The first time I visited Israel I was surprised in many ways. There were so many things I did not expect that I decided to start writing them all down. I love going to a country without any expectations, because those who have expectations can only get disappointed! Right? I found many reasons to visit Israel, but also some things I didn't like and that is how came up with this list of things to know before you travel to Israel.
June 2017 was my first time visiting Israel and I had such a blast that I decided to travel to Israel again and again. All my tips in this Israel travel blog are based on my own experiences traveling in Israel.
Stay connected on your trip to Israel and fix yourself a local sim card. Click on the link to read my complete guide for buying an Israel sim card for tourists in 2021. It is the only thing that is cheap in Israel! :)
You can also buy a local sim card at Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport, it is a little more expensive but I will shouw you where to go in my blog about buying a sim card at Tel Aviv Airport.
When you decide to travel to Israel and are looking for tours around the country I can recommend you to use Abraham Tours. I have had an amazing time and got many lifetime experiences through them. They also have cool group trips and can organize some of the cool activities that I listed in my article with 33 Best Things to do in Israel.
These are some of my favorite tours from Abraham Tours including a visit to Jordan:
History of Israel
How can an Israel travel blog describe in short what has happened there over the years? Exactly... impossible! Israel was founded on May 14th 1948 by Ben Gurion when after World War 2 many Jews from around the world found a safe heaven in the land of what is Israel nowadays. Of course the Arab countries surrounding Israel didn't agree on this idea and attacked Israel, but never succeeded in their mission. Until today this is one of the world's most tensed area as the conflict never got solved.
Is it safe to travel to Israel
Yes! It is safe to travel to Israel in 2021. Over the last years there have not been reported any major terrorism attacks. Although security is really tight at the airport you won't notice anything when partying in Tel Aviv or floating in the Dead Sea. I have never felt unsafe on any of my trips to Israel.
But this Israel travel blog is not about all these kind of things I want to keep it travel related and tell you about my experiences traveling in Israel and these are my Israel travel tips.
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1. Country of hummus
You might not expect a dip to be healthy but hummus is actually pretty healthy and originates from Israel. With every meal you will get a plate of hummus either as a starter or as a main dish. It is pretty normal for Israeli’s to have a Hummus lunch, just some bread and a bowl of hummus. There is even a popular Instagram account called Hot Dudes And Hummus, check it out if you are into it before your trip to Israel so you know what to expect. Click here for a cool food tour through Tel Aviv.
Looking for things to do in Israel? Click on the link for the best Israel activities, including 8 not so standard activities like: ATV riding and a hot air balloon.
2. Sharing food is common
A trip to Israel is not complete if you didn’t try 281 dishes in 1 week! I am a big fan of 9 small plates on the table and dipping your bread or vegetable in all of them. A good thing to know before you travel to Israel because ordering a main dish for yourself is weird! :) Israelis love to share food and expect them to order a lot of different things and just try everything. Ordering a main dish just for yourself will frown eyebrows.
3. Food is suppose to be kosher
Food has rules in Israel as far as that counts for religious people. You will often find restaurants stating that they offer ‘kosher’ food, which basically means they stick to the rules of the religion, It is something like Halal food for Muslims. Main rule is: don’t mix dairy with meat. In reality most young Israeli’s don’t care at all, but it is good to know when you are planning a trip to Israel.
4. Betzavta - dine at a local home
Betzavta means together and as food is an important part of the Israeli culture I think this is one of the most unique things to do in Israel. Do you want to learn up close and personal about the Israeli culture than book a family dinner at someone's home. Go to the Betzavta website book your dinner and they match you with someone nearby that is going to cook you an amazing family dinner in their house. Experience the Israeli hospitality to the its fullest.
5. Fight for your right in Israel
Living in Israel is unlike in any other country and some expats explained me that they really had to get used to some Israeli habits when they moved here. From your 18th almost everyone in Israel has to join the army for at least 2 years, boys and girls. I saw kids walking around with a big gun in their hand who looked half my age, but on the contrary also cute girls flirting with me in their uniform.
The military service is compulsory but it will definitely form you as a person. Israeli’s have a getting things done mentality and can be super direct! Get used to it, this hands-on mentality is how they have been raised.
6. Safety issues in Israel
Israel will always be a country with issues and yes there are always people that will have their opinions about the conflicts going on here. But I did not go to Israel to discuss this or to find out more about it. I was there to see the beauty, the crazy and the holy! But of course I can understand that safety issues are important visiting Israel tips.
But just because Israel is a place of conflict that does not mean it isn’t safe. I have walked around on the streets at night and during the day and went to remote areas in the South and visit the Dead Sea, but didn’t stumble upon anything that made me feel unsafe.
