to write down in the app for confirmation. Then you will need to fill in your credit card payment details. According to what I’ve heard, if you will enter a tourist credit card then Cell-O-Park will deduct a small prepayment from your credit card. Then you will only be charged a service fee every time you pay on the parking.

When you want to park, you need to open the app, enable GPS, choose the city you’re parking in, make sure the app recognizes your location, and then slide your finger on the screen to activate the parking mode. When you finish parking, you need to disable the mode. And when you return the rented car, you can simply remove the car from the list in the app.

If you’re having problems with the app, don’t hesitate to ask anyone on the street to help you out. We’re usually friendly.

Here’s a short video about how to use Cell-O-Park (in Australia, but it’s more or less the same):

If you don’t want to use the parking apps, you can search for free parking places or make your way to the paid parking lots, where you can pay in cash.

Here are some of the top paid parking lots in Jerusalem:

  • Karta Parking Lot (חניון קרתא) – Located below Jaffa Gate, inside the Mamilla Mall on 1 Yitzhak Kariv Street. You can park your car here 24/7 but can only enter from 6:30 AM to 10 PM. It is very close to the Old City and the modern city center. The hourly rate is about 6 ILS, and the all-day rate is about 48 ILS.
  • Kikar Safra Parking Lot (חניון כיכר ספרא) – Located below the Safra Plaza, next to the City Hall, on 7 Shivtei Yisrael. From Sunday to Thursday, it is open 24 hours a day. On Friday, it closes an hour before Shabbat and reopens only after Shabbat ends. (Read more about Shabbat in Jerusalem here). The hourly rate is about 14 ILS.

About Tel Aviv, I really DO NOT recommend renting a car there. Parking is VERY scarce. Sometimes, even the paid parking lots are full. Also, if you do find a paid parking lot, it will most probably cost you LOTS of money.

Free parking lots:

Here are some places I know usually have free parking places in Jerusalem:

  • The Gan HaPa’amon Parking Lot – Right next to Gan HaPa’amon (גן הפעמון) and behind the First Station compound there’s a large parking lot split to two parts. The one on the right side is paid parking, while on the left side you’ll find a big dirt parking lot free of charge. It’s near Mishkenot Sheananim neighborhood and a short 10-minutes walk from the Old City.
  • “Park and Drive” Parking Lots (חניוני חנה וסע) – There are two main “Park and Drive” parking lots in Jerusalem, which offer free parking as long as you use the light rail train. So, you’ll have to pay for the train ticket, which is around 6 ILS, but at least you won’t have to pay extra for the parking and will have plenty of parking space. You’ll find these parking lots at the Mount Herzl Station and the Ammunition Hill Station.

If you know of any other free parking places in Israel – leave a comment or send me the location to lior@backpackisrael.com.

Another place which is problematic regarding parking is Nazareth. Especially on weekends, this city is full of people and has limited parking. Here are some of the free parking spots I know of in Nazareth:

  • The BIG Fashion Mall Parking Lot – The mall is located at the entrance to the city and has hundreds of parking lots. If you’re not coming during a major event, I suppose you will find places to park there. Though, I don’t think you can park there overnight (correct me if I’m wrong). It’s a short 10 minutes’ walk away from the old city center.
  • Street parking along Tawfiq Ziad Street – When I come to Nazareth once in a while, I sometimes find free parking spaces on Tawfiq Ziad Street, which is the street leading to the Church of the Annunciation.
  • Parking lot next to Derech Ariel Sharon – I’ve been to Nazareth on extremely busy days, and then I found parking here. There’s a large parking lot next to Derech Ariel Sharon, opposite a commercial area. The BIG Fashion complex is on the other side of the street. 

When you park in national parks, it is also free of charge. 

Wishing you lots of free and easy parking in Israel!


Think this post is useful, helpful, or interesting? I would really appreciate a like, a share, or a comment 🙂

Did I forget anything? Please let me know how I can make this post better by posting your comment or by sending an email to lior@backpackisrael.com.

Also, check out my Facebook page, Backpack Israel.

Looking for a private tour guide in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv? I’m a tour guide and I might be available! Send me an email – lior@backpackisrael.com.

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Festivals & holidays Haifa Jerusalem Trip Planning Tips

Christmas in Israel: The Top Places to Celebrate

We are getting closer and closer to Christmas, which will be celebrated like every year on the 25th of December. If you’re planning to be in Israel this Christmas, here are the top places to celebrate Christmas and what you can do in each:


Notice: This year we’re celebrating Christmas during the COVID-19 pandemic, so many events are limited to a small number of people and some have been cancelled. Make sure to check if the event you’re interested in is still happening.


Christmas in Nazareth:

Nazareth is where Jesus spent his childhood and is a special place to visit during December and on Christmas eve. The whole Old City of Nazareth is decorated with Christmas decorations, and the main Christmas tree stands tall at Mary’s Well Square, next to the Greek Orthodox St. Gabriel Church. The Christmas tree is usually lit on 6 December, but depends on weather conditions.

Aside from wandering around the beautiful decorations, here are some more things you can do in Nazareth:

  • Go to the Christmas Market – If you love Christmas markets, you’ll probably love this colorful one at Mary’s Well Square. The market is usually filled with people and market stalls, which sell various arts and crafts and local products. Most of the action starts in the evening, so make sure to go there after dark. The market usually takes place between 17-22 December, but dates might change. This year (2019) there’s going to be the Christmas Nights Nazareth event, which will take place between 1-7 December and will be more or less like the traditional Christmas Market.

Watch this video by Israel to get a glimpse of the Christmas Market:

  • Watch the Christmas Parade – This annual parade takes place on the 24th of December and starts at 3 PM from Mary’s Well Square. The festive parade walks along Paul VI Street, which is the main street of Nazareth. It’s recommended to get there early so you will be able to watch. 

  • Take part in the Christmas mass at the Church of the Annunciation – The highlight of the Christmas events in Nazareth is the Midnight Mass, which starts at 7 PM on 24th December in the Basilica of the Annunciation. It is believed that this was where Virgin Mary was announced she was bearing the son of God, Jesus.

How to reach Nazareth?

Coming from Tel Aviv – There are frequent buses going from Tel Aviv Central Station to Nazareth (bus number 826). The buses start as early as 7 AM and continue until midnight. It costs about 34 ILS.

Coming from Jerusalem – You can use Egged bus number 955, which leaves from Jerusalem Central Station to Nazareth Central Station. It costs about 37 ILS. The problem is it leaves only twice a day, in the afternoon and in the evening. Another option is to join the Abraham Hostel Shuttle, which leaves from Jerusalem to Nazareth on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 9:15. It’s a bit pricey, 60 ILS pp, but at least you can get to Nazareth early. More details about Abraham Tours’ shuttle here.

Christmas in Jerusalem:

If you can’t make it to Nazareth, you will most probably be able to make it to Jerusalem and the celebration is great over there as well. Jesus visited Jerusalem many times throughout his life, and ascended to the Heavens from the top of Mount of Olives, which stands to the east of the Old City. The Christian Quarter of Jerusalem will be lit with enchanting Christmas decorations and you will be able to find some beautiful Christmas trees throughout the city. The Christmas tree I love most is the one standing in front of the YMCA Hotel every year.

Besides walking through the enchanting alleyways of the Old City and admiring the decorations, here are some top things you can do while in Jerusalem:

  • Meet Jerusalem’s Santa – In one of the hidden alleyways of the Christian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem lies the house of Jerusalem’s Santa Claus. If you’re coming with kids or want a pic of yourselves with Santa of the Holy Land, you might want to visit his house. For more info, check out the official page of Jerusalem Santa on Facebook.

