I’m Finally Going to Israel

Greece, Israel, Italy and Turkey are the big ones that raise eyebrows when I cop to not having visited (excepting airport connections). With some unexpected time freed up this weekend I am Israel-bound, thanks to a last-minute $521 fare on Aeroflot with good flight and connection times. I used 39k Citi ThankYou Points.

Israel Flag

If all goes well this will be my 149th UN country and 225th Travelers Century Club Country. No way to avoid history or geopolitics on such a trip and I don’t want to. I want to see for myself the land so central to world history and current events. Palestine will be my 226th Travelers Century Club Country. Rick Steves Travel as a Political Act reflects my view of travel and is a good primer.

I will have 2.5 full days. Not enough, you shout. I will do my best. I will see the core religious sites, am looking at a trip up to Haifa and/or down to Masada, and want to head deeper into the West Bank. Hard to narrow the choices when nearly every point on the map, has a ‘that sounds familiar,’ ring. It sounds like the situation in Gaza is not suited to a short there and back trip. Dead Sea is the one typical highlight I may skip.

I will be renting a car, hopefully can find one that allows entry to the West Bank. I have gotten letters of insurance for 3 different credit cards (Chase Hyatt Visa for its raised numbers, Chase United MileagePlus Explorer for another Visa, and Citi Premier MasterCard, my preferred for 3x). I am determined to not pay CDW!

I haven’t yet picked where I will sleep for the nights. The chain hotels look poor value for a traveler who will hardly be in the room and are clustered in Tel Aviv. I will be looking for smaller places along my route.

Readers, this is a land many of you know intimately, what are your suggestions and tips?

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29 Comments on "I’m Finally Going to Israel"

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Songer
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I’m a non-Jewish traveler but married an Israeli woman. In the past 6 years ive been there 14 times. My first time, i did a tour from TA that took me to Ceasaria, Rosh Hanikra and Haifa. The second day, went to Jerusalem and walked the Old City. More than that would be really tough and you end up just checking off items on a list rather than enjoying anything.

Best food is shwarma, hummus and falafel. Stick with the local favorites.

Steve
Guest

Perfect timing! We’re heading there (and Jordan) for the first 2 weeks in March. This thread has been full of things to do (but not enough time to do them all!)

Dan
Guest

Underground Kotel tunnel tour is definitely a must. Make sure to reserve well in advance as it will be sold out closer-in.
I also love doing the Ramparts walk on top of Jerusalem’s old city walls. A fascinating bird’s eye view of the hustle and bustle in the diverse quarters of the old city below.

Mike Manna
Guest
Don’t miss the underground Tunnels Tours at the Wailing Wall : http://english.thekotel.org Or also the tour through Hezekiah’s tunnel at the City of David: http://www.cityofdavid.org.il/en/virtual_tour/hezekiah’s-tunnel-city-david. This tours would be great to book in advance. I like staying in the Old City, but try not to look like a tourist – they have recently been targeted and it is not making Western news according to my Israeli friends. I have rented a care twice and they did not let me in West Bank. Better to hire a Palestinian guide with a car for half the day and leave your rental car… Read more »
Shannon
Guest

thumbs up for RTP not accept comps on this blog, not like many out there.

degania
Guest
It is very tough to see highlights in such limited time. Here are my suggestions (my wife is Israeli and we go there every summer. Jerusalem: The old city. I think it worthwhile to visit each religion’s major site: the Western Wall, Dome of the Rock, and Church of the Holy Sepulchre. West Bank Towns: Bethlehem is the easiest to visit. Hebron is tense (if that’s what you are looking for). Ramallah is the center of government and technology. South of Jerusalem: Masada: Visiting here will give you an idea of the Negev desert, plus you can see the Dead… Read more »
DaveS
Guest
If you’re going to Masada you can hardly miss the Dead Sea. In the short time you have, where you stay will be all about easy access and making connections. I’d just find someplace cheap where you expect to end one day and begin the next. There are some destinations where the lodging is part of the experience; given your framework, here it’s just a place to sleep a few hours. I doubt you have any reason at all to go to Tel Aviv (nothing there would make my top 50 highlights for Israel / West Bank). As everyone would… Read more »
Joseph
Guest

I agree with others, the Dead Sea is like nothing else, you have to swim in that.

Jerusalem is the most gripping place on earth, the vibe encompasses you. You HAVE to visit the souk, and you HAVE to make your way to the top of the Mount of Olives to watch the sun rise on the Old City. God’s sake man you only have 2.5 days, don’t waste a lot of time commuting all over the country, there’s too much to do in Jerusalem alone. Also I’m clamoring for a review of the Waldorf Jerusalem. Make that bad boy happen.

