Israel Travel Guide: Tips and tricks from experts
For a country about the size of New Jersey, there are so many unforgettable places to visit in Israel. It’s one of the few countries where you can hit the mountains, desert, ocean, and a major city in a single day—a place full of indescribable beauty, immense history, irresistible eats, and incredibly warm people.
With some of the oldest sites in the world, as well as some of the most advanced technology, the attractions in Israel are endless. This Israel Travel Guide will show you all the unique places and experiences you can only have when you visit the Holy Land.
Israel’s currency is the Israeli new shekel (NIS or ILS), which most people just call the shekel. The coins are called “agorot”, or “agora” for a single coin, and 100 agorot equals one shekel (the same way 100 pennies in the U.S. equals $1).
Most people in Israel speak either Hebrew or Arabic, but you’ll hear and see Hebrew (“Ivrit”) most frequently. Don’t worry if you don’t know either language, though! Most locals also speak fluent English. It’s required in nearly all Hebrew and Arabic schools.
Best way to get around
Private motor coaches are the best way to travel through Israel with a group. They’re plentiful in the country, and they're also safe. Apart from those, intercity buses are a great way to get around. They’re quick, comfortable, and affordable. Just make sure you buy a card in advance (you can usually do so right at the bus stop) because they don’t take cash onboard.
Taxis are also a bit cheaper in Israel than they are in the United States, but just be aware of your surroundings and try to avoid the topic of religion for your safety.
Phrases to know
Kama ze ole? (Ka-ma-ze-oleh)
Keep this phrase in your back pocket when you’re looking to buy something at one of the country’s colorful markets or shops. It means “How much does this cost?”
Israel travel tip: Don’t be afraid to barter. If you’re shopping from any local market, vendors will be able to tell you’re a tourist and will try to charge you more. They are usually pretty open to bartering for a better price, if you’re comfortable doing so.
Afo ___? (Ay-fo)
Lost your way to Ben Yehuda Street? Can’t remember whether you were supposed to turn left or right to get to falafel shop? Simply looking for a restroom? Just ask a local this phrase, which means “Where is...” and you’re back on track.
Todah raba (Toe-dah-rah-ba)
Speaking of politeness, “Toda raba” means “thank you very much” in Hebrew, which, of course, is a phrase you’ll want to use anytime you make a purchase, or anyone serves you food. “Todah” means thank you, but adding “raba” is an extra layer of appreciation!
This is likely the most fun word on the list. “Sababa” is a slang word in both Hebrew and Arabic that translates to “great or cool,” but is most similar to “awesome” or “rad”. It’s used to express enthusiasm and satisfaction.
When is the best time to visit Israel?
Any time, it just depends on what you’re looking for. Each season brings its own flavor to Israeli life. Check out which time of year might be right for you.
- Spring has stellar weather (not too hot or too cold), along with several vibrant festivals. In March, Tel Aviv’s streets take on a carnival-like atmosphere for Purim. And in May, outdoor dance shows, live music concerts, and performance art pop up all over Jerusalem for Israel Festival.
- Summer is just right for beach bums. From June to August, Israel’s sandy shores beckon everyone to the beach bars for picture-perfect, blue-sky days and a round of matkot, a paddle game similar to beach tennis. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a rain cloud on your trip, but you will find plenty of pressed grapes to taste, because the Jerusalem Wine Festival kicks off in July.
- Fall is the perfect time to visit Israel if you’re into the outdoors. Daytime temperatures hover in the 70s and stay in the mid-50s at night, making it the perfect season to hike Mount Masada or cycle along Tel Aviv’s beach promenade on our Israel Adventure Tour. If you’re a naturalist, this is also a fantastic season to see the more-than 500 million birds that migrate through Israel on their way to Africa. Head to the salt-water pools in Eilat or Atlit to bird watch.
- Winter is perfect if you’re not into crowds. December through March is the off-season in Israel, so you’ll have the Western Wall and Yad Vashem almost to yourself on our Wonders of Ancient Israel tour. The weather’s in the 50s in most places, so it’s perfect for walking tours. Just pack a heavier jacket if you’re headed north to Galilee—you don’t want to miss the chance for a snowy evening walk.
What to pack for a trip to Israel
Any Israel Travel Guide worth its weight in the Dead Sea needs a comprehensive packing list. From holy sites to Jeep rides in the Golan Heights on our Israel Adventure Tour, you’ll need a wardrobe (and some extra odds and ends) to make every moment magic.
Modest clothing. If you’re planning to visit religious sites or communities, you’ll want tops and pants that cover most of your body. For women, pack a shawl or sweater to cover your head and shoulders and a skirt or dress that hits below your knees. For men, bring pants and a shirt that covers your shoulders. Tank tops are a no-go at most local destinations, except for beaches and downtown Tel Aviv.