Security is so tight that it actually annoyed me like crazy sometimes. Expect long lines at the airport security. I waited 40 minutes to go through security, got questioned 20 minutes before entering Israel and 10 minutes when I left. Why? I assume it contributes to make Israel a safe place, which it definitely is nowadays. Safety issues? No worries…
7. Israel is damn expensive
This is may be one of the most important things to know before you travel to Israel. Wow Israel you really surprised me on my first visit with your price levels! I did not expect anything like this at all. I just came from Sydney and was used to pay $10 for a beer, but a beer in Tel Aviv can also easily be $10. Damn it! Groceries are not cheap either.
Apparently the salaries are not outrageous like in Australia so respect for those who are living in Israel and have to deal with it. Street food is like $6 - $10, mid range hotel room $130, car rental $70 per day, meal at the beach $35. Damn I wish you were cheaper Israel!
This beer was $12!
8. Tel Aviv is ugly
When I walked around my first time in Tel Aviv I was not really impressed by its beauty. From my friends balcony I could overlook the city and that didn’t really help either. Don’t expect a stunning historical city with beautiful squares like in Europe, during the day just go to the beach is my best travel tip for Tel Aviv.
The best Israel travel tip is to see the this city at night. Tel Aviv’s beauty comes out at night and wow the stories are true! Damn what an epic nightlife Tel Aviv has! Unlimited bars, clubs and restaurants and the cool thing is that it is bustling everywhere. Inside the bars and outside on the patio. There are so many people hanging around in the streets. Don’t get disappointed walking around Tel Aviv by day, wait till the sun goes down! ;)
Have a look at this boutique hotel in Tel Aviv. It has a rooftop for guests only with the most amazing views. Read my complete review of Fabric Tel Aviv in the link. Looking for even more luxury then try out the Renoma Hotel
9. Smoking in bars is still kind of normal
It felt like I was stepping back in time when I entered a bar for the first time back in 2017. Even in Thailand there are places where there is a strict law against smoking in bars, but everywhere I went in Israel people were smoking cigarettes. For the die-hard smokers this will be paradise, but for me it was hell! My clothes smelled so awful and my hair even worse. Every time I went out I had to take a shower when I came home in the middle of the night! Well, there was no escaping I had to get used to it…
Update: in 2021 things have slowly changed for the better. Laws are much stricter now and I there are many bars with a no smoking policy. Must say though still many people smoke in Israel and sitting on the terrace outdoor there is a big chance the table next to you is smoking cigarettes. Still can't get used to it: disgusting!
10. Carry a travel adapter
Unfortunately there is a high chance your electric device won't fit into the electric plugs in Israel, they are rather unique. Be prepared and travel to Israel with one of those travel adapters for Israel You can also easily buy them in markets or your hotel can borrow you one.
11. No Uber, but Gett Taxi
Unlike in many other countries I have traveled to Uber is non-existing. Instead you have to download Gett Taxi as that is the taxi app for Israel, cheaper than a normal taxi and the standard way of getting around in Tel Aviv. For long distance trips there are very comfortable busses, trains are comfortable but train stations are not centrally located.
Another very common thing in the streets of Israel: an electric bike!
12. Bedouin culture still exists
The South of Israel is covered in sand, this is the playground of the Negev Desert. There is hardly any life possible and obviously there are not that many places of interest but there are some oasis’ and since I had never been to any of them it was cool to stay overnight at one of these places. The Bedouin culture is still alive here and drinking tea and eating there the local food is a great experience.
Want to experience this on your trip to Israel, the click here to find out more about Desert tours.
13. Second biggest Burning Man Festival: MidBurn
The desert can be fierce with temperatures touching 40 degrees during the day and getting as low as 10 degrees at night, but somehow this environment once a year lures 14,000 people to the middle of nowhere. Israel is home to the second biggest Burning Man festival after the original one in Nevada, USA.
I was lucky enough to get tickets (with a foreign passport it is easier) for this sold-out festival and to go wild in the desert for 5 days straight. Put this festival in your agenda when you are planning to to visit Israel. What an unbelievable experience, one of the most amazing festivals I have ever been to.
For the complete Israel festival Calendar I recommend you to have a look in the link.
Midburn Israel is like CrazyLand, everything imaginable is possible! People come to Burning Man to explore what is beyond their borders in terms of sexuality, drugs, meeting people, giving, taking, caring. I am not a virgin anymore, I am a Burner now.
Midburn I will be back… Read here more about how I experienced the 10 principles of Burning Man at the Mid Burn festival, including a cool video of 3-minutes about the whole festival.