  • Attend YMCA’s Christmas Market – This traditional Christmas Market takes place each year in heated tents in front of the YMCA Hotel and in the YMCA historical basketball court. Walk through the different stands to find hundreds of Christmas products and handmade arts and crafts, as well as some snacks. There are also wonderful bell concerts throughout the day. The market takes place between 6-8 December from 11AM to 10PM.

Watch this video by i24NEWS English to get a glimpse of the YMCA Christmas Market:

  • Join the Christmas carols in the Christ Church – Opposite the entrance to Tower of David Museum stands the Christ Church, the first protestant church built in the Middle East. Every Christmas eve, on 24 December, the hold Christmas carols between 5 PM to 10 PM.

If you would like to take part in a ritual ceremony in Jerusalem, check out the Catholic Christmas events in Jerusalem through the CIC website.

How to reach Jerusalem?

Jerusalem is well connected. There are frequent buses from the main cities of Israel. There’s also the new train station at Yitzhak Navon, just in front of the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem.  

Christmas in Bethlehem:

I’ve put Bethlehem after Nazareth and Jerusalem because you would have to pass a border to enter it, as Bethlehem is under the Palestinian authority. But Bethlehem is THE place to visit on Christmas. Afterall, according to the New Testament, Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  

The beautiful Christmas tree, which stands at Manger Square, will be lit this year (2019) on 30 November starting from 6PM.

If you would like to take part in the Advent and Christmas masses in Bethlehem, check out the full Christmas program in the CIC website. If you would like to try your luck in participating in the Bethlehem Midnight Mass, you can try applicating online.

Watch this video by i24NEWS English to get a glimpse of Christmas in Bethlehem:

If the Israeli Ministry of Tourism will do as in previous years, there will be free shuttles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem from noon on Christmas eve until noon on Christmas Day. In previous years, the shuttle service left every round hour from the bus stop near Carta Parking Lot, which is opposite Jaffa Gate, near Mamilla Boulevard.

You can also join Abraham Tours’ Bethlehem Christmas Eve Tour to visit the holy sites of Bethlehem and experience the Christmas vibes with travelers from all around the world.

Christmas in Haifa:

Another cool place to visit on Christmas is Haifa, which is known as a city of diverse religions and cultures. Haifa is also known as a city of co-existence and is very proud of it. That’s why one of the largest and most festive events in Haifa is the Holiday of Holidays, which will take place this year (2019) between 19-28 December. This festival is meant to celebrate the holidays of the three main religions in Haifa – Judaism, Christianity and Islam, so you’ll have a chance to celebrate not only Christmas, but also the Jewish Hannukah (celebrated on 22-30 December this year) and the Muslim Ramadan (which isn’t really celebrated on December this year).

The streets of Downtown Haifa are lit with beautiful holiday decorations, there are plenty of street performances and of course, there’s also fabulous food, which is always typical of the Arab neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas in Haifa.

Watch this video by Israel to get a glimpse of the Holiday of Holidays:

How to reach Haifa?

From Tel Aviv – There are frequent buses from Tel Aviv Central Station to Haifa. You can take bus number 921 from Tel Aviv to Haifa Merkazit Khof Ha-Karmel Station. It costs about 27 ILS.

From Jerusalem – There are frequent buses from Jerusalem Central Station a well. You can take bus number 947 or 940 to Haifa Merkazit Khof Ha-Karmel Station. It costs about 37 ILS.


There’s still a month till Christmas, so I’ll be updating the post if I hear of any other cool events for Christmas. Do you know of anything that should be added? Feel free to let me know at lior@backpackisrael.com.

Think this post is useful or helpful? I would really appreciate a like, a share or a comment 😊

Also, check out my Facebook page for frequent updates – Backpack Israel.

Want help with planning your trip to Israel? Check out my new app, Travel Israel by Travelkosh for Android and iPhone. You’re also welcome to contact me through the Experts tab in the app.

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Tel Aviv Trip Planning Tips

Jellyfish in Tel Aviv: When and How to Deal With Them

The Israeli summer usually begins in June. Along with the crazy heat and humidity also come the jellyfish. The most common ones, which arrive at Tel Aviv and other cities along the Israeli coast, are the nomad jellyfish. And they LOVE the warm and pleasant water in Israel, just like we do! 

The “Meduzot B’Am” project has created a great interactive map that shows the latest jellyfish sightings along the Israeli coast. Unfortunately, the map is only in Hebrew. Wherever you see a red jellyfish on the map, it means there are stinging jellyfish over there.

Post last updated on 29 June 2021.

Table of contents:

When is the jellyfish season in Israel?

Do the jellyfish sting?

What to do if a jellyfish stings you?

Does this mean you should avoid the beach?

More about the nomad jellyfish

More about the Meduzot B’Am project

When is the jellyfish season in Israel?

You can expect to see jellyfish from June to August. Usually, the jellyfish start appearing along the Israeli coastline in June, but sometimes the season starts later. They stay about four weeks in the area, from the first sighting.

Do the jellyfish sting?

Yes, they sting. The nomad jellyfish usually come in a swarm. At the peak of the season, about 2-3 weeks after the first jellyfish sighting, it’s hard to swim without getting stung. Also, the jellyfish are not so good at swimming. They go with the flow, which sometimes carries them to the shore. Even there, they can sting you. So stay away from any jellyfish you see, whether in the water or on the beach.

They don’t even have to sting you. You can get a skin rash from just swimming next to the jellyfish. Nobody has died from a jellyfish sting in Israel, but you should still be careful because getting stung isn’t a fun experience.

What to do if a jellyfish stings you?

If you don’t want to get stung, try to avoid the jellyfish as much as possible! If you do get stung by a jellyfish – the Israeli Health Department recommends you do the following steps:

  • Get out of the water and use a plastic stick or bag to get the jellyfish remains off your body.
  • Wash the affected area with seawater.
  • Afterward, wash the affected area with a strong and direct flow of tap water for a couple of minutes. Do not touch the area.
  • If there’s a first aid station on the beach, you can go there for further medical assistance. If you experience symptoms that aren’t a simple skin rash, you must immediately go to a medical center. These rare symptoms could include a breathing problem or weakness, and the affected area might change to blue.

Things you should not do:

  • Do not rub the affected area. This action might help the venom get deeper into your skin and worsen the situation. 
  • Do not rub the affected area with alcohol. 
  • Do not pee on the affected area. Unlike what people thought a few years back, new studies say it doesn’t help and might even worsen the pain.
  • Do not use vinegar. A new study says that vinegar could make the sting worse. 

Does this mean you should avoid the beach?

No! Go to the Israeli beaches. They are beautiful and a great place to hang out in the sun. Just keep an eye out for those jellyfish, especially at the season peak! 🙂

More about the nomad jellyfish:

Until the 1970s, the nomad jellyfish were found only in the tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. But then those adventurous jellyfish decided to cross through the Suez Canal and invade the Mediterranean Sea. Since then, they call the Mediterranean their home. During the winter months, they hide somewhere deep in the sea. When the water temperature rises in the summer, they start making their way towards the shores.

More about the Meduzot B’Am project:

The “Meduzot B’Am” (in Hebrew, “Jellyfish Ltd”) project was founded by Dr. Dor Edelist and Dr. Dror Angel, both marine ecologists. The project is a kind of science project run by citizens. People from all over Israel can report jellyfish sightings along the coast and help track the movement of the swarms. This way, both the swimmers and the ecologists win. The swimmers know which places to avoid and can read fascinating information about jellyfish brought to them by experts. The ecologists can use the data collected to learn more about jellyfish and their migration traits.  


Have a safe and enjoyable time at the beach!

If you liked this post or found it useful, I’d really appreciate a like, share or comment from you (:

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

And check out the Top Free Things to Do in Tel Aviv.