Melanie
Guest
Wonderful! We spent a week in Israel. We took a cab from the Lion’s Gate to Bethlehem, and it cost us $130!!! I’m sure we paid too much, but best get a firm price up front because those cab drivers are ruthless. I didn’t feel like going to West Bank and Bethlehem was worth the time or expense. It’s run down, not beautiful (at least along our drive), and expensive. But Masada and the Dead Sea were worth it! Also, we spent a lot of time ( 1 whole day) walking through the streets of the old city. Fascinating. Also,… Read more »
BradR
Guest
i’m a rare non-jew who visits (for work)… also non-religious, so with that lens: tel aviv is meh – sit at a cafe on dizengoff for lunch, walk the beach briefly, and you’ve seen it all. the beach/chain hotels are mostly a ripoff – rates are on par with london/nyc, with the quality somewhere around 1980s mexico. agree with the previous comment to half day TA and go up to haifa to see the gardens. not a ton more to see up there, so i’d skip that in deference to jerusalem and an early night so you can get up… Read more »
Jeff Katz
Guest

I invite you to stay for free at my small hotel in Tzfat
Artists Colony Inn

Write me!
Jeff

me
Guest

skipping the dead sea would be a big mistake IMO

Dan
Guest

2.5 days is nothing but a tease. I don’t see how you can even get to half of the highlights.

Jerusalem needs a full day if not 2, Dead sea/Masada/Ein gedi needs a day, TLV/Yafo needs a day, Tzfat/Tiberias needs a day, Golan Heights needs a day, Haifa/Rosh Hanikra needs a day..

And that’s not even counting the west bank or gaza.

Also you can’t avoid LI insurance even with a credit card.

Charlie
Guest

Btw, if you want some wonderful conversation and insight, make sure you visit the shop Shorashim in the old city and talk to Moshe. He loves to talk and is really a depth of information.

Tim A
Guest

Strongly recommend a trip to Tiberias. Even if you aren’t a Christian, the historical area of Galilee is worth seeing.

sam
Guest

@Rapid Travel Chai
It was back in mid September when Air Canada was dropping international surcharges. I think there where flights available all through Europe as well with that mistake. I Booked it on 09/18/15

Jason
Guest

Also, parking in Jerusalem is a nightmare, so good luck!

Jason
Guest
Been multiple times and lived there for a year last year. If you only have 2.5 days, you will be very rushed. Israel is a small country but if you want to see everything in that amount of time it will literally be a half day in each place. I suggest your first day doing a half day in TLV and a half day in Haifa, which is about an hour away to the north. The second day, I suggest going into the WB for half a day (if you can go on a tour, it would be easier. I… Read more »
Uri
Guest
1. Know exactly where you wanna go in the WB, map and all. One wrong turn with a yellow license plate can be a problem. 2. I used my Chase Sapphire Preferred to rent. That’s the best solution if you want to avoid paying any CDW or other insurance related payments. Driving in Israelbis crazy and in the WB even crazier. Make sure you call your credit card company and they’ll email you a waiver. 3. If you end up in Tel Aviv, you’ll many many wonderful restaurants you should try. In Jerusalem, there is one restaurant you must try:… Read more »
Sam
Guest
I will be going to Israel with my wife and kids on Thursday with Air Canada’s price mistake. ($284 per person from EWR) There is a ton to do there but here are a few things. 1. You could go through the old city in Jerusalem and make your way to the Western Wall. 2. The Dead Sea is amazing. I mean you get to float in the ocean. 3. Eilat is warmer and more of a beach/ ocean sports and diving kind of place. 4. If you enjoy a little hike and some natural springs you could go to… Read more »
Charlie
Guest

Glad you are going and know you will have a great trip! I am not sure if any rental agencies will let you go into the West Bank but I have been there in a rental car before (I honestly forgot it said not to go there – nothing happened!).
With your manner of travel, I have no doubt that you will see all of the major stuff during your trip. Have a great time and be sure to let me know when you finally make it here to Greece. 🙂

Bryce Griffler
Guest

SO COOL! You’ll have a blast. Masada is BEAUTIFUL. Consider also the Bahai Gardens, Tzfat, and even Tel Aviv–happening night life. The Dead Sea was actually a VERY unique experience for me, growing up as a pool rat. The feeling of water being so buoyant was VERY strange. Be careful not to shave a few days prior, though.

Agree–stay in the smaller places. No need to book a chain. Even the chains aren’t great.