Just a short four hour flight from Europe makes a trip to Israel the perfect getaway! There’s been many things said about the country, I don’t intend to reflect on religion or anything quite as controversial, instead this post will focus on the amazing tourist sites and hidden gems that you can discover.
Is it safe to visit?
In such a volatile region, it’s no surprise that Israel is always on high alert. I visited the country in May 2013, this was when the Golan Heights were under threat of invasion from Syrian troops. Thankfully this didn’t happen, however I did see/hear a variety of security alerts including fighter jets doing test flights down the Dead Sea.
Like many other countries including the U.K, France and Australia, many places are currently on a high state of alert in case of terrorist attacks, therefore in my opinion you’re in no more danger visiting Israel than if you went to many other Western nations.
Where to go?
Think you know Israel? Then think again, this is a hugely diverse but rewarding Middle Eastern country to visit.
I was wowed by this city, with incredible beaches, year-round sunshine and beautiful people, what more could you ask for?
Tel Aviv is quite simply in its own little bubble, with very little room left to develop or expand the only way left is up! High rise apartments and hotels line the perfectly white sandy beaches that meet the Mediterranean Sea.
A short walk away is Jaffna, a fortified port town for over 4000 years. It’s incredible easy to simply walk around and explore. For me it was a huge surprise to see a mixture of not only Synagogues but also Mosques. You automatically presume from what you hear and read that as Israel is primarily Jewish you’ll not see another religion, however this is not true and 16% of Israel (2008 estimate) is Muslim.
If you want the perfect beach holiday, forget Spain and Turkey! Israel has some of the best beaches I’ve seen, it also has a vibrant cafe culture and an L.A. style gym/workout area along the beach where you simply watch the muscled guys and gals work out.
For the gay guys (and some ladies) the best place to head is Hilton Beach, quite obviously in front of the Hilton hotel. Grab a sun bed and an umbrella if you’re like me (pale and white!) and simply enjoy the view, or views if it’s a busy day.
Jerusalem is like stepping back in time, I heard about it at school and ever since I’ve always wanted to visit this magical place. These days sadly due to being at a crossroads with Israel and the West Bank, Jerusalem is a vibrant but is always on high alert due to the mix of cultures, religions and divided opinions.
As one of the oldest cities in the world, it’s no surprise that this place is packed with tourists, many visit because of religion but its history makes it so unique to explore. My advice would be to simply walk around the Old City and see what you can discover.
For me seeing the Dome of the Rock was incredible, however one of the most interesting places I visited was the Western Wall. Without prying too much it’s best to stand back and simply see how the Jews come to pray at this sacred site.
Sadly I didn’t have a huge amount of time in Jerusalem, there’s a huge amount of other famous religious sites, museums and archeological places to visit that I simply didn’t have the time to see. Maybe I’ll just have to go back and write a follow up article!
Having previously visited the Dead Sea from the Jordanian side, I had many preconceptions of what the Israeli side might be like. However, to me it wasn’t quite the same, in fact it seemed slightly under-developed.
Hotels are incredibly expensive, so the option of a day trip looked very tempting. I eventually decided to stay in a nearby Kibbutz, after a relatively long day I went to bed fairly early around 9pm only to be woken up by an incredibly loud noise! When I visited in 2013 there was increased tensions between Israel, Syria and Jordan and the Israeli army regularly performed tests. I just didn’t expect to be woken up at 11pm by fighter jets screaming there way down the Dead Sea at low level.
After my rubbish sleep we then drove to one of the few resorts enabling you to swim in the Dead Sea. The colour of the water is absolutely stunning, a crystal blue. However, as the lowest place on earth the water isn’t quite as it seems.
You cannot swim or move very fast in the water, it’s the perfect opportunity to relax and float! Yes, that’s right you can float in the water.
Whatever you do, don’t get the water in your mouth, not even a drop – it is disgusting!!!
Whether you visit on a day trip or you’re staying long, the best view in this area comes courtesy of the Masada mountaintop fortress.
It’s an UNESCO World Heritage site that is approximately 1,300ft high, although thankfully the clever Israeli’s have installed a cable car meaning there’s no rock-climbing involved! Phew.
The place where Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia meet in one very small port. The only place where Israel meets the Red Sea is in Eilat, a “Vegas” style small town that is relatively isolated from Tel Aviv, separated only by the Negev Desert.
I honestly have very little to say about this place, the only “exciting” thing about this place was the view from my hotel overlooking the beautiful harbour and the fact that the Israeli’s had built an airport smack bang in the middle of place! However this is soon to change with the development of a new airport further away freeing up the land for development (I presume).
In my opinion you only need one night here, or alternatively just pass straight through!
At 500m deep and 40km long it’s no wonder that the Ramon Crater claims to be the largest in the world, IT IS VAST!
I’d never heard of this place until I visited, after leaving Eilat it popped up on my Sat Nav as a place to visit so I thought why not check it out.
I’m glad I did, with stunning panoramic views you’ll not regret making the journey here.
Beware that when driving through the Negev Desert you’ll be surrounded by the Israeli army training grounds, it certainly makes for an interesting drive!
As a disputed territory of Israel, this region can be very dangerous to visit, especially at the moment with the Syrian border very close by. If you decide to enter this area it’s more than likely you’ll need a guide as several U.N peacekeepers have been killed there in recent years.
Where do I even start, I love Israeli food! Although it takes influence from many places, falafel is a staple, as is hummus. Ingredients are always fresh, flavoursome and never come in small portions (especially salad)!
I even found pork on some menus, with date syrup…NOM!
Be sure to try out some of the Israeli wine, mostly produced in the Northern regions of Galilee and the Golan Heights.
How to enter
On arrival you’ll be questioned if you have any Arab stamps in your passport, including Jordan, Egypt and Turkey. If you have any unusual stamps which cannot be identified then further questioning may be required, just make sure you leave enough time before your flight upon entering/leaving the country.
My one important question before deciding on a holiday to Israel is will I get a stamp in my passport? Well thankfully they now offer a tourist visa card, therefore you will not have any evidence of visiting. This will enable you to visit various Arab countries who currently don’t acknowledge Israel as a country.
Is Israel affordable?
Israel is not a cheap destination to visit, however as most products are shipped in it’s no real surprise to pay slightly higher prices.
Most meals will cost approximately £20 ($30) including a soft drink, however you can find some great fast food alternatives which are cheaper but still good quality.
Accommodation standards are fairly high across the country. Although Tel Aviv is a modern city, it suffers from a lack of hotels meaning prices are relatively high and will take quite a slice of your budget.
When staying in more rural areas you can choose to stay in a Kibbutz, a community-style option that usually comprises of individual apartments. This option is best near the Dead Sea as the hotels are incredibly expensive.
On my Israeli trip I hired a car, be careful though as some drivers are just nuts, make sure you pay for no excess!!
If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.