Travel guide to Israel

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Israel is a diverse mixture of beautiful natural settings, historical sights and truly imposing religious shrines. You can experience its' unique history first-hand and you can also visit the stony desert or wander through sub-tropical valleys.

Facts

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Local name
Medinat Israel
Capital
Jerusalem
Size
28.000 km2 (square kilometres)
Principal Languages
Hebrew and Arabic
Principal Religion
Judaism, Islam
Inhabitants
6.030.000 including Gaza and the West Bank (2000)
Government
Republic
Geography
Israel is the size of Belgium but offers the most amazing landscape. Because of the Negev desert, the southern part of the country is hacked and barren. North of Jerusalem the climate is subtropical and the landscape rather flat, green but rather scorched. However the northern parts of the country are incredibly beautiful with high and especially fertile mountains - particularly the Golan Heights.

Travel preparation

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Best time to visit

Heat blankets Israel all summer. In Tel Aviv it is sticky and moist, in Eilat it is as dry as an oven, whilst in Jerusalem and the northern part of the country it is more European in humidity. Nevertheless the temperatures are on the hot side of 30 degrees. Between November to March between 80 and 150 millimetres of rain falls every month. On the other hand the temperature drops to between 10 and 25 degrees. Therefore Israel is at its most pleasant during autumn or spring.

Literature

Lonely Planet Israel & The Palestinian Territoriums

Local conditions

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Currency

Shekel (NIS)

Net cafes

Internet cafés are found all over Israel - but especially in the big cities. They don't exactly put out big signs on the street to advertise their existence, so ask around.

In case of emergency

To call for help in Israel, call the following numbers: Ambulance: (101) Police: (100)

Tipping

While the rest of the world is more or less leaving the tip system behind, the Israelis have only just started. This is most obvious in restaurants where the waiters write unblushingly in large letters - " Service NOT included" - on the bottom of the bill. Taxi drivers have faced the fact that you get nowhere with this kind of 'voluntary choice' for the customer. So they usually include plenty of extra when the price is agreed upon before the ride. Be aware then that you should never pay more than 20 NIS to be driven anywhere within Jerusalem.

Timezone

When its 12.00 p.m. in UK, its 2 p.m. in Israel

Weight and Measures

The following weights and measurements are used in Israel: Length: Metre Weight: Kilo Some places you can see measurements in miles or pounds, but theyre usually followed by the measurement in metres or kilos.

Photography

You will be more than welcome to take pictures all over Israel. You should respect the signs at religious places and also people praying or wearing religious clothing. It is not a good idea either to take too many close-ups of military installations.

Drinking water

In most cities the water is drinkable directly from the tap. But it does not always taste very good and for safety you may as well buy the cheap bottled water you can find everywhere - in this way you can definitely avoid an upset stomach.

Electricity

In Israel the following power source is used: 220 volts, AC/ 50HZ

Business Hours

Stores are open from 8.00/9.00 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. (Sunday - Thursday) and 8.00/9.00 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Friday). Banks are open from 8.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. (Sunday - Friday) and furthermore from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. (Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday)

Food and drink

Israeli food culture is strange - and almost non-existant. The country was only established a little over 50 years ago, and therefore cuisine is characterised by traditions and cultures brought from far and wide by immigrants. You find restaurants from every imaginable country - It would take us too far to emphasise some courses over others, but no-one should leave Israel without having tasted a pita bread with falafel. These are bought in numerous small shops with flashing fluorescent lights and many plastic bowls with vegetables and dressings.

Disabled travellers

The vast majority of tourist-sights and the larger hotels are geared to receive disabled visitors - with ramps and disabled toilets. In certain Arab dominated areas the conditions are not quite as good. Ask at the hotel or call in advance before heading in that direction.

Holidays

Jews, Muslims and Christians have numerous holidays that are celebrated or respected in widely different ways. Whether or not there are alterations in shop and attraction opening hours depends completely on which part of the country you are in. But you can generally note that Jewish holidays are of most importance to travellers because most shops and attractions are run by Jews. But this also means that you can usually find an Arab shop that is open - if you did not already go shopping in the days before the local holiday.