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Festivals & holidays Trip Planning Tips

Top Annual Events in Israel – July to December

Israel is a very festive country, full of festivals, events and holidays all year round. In this post I want to tell you about the top annual festivals and events in Israel from July to December (I’ve also written about the top annual festivals and events in Israel from January to June). Even if you aren’t planning to take part in the events, I do recommend you check what events are going on during your dates of travel, so you will be prepared for the crowds or changes in traffic. Some events are very popular, so you might want to book accommodation a while in advance.

And do read – Holidays in Israel and How to Spend Them During Travel.

Top July Events in Israel:

Jerusalem Light Festival: In this fabulous festival the alleyways of the Old City of Jerusalem will be lit with fantastic light shows. It is a great opportunity to take a walk in the Old City after dark, when the temperatures are also much nicer. The festival is free of charge.

When? June 26 – July 4, 2019.

Where? Jerusalem Old City.

Official Website: Jerusalem Light Festival.

Jerusalem Film Festival: If you want to get familiar with some Israeli films, you might find this film festival interesting. You need to get tickets in advance. You can check about the tickets through this email: contact@jer-cin.org.il.

When? July 25 – August 4, 2019.

Where? In Cinematheque Jerusalem, 11 Hebron Road.

Official Website: Jerusalem Film Festival

Top August Events in Israel:

Safed Klezmer Festival: Come enjoy the Klezmer performances that take place in the alleyways and lanes of the Old Jewish Quarter and the Artists Quarter of Safed. There are three nights of performances, which begin approximately 9 PM and continue until after midnight. All performances are free.

Where? Safed Old Jewish Quarter and Artists Quarter.

When? August 12-14, 2019.

Official Website: Safed Klezmer Festival

Akko Zimriya – International Choir Festival: If you happen to be in Akko at the end of August and want to take part in a magical musical event, try getting tickets to this international choir festival, which takes place in the ancient buildings of the Hospitaller Fortress of Old Akko, a UNESCO Heritage Site.

Where? The Hospitaller Fortress in Old Akko.

When? August18-21, 2019.

Official Website: Akko Zimriya .

Red Sea Jazz Festival: The sunny city of Eilat welcomes the Red Sea Jazz Festival, a 3-days events including concerts from Israel and abroad as well as jam sessions into the night. The performances require tickets.

Where? Eilat Port, Dock No. 9.

When? August 25-27, 2019.

Official Website: Red Sea Jazz Festival.

The National Arts and Crafts Festival: One of the greatest cultural events in Israel takes place in Jerusalem every summer. The festival includes arts and crafts stands, activities and live performances during the night. To watch one of the live performances, you need to purchase tickets online. To enter the fair, you can purchase tickets at the festival’s ticket booths.

Where? In Khutsot Hayotser, Jerusalem. 

When? August 12-24, 2019.

Official Website: The National Arts and Crafts Festival.

Opera in the Park Tel Aviv: The Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality and the Israeli Opera joined together to make this FREE event. An opera performance is shown in on of Tel Aviv’s public parks, Ganei Yehoshua Park. 

Where? Ganei Yehoshua Park.

When? Dates for this year not confirmed yet, but seems like it will be around August 9, 2019 between 8:30PM and 11:30PM.

Jerusalem Beer Festival: If you love beer, you might want to come and enjoy the many types of beer exhibited in this festival.

Where? In Jerusalem.

When? Dates for this year not available yet.

Official Website: Jerusalem Beer Festival.

Top September Events in Israel:

Mekudeshet Multidisciplinary Arts Festival: A 3-week unique festival based in Jerusalem, that focuses on the challenges and people of Jerusalem. Most events cost between 120 to 180 ILS, but seem very interesting and worth the price!

Where? In Jerusalem.

When? 4-21 September, 2019.

Official Website: Mekudeshet.

Sea of Galilee Crossing: The largest popular swimming event in Israel, which takes place in the Sea of Galilee. You can register as a single person or as a whole family and swim through the Sea of Galilee.

Where? In the Sea of Galilee.

When? Dates for this year not available yet.

Official Website: Sea of Galilee Crossing.

Top October Events in Israel:

Haifa International Film Festival: One of the top festivals in Israel for film lovers and media professionals. During this week of festival, dozens of new films from different categories are screened. It is required to get tickets in advance.

Where? In Haifa.

When? 12-21 October, 2019.

Official Website: Haifa International Film Festival.

Tamar Music Festival: A beautiful music celebration in the backdrop of the majestic Judean Desert. The festival includes special sunrise concerts at Masada and free concerts at Kibbutz Ein Gedi and Sdom Square.

Where? In Masada and the area.

When? 15-18 October, 2019.

Official Website: Tamar Music Festival.

Jerusalem March: The Jerusalem March, also called the Feast of Tabernacles, is an annual event of solidarity with Israel, which includes marching through the streets of Jerusalem together with many supporters from around the world. The march begins at 2PM from Sacher Park.

Where? In Jerusalem.

When? 17 October, 2019.

Official Website: Jerusalem March.

Cycle Tel Aviv: This cycling event, which is the biggest of its kind in Israel, includes four different cycling routes to choose from around Tel Aviv. October is usually a perfect time for cycling thanks to the great weather, so if you like to cycle, check it out. It will cost you around 70-90 ILS to register.

Where? In Tel Aviv.

When? 18 October, 2019.

Official Website: Cycle Tel Aviv.

IndNegev Music Festival: This is a huge three-day live music event, which includes over 100 live shows and camping in the Israeli desert. It’s called IndNegev because there are a lot of Indie bands, but there are also many other genres.

Where? Mitzpe Gvulot in the Negev.

When? 24-26 October, 2019.

Official Website: IndNegev Music Festival.

Tel Aviv Night Run: Come participate in one of the biggest sports events in Tel Aviv, the city that never sleeps. Or if you don’t like to run, you can always come and cheer the thousands of runners.  There is a registration fee for runners.

Where? In Tel Aviv.

When? 30 October, 2019.

Official Website: Tel Aviv Night Run.

Top November Events in Israel:

Open Restaurants in Jerusalem: A wonderful festival for culinary lovers! During the Open Restaurants events, you will be able to take part in many special workshops in some of Jerusalem’s finest restaurants, as well as many other activities which will connect you with the Israeli cuisine. Make sure to check that the activity is also in English before signing up, as many of the activities are in Hebrew.

Where? In Jerusalem.

When? 19-23 November, 2019.

Official Website: Open Restaurants in Jerusalem.

Eilat Desert Marathon: An amazing sports event, this marathon begins in the desert and ends at the shore of the Red Sea in Eilat. This is the only marathon event in Israel that combines desert views with sea views. If you want to experience a marathon like no other, register and join the fun.

Where? In the Negev Desert around Eilat.

When? 29 November, 2019.

Official Website: Eilat Desert Marathon.

Hula Valley Bird Festival: Every year, thousands of birds migrate through Israel to Africa or to Europe and Asia. On this week long event you can experience Israel’s fall migration in the Hula Valley, one of the most important places on the route of the migrating birds. The festival offers excellent packages for a week long birding program, but even if you aren’t planning to spend the whole week in the valley, you should definately come here to see the wonderful migration during this time of year.  

Where? Hula Valley.

When? Dates for this year are not set yet. It usually takes place on the last week of November.

Top December Events in Israel:

Haifa “Holiday of the Holidays”: This unique event takes place in the northern city of Haifa, which is known for its great religious and cultural diversity. During the festival, the Jewish, Christian and Muslim residents of Haifa celebrate together Channukah, Christmas and the Ramadan. Channukah and Christmas are celebrated in December and the Ramadan sometimes falls on December as well. The festival includes interesting exhibitions, shows, tours and conferences.

Where? In downtown Haifa.

When? Throughout December.


Have a festive time in Israel!

If you liked this post or found it useful, I’d really appreciate a like, share or comment from you (:

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

And be in touch if you’re looking for a tour guide in Israel.

