Traveling to Israel has become higher and higher on my bucket list as I meet a lot of people from there whilst traveling around the world. This summer I took some days off to visit Israel – a very safe and modern country – and reunited with local friends that really made the time being there special by showing me the creme de la creme hotspots of their country. The best part is that I TRAVEL FOREVER didn’t plan anything – honestly nothing – in advance but ended up visiting places that not even locals know about. We had the time of our lives. Knowing these local hotspots can be very handy for your upcoming trip to Israel.
Things you MUST know before visiting Israel
From wherever you go to Israel, there are different security checks at the airports than when traveling to other destinations. But that doesn’t need to make you feel unsafe; rather the opposite I would say – I would like that to be the standard. With regards to visa requirements in advance for your country I would suggest you to check on the website of your embassy.
For some of us, it might be quite strange and weird seeing so many soldiers on the streets; but you get used to it and actually it makes you feel really safe. Maybe you don’t know that everyone has to go to the military when they turn 18 years: for men – 3 years, for women – 2 years.
The week in Israel starts on Sunday and goes until Thursday. When people talk about Shabbat weekend it starts on Friday after sunset and lasts until Saturday. It’s a holy day and is supposed to be a rest and renewal day from the busy week. On Friday evening, locals usually meet family or friends to have dinner together. Be aware that on Shabbat, public transportation stops, most supermarkets and other stores close and it’s actually a very nice spirit you will experience in Israel. Shabbat Shalom to you all.
Costs & E-Bike
Israel is quite an expensive travel destination and I would say almost more expensive than traveling in Europe during peak season (50+ USD / day for food and accommodation). A pretty fun fact but true that every bike you can find there is an E-bike – I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that everyone has one but its quite sustainable.
Food / drinks you CANNOT miss out on
LOCAL HOTSPOTS OF THE FOLLOWING PLACES
Tel Aviv (Hip, Modern, Party, Sunset)
Wow, such a multicultural city that is so hip and modern and nothing what you would imagine Israel to be like when you arrive. The city is one big party; don’t miss out on any part of it. The old town of Jaffa is pretty nice but my favourite spot was watching the sunset at Charles Clore Beach (can be crowded during the day, especially on Shabbat, but in the evenings it is fine). The beach during Shabbat is very crowded but even this was an experience to see with everyone playing a popular padel ball game called Matkot. We were lucky that we reunited with my friend Shai (met him whilst hiking together in the Himalaya mountains in Nepal in 2014) who showed us around Tel Aviv. A very popular and trendy neighbourhood to wander around is Florentine. Go and discover the arty streets with unique architecture and graffitis.
Place to eat: Shaffabar restaurant in the flea market in the old town of Jaffa known for a very diverse culinary menu; it tastes really delicious.
Place for drink: BiciclettaTLV is a very cool, hip bar and restaurant with a unique interior design of bike seats. It also has an outside rooftop area and attracts a lot of chilled people for a very good vibe. They have amazing drinks (Limonana) and eggplant fries.
Jerusalem (Culture, History)
Everyone visits the old town of Jerusalem, so it’s not a secret hotspot; but when you go there, you cannot miss out on visiting the most Jewish ultra-orthodox neighborhood, Me’a Sche’arim. It will blow your mind when you wander around; you feel like you are in a different century – we absolutely loved the experience. We have been told by the locals to not visit the neighbourhood on Shabbat because it can appear to be disrespectful.
Place to stay: A very good place to stay central and close to the old town is The Post Hostel *sponsored*. I had a very good experience there and would go again.
Place to eat: Tala Hummus Falafel is a hidden spot in the old town of Jerusalem. The limonana, shakshuka and falafel are amazing. Say you are from the Post Hostel and get a 10 % discount.
Bethlehem (Culture, History, Banksy)
Going to Bethlehem (in the West Bank) from Jerusalem by bus was definitely a bit of a strange experience but, I am so glad we did it. Israelis are not allowed to go there. At the bus station when you arrive, there are a lot taxi drivers trying to harass you to do a tour with them and they don’t give up easily – so be strong; just tell them that you go for a snack and will come back – not ! We just wandered in the direction where all the locals where walking through the small streets, which was a good idea. It reminded me of India and it was strange because people starred at us and there were no other locals around, which worried us a little bit. After about 10-15 minutes of this experience you should arrive by the church and makes you feel like you are back in the civilisation. Apart from the touristy stuff there, I recommend the world famous Banksy street graffiti “Make Hummus not Walls” on the wall next to his hotel and art gallery, The Walled Off Hotel.
I was traveling with my girlfriend and we recommend that you as a women cover your head and legs, as all the local women walk around like this and not to appear disrespectful in any way.
Dead Sea (Float, Hot Springs, Mineral Bath, Stars)
Luckily, we were picked up by a friend, Hanan, in Jerusalem and we drove to the Dead Sea area. He is an expert on visiting the best spots in the area and knows how to get things for a cheap price. When we parked the car, the locals that were standing around there even asked him where they needed to go to the mineral spring because they couldn’t find, and so they just followed us. The Metzokei Dargot Beach on the Dead Sea was only visited by a handful of people, as its very hidden and hard to find. Fortunately, we had Hanan. Floating in the water was a unique experience. Ha ha. Don’t put your head under water as this will hurt your eyes big times. There is a natural mineral bath and mud for a free skin spa treatment can be found on the grounds of the Dead Sea.
