“How will I get around?” That’s one of the main questions people ask before arriving in an unknown country. In Israel, you can choose to explore the country in various ways. You can join an organized tour, rent a car, or use different forms of public transportation. In this post, I’ll try and make public transportation in Israel a bit easier for you.
Let’s start with the two most important things you need to know when using public transportation in Israel: Shabbat and the Rav Kav.
Post last updated on 6 December 2021.
Table of contents:
Public transportation on Shabbat in Israel:
Shabbat is the holy day of the week for the Jewish people. It begins on Friday evening and ends on Saturday night. According to the Jewish religious laws, you cannot ride or drive a vehicle during Shabbat. Israel is a Jewish democracy. That’s why most public transportation does not operate on Shabbat.
Taxis operate on Shabbat. Though, there are some places where there is also public transportation. For example, Palestinian buses operate in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Some public transportation lines also operate in Haifa because it is a city of both Jews and Arabs. And some private transport companies operate in the main cities, like Tel Aviv. Lately, Tel Aviv has started operating free public lines on Shabbat. But other than those, most public lines do not operate from Friday evening to Saturday night. You should take this into account when planning your trip.
Learn about options for transportation on Shabbat!
The Rav Kav, Israel’s public transportation card:
The Rav Kav is Israel’s public transportation smartcard. You can use it to pay for bus and train rides in Israel. Today, it is a must on buses in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. On the train and intercity buses, you still don’t have to use the card. But, I suppose that sometime in the future, it will become mandatory. Update: Following the coronavirus pandemic, you cannot pay any bus driver with cash. This means that without a Rav Kav, you cannot use ANY bus.
I recommend getting the Rav Kav anyway because it’s much easier to use it than to pay the drivers in cash. It will also save you some money, especially if you’re going to use a lot of public transportation in Israel. And if you want to make your life even easier, try using one of the new payment apps for public transportation, which I’ll write about later.
Important to note:
The Rav Kav doesn’t work on Palestinian buses.
Where can you get the Rav Kav?
Are you landing at Ben Gurion Airport? If so, you can get the card at the Public Transportation Service Center in the airport. It’s located in the Arrivals Hall. The service center is open Sundays to Thursdays from 8 AM to 1 PM and from 1:30 PM to 6 PM.
If you’re landing at Ramon Airport, there’s supposed to be a service center there, too. And if you can’t make it to any of those centers, you can get the card at any service center in the main cities or central bus stations. Tourists can pick up a special Rav Kav for tourists at Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Read more about this Rav Kav here.
How much does the Rav Kav cost?
Someone told me that tourists can get the card for free by showing their passport. If not, it only costs 5 ILS. Then, you will need to load it with money to use it.
You can either load money into the “stored value” on your card or get an all-day ticket. An all-day ticket is a good deal if you’re planning to take at least three rides in one of the cities. With the “stored value,” you can pay for more than one person using the same card by clicking the number of people on the ticket scanner. This option is not possible on the light-rail train in Jerusalem. With an all-day ticket, you can only pay for one person
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.
For more information about options and prices, check out about the Rav Kav in Egged’s official site.
Where can you load your Rav Kav?
I 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, there are plenty of points on 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 load money with shekels or a credit card.
How do you validate your ticket?
There are several ways:
- On buses – You can either validate it at the bus driver’s stand or use one of the Rav Kav scanners inside the bus. Though, in some buses, those scanners don’t work, so you’ll need to go to the driver. Place your card on the card scanner and wait for the green light, which tells you that you’ve paid for the ride.
- On trains – Simply place your Rav Kav on the station barrier, and it should open. You’ll need to swipe the card again at your exit station so it can calculate how much you need to pay. If you don’t have money on your card, you’ll need to load it at the station.
- On the light-rail train in Jerusalem – Place your Rav Kav on the scanner when entering the trail and wait for the green light, which tells you that you’ve paid.
Useful public transportation apps for your trip in Israel:
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. It also shows the bus arrival times in LIVE. You can also try the Offline Maps.
Moovit – A good navigation app for public transportation. It is possible to type destinations in English, but the map is in Hebrew. It shows you approximate bus arrival times in LIVE, but I’ve noticed that it’s less accurate than Google Maps. Also, it underestimates the time it takes to get from one point to another. I always multiply the time it shows, so I won’t be late. Lately, Moovit has also added an option to pay on the public transportation rides directly from the app.
HopOn – I’ve downloaded this app a few months ago and use it every time I use public transportation. It’s a great app for paying for public transportation! Instead of using the Rav Kav card, I use HopOn to pay directly through the app. Paying on buses is a bit complicated because you need to scan a barcode, choose the bus line, and then choose your destination. But, paying on the train or light rail is very easy. The payment is reduced from my credit card at the end of every month.
Main public bus companies in Israel:
Where will you find Egged buses? Almost everywhere. Egged is the biggest bus company in Israel. They usually operate as intercity buses, except for some cases in Northern Israel. Egged is also the main player in most Israeli cities, except for the Tel Aviv area. Their buses are completely green. Lately, they’ve also added a fleet of greyish buses.
Check for routes and timetables through the Egged website.
Where will you find Dan buses? In the central area of Israel. This bus company is the strongest in the Tel Aviv area. The Dan buses are white, with a blue stripe all along the bottom.
Where will you find Afikim buses? When going to the airport. This bus company links 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.
Where will you find Nateev Express buses? In the northern regions of Israel. 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 northern town, such as Karmiel or Afula, and take Nateev Express from there. The Nateev Express buses are white and orange.
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 much cheaper.
Learn more about transportation from the airport!
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 with public transportation:
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 to 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.
If you are travelling to or from Eilat:
it’s recommended to book a seat in advance. If the bus will be full, the driver might not let you board the bus. If he or she will, then you might find yourselves standing the entire way. If you plan to take a 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.
Get more info about booking a bus ticket to Eilat.
The Israel Railway is well-connected throughout the country. It can take you from Nahariyya or Acre (Akko) in the north to Be’er Sheva in the south. Though, you’ll need to change some lines for that route.
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 new train to Jerusalem, that passes through Ben Gurion Airport. Prices change according to destination. If it’s 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 main attractions in Jerusalem are very near each other. This means you can easily walk between them. You may want to use public transportation from the central bus station to the city center. Or, you can use public transportation to reach far points, like the Israel Museum, Yad Vashem, and Mount Herzl.
In Jerusalem, there are three types of transportation:
The light-rail train (or the tram):
This is the easiest way to get around Jerusalem. It costs 5.9 ILS for a one-way ride. You can buy a paper ticket at the machine in the station or use your Rav Kav or payment app. You must validate your paper ticket, Rav Kav, or payment app the moment you get on the train. To validate paper tickets, put them inside the slot of the validating machine inside the tram. Make sure you get a green light. Ticket inspectors get on the train very often, sometimes even twice during one ride.
The light-rail train currently (December 2021) has only one line, that connects most main points around the city. It is very frequent during the morning and afternoon hours. At night, its frequency drops and a train arrives every 15 minutes or so. It drives a bit slow, but during rush hours (7-9AM and 2-6PM) it is the best way to get around, as it skips all the traffic jams. In rush hours, it can be very-very crowded on the tram and there are never enough seats for everyone, so be ready for that.
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 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 the card 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. You will also need to figure out which bus direction you need for 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 Google Maps or Moovit.
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 by buses and the sherut taxis. In a few more years we might also have a light-rail running through Tel Aviv as well, but now it’s still under construction.
In Tel Aviv there are three types of transportation:
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.
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.
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!
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