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Trip Planning Tips

11 Steps to Planning Your Budget Trip to Israel

When I travel abroad one of my favorite parts of the trip is to plan it. I plan what I want to see, where I want to go, where to stay, and how much money to bring for food so that I won’t have too many surprises when I arrive. There are other people who just pack a backpack, buy a flight ticket and… go. But, if you’re like me – here is your ultimate checklist for planning your trip to Israel on a budget:

1 – Check if you need a visa to Israel

2 – Find time to come to Israel

3 – Check if your dates fall on a Jewish holiday or on Shabbat

4 – Book your flight / check about border crossing by land

5 – Read a bit about Israel and get inspired

6 – Open a map of Israel and plan your route

7 – Book your hostels or search for other stay options

8 – Add activities to your trip

9 – Calculate the expected expenses

10 – Get travel insurance

11 – Pack for your trip

Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. This helps me maintain the site. Thank you!

Check if you need a visa to Israel.

Most countries have visa exemption agreements with Israel, but there are still some who don’t have such agreements. So, it is mandatory to check if you need a visa before you come to Israel. You can check it in this list by the Israeli MFA. If you do not need a visa, you should contact the nearest Israeli embassy to you and check what you need to do in order to get the visa. If you don’t need a visa, you can continue on to the next step.

Find time to come to Israel.

Are you time limited? Can you only come to Israel when you have a vacation from work? The minimum number of days that I would recommend for a trip in Israel is 5 days, not including the arrival and departure day. Open your calendar and see where you can fit at least 5 days. If you really want to see the most of Israel, I would recommend at least 8-10 days.

In general, Israel is a year-round destination. Even in winter, temperatures rarely drop below 5-10 degrees Celsius. But if you’re coming for a specific activity, you might want to think about what season you want to visit Israel.

For hiking – Spring (February-May) and Autumn (October-November) are generally the best seasons, since temperature is mild. Spring is better if you want to see everything blossom.

For beach time – Summer (June-August) is definitely the best for the beach! It’s super hot and the water is cool.

Check if your dates fall on a Jewish holiday or on Shabbat.

After you’ve found time to come, Google “Jewish calendar” and check if your dates fall on any of the Jewish holidays. On some of the holidays, including Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Shavuot, there is no public transportation or it is very limited, so you should be aware of that when planning your trip, especially if the holiday falls on your arrival or departure date. Still, you will probably be able to get to or from the airport, but you will need to take a taxi or a shared taxi, which is more costly than a train or bus. The same goes for Shabbat (Friday eve to Saturday eve) – there’s no public transportation and some attractions, stores and restaurants are closed.

So if your dates do fall on a holiday or on Shabbat, circle those dates in your calendar and remember to try not to set any public transportation-related activities on those dates.

More about this – There’s No Public Transportation on Shabbat.

Book your flight/ Check Border Crossing by Land.

There are two international airports in Israel – Ben Gurion and Ramon. Ben Gurion Airport is located about 20 km from Tel Aviv, while Ramon is located about 20 km from Eilat. There are international flights to Ben Gurion all year long. To Ramon, low-cost flights arrive only in the winter. For more information about them, read my post – Entering Israel By Air – All You Need to Know.

Many have written before me about how to find cheap flights, so I’ll just sum it up in a few points:

  • Make sure your searches are cookie-free, so you can get better deals. Many sites keep track of our searches using cookies and change the prices they show us accordingly. Switch your internet to private browsing mode and you will probably get better results.
  • Compare flights through a number of search engines.
  • Try to be flexible. If you can be flexible with your arrival or departure date, you might be able to save a bit on the flight.

Those are the key points. For a full guide to buying cheap flights, you can check out the Thrifty Nomads wonderful guide.

Here are some useful search engine sites for booking a flight on a budget:

  • Momondo – Although most people use SkyScanner, Momondo sometimes gets you better prices.
  • Skyscanner.
  • Kiwi.com.
  • JetRadar.
  • HopperPredicts when flight prices will go down and alerts you about it.

What if you’re not going to fly into Israel?

Check border crossing by land. If you plan to enter Israel from Jordan (which by the way, may be more economic for you if you planned to visit Jordan anyway and fly to Amman), there are three border crossings into Israel. I highly recommend the Yitzhak Rabin/ Arava Border Crossing near Eilat. It isn’t too busy and is easy to pass through. If you’re travelling in Jordan, you can continue from Petra to the Yitzhak Rabin Border, spend a day or two in Eilat and then continue north to the rest of Israel. You can either take a taxi from the border to Eilat, which shouldn’t cost more than 60 ILS, or walk to the main road and catch a bus to the central station.

Since I don’t have much experience regarding the land border crossings, I highly recommend you read more about it in the full guide by Against the Compass. It seems like he knows what he’s talking about.

Read a bit about Israel and get inspired.

Now that you’ve booked your flight and are sure you are on your way to Israel – it’s time to start reading about your upcoming destination, if you haven’t done it already! You can either buy one of the many travel books available in the market or get inspired from my blog posts. Here are some categories which might interest you in my blog:

Jerusalem Posts Tel Aviv PostsEilat PostsGalilee PostsHiking Posts

And here are my recommended places to visit and how many days I recommend staying in each place:

The highlights (especially for first-timers):

  • Jerusalem – At least 2 days.
  • Tel Aviv – 1-3 days.
  • Dead Sea area – 1 day.

Bonus places:

  • Akko (Acre) – 1-2 days.
  • Haifa – 1 day.
  • Eilat and the area – 1-3 days.
  • Nazareth and Sea of Galilee area – especially for Christians – 2-4 days.
  • Safed – 1 day with overnight stay, since it’s super far from other places.
  • Golan Heights – for nature lovers and those who rent a car – 2-3 days.

Open a map of Israel and plan your route.

It’s easy to choose a lot of places you want to visit, but you should make sure they all fit well into your timetable and route. That’s why you need to open a map of Israel and check how everything works out for you. I like to use Google Maps. Put in the names of the places you want to visit and see how they can be connected to one another. Google Maps also has an option to show you public transportation routes, so if you don’t plan to rent a car, use this option.

This is also the perfect time to think if you want to rent a car or use public transportation while travelling in Israel. My tip – If you only plan to visit the main cities, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, you don’t need a car. You can even get along with public transportation to Eilat. But if you want to go to Northern Israel, I would recommend renting a car, as there is a lot to see there, but the public transportation is a bit complex and it can take a long time to get from one point to the other.

If you decide to use public transportation, don’t forget to get a Rav Kav – the public transportation card – when you arrive in Israel.

Book your hostels or search for other budget stay options.

Now that you know exactly where you want to go on your trip to Israel, it’s time to search for budget stay options.

If you’re going on the hostel option, check out the ILH Hostels network and my recommended hostels. Try to contact the hostel directly to get a better price and also check if you can book with a no-cancellation option, which is a bit risky, but is usually much cheaper.

Another popular stay option in Israel is Couchsurfing. I myself have hosted about 10 different Couchsurfers in Israel. On Couchsurfing, the host lets you stay at their house for free, which is very helpful. You can help out with the house choirs in return, or whatever you find appropriate. There are over 26 thousand Israelis on Couchsurfing. Of course, before you come to stay at someone’s place, please make sure to read their references and see that they look like good people.

And lastly, you can check out camping sites in Israel, especially if you’re coming in the spring or summer, when the weather is usually good. I’ve written a post about Camping Sites in and Around Eilat. In Israel you cannot camp anywhere you want. There are designated areas for camping. For camping sites outside of Eilat, you can check out the Israel Nature and Parks Authority campgrounds.   

Add activities to your trip.