A water bottle. Unless you’re visiting during the winter, Israel tends to be hot, humid, and blissfully sunny. A water bottle will keep you hydrated and healthy for walking tours, beach outings, and desert trips.
Sunscreen. Surprisingly, sunscreen tends to be quite expensive in Israel. So you’ll want to bring your own from home. It’s almost always hot and sunny, so you’ll definitely need it!
A swim suit. From touring the Caesarea Aqueduct Beach to the Dead Sea, you just can’t leave Israel without dipping a toe (or dunking your head) in Israel’s dreamy waters. Even if you visit in the winter, you can plunge into Israel’s natural hot springs. The soothing mineral water reaches 107 degrees in some spots, making it perfect for melting off a cooler January day.
Visit Israel on tour
Things to do in Israel
Whether you’re interested in history, religion, architecture, culture, or food, there are many attractions in Israel for you. Here are some of the top things to do in Israel.
See the Western Wall. Step foot into the Old City of Jerusalem, and you’re immediately captured by feelings of magnitude and faith—no matter your religion. At the heart, you’ll find the Western Wall. Also known as the Wailing Wall, it’s the only remains of the retaining wall surrounding the Temple Mount, which is where the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem were destroyed in 587-586 B.C. and 70 A.D., respectively.
Today, it’s a site of pilgrimage and prayer sacred to the Jewish people. On the men’s side, you’ll hear loud, joyous singing, and on the women’s side you’ll witness intensity and warmth at any time of day or night. As you place a hand on the ancient blocks or slip a personal note in between the cracks, you’ll be overcome with emotion. It’s a truly unforgettable experience for anyone of any religion.
Visit a kibbutz. The term kibbutz means gathering or collective, and that’s exactly what you’ll find when you visit one. Kibbutzim (plural of kibbutz) began in 1909 as a combination of socialism and Zionism, and many are now. On our Israel Adventure Tour you’ll visit a kibbutz to learn about this communal way of living. You’ll hear how each member works together on agricultural, technological, and industrial enterprises.
Kneel on the manger where Jesus was born. Visit the not-so-little town of Bethlehem, a place so famous, it’s in the Bible. Here, you can enter the Church of the Nativity to see the underground cave where a large silver star is embedded in the ground to mark the exact spot where Christian text says Jesus was born.
“We were very blessed to have a great Tour Director. He was highly educated in history and biblical scriptures,” Go Ahead Group Coordinator, Patricia, said after her visit to renew her vows. “I highly recommend this trip to anyone who wants to do a pilgrimage to the Holy Land or for anyone just wanting to have a historical experience.”
Float in the Dead Sea. This wouldn’t be an Israel Travel Guide if we didn’t mention the Dead Sea. This large, salt lake borders Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank, and is 9.6 times as salty as the ocean. That means plants and animals cannot survive in it (hence the name). It also means that instead of swimming, you float. It’s actually a challenge to be able to submerge your entire arm or leg—a true once-in-a-lifetime experience on tour. Plus, all the minerals in the water leave your skin silky soft.
Israel travel tip: Whatever you do, don’t shave your legs before you take the plunge, otherwise you’re in for a very stingy swim.
Best free time activities in Israel
There are more places to visit in Israel than any guide to Israel could possibly contain. Here are some things to see in Israel that go beyond the standard Israel tourist attractions we visit on our Israel tours.
Take a dip in the Sea of Galilee. Also known as Lake Tiberias, this is the largest freshwater lake in Israel (and the lowest one on Earth). This is where Jesus is said to have walked on water. While you might not be able to do that, you can swim, wade, or fish in it!
“We spent about 15 minutes wading in at the end of a guided sightseeing tour. It was refreshing to get my feet wet on a warm day!” —Go Ahead staffer, Karissa
Shop the Shuk. The Mahene Yehuda Market, which most refer to as The Shuk is a partially covered, partially open-air marketplace in Jerusalem filled with hundreds of vendors slinging fresh produce, dried fruits, baked goods, meats, cheeses, nuts, spices, clothing, Judaica, and more. The vibrant colors, the bustle, and the music are the perfect way to immerse yourself in Israeli culture. And it’s surrounded by hip restaurants, bars, and clubs, too. No wonder it’s one of the top Israel attractions.
Go dancing on Ben Yehuda Street or in downtown Tel Aviv. Speaking of nightlife, Ben Yehuda Street is the place to go in Jerusalem. During the daytime, it’s a great place to shop for souvenirs or sip a delicious coffee with a piece of babka. But at night, it transforms into a lively place full of music, singing, and lots of dancing.
If you get a chance to visit Tel Aviv, the entire city is famous for its nightlife. It truly comes alive after the sun goes down—all lit up with bars, restaurants, and clubs. It’s not a true Israeli experience without stopping in one for a dance!
