Africa & The Middle East | Destination Guides

How do I plan a trip to Israel?

From the coastal city of Tel Aviv to the ancient Old Town of Jerusalem to the salty Dead Sea, Israel is an incredible country with endless treasures to explore. If you’re wondering how to plan a trip to Israel, we’ve got you covered. From where to go and what to wear to the language, currency and travel safety tips, here is everything you need to know to start planning your trip to Israel. 

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Best places to visit in Israel

Tel Aviv

This amazing coastal city is a must-see on your trip to Israel. Head to Neve Zedek, the first neighbourhood of Tel Aviv and wander down Rothschild Boulevard. Explore the ancient ruins of Old Jaffa and the biblical stories of the Old Port. See the city light up at night with hundreds of bars and restaurants to kick back with a drink. When you travel with Trafalgar, we’ll even introduce you to a local in the Ajami neighbourhood and you’ll share lunch as you learn what it was like to grow up in a Jewish, Muslim and Christian area.

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Jerusalem

As one of the holiest places in the world, you can’t miss visiting the sacred city of Jerusalem on your trip to Israel. Wander through the Old City of Jerusalem to see the Mount of Olives, the Jewish Quarter and the Wailing Wall, and the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount. Walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ along the Stations of the Cross to the 4th-century Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Visit Yad Vashem to pay tribute to the millions of lives lost in the Holocaust during World War II. And explore the Israel Museum to see the legendary Dead Sea Scrolls. 

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Bethlehem

Visit the little town of Bethlehem with Trafalgar to see the Manger Square and meet a local at the Church of Nativity. It was built on the site thought to be the birthplace of Jesus and it’s a truly moving place.

The Dead Sea

You can’t miss visiting this icon on your trip to Israel. We’ll travel to the lowest point on earth to float in the famously salty waters of the Dead Sea. 

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Lower Galilee

This region in Israel is home to some of the best places to visit in the country. Stop by Nazareth and the sacred Catholic Shrine of the Church of Annunciation, where Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary to share the blessing that she would give birth to the Son of God. Take a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee to visit the 1st-century Jesus Boat. And visit the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus delivered the sacred Sermon on the Mount.

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Customs and etiquette in Israel

Everything is closed on Saturday

Saturday is Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. That means most businesses are closed every Saturday and there is little public transportation, although you’ll find buses running in Haifa and Monit sherut (service taxis) running in Tel Aviv. If you’re travelling outside Tel Aviv on a Saturday in Israel, don’t expect to find anything open. It’s best to embrace the peace and silence and enjoy a day of rest too! 

It’s also handy to know that Israeli weekends are on Fridays and Saturdays (the working days are Sunday to Thursday) and the Sabbath starts at sunset on Fridays. So be prepared for everything to close by Friday evening. 

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Visiting religious communities

It’s important to know how to dress and behave when visiting Israel’s religious neighbourhoods, or Jerusalem as a whole. You will need to dress conservatively and both men and women should cover their legs. Women will also need to cover their arms and sometimes wear a headscarf. Men will also need to cover their heads with a kippah when visiting Jewish religious sites, and you’ll see signs indicating when this is required. Be sure to avoid any public displays of affection and do not take photos of people without permission.

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Respect the cultural diversity in Israel

Israel is home to a range of cultures, religions and lifestyles, from conservative religious communities to liberal cities. For example, while Jerusalem is considered holy to many major religions including Judaism, Islam and Christianity, the capital Tel Aviv is one of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities in the world. It’s important to respect all the unique traditions and customs you encounter all over the country.

Be sensitive to political tensions in Israel

While you may find some people are keen to discuss religion, politics and other contentious topics, it’s best to avoid discussing these topics and remain sensitive to political and cultural tensions.

Israeli hospitality

Israelis are famous for their warm hospitality and if you’re welcomed into someone’s home, you’re likely to be met with drinks, snacks and anything else you need. Be sure to say “toda raba” (תודה רבה), or “thank you very much” to ensure your hosts feel appreciated.

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Kosher food

As Judaism is the dominant religion in Israel, you’ll find most restaurants offer Kosher food. Kosher food means that the animal was killed in the least painful way possible in accordance with Jewish law. Jewish people also do not eat dairy with meat. While travellers do not have to strictly follow this religious rule, it’s good to be aware of it.