After you’ve finished with your accommodation options, you can go on and search for activities to add to your trip. Of course, you can choose to not add any activities at all and just explore Israel on your own. But if you want to go to Masada, for example, and don’t want to rent a car – the easiest way to get there is by an organized day tour. So… you might want to check about different activities which might be interesting and ALSO make your trip easier.

The leading budget tour operators in Israel are:

  • Abraham Tours – they have some interesting tours, such as Hebron Dual Narrative Tour and Gaza Border Reality Tour. They also have some budget packages to Northern Israel and Jordan.
  • SANDEMANs Tours – Their flagship tour is their Jerusalem “Free” Tour, which is actually tip-based so expect to be asked to pay about 50 ILS. It’s usually good, so 50 ILS is worth it. They operate walking tours only in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Besides them, there are also some other guides, which do different tours in Israel. I highly recommend Aaron Gertz’s graffiti tours in Tel Aviv and Avital Levin’s D-TLV Pub Crawl. And if you’re staying somewhere during Shabbat, I recommend you try to join some Shabbat dinner at a local’s house. Two companies that I know can make it happen are Shabbat of a Lifetime and EatWith.

And I’m also a certified tour guide in Israel, so if you want a private walking tour, you can contact me.  

Calculate the expected expenses.

You can find a detailed break-down of expenses in my post – Israel: All You Need to Know Before You Go. In Israel you can pay for most things with a credit card, but it is advised to bring some cash for the small amount of places which do not accept credit cards.

Get travel insurance.

It’s important to get travel insurance before you travel to anywhere in the world!

Pack for your trip.

I usually pack about two days before my trip. It isn’t good, because then you can forget something you wanted to take with you. You’re lucky that in Israel it isn’t hard to get whatever you might forget at home, but it might be a bit expensive. So… I recommend to not be like me and pack at least a week before your trip.

Make sure you have all your travel documents, enough clothes, that are appropriate for the forecasted weather, and anything else you might need. Oh, and don’t forget a charger for your electrical devices, if you’re bringing any (I suppose you’ll be bringing your phone). The power plugs and sockets in Israel are of type H (type C also works). The standard voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz – like in European countries.  

More things you might want to bring for your trip to Israel:

  • Sunscreen and hat, especially in the summer.
  • Swimsuit for the beach.
  • Shirts with a sleeve and long pants for the holy places.

Have a wonderful trip to Israel!

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

If you liked this post or found it useful, I’d really appreciate a like, share or comment from you (:

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Trip Planning Tips

Is Israel Safe to Visit?

One of the questions that I see again and again in different travel forums is – “Is Israel Safe to Visit?” I’ve been operating this blog for over three years now and I think it’s time to answer the question. Is Israel safe to visit? In short – yes. And in more detail, here are some questions you might ask about safety and security in Israel and my answers to them:

Is there a lot of crime in Israel?

“Israel’s criminal incident rate per capita is lower than in many major cities in the U.S.” – says the OSAC Israel 2018 Crime & Safety Report. I have lived in Israel almost my entire life and have not experienced any criminal activity. Street crime is very low. Though, it is important – like in any foreign country – to keep your valuables in a safe place and not give any personal information to unauthorized personales. Police presence is very tight in touristic areas such as the Old City of Jerusalem and main areas of Tel Aviv, so if you do need help of any kind, you can reach out to them easily.

If you are using a rented car while visiting Israel, don’t leave any valuables inside as there is a problem of people breaking into cars, especially in East Jerusalem, in Tel Aviv and in remote places in the Judean Desert.

I’m a woman travelling to Israel alone. Should I worry?

No, don’t worry. Israel is very safe for solo female travellers. I myself am a woman and I’ve never felt scared to wander around. Though, you should be aware of some things which can make your trip much easier and safer:

  • Men in Israel can be quite flirty at times. If you don’t want them to flirt with you, you should make it very clear that you are not interested and they will usually back off. I’ve also experienced some irritating remarks thrown in my direction by men in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. I just ignored them, and you should too.
  • It is not common to hitchhike, especially as a solo traveler. Unlike other places in the world, in Israel it isn’t common to hitchhike and most of us locals don’t do it, especially if we’re travelling alone. I did it once when I had no other choice, but I would definately recommend that you as a solo female traveler will take the bus or train instead.
  • There are places which require to wear modest clothes. In holy places and in Ultra Orthodox Jewish religious neighborhoods such as Mea Shearim it is highly recommended to dress modestly. That is, cover your shoulders and put on pants or a skirt that reaches below the knee. If you’re in an Ultra religious neighborhood, you should go with a skirt and not with pants. You can go with pants to the Western Wall and to Temple Mount, as long as it covers beneath your knee.
  • There are many female-only dorms in Israeli hostels. If you’re travelling on a budget as a solo female traveler, you should know that many hostels offer female-only dorms, which can make your stay much more comfortable.
  • Most Israelis speak fairly good English. Don’t be shy to ask for directions or any other kind of help.
It’s safe to travel Israel as a solo woman

Why are there so many soldiers everywhere?

In Israel you’ll probably see a lot of soldiers walking around in their army uniforms, sometimes even holding on to a rifle. This is a very normal, everyday sight in Israel. In Israel, men and women have to join the IDF (Israel Defense Force) after high school and serve the country for 2 to 3 years. I have also served in the IDF. You’ll see the greatest amount of soldiers on Sundays – when they come back to their army base after a weekend at home – and on Thursdays – when they leave for a weekend at home.

The soldiers you will see in the Old City of Jerusalem are called “Magav” and are the Israel Border Police. Some of them are part of the IDF and some work in the Magav as part of the Israeli police force. Their mission is to make sure the Old City of Jerusalem stays quiet and peaceful.

Two Magav policemen in the Old City of Jerusalem

Are there a lot of terror attacks in Israel?

Israel knows how to deal with terror very well and is one of the leading countries in prevention of terrorism. We’ve seen terror of all kinds – stabbings, cars running over people, suicide attacks, shootings and even burning balloons – but in the last couple of years there have been very few terror attacks. There have been much more deadly attacks in places outside of Israel, such aas Sri Lanka and France. Israel has a great Intelligence unit, which prevents many attacks, and a great system of security checks, which usually catches terrorists before they even get close to their destination. Also, many people in Israel have served in the past as soldiers specializing in combat and were granted permission to carry a weapon after they left the army. Most terror attacks which were carried out were usually cut short by former Israeli combat soldiers, which were in the area and were able to shoot at the terrorist before he or she were able to expand their attack.

So are there many terror attacks in Israel? No. (at least not in 2018-19). And you should note that most attacks are directed at locals and not at tourists.

There’s a rocket attack on Israel. Should I cancel my visit?

No, don’t cancel right away! Wait for a few days to see how things develop. Once in a while the terrorist groups in Gaza Strip – amongst them Hamas – decide to shoot rockets at civilian areas in Israel. Sometimes they send just one rocket and leave it and sometimes they send dozens or hundreds of rockets. In the second case, they usually ask for a ceasefire after a day or two and Israel usually agrees to cease fire, because we don’t really want it to expand to a broad military operation. If it doesn’t expand to a military operation, you can feel safe to not cancel your trip, because usually there’s a long gap from one rocket attack to the other, and even if you’ll arrive and there will be a rocket attack, usually it does not get to the top touristic areas.

In the pic below you can see the rocket ranges of Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip. The area in the immediate range are not touristic at all and are actually “off the beaten path”. The area which is white-grayish is rarely targetted by the terrorist groups in Gaza, although it does happen once in a while that they fire a missle to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

Pic from idfspokesperson.wordpress.com

If you happen to be in Israel and hear a rocket siren, you should do as others do around you (hopefully they are doing as they are supposed to do). Find the bomb shelter closest to you and stay there for 10 minutes after the siren before coming out. If there’s no bomb shelter nearby, lay down on your belly, cover your head and neck and pray that a rocket won’t fall next to you. Most rockets are destroyed in the air by our Iron Dome system before they even hit the ground.