14. Liberal drugs policy
The country is very liberal towards drugs. I don’t know if that is one of the best Israel travel tips, but nowadays drugs is a very much accepted thing in society, although no one ever talks about it. Except me! :)
Drugs are officially forbidden by law of course and I am not encouraging you to use drugs in Israel, but that said... everything is possible. If you have read my article 30 adventures from 5 years around the world you would know that I am normally not a fan of using drugs in a foreign country, but… I stumbled upon a local in Jerusalem smoking a joint in the streets with the police only meters away and a complete army peloton approaching us. I asked him if I could film him for my Snapchat and he said: no problem!
Smoking a joint is even accepted inside a bar. Although I know the MidBurn Festival is not really a benchmark but I was able to lay my hands on anything imaginable. Although I had the opportunity I still have never tried LSD (Acid), but Israel will be the country where I tried GHB for the first time in my life. As I said MidBurn was epic! ;)
Don't tell people because of what Traveltomtom said about drugs was one of the reasons to visit Israel! I did not even name it in the list of 24 reasons, it was just an observation. Click on the link for way better reasons to travel to Israel.
15. Themed beaches
Tel Aviv is a beach destination and that means the city center is only footsteps away from the ocean. But before you walk to the beach make sure to ask someone where to go. This is one of those things to know before you travel to Israel or things can get awkward. LOL! A lot of beaches are specifically catered for a group of people whether religious, gay, families and even a beach where dogs are running around freely. Totally in line with the crazy contrasts in this country the gay beach is next to the religious beach.
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16. Israel is gay friendly
You might not expect it from such a religious country, but Israel is on its way to become the gay capital of the world. About 30% of the people living in Tel Aviv are gay. That said there is only one gay bar in Tel Aviv. According to locals there is no need for more as there are so many gay people around, every bar is gay bar!
If you are looking for more gay-information then sign up for a gay tour through Tel Aviv.
An LGTB traveler? Then this definitely is a recommended and fun thing to do when planning a trip to Israel. If you are gay then this is your Mecca! ;)
17. Second biggest Gay Pride in the world
With all those gay people living in Tel Aviv it is no wonder that the city hosts the second biggest Gay Pride in the world. A massive parade will roam the city streets of Tel Aviv in the early morning and end up on the beach with a crazy party. Around 200.000 people witness the parade and party all day long.
I was lucky to be part of it, although totally straight I loved it to bits and pieces, what an epic party! When possible try to squeeze this into your itinerary.
There is also a Pride Week Package (including accommodation and parties) available with Abraham Tours. Check it out if you are interested.
18. Jerusalem is the craziest (holiest) city in the world
Keeping up with the contrasts lets talk about Jerusalem! This city is a place you have never seen before. Why oh why did those religious people all chose Jerusalem to be holy?
The Western Wall is the most holy place in the world for Jews, only a stone throw away from Jezus’ tomb where hordes Christians flock and the third most holy place for Muslims is just across the street. Damn it can you make it even more complicated?
Walking around here as a non-religious tourist you will definitely feel the Holy Spirit from whichever religion. After a day strolling through the spectacular old city I ended up in a gay bar, can there be any more contrasts?
One of the best Israel travel tips: Tel Aviv plays, Jerusalem prays.
In need of a great guide in Jerusalem? Abraham Tours hosts many cool tours in Jerusalem:
There are also Jerusalem day-tours from Tel Aviv, 3 and 4 day tours including Jerusalem and Dead Sea and many more.
Check out some more tour inspiration and Israel travel ideas below! Click on the 'next page' button to see more tours. 100ILS = $27
19. Lowest point on earth is in Israel
We all know about the highest point on earth, but not that many people realize that the Dead Sea on the border of Israel and Jordan is the lowest point on earth; a crazy landscape to discover and for sure worth the drive downhill. Enjoy the spectacular views from up top or jump in the only boat that drives on the Dead Sea apart from a research vessel.
How to arrange this boat ride on the Dead Sea? Click below to get connected with Abraham Hostels as they are the unique seller of this tour.
There are a dozen different Dead Sea tours, see below. 100ILS = $27
Planning a trip to Israel
On my first trip to Israel I was lucky enough to be chosen by Vibe Israel to join their yearly returning travel blogging trip and they planned most of my trip to Israel. I wish though I had known a couple things before I traveled to Israel and therefore I hope this list was helpful to you.
I sincerely hope you will consider this country to be your next travel destination and that my blogs about this controversial country convinced you that it is an amazing place to travel and to experience its great contrasts.
In the next link you will find 33 things to do in Israel, not just the standard stuff but some epic adventures like zip lining, rappeling, ATV trips, a hot air balloon ride and more. In my 24 reasons to visit Israel I summed up a whole list of why you should visit this country if you are still not convinced.
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May you still have questions about traveling to Israel please leave me a comment below and I am more than happy to help you out.