The Ideal Israel Itinerary

 

 

It’s difficult to find a good Israel itinerary online. Many websites misrepresent the amount of time it takes to see destinations in Israel (they usually under-estimate it), while others seem to have a political agenda one way or another (usually pro-Zionist, and militantly so at that).

This beats the hell out of me, frankly. I’ve traveled to the Holy Land half a dozen times, and whether I’m spending two weeks in Israel or (attempting to) visit Jerusalem on a weekend trip from Jordan, the nuts and bolts of traveling to Israel are pretty cut-and-dry, even if some of the underlying issues are complicated.

Whether you’re deep in the throes of planning a trip to Israel and feeling stressed out, or are simply in the early stages of finding inspiration, you’re in the right place!

Need help planning your Israel itinerary? Hire me as your Travel Coach!

Practical Matters

When to Visit Israel

As a desert country with a fair bit of Mediterranean coastline, Israel is pleasant for much of the year. However, there is definitely a best time to visit Israel, even if pinning down the worst is somewhat harder. In general, I’d say the months of April and October are good. They’re warm and sunny enough to satisfying those fleeing the end or beginning of winter, but not as scorchingly hot as summers in most of Israel can be.

Where to Stay in Israel

Accommodation in Israel runs the entire gamut, and varies highly depending on where you travel. Not surprisingly, most of the best hotels in Israel can be found in Tel Aviv—I like boutique-style The Rothschild 71, which is right on trendy Rothschild Boulevard, as well as the artsy Shenkin Hotel. In Jerusalem, you can splurge at Mamilla Hotel or save on a dorm at Abraham Hostel, while Beresheet Hotel is probably the finest property in the Negev desert.

How to Get Around Israel

Regardless of how extensive your Israel itinerary ends up being or how long it lasts, traveling around Israel is easy. Fast trains run between Tel Aviv and Haifa and also between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, while buses (largely operated by the Egged company) can take you most anywhere else in the country you want to go. Within cities, transport can be a bit lacking (with the exception of Jerusalem’s light rail), so you’ll want to be get comfortable taking sherut share vans.

Money, Cost and Communications

Israel uses the shekel—and you’re going to need a lot of them when you travel. Not physical shekels, mind you, as Israel is excellent when it comes to credit card acceptance. However, due to the high local cost of living in Israel, I can’t imagine traveling there under 100 USD per-person, per-day; most travelers will far exceed this. In terms of language, English is widely spoken (in spite, of course, of Hebrew being the official language) while both WiFi and the mobile connection you get with an Israel SIM card are very fast—Israel is a tech hub, after all.

The Israel Passport Stamp

The good news? When entering by air at Ben Gurion Airport, you no longer get the dreaded Israeli passport stamp, which in the past would pretty much doom your chances of entering countries like Iran and Lebanon. The bad news? Immigrations officers still have the discretion to stamp at land borders (and entry/exit stamps from other countries will also give away the fact that you’ve been in Israel). You should either plan on getting a new passport after your trip, or prepare to beg not to be stamped.

Top Things to Do in Israel

Live the Dream in Tel Aviv

I usually hate anti-climactic blog posts, but I have to start this Israel itinerary with what is undoubtedly the country’s most dynamic destination: Tel Aviv. From the world class shores of Hilton Beach, to bohemian Neve Tzedek and from the colorful stalls at Ha’carmel Market to the eclectic alleyways of the Arab seaport of Haifa, Tel Aviv is a microcosm of Israel.

Robert Schrader in Tel Aviv, Israel
 
Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv Marina
Sunset in Jaffa
 
Tel Aviv Beach
 

It’s simultaneously the antithesis to the rest of the country. Most citizens of Tel Aviv are socially liberal (some joke that it’s rarer to be straight in Tel Aviv than it is gay, and not just during June’s popular Gay Pride Celebration) and are against the occupation. The city is also dramatically more diverse than the rest of Israel, in spite of how aggressively Netanyahu and his goons are trying to change.

Discover Underrated Northern Israel

Have just 5 days in Israel? Start with a long weekend in Tel Aviv, then ride the train north to Haifa, a hub of high-tech and student culture. En route, stop at the ruins of Caesarea—or don’t. Instead, use one of your two days in Haifa to take a day trip to Acre (also known as Akko), which like Tel Aviv’s Jaffa has a complicated past to say the least.

Haifa, Israel
 
Mosque in Akko
 
Akko Marina
 

Alternatively, head inland from Haifa (if you visit the city at all). Nazareth, for example, is the hub of the area near the Sea of Galilee, as well as one of the main Palestinian-majority cities in Israel-proper. Hang out here or in Tiberias, or head northeastward into the contested Golan Heights, which are a great hiking destination in spite of arguably being stolen land.

Decode Jerusalem’s Beautiful Chaos

Jerusalem is a cess pool,” an Israeli friend of mine once told me bluntly, and unapologetically. “If we just gave it up—say to the UN, have it as an international city—most of Israel’s problems would go away.” Whether or not you agree with this, it’s difficult to deny that Israel’s capital is a complicated place. And the complications have personally impeded my sightseeing.

 
 
 

You might even go so far as to say I have PTSD. Having been literally detained and questioned by the police the first time I visited Jerusalem, I rarely include the city center in my Israel 2 week itinerary plans. Rather, I use the city as a hub for excursions, be they to the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi oasis, or another place I’m about to describe.