So let’s get back to the first and main question – Is Israel safe to visit? Yes, it is. Like in every other country you’ll visit, you just need to make sure to be a bit precautious and keep an eye on your stuff. Though, I do suggest to check travel alerts before coming, just to be on the safe side. Check out the alerts on the U.S Embassy in Israel page.

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Have a safe journey to Israel!

Anything I forgot to mention in the post? Leave me a comment or contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com.

If you liked this post or found it useful, I’d really appreciate a like, share or comment from you (:

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Jerusalem Trip Planning Tips

Shabbat in Jerusalem: What’s Open?

Shabbat is the holy day of the week for the Jewish people. It begins on Friday eve and ends on Saturday night. So, you can call it Saturday. Because Israel is a Jewish democratic state, most businesses and public transportation follow the Shabbat religious laws. This means that most public transportation does not operate on Shabbat. Also, almost all businesses are closed, including shops and restaurants. In this post, I want to focus on Shabbat in Jerusalem. 

Get ideas on how to get around during Shabbat here:

There’s No Public Transportation on Shabbat.

The holy city of Jerusalem is strict regarding Shabbat laws, so many places and services will be closed. But there are still some things that do operate on Shabbat. Now, I’ll tell you about the top things you can do on Shabbat in Jerusalem. Also, I’ll mention some restaurants which are open on Shabbat and aren’t too expensive. 

Post last updated on 12 July 2021.

Here’s a video by Kinetic Village, which talks a bit about the Shabbat and gives some footage of Jerusalem. The footage isn’t necessarily from Shabbat, but I really like it: 

Table of Contents:

Top things to do in Jerusalem on Shabbat

Explore the Old City

Visit one of Jerusalem’s museums

Enjoy the graffiti works in Machane Yehuda Market

Take part in a Shabbat dinner

Visit the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo

Join a guided tour

Restuarants open on Shabbat in Jerusalem

Top Things to Do in Jerusalem on Shabbat:

1- Explore the Old City.

Almost all places in the Old City are open on Shabbat, including churches and the Tower of David Museum. The Jewish Quarter attractions, restaurants, and shops are closed, but the Western Wall is open. Just keep in mind that it is not customary to take photos in the Western Wall plaza during Shabbat because it isn’t allowed to use cameras during Shabbat. If you do take photos, people might ask you to stop (and might not). Temple Mount is also closed on Shabbat.

 

Temple Mount – Closed on Shabbat

2- Visit one of Jerusalem’s museums.

Some of Jerusalem’s top museums are open on Shabbat, including the Tower of David Museum and Rockefeller Museum, which are in the Old City area. Also open are the Israel Museum, Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem Science Museum, and Museum for Islamic Art. But they are a bit farther away from the city center, so you will need to take a taxi or walk about 40 minutes to reach them. By the way, the Israel Museum offers FREE entrance for kids on Shabbat.

 

The Israel Museum – open on Shabbat

3- Enjoy the graffiti works in Machane Yehuda Market.

On Shabbat, the stalls in Machane Yehuda Market are closed. That means that the shutters are down. You’ll be able to see dozens of beautiful graffiti works made by the artist Solomon Souza. The graffiti works are painted on the shutters and show the faces of famous people – and less famous people – from Israel’s history. There are also some biblical scenes.

Just a few of the graffiti works in Machane Yehuda Market

4- Take part in a Shabbat Dinner.

One of the most amazing experiences in Israel is taking part in the Shabbat dinner. For Jewish people, this dinner is the most important meal of the week. Religious or traditional families say a set of blessings, sip from the wine and split the challah bread between all the participants. Many hostels offer a Shabbat dinner to their guests at an additional price.

If you want to experience a more intimate Shabbat dinner, you can join a Jewish family for this important event. Several companies link travelers and families for Shabbat dinner. One of the leading companies is Shabbat of a Lifetime. You can also find a Shabbat experience on Eatwith

Challah bread on Shabbat

5- Visit the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.

The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo is open during Shabbat between 10 AM to 5 PM. You can spend a pleasant afternoon walking on the different paths, between the variety of animals. Though, keep in mind that the zoo is far from the city center. That could be problematic on Shabbat because there’s no public transportation. You’ll need to rent a car or take a taxi.

Find more info on the official website of the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.

These giraffes look grumpy… don’t they?

6- Join a guided tour.

COVID-19 Alert:

Many of the tours do not operate at this time due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Prefer exploring the city with a guide? You can join one of the tours offered by different companies in Jerusalem on Shabbat:

 

Restaurants Open in Jerusalem on Shabbat: 

(all restaurants are in the city center or the Old City)

  • Jahnun Bar – They serve amazing jahnun and malawachs, but you can also order shakshuka and different salads. The place is open 24 hours a day, including Shabbat, and the prices are affordable! Address: Hillel 28.
  • Aroma – This is a national chain that serves coffee, sandwiches, salads, and breakfasts. The breakfasts include shakshuka, of course. Most branches in Jerusalem are not open on Shabbat, but one is open on Hillel 18.
  • Bolinat – This is a pleasant cafe and bar, popular among the students of Jerusalem. It offers excellent hamburgers, pasta, and salads. They also have a menu for vegans. Prices are average, and it’s open every day until late, including Shabbat. Address: Dorot Rishonim 6.
  • Abu Shukri Restaurant – In the Old City Muslim Quarter, Abu Shukri offers wonderful hummus. There are also the usual side dishes – falafel balls, french fries, pita bread, and salads. This restaurant is here from the 60s and is well-known amongst tourists and locals alike. Address: El Wad ha-Gai 63.
  • Jafar Sweets – Here is the place to go for a perfect kanafeh. This Arab dessert is a pastry soaked in sweet syrup and layered with yummy cheese. But besides the kanafeh, there are also delicious baklavas and other Arab sweets. They have been making sweets for over 60 years, so they know what they are doing. You’ll find their restaurant inside the Old City Muslim Quarter, on Beit HaBad Street. 

I’m sure there are more, but those are the ones I know and recommend. Know of any more budget restaurants open on Shabbat? Let me know in the comments or PM me on my Facebook page.

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Wishing you a great Shabbat in Jerusalem!

If you liked this post or found it useful, please don’t hesitate to like, share or comment (:

Also, if you think anything is missing or have any more questions, please send me a message through my Facebook pageBackpack Israel or email me through lior@backpackisrael.com.

And if you’re planning a trip to Israel, don’t forget to check out my FREE app – Travel Israel for Android and iOS

Yours,

Lior

 

Categories
Transportation Trip Planning Tips

Full Guide to Public Transportation in Israel

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. Update: Tel Aviv has began operating public buses on Shabbat. (December 2019).

The Rav Kav Card

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.

The service center at Ben Gurion Airport

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), place 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 – Place 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.
Place your Rav Kav where the red circle is…

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.

Egged bus by Grauesel at wikivoyage shared

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.

Dan bus in 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.

Afikim bus

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.

Nateev Express bus

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. You can also use Uber, but in Israel it’s just like ordering a regular taxi.

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. Starting 18 August 2019, you can use your Rav-Kav on sherut taxis number 4 and 5 in Tel Aviv (but not on Shabbat, only on weekdays).

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.

The light-rail train route (from citypass.co.il)

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. Edit: Starting from 18 August 2019 it is possible to use Rav-Kav on sherut lines 4 and 5 (not during Shabbat, only on weekdays). 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.

Sherut Taxis in Tel Aviv

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.

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Wishing you an easy trip to Israel!

If you liked this post or found it useful, please don’t hesitate to like, share or comment (:

Also, if you think anything is missing or have any more questions, please send me a message through my Facebook pageBackpack Israel or email me through lior@backpackisrael.com.