Hike Mount Masada. One of our favorite tips for traveling to Israel? Wake up early and set off on a sunrise hike along the Snake Path through Masada National Park. This hike winds up the side of one of the park’s orange-hued mountains and offers sweeping views of the Dead Sea and Jordanian Mountains. At the summit, you can explore the desert fortress that served as the last stronghold of the First Jewish-Roman War. The views are absolutely stunning! And if you don’t want to hike up or down, you can always take a cable car.
What to eat in Israel
As any Israeli will tell you, you can’t truly experience Israel if you don’t try the food. Mediterranean food is one-of-a-kind. Most meals are great for vegetarians, too. Just remember there’s no pork—Israel keeps kosher.
Shakshouka. You won’t want to miss this delicious dish made of poached eggs in a spicy tomato sauce. It’s typically a breakfast food, but it’s great at any time—especially when you dip some pita or challah into it.
“There were so many amazing dishes on this tour, but one of my favorites was shakshouka,” said Go Ahead staffer Karissa. Learn more about Karissa's top 5 moments from our Wonders of Ancient Israel tour.
Sabich. Picture this: warm pita stuffed with fried eggplant, hard boiled eggs, chopped salad, hummus, tahini, and a drizzle of amba, a spicy mango sauce. Now picture eating it. That’s sabich, a meal everyone should try at least once in their lives.
Israel travel tip: The best spots in Tel Aviv to find Sabich are Sabich Frishman and Sabich Tchernichevsky.
Shawarma. This Middle Eastern cuisine consists of spectacularly seasoned chicken or lamb, cut into thin slices right off a spinning vertical rotisserie and stacked right into a cone of pita. Usually served with hummus, tahini, and Israeli salad, it’s a must-have that’ll leave you searching for shawarma spots back home. (Sadly nothing can compare to the real thing, though).
Rugelach. These small, crescent-rolled pastries can be filled with anything, from cinnamon and raisins, to chocolate, to nuts, and even meats. Most locals dive into these treats around Hanukkah, but you can find them year-round when you go to Israel on tour. They go great with coffee or tea and could work for a sweet breakfast or dessert!
Halva. If you walk through The Shuk, it’s almost certain someone will try to get you to taste halva. This creamy, crumbly delicacy is made with tahini (sesame seed paste) and has a fudge-like feel. It’s simultaneously nutty, tang, and semisweet, and it will completely melt in your mouth as you melt away in bliss.
What to drink in Israel
Raise a glass (or three) to an amazing day in the Holy Land with these four local favorites.
Shoko b’sakit. Yep, it’s a bag of chocolate milk. And yep, it’s absolutely delicious. It’s creamy, refreshing, and an experience all on its own. (It also goes great with rugelach, just saying).
Limonana. It’s essentially a minty lemonade slush, and it’s absolutely as refreshing as it sounds—especially on a hot, humid afternoon spent outside in the sun.
Craft beer. The brewing industry’s booming in Israel today, with over 100 brewers to choose from and around 30 microbreweries.
Israel travel tip: If you’re interested in beer, you’ll want to check out Beer Bazaar, a popular bar chain in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that pours every local craft beer imaginable.
Iced coffee. If you order it in a local cafe, you might be surprised to find it’s nothing like it is back at home. Instead, you’ll get a blended drink of coffee, milk, ice, and sugar. And believe us when we say you’ll absolutely love it. You can find iced coffee at almost any local cafe, or at Aroma Coffee shops throughout the country.
Souvenirs to buy in Israel
If all you bring back from Israel are the memories, you’ll have struck gold. But if you can make a little extra room in your suitcase for one of these trinkets, you’ll always carry a piece of Israel with you.
- Olive oil. You can pick up a bottle on tour when you stop by a female-run, non-profit Israeli olive oil farm. Olives are a large part of the agriculture in Israel, as well as the diet. So this souvenir is both meaningful and useful!
- Hebrew name necklaces. Wander through any market Israel, and you’ll find jewelry stores and street vendors that create personalized Hebrew name necklaces made right in front of you. And the best part? You can wear it home!
- Judaica. If you are Jewish, or happen to have a friend who is, there is deep meaning in bringing home a menorah, mezuzah, seder plate, or candlesticks. What you bring home from Israel could become a meaningful family object for years to come.
- Dead Sea skincare products. As we mentioned, the Dead Sea is famous for its rich minerals and nutrients and their therapeutic value. The leading brand for Dead Sea botanicals and minerals is AHAVA (Hebrew for “love”), and you can find their goods at almost any store in Israel. You might even recognize the brand at home!
Have you traveled on one of our Israel tours? Did you have an unforgettable experience traveling in Israel? Share your best Israel travel tips on our Facebook page!