If you are looking for a unique experience then you should consider a trip to this country full of contrasts. In May 2017 I was able to visit Israel and had such amazing experiences that I could come up with a ton of reasons why you should also travel to Israel. Like everywhere else there are also a couple downsides which I discuss at the end of the article. In my Israel Travel Guide I give you an inside of things you should know before your Israel holiday, because not everything is what is likes in this beautiful but sometimes crazy destination in the Middle East.
Reasons to visit Israel
1. Weather conditions
With a pleasant climate year-round Israel is a popular tourist destination for those looking to escape the winter months. In summer it gets a little too hot but that is luckily only for about 3 months. In those days it is perfect to travel to the northern regions of Israel where temperatures are cooler. In winter you can even find snow here.
2. Gay parade
With Israel being such an incredibly holy place you would not expect this country to have a huge gay scene. In Tel Aviv it is estimated that almost 30% of the people are gay and therefore it is seen as the gay capital of the world. Every year in the beginning of June the second biggest Gay Pride in the world is Tel Aviv. More than two hundred thousand people come together in the streets to watch the parade.
3. Nightlife Tel Aviv
How much I liked to be in Tel Aviv I think it is an ugly city. But don’t get me wrong this city is one of the most amazing places to visit in Israel. Why? The nightlife! When the sun goes down Tel Aviv comes alive and the bar scene here is like nowhere else. If you are looking for a great night out on your trip to Israel than for sure hit the streets at night in Tel Aviv.
I have been around the world quite a bit but I have never seen a city so full of contrasts like Jerusalem. I doubt if there is a city in the world that can tell so many stories as this one. Here you will find pelgrims from every corner of the world all considering this as their holy city. Could all those religions make it even more complicated? As a non-religious tourist the vibe in this city is intense. Apart from Jerusalem being a holy city it also has incredible architecture, cool landmarks and an amazing bazaar. No need to tell you that you have to go Jerusalem when you visit Israel.
Tasting cocktails in a bar in Jerusalem.
5. Tomb of Jezus Christ
Did you know that the tomb of Jezus is in the middle of the holy city? This is why Jerusalem is the most holy place in the world for Christians and this obviously makes it one of the most famous places to visit in Israel for Christians. The tomb of Jezus is located in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and is free to visit for everyone.
6. The Western Wall
Not only for Christians is this the holiest place in the world, also to Jews. The Western Wall is a must visit in Israel and is an incredible interesting place to visit. This is the place where Jews come to put their prayers in the wall. To enter you have to wear something on your hat. A NY Yankees hat is fine for example. :) Also make sure you walk inside and be astonished what you see there.
7. Al-Aqsa Mosque
Nope for Muslims it is not the holiest place in the world that is Mecca. Imagine! But the Al Aqsa Mosque is the 3th holiest site in Islam and that is why Jerusalem is also a pilgrim destination for Muslims. Yes I told you this city is one of the craziest places on earth. Where all other religious landmarks are open to everyone, the Al Aqsa Mosque is unfortunately only open for muslims.
8. Float in the Dead sea
There is no other place on earth like the Dead Sea. First of all because it is the lowest point on earth, second because there is no lake so salty that you can float in it. The landscape around the Dead Sea is spectacular. If you are looking on what to do in Israel than try to organize a boat trip on the lake. There are only two boats on the lake and only one that takes tourists, so a unique experience is guaranteed.
The second biggest Burning Man is held in Israel and is called Midburn. I was among the lucky ones to get ticket for this popular festival held somewhere in the middle of the desert, where a city will arise and visitors live according to the 10 principles of Burning Man. Here I lost my virginity as it was my first Burn ever.
To me this is one of the main reasons to visit Israel again and again.
10. Cheap data roaming
Buying a sim card in Israel is one of the first things to do in Israel when you arrive because it will hardly cost anything. For only a couple bucks a local sim card with a bunch of data will get you a long way on your trip to Israel. If even more things in Israel were so cheap as data roaming!
No one really knows where hummus originally comes from. What we do know is that hummus is the Arabic word for chickpeas and thus originates in the Middle East. Lebanon and Isreal both claim to be the hummus capital of the world, but what is most important is that it is delicious! When you travel to Israel I am sure this will be served to you at some point. There are hummus dedicated restaurants which are perfect for lunch or a quick bite. Your trip to Israel is not complete without hummus! ;)
Yoga and hummus! :)
12. Food delicious
Hummus should not be the only reason to visit Israel, there is more on the table than that. Hummus is often just an appetizer and the table will mostly be filled till there is no space left anymore. Food is an important part of the Israeli culture and enjoying a feast is a must do in Israel.
13. Rich history
Kind of lucky Buddhists and the Hindus did not choose Jerusalem as their most holy city, but the fact that the Christians, Muslims and the Jews chose this place make it an incredible place for people interested in history. Everywhere around the country you will get a slice of history.
14. Visit Bethlehem
Please put this hidden gem on your Israel itinerary as this is one of the best tourist attractions that is still not discovered by mass tourism. This is the village where Jesus was born and is just a short drive away from Jerusalem located in the West Bank, Palestina. Unfortunately people with an Israeli passport are not allowed to enter this for Christians holy ground.
15. Beautiful beaches
The complete west coast of Israel borders the Mediterranean Sea and I am sure at some point on your Israel trip you will end up on the beach. In Tel Aviv there are themed beaches for religious people, gays, and even dog friendly beaches.
