If Israel is not on your bucket list, you might want to rethink that! It’s a beautiful country with a lot to offer. Israel is the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity, and home to people of many religions. The country [about the size of New Jersey] is filled with history like no other.
Israel might be one of the most misunderstood countries. It is just as safe to be in Israel as it is in New York City and any other place in the world. High security is the norm, and depending on the area, you might see soldiers out and about on the streets with their guns, which shouldn’t alarm you. In fact, you’ll probably see them talking to their friends, casually texting on their phones, or sitting down and eating a meal like it’s no big deal.
Keep in mind, all Israeli citizens are required to serve in the army for two years, so you’ll see young men and women in uniform. It should go without saying, but when traveling anywhere, it’s always a good idea to do your research and know what parts to visit and what parts to avoid.
I can’t tell you how many messages I received from people following along my trip via Instagram Stories saying how they couldn’t believe how beautiful and fun Israel is, and, that it is not at all what they imagined it to be.
So, without further ado, here is why you must experience Israel at least once in your lifetime…
Jerusalem is the Holiest city in the world, for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It’s home to people of many religions who live together in peace. Being in the Old City of Jerusalem, and walking the winding alleyways instantly brings you back in time to an ancient era. There’s really no place like it!
The Western Wall [or Wailing Wall] is the last remnant of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and a must see. There’s the Via Dolorosa and the Church of Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was both crucified and resurrected. There’s also the Dome of the Rock where Muhammed descended into heaven.
Mahane Yehuda Market [also known as “The Shuk”], is one of the most famous marketplaces. It’s a place where both locals and tourists go for food [groceries, bakeries, and restaurants], shopping, live music, and to grab a drink with friends.
Recommendations: For great, vegetarian “fast food,” try Jahnun Bar. For a sweet treat, be sure to stop by Marzipan bakery. Some say they have the best rugelach in the world. For a really cool speak easy with unbelievable drinks, check out Gatsby. Eucalyptus was our favorite dinner in Jerusalem. Reservations may be required for both Gatsby and Eucalyptus.
Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum is located on the edge of Jerusalem and can NOT be missed if visiting the area.
Tel Aviv is one of the most vibrant and lively cities I have ever been to! Local people, including families with young children go out late every night, to run, work out, eat dinner, watch people play sports on the beach. In some ways Tel Aviv reminds me of South Beach or Southern California, but cooler [not referring to the temperature].
Casey and I watched a few Foot Volley tournaments, and we are OBSESSED. It’s basically no hands volleyball, so they use their feet and heads to get the ball over the net. It was so entertaining!
Tel Aviv is VERY different from Jerusalem and in fact, different from the rest of the country. It’s super laid back. When there, you will notice that a good majority of the men and women are extremely attractive and fit. They have no problem showing some skin. I felt like everyone there had tattoos all over their bodies, and smoked tobacco [as well as hookah and marijuana]. Again, it’s just a very laid back city. Tel Aviv is also very accepting of people who are homosexual.
The beach in Tel Aviv is amazing! Just be careful when walking on the sand. You’ll want to wear sandals or flip flops to avoid burning the crap out of your feet!
Recommendations: Calypso Beach for drinks and/or food on the beach. Perfect spot to watch the sunset. We also loved Hilton Beach for both the daytime and at night for sunset watching. The restaurant on Hilton Beach was the perfect spot to grab drinks and food when we didn’t want to leave the beach area. For a late night bar, check out Kuli Alma. For restaurant recommendations, continue reading!
Old Jaffa is a really hip place to visit during the day and night. It’s one of Israel’s most ancient cities, as well as one of the most ancient port cities in the world. Depending on where you stay in Tel Aviv, you can walk to Jaffa or take a quick cab ride. We got dropped off at the Clock Tower and went exploring from there. The shops were a combination of small market style mixed with some nice, modern furniture stores. It’s so charming. We loved every inch of it!
Recommendation: Abulafiya’s Bakery is Tel Aviv’s landmark Arabic bakery since 1879!
I was most surprised by the food in Israel. It was SO good. In fact, I told Casey after our trip, that I felt like the food battled Italy’s… and he agreed! For the record, I’ve always said Italy is my favorite country and that every meal there is my favorite meal. I don’t know if we just got lucky by the places we went to, but Israel’s food was up there!
It’s very easy to eat healthy in Israel. Tons of fresh sushi, fish, fruit and vegetables. They even serve salad with breakfast! My favorite snack on the beach was sliced watermelon with feta cheese. So simple, but so delicious. Salmon carpaccio and salmon bruschetta were other favorites. Something to note, a lot of restaurants are Vegetarian and Vegan friendly.
