The Holy Land is so much more than just a religious destination. While some may seek divine intervention, a spiritual awakening, or a religious pilgrimage journey, others come to Israel just to marvel at the history and culture of one of the oldest civilizations in the world.
Regardless of your reasons for venturing to Israel, you’ll find yourself awestruck by the beauty of this sacred country!
The Best Time to Visit Israel
Very specifically, the best time to visit Israel is during the month of May — after religious pilgrimages in April, and before summer tourists arrive. May in Israel offers near perfect weather and scenery, minimal tourists swarming popular attractions, and low prices for airfare and hotels.
Round-trip flight costs from the United States generally hover between $800 – $1000 in May depending on your departing location and days of the week you travel. November is also an inexpensive alternative time to visit, but after a long, dry summer, it definitely doesn’t have the scenic appeal spring has.
Although you can book a flight with Israel’s national El Al Air through their independent website, I’ve found Turkish Airlines can be significantly cheaper. However, if you do choose to fly El Al, be prepared for their highly extensive security customs! This is one of the world’s safest airlines to travel on, so you can expect high scrutiny even on outbound flights in international airports everywhere. Luggage is often hand-checked, and individual interviews are conducted with personal questions reaching from occupation or reason for traveling to place of origin or religion practiced.
While the country is small — about the size of New Jersey — the weather and climates varies depending on your geographical location within Israel. You can expect hot dry summers nationwide from April to October, but northern and coastal areas typically have cool, rainy winters in comparison to the arid climate inland in the south and east.
Where to Stay in Israel
Two of the most popular destinations in Israel for tourists are the sacred sites of Jerusalem and the thriving beach city of Tel Aviv, both centrally located in the center of the country to allow for easy accessibility to most landmarks. Our favorite places to stay have the perfect balance of indulgence and authentic Mediterranean culture!
Top Budget Picks (Under $200): St. George’s Cathedral Pilgrim Guesthouse, Legacy Hotel
Top Luxury Picks: Mount Zion Boutique Hotel, Leonardo Plaza Hotel Jerusalem
Top Budget Picks (Under $200): Dizengoff Suites, The Diaghilev
Top Luxury Picks: Royal Beach Hotel Tel Aviv, 65 Hotel
How to Get Around Israel
If you simply plan on traveling within a particular city or to/from other major cities and tourist attractions, buses are the best and easiest way to commute. Buses with popular routes often fill up quickly, so I’d highly recommend buying your ticket in advance. Rental cars are available if you plan to explore the coast or venture off the beaten path, but in major cities they’re inconvenient and totally unnecessary; taxis and buses are generally inexpensive and always available.
Top Places to Visit in Israel
Akko and Old Akko Market
The bazaar and quaint suk market in the coastal city of Akko is the perfect spot to spend an hour or two. Be sure to also check out the fortress and take a tour of the Turkish baths!
The holy city has been a sacred place for the religious and spiritual for innumerable years, but the beauty of this ancient city has so much to offer anyone looking to indulge themselves in history.
This old seaside town just south of Tel Aviv is a stark contrast to the modern design of the neighboring big city. Take a walking tour, enjoy the the intricate architecture, and sunset gaze at the port! The biblically historical neighboring town Neve Tzedek has also become a popular, thriving location with charming streets and village-like atmosphere.
Sea of Galilee
The large fresh water reservoir fed by the Jordan River is an awesome place to experience Israel’s natural beauty! On the banks of the Sea of Galilee is the Town of Jesus in Capernaum — a historically rich, now uninhabited archaeological site well worth checking out.
The Western Wall
Religious or not, it’s likely you’ve heard of the Western Wall (also called the Wailing Wall). The holiest place where people of the Jewish faith are permitted to pray, the Western Wall is a site where many have come to celebrate, mourn, pray, and even bury prayer notes within the wall for centuries.
The Dead Sea
Another must-see, the Dead Sea — the lowest point on Earth — has the spa benefits of ultra-salty water and mineral rich black mud. The sea itself is slowly shrinking due to the Middle East’s hot climate, so visit while you can!
Also, go on a food tour if you can — the food in Israel is amazing! For the adventurous, take a desert safari or dive the Red Sea in Eilat.
It’s important to consider the traditions and customs of highly traditional residents and follow local rules accordingly. In Orthodox-Jew neighborhoods, women ideally shouldn’t be in public alone without a male companion. When visiting a Jewish site or place of worship, men should also consider bringing along a kipper or even simple baseball cap since you’ll more than likely be respectfully asked to cover your head. Women might want to wear a shawl that can be used to cover their head when needed.
As to no-travel areas, do not enter the Gaza Strip, West Bank, or regions bordering Syria, Egypt, or Lebanon; all are considered extremely dangerous and high-risk due to high military conflict and activity.
When eating in public, eat with your right hand (using your left is considered unsanitary) and try to keep your feet flat on the floor while sitting so as to not expose the sole of your shoe to others; pointing the soles of your shoes or feet towards others is seen as highly disrespectful.
Packing Essentials for Israel
Electrical Adapters: A must-have item! Electrical outlets in Israel require three round-pegged prongs, so buy a few of these electrical adapters before your trip and store them in your carry-on.
Appropriate Clothing: Although it may be uncomfortably hot in the summers, it’s absolutely critical men and women both pack modest clothing in respect for the religious sites and culture. As a rule of thumb, I would recommend packing light cotton shirts (covering at least to the elbows) and pants or long maxi-skirts if you’re looking to visit religious sites, or travel through Jerusalem or Orthodox Jew neighborhoods.
Other than that, Israel is a relatively modern and westernized country where shorts and tank tops are acceptable.
Sunscreen: Sunscreen is very expensive in Israel, so be sure to pack enough for your entire trip! Small, portable sunscreen sticks can easily be carried in a pocket or purse and are convenient for reapplying throughout the day. If you think you’ll need a larger bottle of sunscreen, buy it after you go through security at your departing airport; even though it’ll likely be more expensive than purchasing a bottle at your regular drugstore, it’ll still be about 50% less than in Israel!
Sun Hat: Skin cancer and sun protection is of great concern in the Middle East, so keep your face covered with a sun hat! Also keep a swimsuit cover-up on hand for trips to the Dead Sea, Sea of Galilee, hotel pools and the beach.
Comfortable Shoes: Comfortable shoes with rubber soles are usually best, given the added grips ensures no accidental slips on smooth stone surfaces. Sandals or slip-on tennis shoes are recommended, as you’ll be asked to remove them before entering places of worship.