Accommodation / Hotel

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Camping

Camping sites are rather common in Israel - but when it comes to prices it is difficult for them to compete with the many youth hostels. An alternative to the camping sites are the beaches near and south of Tel Aviv, Haifa and Eilat. At others places you may come into conflict with the authorities, so do ask in advance.

Hotels

Israel has a huge number of beds in luxurious hotels - and just as many American guests that are willing to pay "American prices" for their stay. There are also cheaper hotels in the bigger cities, but the alternative to expensive hotels is normally B&B, guest houses or hostels.

Bed og breakfast or guesthouse

Most kibbutz's have guest houses with facilities like a pool or beach and different sports activities belonging to it. The kibbutz's are often located in beautiful surroundings and a stay here also gives you a idea of what its like living in the world famous kibbutz's. By contacting the local tourist agency you can find excellent B&Bs lots of places in Israel. Prices are fair and the standard usually the same. You can also find B&Bs by looking for signs on streets or at bus stations, or by allowing yourself to be contacted by "scouts" in the same places. To ensure being spotted it is a good idea to bring your bags to signal that you are house hunting.

Hostels

There are many youth hostels / hostels in Israel. Theyre almost all over the country and its a cheap way to spend the night.

Other Accommodation

Israel has numerous options for spending the night in all price ranges. From dingy hostels with damp streaming down the walls, through pleasant kibbutz hotels - to the luxurious main hotels. If you do not feel like paying for spending the night the climate provides good outdoor alternatives - but you should only do this after careful consideration, with advice from other travellers or locals if necessary.

Local transport

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Planes

The Israeli domestic airline Arkia connects the six largest cities. But the distances in Israel are so short, the buses so cheap, and the flying so inconvenient - that domestic flying isn't really an alternative to the buses.

Bus

All Israelis take the bus no matter where they are going. Even the tiniest village has a bus station with connection to the big cities. The buses are punctual, fast and cheap. Holders of an international students card even get a ten per cent reduction on the longer routes. In recent years the buses have been the target of numerous terrorist attacks. But - seen in the light of the Israeli national bus company being the second largest in the world - the risk of being bombed during a bus ride is miniscule - and add to this that these kinds of attack are very rare.

Trains

The Israeli train company ISR uses Danish IC3 trains, but they do not depart very often. There are not many lines and fewer departures than the buses. Add to this that the stations are often situated some distance from the town centres - unlike the bus stations. On the other hand, train tickets are even cheaper than bus tickets, and travellers with an ISIC-card receive a twenty per cent reduction.

Taxi

There are lots of taxis in the larger cities. Nevertheless the prices are rather high unless you haggle in advance or make sure that the taximeter is on. If you are a group of four or more the taxis are often cheaper than taking the bus, but do remember to settle on a price in advance. Wherever you are going in Jerusalem you should not pay more than 20 NIS. The popular share-taxis called sherutes drive between the big cities along the same routes as the buses. The prices are usually a bit higher than by bus, and they do not depart until full. On shabbat they are the only connection available between the cities, and in the Arab areas the sherutes are a faster and more comfortable alternative to the local buses.

Car rental

All the big car rental companies have several branches in Israel. At times the prices are the same as in Europe, but a hired car can sometimes be economical and time-saving if you want to see sights in outlying parts of the country fairly quickly.

Other Transport

Many Israelis, especially soldiers, hitch, and its almost a duty to pick up a soldier if you have room. However tourist shouldnt hitch unless they know the way in advance.

Special conditions

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A visa is not required for travelling in Israel. You receive a "landing card" shortly before landing which you fill out and hand in upon arrival. But if you are planning to go on to Syria, Lebanon or other Arab countries (except Jordan and Egypt) an Israeli passport stamp is pretty much an impediment. Most Arab countries have not recognised the existence of the state of Israel, and therefore do not recognise having been there. To get around this ask for your entry stamp to be put on a blank piece of paper - which you then hand in when departing Israel. Remember to take this into account if later in the validation period of your passport you need or want to travel to an Arab country. An Israeli stamp does not go away...

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