At midnight, we travelled to Nachal Kedem, an incredible spot with amazing hot springs (burning hot tho), where you can listen to the waves of the Dead Sea and see the clear sky full of stars – even spotted some shooting stars. It was very difficult to find because it was obviously dark, but it was just us and a group of Polish people who we encountered in the lodge and Hanan knew. Another highlight was seeing the Israel military aircraft training above the Dead Sea. Traveling to this area on public transportation is not possible. I would probably rent a car. Bring a lot of water and some food, as supermarkets in the area are not so accessible.
Place to stay: The Ein Gedi Nature Camping Lodge *sponsored* is the best spot to stay in this location because the vibe of the people is incredible – very hip. Good music tunes and the owners are really helpful (they even dropped us last minute at the bus station to Eilat after we missed the bus to the station) and passionate about the site. The tents even have air-con. From the camp, you can walk up to the Kibbutz Ein Gedi.
Kibbutz Ein Gedi (Flora, Fauna, Desert)
The Kibbutz is an amazing botanical garden in the desert of Israel, which doesn’t make you feel like you are in the desert as they have a wide range of plants from around the world. It is the only botanical garden in the world that integrates the homes of residents from the surrounding community. I loved wandering around there and discovering the different trees. Actually made us wonder how this would grow in a desert, right ? There is the only supermarket in the area that we could find.
Masada (Magical Sunrise, Mountain)
Wow, visiting the Masada was very special and magical. Make sure you arrive at the bottom of Fortress Masada at least 1.5 hours before the sunrise as the hike can be exhausting and take up to an hour to go up the hill. Unfortunately, the cable car only starts running from 8am. Then find a nice spot. Don’t forget to bring breakfast and enjoy the most magical sunrise on this planet. Thanks to my friend, Jenn, for the tip (also met her in Nepal). Entrance fee costs about 6 US$. Apparently there is also a path on the back side that only takes 15 minutes to hike up.
Eilat (Locals Holiday Spot, Beaches, Food Forrest, Lake)
Eilat is full of locals as this is the main holiday hotspot in Israel located on the Red Sea. My favorite beach is Princess Beach, which has crystal clear water and is a nice spot for snorkelling in the Red Sea (you can get there by taxi, and unlike most of the other beaches here you don’t need to pay to enter, e.g. Dolphin beach. Another highlight that you will not find in any travel guide is the local Food Forest Eilat that Liran, a friend of mine, currently develops. His intention behind building a food forest Eilat – in the desert – where people can come and grow their food and vegetables and share them with everyone. This is definitely an information nobody knows yet apart from you. A local hotspot that is very hidden is The Secret Lake in Timna Park (see screenshot with the exact location). To go there you need a car. Taxi drivers won’t know where it is. A fun fact about Eilat is that you can see three countries from there: Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Place to stay: Good price value ratio in a central location and next to the bus station is the Comfort Hotel Eilat *sponsored*.
Place to eat: Very good asian food near the city beach is Ginger Eilat. I recommend reserving a table beforehand as this place can get busy.
Netanya (Local Beach)
The most beautiful beach along the coast is located in Netanya in front of some impressive cliffs. It’s quiet there and locals only gather to relax and chill. I was lucky that my friend, Shai – who I met in Nepal three years ago (read: Himalaya Trekking Day 1), took us to camp overnight, prepared dinner with his mum for us, and we chilled with some friends of his and watched the sunset – an unforgettable magical spot. The rocks in the water separate it into two different pools; it is safe to swim in those areas but be careful swimming in the open water as the current can be so strong and dangerous in different seasons.
In case you decide to travel to Jordan and have some question about where and how to cross the border from Israel to Jordan, read a detailed article ‘How to get from Israel to Jordan crossing the border‘.
I TRAVEL FOREVER’s VIEW & RECOMMENDATION
Our travel to Israel was an incredible experience because we got the full local experience by staying with friends or connecting with friends of friends; visiting local – sometimes secret – hotspots. It really is amazing how helpful the locals are in a very authentic way. They mean it and put in all the effort possible with their full passion. They can make you feel special and they really do it so you can have the best time. So grateful to have such good friends and big thanks to them – very appreciate it. It’s honestly the first country out of all the others that I have visited where I had this magical feeling of being welcome (not in all the parts of Israel since religious backgrounds differ and strange people can be closed-minded like everywhere else). On the travel to Israel it will help to meet locals and experience the culture. Israel is a very expensive country to travel in so be aware of that.
Funny was also that the locals even came to me and started speaking to me in hebrew – everyday haha. One evening even when we had dinner, the waitress gave my girlfriend the English menu and myself in Hebrew – hahaha thats how much I adapt into the local culture. Shalom !
Next time, I would also visit the north part of Israel and give you a part 2 of this guide to local Israeli hot spots. Following all those tips will give you a feel of how locals travel and live in different cities. The experience gave me the full cultural experience and I’m so happy to share it with fellow travellers.
The following sums up pretty nicely what the cultural experience Israel is: locals work in Haifa, pray in Jerusalem and then party in Tel Aviv.