In Jerusalem, I’d recommend making a reservation to Eucalyptus. We ordered one of the sample menus where the Chef chooses what we eat. It was 13 courses! Granted, each course was just a few bites, but still, it was a lot of food. A lot of delicious food, and food we probably would have never ordered on our own.
Tel Aviv Restaurants: Shila by Chef Sharon Cohen and Cafe Italia were two of our favorite meals. We were also recommended to eat at Cantina, Aria, and Taizu, but didn’t have enough time to check them out. In Jaffa, we ate at Italkiya, and like all the other food in Israel, it was very delicious.
Masada, Ein Gedi, Dead Sea
There are so many different tours that will take you to Masada, Ein Gedi, and the Dead Sea from both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. We booked through Abraham Tours, which is a self guided tour. They provide the transpiration.
Keep in mind, if you want to climb Masada versus taking the cable car, your only option is to leave around 4am for a Sunrise tour. They shut down the walking trails before the afternoon because it gets too hot, and they’d probably have way too many people pass out and get injured.
I highly recommend doing all three if you can!
There’s so much more than just Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In the South of Israel there’s the Negev Desert, which covers more than half of Israel’s land. People say it’s stunning and a must go to place in Israel. There are tours that go there from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
So many people have told us to visit Eilat and the Red Sea. It’s a bit far [you can take a plane ride there], but supposedly it’s totally worth it. If I saw this article before planning our trip, I probably would have convinced Casey to go there.
In the North of Israel there is Galilee, where Jesus is said to have walked on water. Galilee is a lush green landscape full of outdoor adventures and historic sites. You honestly could spend weeks in Israel and still not see it all!
It truly is such a special country, and I hope you find the time to travel there!
Travel to and From: If you fly El Al, be prepared for extensive security. You can be questioned for a long time before even checking in for your flight, so be sure to get to the airport three hours early. They will ask questions about your family, occupation, religion, reasons for visiting Israel. My tip to you would be to be honest, but brief. Answer their questions as simply as possible.
If you plan on visiting other Arab countries after Israel, you will NOT want an Israel stamp on your passport to avoid potential issues or refusal of entry. At the airports, it is very unlikely that your passport is stamped. Instead, they give you a small piece of paper as an entry visa. BUT, if you plan on visiting Jordan or Egypt from Israel, the border officials might default to stamp your passport, so instead, be sure to ask them to stamp a piece of paper.
Should you have a stamp from a different Arab country before traveling to Israel, you should not have issues entering the country. Security may ask you about your travels to those places, but it’s not uncommon for people to travel for business or leisure, so it’s unlikely they’d give you a hard time.
When To Travel: Be mindful of holidays and the Sabbath [Friday sundown to Saturday sundown]. I personally would avoid traveling to Israel on holidays like Passover and Yom Kippur, unless you are going there specifically to observe the holidays. My personal recommendation would be to plan your trip wisely by staying in Tel Aviv on a Friday and Saturday, as well as any holiday. Tel Aviv will be your best bet for restaurants and shops being open.
Summertime [June – September] is high season, and a popular time for tourists to visit. It is very hot and humid during these months, so be prepared! May is a little less hot and a little less crowded, so would be a great month to travel there if you can.
The People: I hate generalizing a group of people, but have gotten asked about the people of Israel and what they are like, so am sharing my thoughts on personal experiences and conversations from friends who live in Israel. Israelis are kind, but no BS kind of people. Meaning, they’re not the type to smile at you, and then talk ish behind your back. You will know where you stand with them. If they don’t like you, they want nothing to do with you. If they like you, then they love you and consider you family. It’s very black and white.
All of the people we interacted with, whether it was cab drivers, staff at restaurants or shops we were at, or even random people we met out in bars or at the beach… every single person was friendly, helpful, and peaceful. We didn’t have one negative experience with any individual.
Casey and I have American friends who traveled to Israel and never left because they love it so much! While we were there, we chatted with tons of Europeans, people visiting from Spain, France, Italy, Amsterdam and more! All of them said nothing but amazing things about Israel, whether it was their first time visiting or one of their go to travel spots.
Money: Israel uses the New Israeli Sheqel (NIS) as their form of currency. For the record, Israel is not a cheap country to travel to and within, so budget accordingly.
Electronics: You will need both, a converter and an adapter for your electronics depending on voltage. Israel uses what is called an “H” type plug, which is unique to Israel, however, Type H outlet sockets are shaped in a way that can also accommodate type C plugs as well. So basically, if you have a converter and adapter that can be used in Europe, then that should work in Israel.
Have any questions about Israel I didn’t cover? Do you have any plans to go there in the future? Let me know in the comments below! I hope this was helpful to you!