And if you’re planning a trip to Israel, don’t forget to check out my FREE app – Travel Israel for Android and iOS

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Eilat Trip Planning Tips

3 to 5 Days in Eilat: Travel Ideas

Soon flights will start landing in the new Ramon International Airport, which is situated about 20 km north of Eilat. Until then, flights are still landing in Ovda Airport, 60 km away from Eilat, which only makes it a little bit longer to reach the sunny city at the southern tip of Israel.

Eilat lies between the colorful mountains, the flat yellow Arava and the beautiful turquoise Red Sea. I’ve spent much of my childhood in Eilat and still visit the area once in a while, so I can assure you, there’s lots to see there! If you only have 3-5 days and want to experience the Israeli desert and the sunny city of Eilat, here are some travel ideas which could help you plan your trip.

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(Almost) Only Hiking:

Planning to come on the tightest budget and to hike through the beautiful landscapes of the Eilat Mountains and Arava? Make sure to come with a good tent, sturdy hiking shoes, a sunhat, sun screen and enough water (at least 3 liters a day in winter and at least 5 liters a day in summer). And do not attempt to hike after rainfall, because there’s a flood hazard. Here is my suggestion for a few days of hiking and having a fun time in Eilat and the area:

 

Day 1: Hike from Eilat Field School to Mount Yoash

Wake up early and start the first part of the Israel Trail – or the last part, depends on how you look at it – from Eilat Field School to Mount Yoash. Expect a long hike through the beautiful Eilat mountains, around 8 hours of hiking, about 14 km. Before you start hiking, read more about this trail in my post: Hiking in the Eilat Mountains: From Mount Yoash to Mount Zefahot. It shows the trail if coming from the opposite side, but it still gives you the overall feel.

At the end of the trail, you can set up your tent at the Mount Yehoram Campground. There are no facilities in the campground, so you should make sure you have enough food and water for the night and the next day. There’s an option of paying for someone to bring you water to the campground or for someone to hide water for you in advance. Check out the list of water caching service providers here.

View of the Eilat Field School from the beginning (or end) of the trail

Day 2: Explore the Red Canyon

Wake up early, before sunrise, and climb up Mount Yoash, which is a very short walk from Mount Yehoram Campground. From the top of the mountain you can see a beautiful view of the Red Sea, the mountains of the area, Jordan, Egypt and even a bit of Saudi Arabia, and the view is even more magical at sunrise. It should take you around one hour to climb up and down. If you want, you can pack something to eat on top of the mountain.

Afterwards, you can start your way to the Red Canyon. You can try hitchhiking, but there are times when this road is quite empty. It takes about 3 hours to hike along the road to the Red Canyon. Please be careful and don’t walk in the middle of the road! You can read my post: Hiking Around Eilat – Beautiful Red Canyon for all the details.

After hiking the Red Canyon, you can catch bus number 392 back to Eilat (not on Shabbat). Last bus leaves around 7:30 PM, so make sure not to miss it. If you do miss it, you can camp near at the Red Canyon Campground. If you get to Eilat this day, you can set your tent on one of the southern beaches or in the Eilat Field School (at a cost). Read more about camping options in the area in my post: Camping Sites in and Around Eilat.

The Red Canyon

Day 3: Discover the Underwater World

This day is meant for a bit of relaxation, away from the mountains and into the underwater world. If you chose to camp in the southern beaches area, then you can wake up and walk to the Coral Beach Reserve, which is situated right in front of the Eilat Field School. It’s a lovely beach, where you can rent a mask and a snorkel (ID needed) and snorkel above the most northern coral reef in the world! The entrance is at a fee (35 ILS per person), as the place belongs to the INPA, but it’s worth the price. You can easily spend there around 3-4 hours.

Watch a bit about coral reef conservation in Eilat by GoEco:

Afterwards, you can sit down and relax on one of the nearby beaches, such as the Migdalor Beach or the Village Beach, or you can take a bus (number 15 or 16) to one of the more northern beaches. One of the most popular beaches in Eilat is Mosh’s Beach. It’s also one of the southern beaches, but is much nearer to the city center, north to the Eilat Port. The service on Mosh’s Beach is perfect, the music is fun and there’s a lot of food and drink options. You can relax here for the rest of the afternoon.

Day 4: Hike Through the Arava to Schoret Canyon

This day will have the longest hike, around 18 km. Unlike day number 1, you won’t have to climb up and down mountains, but you’ll still have to walk this long distance on a trail that has no piece of shade along it, so get ready for it, pack enough water and snacks, and wake up as early as you can. If you’re coming from the southern beaches area, you can wait for the first bus to the starting point, bus number 16. It leaves the Eilat Field School area around 9:00 AM and gets to the Ice Mall around 20 minutes later. From there, you can begin the hike along the Arava towards Schoret Canyon, passing by a number of interesting points along the way. You can read more about this hike in my post: Birds, Agriculture and Ancient Wells Just Outside Eilat.

After visiting the Flamingo Pools, you can hike back to the path junction that led to the pools and turn towards road number 90. You’ll have to cross the road to the other side to get to Schoret Canyon. Lately, they’ve put a road barrier in between the two lanes, so please cross very carefully and make sure there’s no car coming your way. This is under your responsibility! After crossing the road, continue according to the signage until you reach Schoret Canyon Campground. There, you can set up your tent. The campground is without any facilities, so make sure to pack enough water for the day and the day afterwards.

Near the Schoret Canyon

Day 5: Schoret Canyon and Back Home

On the fifth and final day, you can take a hike in beautiful Schoret Canyon (the Black Canyon). There are some really nice lookouts along the way, as well as an interesting ancient leopard’s trap. From the Schoret Canyon Campground continue on the green-marked trail until you enter the canyon. This is also part of the Israel Trail, so you might see the orange-blue-white marking on some stones as well. After about 1.2 km you will get to a fork in the trail. Choose the red marked trail. After an easy climb and about 1.5 km, you’ll get a point where the red trail meets a black trail. Turn right on the black marked trail and continue along it until you get back to the campground. It’s an easy and very nice trail, that is about 4 km long and takes about 2-4 hours to complete.

*If you want, you can make your hike longer by hiking to Amram Pillars and back. Instead of turning right on the black marked trail, turn left and hike about 4 km until you reach a trail junction. Continue straight on the red marked trail until you reach the blue marked trail. Turn right and follow the signs to Amram Pillars. Those pillars are a beautiful example of erosion in the desert and are very similar to the Solomon Pillars in Timna Park.

Schoret Map

After the hike, you can continue hiking back to road number 90 on the same trail you hiked yesterday. If you want to catch a bus, you’ll need to walk a bit further south from the place where the road to the Canyon meets road number 90. Walk about 4 km south to Schoret Industrial Area (in Hebrew: אזור תעשיה שחורת) and try to catch any bus driving south. That will take you to Eilat and from there you can catch a bus to Ovda Airport. If you want to get to Ramon International Airport (still not open for international flights in the time of writing – February 2019), then you can walk to Schoret Industrial Area and try to catch a bus driving to the north. The airport is just one stop afterwards, but it’s a 11 km walk from the Schoret road junction.

Another option is to hike along the Israel Trail throughout your 4-5 days.

 

With a Rented Car:

With a rented car you can make the most out of your trip, but at a bit higher cost. Renting a car can cost around 100 ILS per day, not including fuel costs. Two of the major car rental companies in Israel are Shlomo Sixt and Cal Auto. Check out this deal for a better price. The roads are very easy to navigate and most are paved.

Let’s say your starting point is Eilat. I recommend you use a navigating app like Google Maps or Waze.

Day 1: Explore Timna Park and its Surroundings

Drive from Eilat to Timna Park, 30 km north of Eilat. It is open from 8:00AM, so it would be best to come as early as possible to avoid the warmer hours. There is no shade in Timna Park. The entrance fee is around 50 ILS.