16. Experience a Kibbutz
This unique experience can only be practiced in Israel as this is the only place in the world where they exist. A Kibbutz is a community that was traditionally based in agriculture. Kibbutz hotels are popular places to stay in Israel and offer a unique experience for tourists.
17. Adventure trips
What to do in Israel is an easy to answer question if you are into adventure. Think about ATV tours, zip lining, hot air balloon rides, boat trips, hiking trips, water sports, canyoning and many more. A great way to discover Israel is on a trip with Abraham Tours, check out all of their adventures.
18. Start ups & Co Working Spaces - Inspiring
If there is one place in the world where the perfect conditions are created for start ups then it is Israel. After Silicon Valley in the USA this is the place where the most start ups are born. Tel Aviv is full of co working spaces and Israel tourism is encouraging young people to travel to Israel long term. Nomads are more than welcome!
19. Live like a Bedouin
This off the beaten path activity is not a what Israel tourism is famous for and that makes it even more interesting to sign up for one of these tours. Get a feel of how these communities survived here in the desert in South Israel. You will sleep in tents under a million stars and sit around a bonfire having dinner. This authentic way of experiencing Israel is a must do when you are up for an adventure.
20. Visit Palestine
Although this is a conflict zone it does not mean you can’t go there. I have been to Kashmir, Iran and other conflict zones before and most of the times it is the opposite of what the media portraits. I can’t tell you how it is to visit Palestine as on my last trip to Israel I did not have a chance to go there. Trust me for next time it will be one of the first things I do when I travel to Israel.
21. Amazing landscapes
I already spoke about the Negev desert and the Dead Sea, but there are more amazing landscapes. One of the best places to see in Israel is the Gan HaShlosha National Park or go skiing on Mount Hermon. Also don’t miss the Sea of Galilee when you travel to Israel. Another unique place in this country is Makhtesh Ramon, which looks like the biggest crater in the world but in fact is not a crater but a geological feature. The crater/valley is officially called a Makhtesh and is 40 kilometers long, 2 – 10 kilometers wide and 500 meters deep.
22. People of Israel
On my travels around the world I came across many Israeli’s and somehow it did never really click between them and me. They can come across direct, arrogant and rude, at least to me. Though my trip to Israel changed that perspective! I learned how though live in Israel can be and got to know their culture. If you live in Israel you have to fight for your right and is very much respected if you do too. I came across the nicest people and made friends for life.
What to do in Israel? Visit a local family!
23. Cosmopolitan vibe
Especially in Tel Aviv there are so many nationalities living together you will easily make new friends with people from all over the world. Everyone has a story to tell how he or she ended up in Israel. People are caring and welcoming and connect easily.
This is Or Kaplan, one of the amazing persons I met and a great contributer to this article. A lot of photos are taken by him!
24. Bazaars and markets
If you are a fan of shopping or hanging out at markets you love it here. On local markets you will find a ton of cool stuff to buy, but the coolest places to visit in Israel are the bazaars. For example the one in Jerusalem where you can easily get lost in the maze of narrow streets in the covered market full of history.
Trying stuff in the bazaars, but not everything is nice! ;)
Things I did not like about my trip to Israel
Damn this country is expensive! I actually thought Israel would be another country to add to my list of cheapest countries in the world to travel, but I was completely wrong. I was in shock when I found out that a beer in one of the most famous boulevards in Tel Aviv was $12 for a pint. Renting a car for 5 days was almost $500, a cheap place to stay in Tel Aviv was almost impossible to find and having lunch on the beach with a couple drinks was $40. Holy cow Israel! Do something about this, I would return way more often! ;)
A pint can cost up to $13 in some places!
Discus the conflict
We all know about the conflict with Palestine and we all have a strong opinion about it. But hardly anyone knows what is really going on. To me it unfortunately seems like a never-ending conflict, but fingers crossed some day things will calm down and take away the tension between the two nations. When you visit Israel it is hard to refrain from the discussion, but every time it popped up I made clear I was a tourist and looking for the cool places to see in Israel and wanted to stay away from discussing the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Unfortunately Uber is banned in Israel and finding a taxi for the right price can be a pain in the ass. Just like everywhere around the world taxi drivers are not the friendliest people out there. There is an alternative to Uber, check out my article about things you need to know when you travel to Israel to find out which app to download along with 16 other handy tips for traveling to Israel.
Smoking in bars
Depends where you come from but I am not used to people smoking in bars and restaurants anymore. It is a disgusting thing to me and was a reason to complain in restaurants, but then it was too late already. If you hate this is as well this definitely is a valuable tip when you travel to Israel. First check the restaurants policy or be prepared to eat while someone is smoking next to you!
Hard to travel solo
Some are so remote and deserted that traveling solo is a bit of a challenge. You can rent a car, but that will cost you a lot of money, so I would recommend joining group trips if you are planning a trip to Israel.
Public transportation system
To get to Tel Aviv center from the airport you can’t find a proper train connection. Trains run between cities, but there is nothing like a central station. There are busses but it was a little adventure to find out how they work. The public transportation system was not the best I have seen.
Recommended places to stay in Israel:
If you are looking for places to stay I found some of the best rated places by travelers for all budgets. But be prepared to struggle for cheap accommodation if you are a budget traveler. Israel is not cheap! These places though will all add up to your experiences on your trip to Israel.
Places to stay in Tel Aviv
Places to stay in Jaffa
Luxury: Market House.
Budget: Old Jaffa Hostel.
Places to stay in Jerusalem
Places to stay in Bethlehem
Luxury: Dar Sitti Aziza.
Places to stay in Haifa
Luxury: Carmel Forest Spa Resort.