See the Other Side of the Story in Palestine

We’ll get back to things to see in Israel in a second, but a trip to Palestine makes a perfect segue from Jerusalem. Somehow, in spite of the barbed wire and checkpoints and ghosts of the Nakba, things are a lot clearer here. This is the case both in the territorial capital of Ramallah, as well as in the tourist hub of Bethlehem and even in Hebron, a divided city that makes the best case for Israel being an apartheid state.

 
 
 

You can theoretically travel into the West Bank independently, though the bureaucracy of doing so makes doing so unadvisable. Rather, take an organized tour, whether you spend the night with a local family (such as my friend Don Tamer’s), or take multiple day trips into the territory, where you can gain priceless perspective.

Ride Camels in the Negev Desert

As many of you know, camels are my favorite animal—and Israel is full of them. I actually had the pleasure of staying at Dimona‘s Negev Camel Ranch a few years ago, whereby I got to spend an evening with a Bedouin man whose family has been trading the animals for hundreds of years. However, you don’t need to travel to the Negev Desert on Hump Day to enjoy yourself.

Israeli flag over Ramon Crater
 
Camel in Israel
Hummus in Negev Desert
Ruins in Judean Desert
 
Sunset over Ramon Crater
 

Other fun activities that will make your time in the desert worthwhile Israel itinerary two weeks include (of course) the Dead Sea and Masada Fort, which can alternatively exist as day trips from Jerusalem. I’d also highly recommend Mitzpe Ramon (aka Ramon Crater), a bohemian town with excellent hiking, while I find Eilat (which is on the Red Sea—not quite in the Negev) to be highly overrated.

Incredible Israel Itinerary Options

All of Israel

As I’ve alluded to several times already, an Israel itinerary that lasts around two weeks can take you basically everywhere in the country:

  • 3-5 days in Tel Aviv
  • 2-3 days in Haifa (and the Galilee and/or Golan Heights)
  • 3-5 days in Jerusalem (plus the Dead Sea and West Bank)
  • 2-3 days in the Negev Desert (and optionally Eilat)

Want to do this itinerary faster? Cut off one or two peripheral destinations, and spend a shorter amount of time in either Tel Aviv or Jerusalem (but not both, necessarily).

Tel Aviv and its B*tches

Israel, it’s famously said, is about the size of New Jersey. Another way to put it is that most of the country is within day-trip distance of Tel Aviv:

  • Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and the West Bank
  • Dimona Camel Ranch in the Negev Desert
  • Caesarea, Haifa and Acre
  • Nazareth and the Galilee

Prefer Jerusalem as a base over Tel Aviv? I have no idea why, but you can easily interchange the two within this particular Israel itinerary.

Both Sides of the Story

Let’s say you have shorter than two weeks (maybe a 10 day Israel itinerary) but still want to visit both Israel and Palestine. You can structure your trip as follows:

  • 2-3 days in Tel Aviv (focus on Jaffa)
  • 2-3 days in Jerusalem (focus on the Muslim Quarter, plus a trip to the West Bank)
  • 2-3 days in Nazareth (a Palestinian-Christian city)

Want to visit Palestine without visiting Israel? You can theoretically enter from Jordan via the King Hussein Bridge, though this can be complicated in practice.

Israel Whirlwind

Want to undertake a comprehensive Israel itinerary in around a week? Sleep early, wake up even earlier and try this on for size:

  • 1-2 days in Tel Aviv
  • 1-2 days in Haifa and northern Israel
  • 2-3 days in Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and West Bank
  • 1-2 days in the Negev Desert and/or Eilat
Still not sure how to proceed? You can always hire me as your Travel Coach, and let me prepare your customized Israel itinerary.

Is Israel an Apartheid State?

The first time I visited Israel, in 2010, I was relatively ignorant to Middle Eastern politics, though I was staying with a friend in Jordan, whose family is Palestinian, and who thus had skin in the game. As (bad) luck would have it, my experience in Israel (namely my experience with the country’s thuggish security forces) seemed to match with much of what my friend and her family had told me about Israeli ruthlessness.

I spent the next several years, during which I returned to Israel (and the Palestinian Territories) many times, learning as much as I could about both sides of the conflict, and I often found myself torn in either direction. As of mid-2019, however, I do believe that the Netanyahu administration is doing its best to establish apartheid in Israel (some elements of this already exists). At the same time, I have faith that compassionate, educated Israelis and Jews around the world will resist his treachery.

How Long Should You Spend in Israel?

For many years, I had a post on this site detailing how to spend 2 weeks in Israel, which is more or less the amount of time you need to see “all of Israel”—the major destinations, at least. However, as you can see based on what I’ve written thus far, Israel trips come in all shapes and sizes, depending on what you want to see and do and, of course, how long you can spend.

In general, I’d say that if you can’t manage to spend a full two weeks traveling through Israel, you should narrow the scope of your trip. If you only have a week, for example, split it between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, or base yourself in one city and use day trips (most of Israel is within day-trip distance of these two cities) to go wherever else you want to visit.

The Bottom Line

No matter what stage of planning your Israel itinerary you’re at, I have a feeling you’re a lot more confident now than you were before you started reading. Armed with the information—and inspiration—I’ve provided, you can spend two weeks in Israel and explore basically the entire country, or easily pick and choose Israel destinations and experiences for shorter trips. Still feel flummoxed? Hire me as your Travel Coach and let me sweat the details!