Israel is a beautiful Middle Eastern spectacle on the southeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and the northern shore of the Red Sea. Lebanon serves as a land border to the north, as well as Syria to the northeast, Jordan to the east, the Palestinian territories of West Bank to the east, Gaza strip to the west and Egypt to the southwest. It is home to many religious sites like the . Jews, Muslims and Christians regard Israel as the biblical Holy Land with the most sacred sites located in its capital, Jerusalem.
In 2016, based on the information from the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, the population of Israel was an estimated 8,502,900 people. It is the world’s only Jewish-majority state with 74.9% of its people being Jewish. Arabs are the country’s second largest group of citizens with a count of 1,766,500 people. The rest of the population includes Christians, Arameans, Assyrians, Samaritans, Armenians, Circassians, Dom people, Maronites and Vietnamese.
Israel is a developed country and is the 35th largest economy in the world by nominal gross domestic product as of 2015. It is among one of the most educated countries in the world being one with of the highest percentage of its citizens holding a tertiary education degree. The country has the highest standard of living in the Middle East and the fourth highest in Asia, and has one of the highest life expectancies in the world.
The prime minister serves as the head of the government with Israel being a representative democracy with a parliamentary system, proportional representation and universal suffrage.
When to Travel – Weather
The winter months of Israel are from November to March. It is coldest during these months with snow in the northern sections of the Golan Heights and occasional snowfall in Jerusalem. The heaviest rainfall is experienced on the coast at this time though in places like Eilat the temperatures are reasonably still pleasant. Late December and January is the best time for the authentic Christmas experience. You have to book tickets to Midnight mass in Bethlehem at the Church of Nativity a year in advance if you want to go. You can get good deals after January 3 as this is when low season starts.
In the summertime starting in June and ending in August the temperatures are high with tranquil evenings and little chance of rain. Jerusalem and other highland areas are wonderful during this time. Places like Tel Aviv and towns/cities south of the country are usually several degrees warmer which provides the perfect opportunity to enjoy the soothing warmth of the sun while lying on the beach. Throughout the summertime Israel’s many oases, streams, and adventure spots spring to life
In the months of April and May is the spring season while autumn is in September and October. These are the best times to visit Israel. During these seasons temperatures are mild throughout the country. Make sure to pack clothes that you can wear in layers so that you will be prepared for both sunny skies and cool weather.
Food and Drink
Israel has as many diverse culinary styles as its diverse population. Food is a very important part of life to Israeli people especially when it comes to family gatherings and religious events. Throughout the country kosher and non-kosher restaurants can be found. Most restaurants are of high quality and are moderately priced. Street food is usually very cheap. There are many fast food outlets, cafes, bars and restaurants that cater to tourists by providing them with menus that have both English and Hebrew. Israelis tip 15% in restaurants and cafes. Often this is added to the bill, but if service was not satisfactory you can ask to have it removed.
Cafes serve food which ranges from hearty breakfasts to sandwiches and light lunches and are the place to be seen. Café life is very popular in Israel as the Israelis love sipping lattes or strong Arabic coffee in outdoor cafes.
Bars stock all international brands of spirits and soft drinks. Alcohol in Israel is expensive, including local brand beers. Bars serve high quality food until the small hours. The drinking age in Israel is 18.
Israeli breakfast foods include pastries such as Borekas (can be filled with cheese, potatoes, or vegetables), a tangy yogurt spread called Labane, Israeli salad, Jachnun (a filling dish made from dough and cooked overnight), Shakshooka etc.
A typical lunch in Israel is shnitzel with different side salads, including hummus and tahini, and served with rice or mashed potatoes, and vegetables. Israeli lunch or dinner foods include Baba Ganoush (an eggplant spread), Falafel (deep fried chickpea balls, often served in pita bread), Hummus (a mashed chickpea spread, hummus can be served in many ways and is a staple in Israeli households), Malawach (a flaky round pastry can be enjoyed with sweet or savory toppings), Pita bread (the national bread of Israel), Shnitzel (chicken cutlets breaded and fried) etc.
Israeli snacks include ice-cream, Malabi (a pudding flavored with rose water and topped with nuts), Sahlab (a rich, creamy, sweet hot drink or pudding), Knafeh (a dessert is made of shredded pastry, soft cheese and sweet syrup), Crepes, Baklava (a sweet layered pastry) etc.
Israeli people love drinking tea and coffee. Among these are mint tea and Café Afuch which is an “upside down” cappuccino. Popular beverages also include mint lemonade called Lemonana and fruit shakes.
Popular Vacation Spots
Israel is considered the biblical “Holy City” by three major religions of the world and as such possesses various religious sites and museums.
Old City of Jerusalem – This is a 0.9 square kilometers walled area within the modern city of Jerusalem. It is oozing with culture and rich history.
Yad Vashem – Holocaust Memorial – Established in 1953, Yad Vashem is Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. It is located on the western slope of Mount Herzi on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem. It is a powerfully moving overview of the Holocaust. It uniquely and impressively shows the whole history of the event.
Western Wall – Also known as the Wailing Wall or the Kotel, the Western Wall is an ancient limestone wall located in the Old City of Jerusalem. If you want to see an epicenter of three world religions, the visit will leave you exhilarated.
Israel Museum – Situated on a hill in the Givat Ram neighbourhood of Jerusalem, near the Bible Lands Museum, the Knesset, the Israeli Supreme Court, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and founded in 1965 as Israel’s national museum is the Israel Museum. It is a fantastic museum housing multiple cultures and multiple arts.
Tel Aviv – Tel Aviv Port’s waterfront promenade is lined with shops and restaurants. Located on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, the city is also known for its accessible beaches and vibrant nightlife ranging from Lilienblum Street’s lounges to Dizengoff Street’s open-air cafes.
Eilat – Known for snorkeling and diving, Eilat’s beaches are noted for their calm waters. If you love aquatic life, you can enjoy visiting Dolphin Reef where you can watch Dolphins or the Coral Reef Nature Reserve.
Other religious places of interest include Galilee, Nazareth and Bethlehem.
Most Israeli’s speak English but the official languages of Israel are Hebrew and Arabic. It would be good if you could learn some basic Hebrew words and phrases.
Israel is a Jewish country and so they keep the observe the Shabbath or Saturday as a holy day and so all public offices and most businesses are closed on this day.
Israel is a religious city and as such you should dress conservatively when visiting its religious areas. Tel Aviv is more forgiving when it comes on to the dress code.
The currency in Israel is the New Israeli Shekel (NIS). 1 Shekel = 100 Agorot (singular: agora) and bank notes are in denominations of NIS 200, 100, 50 and 20 shekels. Coins are in denominations of 10 shekels, 5 shekels, 2 shekels, 1 shekel, 50 agorot and 10 agorot. 1 United States dollar would be 3.81 NIS while 1 Euro would be the equivalent of 4.26 NIS. The most common ways of paying are by cash and credit card. There are ATMs all over in cities (Bank Leumi and Bank Hapoalim being the most prevalent) and some even give the option of dispensing cash in dollars and euros. Here is a helpful round-up of all things financial for Israel travelers.
The calling code for Israel is +972.
The Israelis drive on the right side of the road.
The timezone is IST (UTC+2) or IDT (UTC+3)