Israel has always been an alluring destination. From the days of prophets to the modern day nomad this tiny slice of land at the far end of the eastern Mediterranean has long attracted visitors.
Today Israels appeal for visitors is simply enormous, and the day-to-day issues facing its residents have little effect on those coming to appreciate its astounding historic relics, impressive religious sites or breath-taking natural beauty.
Israel is a small country with great appeal, and while some arrive in the Holy Land on a spiritual quest, others arrive in search of cultural enlightenment, sunny white-sand beaches or becoming one with nature. From the barren, rocky deserts of the south, dotted with oases, ancient ruins and the great Dead Sea in its midst, to the green, rolling hills and valleys of the north steeped in Biblical history, Israel offers a variety like nowhere else. The old cities of Nazareth, Akko and Tzfat are a step back in time, while modern Haifa and Eilat, and the vibrant seaside city of Tel Aviv represent the secular, cosmopolitan side of the country. The Dead Sea, Red Sea, Sea of Galilee and Mediterranean Sea each emanate their own character, their appeals ranging from unique geological phenomena to tranquil spirituality or vibrant holiday resort.
And then there’s Jerusalem. Few cities in the world can attest to the life that Jerusalem has experienced. As the meeting point for three world religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – it is a fascinating living museum of ancient buildings, cobbled alleys and fervent worship. Market streets weave through the jumble of ecclesiastical buildings, each of the four quarters as different in its architecture as they are in the beliefs of their inhabitants. At the core of the Old City are three of the most significant religious buildings on the planet – the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock.
Israel is a modern country with excellent facilities for tourists. High class hotels, well-equipped budget hostels, charming guesthouses or desert eco-kibbutz are all represented, while those looking for something tasty to eat will find the country is positively bursting with good food. From the street snacks such as falafel and hummus to gourmet restaurants and trendy cafes, the choice is enormous. Public transport is efficient, the locals are welcoming and the weather idyllic.
There are crumbling temples, ruined cities, abandoned forts and hundreds of Biblical sites. There are extreme sports, cultural tours, nature and wildlife experiences, hiking and cycling opportunities and relaxing sea- or lakeside retreats. Most of all however, Israel is an incredibly diverse country with an eclectic population that will provide a wealth of unique experiences to entertain, challenge and move every visitor.
Passports: To enter Israel, a passport valid for a minimum of six months from the date of leaving Israel is required!
Passport note: Due to a lack of diplomatic relations between Israel and many Arabic or predominantly Muslim countries, those with Israel entry stamps in their passports will not be allowed entry. Since January 2013, visitors are given an entry card instead of a stamp on arrival which you must keep until you leave.
Visas: Some nationals need a visa for entering Israel. Please click here to find out if you need a prearranged visa for your stay.
New Shekel (ILS; symbol ₪) = 100 agorot (singular, agora). Notes are in denominations of ₪200, 100, 50, and 20. Coins are in denominations of ₪10, 5, 2 and 1, and 50 and 10 agorot.
Note: Many hotels, tour companies, car rental agencies and other tourist services quote their prices in US dollars. It is customary to tip 12-15% in restaurants and cafés. Tipping in bars is appreciated but not expected, and it is the norm to round up to the nearest shekel in taxis. Bargaining is done only in open markets.
All major credit cards are accepted.
ATMs are widely available.
These are widely accepted. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller’s cheques in US Dollars.
Sun-Fri 0830-1200 and Sun, Tues, Thurs 1600-1800 although these can vary slightly between banks.
76% Jewish, 17% Muslim, with small Christian, Druze and other minorities.
Social conventions:Israelis are usually very informal but with the European style of hospitality. Israelis are typically blunt and direct in speech, which should not be misinterpreted as rudeness. Visitors should observe normal courtesies when visiting someone’s home and should not be afraid to ask questions about the country as most Israelis are happy to talk about their homeland, religion and politics. The expression shalom (peace) is used for hello and goodbye.
Dress is casual, but in the holy places of all religions modest attire is worn. For places such as the Western Wall, male visitors are given a smart cardboard yarmulke (skull cap) to respect the religious importance of the site. Businesspeople are expected to dress smartly, or at least in smart casual style, although ties are often not worn. The most expensive of restaurants and nightclubs may expect a similar standard. If formal evening wear is required this will be specified on invitations.
It is considered a violation of Shabbat (Sabbath, on Saturday) to smoke on that day. There is usually a sign to remind the visitor of this, and to disregard the warning would be regarded as discourteous
Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages of Israel. Other languages include English, French, Hungarian, Polish, Russian, Spanish and Yiddish. A large proportion of the population speak good English.
Mediterranean, with a pleasant spring and autumn. Winters in the north can be cool. Occasional light rain in winter is possible, particularly in Jerusalem, though recent years have seen insufficient rain. Snow is rare. Summers can be very hot, especially in the south. The Red Sea resort of Eilat has a good climate for beach holidays all year round.
Israel is on the eastern Mediterranean, bordered by Lebanon and Syria to the north, Jordan to the east, and Egypt to the south. Gaza, a small coastal strip between Israel and Egypt, is claimed by the Palestine National Authority, but under de facto rule by the militant group Hamas.
Although only the size of Massachusetts, Israel contains a great variety of terrain and four climate zones. The north of the country is the fertile hill region of Galilee, rising to Mount Hermon and Golan in the northeast. The fertile Plain of Sharon runs along the coast, while inland is a range of hills and uplands with relatively barren stony areas to the east. The country stretches southwards through the Negev Desert to Eilat, on the Red Sea. The Dead Sea (the lowest point in the world) sits along the eastern border along the great Syrian-African Rift Valley. Israel’s largest freshwater lake, the Kinneret (also known the Sea of Galilee) is an important source of drinking water for the country and a significant religious destination for Jewish and Christian pilgrims.
Owing to its location on the climatic and geographical crossroads, where the northern steppes of Europe meet the Syrian-African Rift Valley, Israel has a surprisingly varied flora and fauna. It has 2,380 species of flora and more than 100 species of mammal. The country is also a crucial stop-over on the great bird migrations as they make their way north and south twice a year. Israel has 66 national parks and 190 nature reserves, under control of the Israel Nature and National Parks Authority.