You can either drive between the different sites with your car or rent a bike from the entrance to the park or from the park’s shop near the artificial lake and ride along 14 km of bike trails that have been marked throughout the park.

Highlights of the park include Solomon’s Pillars and Hathor’s Temple, the Arches Site and Ancient Mined (the most ancient copper mines in the world!) and the Mushroom, a unique formation in the red sandstone.

Solomon Pillars in Timna Park

You can easily spend here the entire morning. You can eat lunch near the park’s lake (either buy food from the park’s restaurant or bring your own) and then move on to Elifaz, the kibbutz that is situated right beside Timna Park. In the kibbutz plantation you can taste different types of vegetables grown in the Arava (if the season permits). The entrance to the plantation costs 30 ILS per person. For more info about Elifaz’s plantation and how to get there, you can call the kibbutz at: 08-6356230 (You’ll need to add the international dial code +972 if you’re not calling from an Israeli number).

Then, you can continue northwards. If you have time and are interested, you can pay a short visit to Samar Dunes (near Kibbutz Samar), which are one of the last remaining sand dunes in the Arava. Run up the majestic dune and roll your way down, or bring with you something to slide on!

You can stay the night at one of the kibbutzim in the area. I recommend on Kibbutz Lotan, an eco-friendly Jewish settlement, that is one of the leading places in the world in the natural building field. You might get a chance to sleep in one of their cool natural buildings! They also have a nice tour in their eco-park, that takes place every day at 9:00 AM. Talk with them on the phone +972-54-9799030 or by email info@klotan.co.il.

Get a glimpse of Kibbutz Lotan in this video by Kibbutz Lotan:

 

This day is also possible without a car (by public transportation):

You can get on any bus driving to the north along road number 90 from the Central Bus Station in Eilat and ask the driver to stop at Elifaz/ Timna Park Junction (in Hebrew: אליפז/ פארק תמנע). The bus ride should cost around 14 ILS. From the junction, you can continue by foot to Timna Park and pay the entrance fee (around 50 ILS). I recommend you rent a bike from the visitor center at the entrance and paddle along the many bike trails in the park. A regular bike rental will cost you 60 ILS for half a day, and an electric bike rental will cost you 85 ILS for 4 hours.

At the end of the day, you can choose to camp inside the park. If you bring your own tent, you’ll pay about 104 ILS (the park admission price included). If you prefer something fancier, you can use one of the park’s tents at a higher price. Email the park for more info and reservations: timna8@parktimna.co.il.

You can also take a bus to Kibbutz Lotan and stay the night there as suggested in the rented-car option. The kibbutz can arrange a lift from the junction to the kibbutz itself.

And there’s another option:

You can visit Timna Park by joining the Timna Park Safari Tour. They’ll pick you up from your hotel around 10:00 AM and then take you to Timna Park. You’ll have about a 2-hour safari inside the park, seeing the main sites, and then you’ll be returned to Eilat. The price starts from 25 USD per person, not including the site entrance fee. You can book it by calling +972-8-6616976.

Day 2: Discover the Beaches and Underwater World of Eilat

On your second day, wake up and make your way to Eilat (if you want to take a tour in Lotan’s eco-park, you can do it in the morning).

I recommend starting your day early in the Coral Beach Reserve, where you can snorkel above the beautiful reef. You will need to put an ID at the reception to be able to use the site’s snorkel and mask. If you want to see the underwater world much more clearly, you can visit the Underwater Observatory Park, though it is super pricey (about 100 ILS!) If you do want to visit the observatory, you should definitely book the tickets in advance through their site, as it is a bit cheaper there.

After enjoying your time under the water, you can sit down and relax on one of Eilat’s beaches. As I’ve already mentioned, Mosh’s Beach is one of the best.

In the evening you can do some pub crawling around the different night venues of Eilat. My favorites are Mike’s Place, Paddy’s Irish Pub and Bears Pub. Some would also recommend the legendary Three Monkeys Bar, but I find it too noisy.

If you prefer something a bit different, on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings there’s also a nice musical fountain show in the park behind the Eilat Museum.

If you aren’t interested in camping, you can check out the Arava Hostel, which was recommended to me by some people. There’s also the Shelter Hostel, which is more Christian-oriented, but also recommended.

This day is also possible without a car (by public transportation):

Use bus number 15 or 16 to get to the Coral Beach Reserve and to the more southern beaches.

Day 3: Drive Through the Eilat Mountains

On the third day, set out early in the morning to the Eilat Mountains, one of the most beautiful geological areas in Israel and the surroundings. At the time of the formation of the Great Rift Valley, secondary rifts were also formed horizonal to the Great one. Those rifts made it possible for us to see many types of rocks each beside the other, what makes the Eilat Mountains so colorful. Some of the darker rocks you see are about 500 million years old! Road number 12, that makes its way through the Eilat Mountains, is one of the most amazing drives in the area. It winds between the different mountains and valleys as it stretches beside the border with Egypt.

The road through the mountains…

Drive about 8 km from the beginning of road 12 and you’ll see to your left a little mountain with an antenna on top of it – that’s Mount Yoash. You can stop in the dirt parking lot and climb up to the top of Mount Yoash to enjoy a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains, of the Egyptian territory to the south and of the enchanting Red Sea to the east. If you don’t have problems with waking up really early, I recommend you try to come here at sunrise. The sunrise is amazing from Mount Yoash. The climb up and down takes about an hour (if you stop to appreciate the view from atop).

There are mainly trails in the area, which you can see are marked by signs along the way. The most popular trail is the Red Canyon, so after Mount Yoash I’ll recommend you to return to your car and continue through the mountains another 11 km or so until you see the turn to the Red Canyon (in Hebrew: הקניון האדום). You’ll need to drive a few minutes on a dirt road that is quite bumpy, so be aware of that, especially because your using a rented car. Drive slowly and carefully. When you’ll get to the end of the road, you can start the hike. Read more about it here: Hiking Around Eilat – Beautiful Red Canyon. It shouldn’t take you more than two hours.

Continue along road number 12. You’ll reach the Ovda Valley, where Ovda Airport is located. If you want to see one of the most interesting archeologic finds in the area, you can turn right about 45 km from the Red Canyon towards a site called the Leopards’ Temple. It’s an ancient open-air temple, with rocks that are arranged in the shape of leopards on the ground.

From the Leopards’ Temple you can continue about 5 km to the road junction with road number 40. There’s a nice mini-restaurant on this junction, called Pundak Neot Semadar. The menu includes vegetarian options, including shakshuka, different kinds of toasts, humus, tahini and salads. You can eat here lunch.

Then, continue about 8 km east on road number 40 until you see a brown sign indicating right towards Mount Ayit. This is another lookout, but this time over the Arava and the Edom Mountains (which are on the Jordanian side). You can see some of the settlements down below, including Lotan and Grofit.

After the lookout, you can continue on your way back to Eilat (or to the Ramon Airport if your flight is leaving from there). If you’re coming back to Eilat for the night, you can make a quick stop at the Bird-Watching Park that’s near the Arava Border Crossing (Yitzhak Rabin Border Crossing). If you’re travelling in the bird migration season in the spring, you might be able to see some birds before sunset. The entrance to the park is free of charge.

Part of this day is also possible without a car (by public transportation):

It would be difficult to make the full circuit with a bus, but you can definitely catch bus number 392 from the Central Bus Station in Eilat to the Red Canyon. Ask the driver to stop for you at the Red Canyon junction. From there, you’ll need to hike a short way on the dirt road to the beginning of the trail. Make sure to ask the driver where and when you should wait for the next bus back to Eilat.

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Wishing you a wonderful time in Eilat and its surroundings!  

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Yours,

Lior