Guide for First-Time Visitors to Israel
Welcome to Israel, the country that has everything you could dream of, from a rich history to a vibrant Middle Eastern culture, sunny beaches, and lively parties, not to mention the delicious food. Nestled at the crossroads of Asia, Europe, and Africa, Israel has a fascinating past and is considered by many to be the center of the world. This small but diverse country offers a range of experiences, from refreshing waterfalls to sprawling deserts, ancient ruins to contemporary art scenes. With so much to see and do, you may be wondering where to start. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with this handy visitor’s guide to help you make the most of your first trip to Israel, the land of milk and honey.
1) ARRIVING TO ISRAEL
Israel’s primary international airport is the Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV), with hundreds of daily flights. It is located about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. To get around, you can book an airport transfer to take you wherever you need to go. Alternatively, you can enter Israel through land borders with Egypt and Jordan.
Israel is a small country, and most places can be explored in day trips from the central locations of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Both cities have hotels for every budget, and day trips that depart from them. For more information on getting around Israel, read on.
2) ISRAEL’S HISTORIC AND RELIGIOUS SITES
Israel is home to some of the most significant religious sites for Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. A trip to this country would not be complete without experiencing the historical significance of these must-see locations.
- THE OLD CITY OF JERUSALEM
The Old City, occupying merely a square kilometer in the heart of Jerusalem, embodies holiness in a microcosm. Its four quarters draw Jewish, Christian, and Muslim devotees from across the globe and within Israel to behold these globally-renowned sacred sites. Whether it’s your initial, subsequent, or twentieth trip to Israel, visiting the city is a must; and with an abundance of attractions, a guided tour is the optimal approach to absorb the splendor of Jerusalem. Numerous options are available:
- Join a walking tour of Jerusalem’s Old City
- Join a Jerusalem Jesus Footpsteps Tours
- Pair your Jerusalem tour with other landmarks nearby, such as Bethlehem and Jericho
- For visitors looking to delve deeper into the Jewish history of Jerusalem and Israel, consider joining this Underground Jerusalem and City of David day tour, to learn about the historic Jewish capital
- MASADA FORTRESS
Masada, an ancient fortress from the Herodian era, is considered one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Israel. The site encompasses remnants of King Herod’s palace, adding to its historical significance. A visit to Masada is highly recommended on any trip to Israel, especially as it can be combined with a visit to the Dead Sea, which the fortress overlooks. Don’t miss out on the chance to experience both Masada and the Ein Gedi.
Bethlehem, the Palestinian city widely recognized as the birthplace of Jesus in the Bible, provides a captivating afternoon excursion for any visit to Israel. Despite being located just a few kilometers away from Jerusalem, it is situated in the West Bank, making it more convenient to reach on a private tour. There are several options to explore this iconic destination on your initial trip to Israel:
For numerous Christians, traveling to Israel for the first time is the realization of a lifelong aspiration. Israel boasts several other significant Christian pilgrimage sites, such as Capernaum, the River Jordan, and Nazareth. If you fall into this category, ensure that you don’t miss these extraordinary locations on your initial trip to Israel by considering a Christian Holy Land Package Tour.
3) CHARMING NATURE
Israel boasts an exceptional natural environment. In the north of the country, mountains, verdant fields, and even snow can be found. The vast Negev Desert in the south is just a few hours away. Camping is a popular pastime, particularly at the Sea of Galilee, which not only serves as a significant historical tourist destination but also functions as Israel’s primary water source.
Undoubtedly, the most breathtaking natural wonder in Israel is the Dead Sea, which stands as the lowest point on Earth. This small sea is renowned for its exfoliating sands, offering a unique and unparalleled spa experience. Crossing this off your bucket list is a must-do before departing Israel. Check out The Dead Sea Relaxation Tour.
Israel’s extensive coastline runs along the Mediterranean Sea, with numerous beach towns stretching from Ashkelon in the south to Nahariya in the north. The renowned beach city of Tel Aviv is situated right in the middle of this coastal stretch. The entire coastline is conveniently linked by Israel’s railway line, facilitating easy exploration of the region.
4) DELICIOUS MIDDLE EAST FOOD
Israeli cuisine is renowned for its flavorful and well-spiced dishes, similar to the culinary style found throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East. In Israel, tap water is safe to drink, allowing for convenient hydration throughout your travels. While a few distinctions set Israeli cuisine apart from other world cuisines, such as feta being referred to as Bulgarian cheese, shawarma being more readily available than burgers, and the need to specify “cold coffee” for an iced coffee in the hot Israeli climate, visitors inevitably leave the region with satisfied taste buds. Join a Tel Aviv food tour to savor the best of Israeli cuisine.
5) ISRAELI LIFESTYLE
Israeli locals are known for their welcoming and sociable nature, frequently engaging in conversation with visitors and even inviting them to experience a kibbutz firsthand. Embracing the “zorem” mindset, or going with the flow, is recommended when interacting with Israelis during your stay.
While it may be surprising to see soldiers in uniform throughout Israel, mandatory army service is a common part of Israeli life. Despite occasional media coverage, Israel is generally considered a safe destination for tourists. For more information on Israel’s security situation, refer to reputable sources.
In Israel, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is a significant priority. Whether religious or not, many Israelis take time to relax during the Jewish sabbath, or Shabbat, from Friday night to Saturday night. During this time, stores and public transportation typically shut down, allowing visitors to experience a unique aspect of Israeli culture. Discover the top weekend activities and how to navigate Shabbat during your visit to Israel.
6) ISRAEL’S BRODER
While it may not be feasible to explore all of Israel’s neighboring countries, there are numerous secure ways to expand your Middle East adventure and experience more than just Israel. It’s surprising that many first-time and even repeat visitors are unaware that Tel Aviv is just a few hours’ drive from Petra, one of the world’s seven wonders. A visit to Petra and Jordan is among the top things to do during your stay, and spending a day or two across the border is a must. Check out the various options available to add a Jordan excursion to your Israel trip.
Numerous cities in the West Bank, such as the aforementioned Bethlehem and Jericho, are easily accessible to tourists in Israel through guided tours.
Egypt is another neighboring country you can explore from Israel. Israel and Egypt share a desert, and the Sinai Peninsula can be easily accessed from Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city. Browse through all the available Egypt tours from Israel.