Tipping

When eating out in restaurants, you’ll be expected to tip between 12 and 15%.

Best time to visit Israel

The best time to visit Israel for warm yet bearable temperatures is October to November and April to May. If you love the hot weather (think up to 40°C) and want to hit the beaches, the best time to visit is between June and September. And if you can’t stand the summer months, you’re better off visiting in winter (December to March) when the weather is mild and more comfortable for exploring. 

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What to wear on your trip to Israel

Casual clothing is appropriate in almost any setting in Israel. You can wear shorts, t-shirts and jeans almost anywhere! The only major exception is sacred sites and religious areas, where you’ll need to dress modestly and cover heads where indicated. 

What to wear at religious sites

Women should wear long trousers or skirts covering the knees and tops covering the shoulders and chest. Men should wear trousers or shorts below the knees and shirts covering shoulders. Women should bring a scarf for sites that require them to cover their hair, while men will be advised if they need to wear a kippah at Jewish religious sites such as the Western Wall.

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What is the currency in Israel?

The Israeli currency is the New Israeli Shekel (NIS). It’s best to arrive in Israel with some shekels in cash and a credit card to withdraw more money from ATMs. You’ll find ATMs all over the major cities and most accept foreign cards. 

Security & safety tips in Israel

  • Entrances to bus stations, train stations, malls and other crowded venues in Israel will always have security guards who will search your bags. You may be asked to empty your pockets. 
  • Keep identification on you at all times, even if it’s just a copy of your passport.
  • Always avoid demonstrations, especially in the West Bank and near the Gaza border. 
  • It is normal to see soldiers walking the streets with their guns in hand, especially at train stations. Military service is mandatory for most Israelis after they graduate high school, so you can expect to see many 18-21 year old soldiers carrying guns. 
  • When arriving at the airport, the security personnel may interview you before they let you enter the country. They will ask you about things like the purpose of your trip, who you are travelling with, who packed your bags, and more. Remember to stay calm and answer openly and you’ll be good to go. 
  • Because other countries may not let you enter if you have visited Israel, border officials no longer stamp passports when you enter. Instead, they’ll give you a paper visa to carry with you on your trip. You will need to show this paper visa at crossing points so keep it safe with your passport.

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Languages in Israel

Hebrew is the main language spoken in Israel. However, around 85% of the Israeli population speak English, so you can likely get by with English in the major tourist areas like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It’s still a good idea to learn a few basic Hebrew phrases, as the locals will appreciate the effort and it makes it easier to connect with the locals and the culture.

Basic Hebrew Phrases

Shalom
Hebrew Spelling: שָׁלוֹם
Pronunciation: Shah-lohm
Meaning: Hello; Goodbye. While the direct translation of ‘shalom’ is ‘peace’, Israelis also use it as another way of greeting someone. You can also say ‘Shabbat shalom’ to mean ‘have a peaceful weekend’.

Toda / Toda raba
Hebrew Spelling: תודה / תודה רבה
Pronunciation: Toe-da / Toe-da ra-ba
Meaning: Thanks / Thank you very much.

Bevakasha
Hebrew Spelling: בבקשה
Pronunciation: Beh-vak-a-sha
Meaning: You’re welcome/please. If someone says ‘toda’ to you, respond with  ‘bevakasha’. Israelis also use it to say please.

Slicha
Hebrew spelling: סְלִיחָה
Pronunciation: Slee-ha
Meaning: Sorry / Excuse me. Use this if you accidentally bump into someone or when squeezing by someone.

Boker tov
Hebrew Spelling: בוקר טוב
Pronunciation: Book-er tuv
Meaning: Good morning.

Lehitraot
Hebrew Spelling: להתראות
Pronunciation: Le-heetra-ot
Meaning: See you later.

Ani mediber Englat
Hebrew Spelling: אני מדבר אנגלית
Pronunciation: A-nee Med-e-ber En-glayt
Meaning: I speak English. You can use this phrase with a smile to let people know you don’t understand Hebrew.

Efo sherotim?
Hebrew Spelling: איפה השירותים
Pronunciation: Ei-fo sher-O-teem
Meaning: Where is the toilet?

L’chaim!
Pronunciation: leh-CHAI-yeem
Meaning: The direct translation is “to life!” Israelis use it as a toast or cheers before drinking.

Are you planning a trip to Israel? Let us know in the comments below!

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