In our third post about the most important things that you need to know before going to Israel, we’ll provide you with practical solutions to make your trip comfortable, problem-free and safe.
First things first, so let’s talk about the safety in Israel. This is an essential thing when you are planning the family trip. You probably ask yourself whether Israel is safe. We tried to answer it here: (CLICK)
For the TOP 10 places to be seen in the north and south of Israel, read here: (KLIK) – north, or from Tel Aviv to the Golan Heights, and here: (CLICK) – south, or from Eilat to Jerusalem.
So, it was, as they say, champagne and fruits, and now: vodka and cucumbers. So it’s time to talk specifically 😉
1. How to get there?
Israel is about 3000 kilometres from central Europe in a straight line. You can come to one of two international airports: Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv or Ovda near Eilat. Soon the International Airport in Eilat will be open. Many cheap carriers have launched flights to Israel from most international airports, especially in the low season, so it’s not so hard to find the connection. Cheap tickets are very common.
Most countries in Europe and Americas have visa-free access to Israel, so you need to do nothing in advance (see detailed information at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel website). At the border, you’ll receive a stamp to the passport. Israeli visa can effectively close the road to entering some Arab countries. It happened to us in Iran. Also if you care about the lack of a stamp, ask for a border guard during passport control – you will get your stamp on a separate piece of paper. We recently learned on the border that, because we are frequent flyers to Israel and we already have a lot of stamps, we will not get the stamp on the card. If you have stamps from Arab countries in your passport, there might be longer interrogations at the border. But it does not have to, because I have a lot of such stamps and never had this problem.
3. Procedures at the airport
At the airport – when leaving Israel, or with a flight from another country with El-Al, you have to arrive 3 hours before departure. This is necessary for long and extensive security procedures. Prepare yourself (when leaving Israel) for the questions from the border control – about the reason for the visit, the places visited, who packed your luggage and whether you received something from someone as a gift. At the airport in Ovda, due to the numerous vacationers from Poland and Russia, they even have laminated cards with questions in Slavic languages. You also need to prepare for the fact that your baggage will be checked even on two x-ray machines and the suitcase might be opened and its contents reviewed in detail.
4. From/to the airport
Ben Gurion airport. During the week the fastest and cheapest is a fast train, which reaches Tel Aviv in several minutes (ticket costs 16 NIS, it can be bought in vending machines or cash register). The timetable can be found on the Israeli Railways website. The main bus stop that will take you to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv is El Al Junction. It is outside the airport area and has to be reached (about 15 minutes) by shuttle line number 5. Schedules and connections can be checked on the Egged Bus coach website. However, if you arrive during the Sabbath (sunset on Friday – sunset on Saturday), then you can take a taxi from before the terminal (about 120 NIS) or go by a previously booked shuttle bus (about 70 NIS). You can also rent a car.
Ovda airport. It’s in the middle of the desert, so you just have to get out of it quickly. From the airport, passengers take Eilat Shuttle bus (ticket about 8 USD) and taxis (about 20 USD). The cheapest and in our opinion the best option is bus 282 Egged. The schedule is adapted to flights, buses arrive on every plane, and a one-way ticket costs 25 NIS. Buses run throughout the week, also on the Sabbath. For sure there will be a seat for you – when one bus will is filled up – there are more waiting in the parking lot, to take all willing passengers. There is no car rental at the airport – you will only find it in the centre of Eilat.
5. Rent a car
There are car rentals are at Ben Gurion airport and in major cities. Both local Israeli and international (Rental Cars, Hertz). Driving in Israel does not cause any problems, roads are in good condition, you drive on the right side, there are also highways. In some places, you will come across military posts on the road, but this should not frighten you. In the worst case, they will ask who, for what and where is going, in the best will just have to slow down a little. At the rental shop, make sure of the places you can NOT enter, most often these are areas of the Autonomy. Therefore, to avoid problems, even if you rent a car, leave it in the parking lot, and go to Bethlehem or Jericho by an Arabic bus.
6. Public transport
The whole country is covered by the Egged Bus bus network. You can get them properly to anywhere in the country. Tickets can be bought at the train station or at the driver’s. There are also trains, but the number of lines is much poorer. The railway map can be found here: (CLICK). Most of the trains have plug-in sockets and WiFi on board. But be careful, because public transport does not go on a Sabbath. Then remain the sherutim minibuses you know from other countries, as Russian marshrutkas or African dalla dalla’s. In Tel Aviv, there are city buses and minibuses sherutim, in trams in Jerusalem. In Tel Aviv there is also an extensive network of city bikes, the price list can be found here: (CLICK)
The currency in Israel is the Israeli New Sheqel – NIS or ILS, which is divided into 100 agorot. The converter is easy and is approximately 5 NIS = 1 GBP. It is good to buy at least some shekels to start within your country. You can also come with dollars or euros. You just have to watch out for two things – the conversion (you know, the airport, hotel and tourist attractions are not the best places to exchange currency) and the commission that some of the exchange points add to each transaction. In most places, debit and credit cards are accepted without any problems (except bazaars or buses).
Israel is rather an expensive country. So, be prepared that you can buy a falafel in the old city of Jerusalem for 20 shekels. But in the Orthodox district of Mea Shearim, in the falafel bar for the local people, it will cost only 9 shekels.
Juice from freshly squeezed pomegranates – 14-17 shekels.
Hummus 200 g. – 16-18 shekels.
A can of beer in a store – 8-12 shekels.
A bottle of wine – 30-40 shekels.
You can buy cheaper products in large supermarkets on the outskirts of cities. Occasional shopping, including grocery shopping, can also be done at the HaCarmel market in Tel Aviv.
It will also be cheaper in the Arabian districts, where you will pay 1 shekel for a still warm pita bread from the local bakery.
9. Telephones and Wi-Fi
As for the chargers, if you have a charger from continental Europe you do not need adapters, if you are coming from the UK or US you will need one. Wireless internet is available in the vast majority of restaurants and hotels, as well as in the city (f.ex. in the centre of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem). It is worth using because the roaming prices are very high.
In Israel, you’ll find both luxury and cheap hostels. For hostels and 2-3 stars hotels, it will always be cheaper in the Arab districts or cities. For example, cheaper accommodation than in Jerusalem you will find in a few kilometres in Bethlehem. You can search for accommodation by booking.com, trivago, Airbnb or hostelworld, and in smaller towns simply ask locals. An interesting option is an accommodation at monasteries in holy places, or in houses run by monks and nuns. In Jerusalem, we always spend the night in the heart of the Old Town, 2 minutes from the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, in the Citadel Hostel, which has a rooftop terrace overlooking the old town, the Golden Dome and the Mount of Olives. The conditions are like for the Crusaders, but the atmosphere is like nowhere in the world.