Israel is a fascinating travel destination and my backpacking trip there was full of great and interesting moments and experiences. Here I would like to give you all the important information and travel tips, as well as the best Israel attractions that you should not miss. In addition to the most famous destinations, such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, I will show you the sights in the West Bank and give you an insight into what should be seen in the north and south of the country.
Israel Backpacking Travel Tips and Information
Let’s start with some Israel travel tips for your holiday in the Holy Land.
Backpacking Israel Budget
Israel is considered a very expensive travel destination, but you can easily save money here. For each night in a hostel, you pay about 20 €, but the flights from Germany to Israel are very cheap and the transport in the country does not cost much. Alcohol and partying is, again, more expensive, but I also found the food affordable. We went mostly to small, local restaurants (falafel, shawarma, hummus), and usually paid 5-7 € for a meal. Depending on your budget, you can adjust your itinerary; tours and excursions are a bit more expensive in Israel, but many attractions have no additional entrance fees. Per day, you should expect to spend about 40 € (tours excluded). In general, however, one can also travel cheaply while backpacking in Israel! Here you can find more about the budget in Israel!
Immigration, Arrival and Departure in Israel
We did not start our Israel tour, like many others, in Tel Aviv, but in the south, in Eilat. There are very cheap flights to Ovda (from 15 € per person from Germany!). And at the old military airport only a few (Ryanair) fliers arrive daily. As this airport is located far to the south and thus close to Eilat and the Red Sea, it is a popular arrival point for tourists. When entering the country you have to answer a few questions (how long will you stay in Israel, where will you travel, why are you there, how do you know your travel companion, etc.). If you are not suspicious here, you may go far and make it. However, if you have Muslim or Arab roots or have passport stamps from more exotic Muslim countries (such as Pakistan), you will have to wait for your special interrogation. Here you will be interviewed in great detail and wait quite a while, until you are allowed to enter. You also get no “dreaded” Israel stamp in the passport (this can make the entry into Muslim countries impossible), but only a visa on a piece of paper (very good, and is important for the departure!). Now our backpacking tour through Israel can start! In front of the airport, a few buses are waiting to take tourists to their destination. We went straight into the “Egged Bus 282” and for 21.50 NIS (you can also pay in euros or dollars – but it’s a bit more expensive) to Eilat drove to the Central Bus Station. We were from Ben Gurillon Airport in Tel Aviv flown back to Germany. You have to be at the airport early, at least 3 hours before departure. Before you go to the counters to give up or check in the baggage, you have to undergo another survey. My passport was flipped through and I was asked about the countries I have been to (Morocco, Malaysia, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates). Why I was there, if I knew someone there, and with whom I was there (first and last name). If you are unlucky, it is then still in a separate interrogation. Then came the Security Check, which can vary greatly in its thoroughness. Here, however, everything is checked again in general, even your mobile phone and all electronic devices are driven off with an ion scanner. However, everything went smoothly and we were one step ahead. Finally, only the passport control came, which, however, can be easily done with the new passports at a vending machine itself. Then we were at the gate and finally allowed to leave!
Safety when Backpacking Israel
In general, Israel is a safe country to travel, but you will soon realize (and certainly already know) that the political situation is very complex. Every now and then the situation escalates, but usually no tourists are affected by these “incidents” and foreigners have never been the target of the conflicts. Otherwise, you should, of course, before departure, check the news in detail, because the situation can change quickly here.
How long should I go backpacking in Israel?
It depends on what you want to see. I recommend you spend at least 2-3 days in Jerusalem and 1-2 days in Tel Aviv. Day trips are also possible (Dead Sea, West Bank) or a detour to the north and south. If you really want to see everything, I recommend you plan about 3 weeks to explore the sights in Israel extensively, to get a good first impression of the country, but 10-15 days would also be enough.
What’s the best time for my trip?
Israel is located in the Middle East, which makes the summers very hot and only partially recommendable for travel. Note, however, that it can be surprisingly cool in winter (especially in Jerusalem). An Israel backpacking trip is therefore most worthwhile in spring or autumn. You should avoid the Passover or the Easter holidays, because there is a lot happening in the city at this time. Although this is cool on the one hand, on the other, you can expect a lot of tourists. Read more about the best time to visit Israel here!
Can I combine my travels with a visit to Jordan?
Yes, and I recommend that to you, too! It would be a shame if one is ever in the area and then not take the opportunity to combine your Israel trip with a backpacking Jordan adventure! The relationship between the two countries is okay, so you can easily travel from one country to the other. A round trip is particularly worthwhile, as you travel across the south of Israel to Jordan, exploring the country with the Wadi Rum Desert, Petra and Amman, and finally return to Jerusalem for Israel. In general, I would recommend you a week for backpacking in Jordan.
Backpacking through southern Israel (Eilat)
The city of Eilat is located in the very south of Israel, on the Red Sea and not far from the borders with Egypt and Jordan. Eilat is a tax-free zone, which makes shopping, for example, cheap. Otherwise Eilat is the typical resort, where there is not much to do. Unfortunately, there are no real sights in Eilat itself. There is a public beach, which is very small. For swimming and sunbathing, however, it is perfect. On your backpacking tour through Israel, you should not skip Eilat, because you can do great excursions in the area parting from there. I would like to introduce this to you below.
Coral Beach and Dolphins Reef
In the south of Eilat there are very nice beaches. Here, among other things that are worth visiting, you will find the Coral Beach or the Dolphins Reef. We decided to spend the day at Coral Beach. The bus ride takes about 10 minutes and costs 1 €. Unfortunately, the entrance to Coral Beach is expensive and costs about 8 € (Dolphin Reef is probably even more expensive). The beach at Coral Beach is very nice, big, and with significantly fewer people. You can borrow equipment for snorkeling for a small price and a jetty in the water. The water is extremely clear and you have a great view – definitely recommended!
Red Canyon and Timna Park
Although you can only read on the internet from guided day trips or rental cars to the Red Canyon, you can also reach the Red Canyon very well by public bus (the “Egged Bus”), which leaves from the Central Bus Station. From the arrivals, you walk about 15 minutes to the canyon. There is no entry fee and you should spend a few hours there and walk through the impressive area.
Afterwards, we wanted to take the bus back to Eilat. However, it was late, so we tried our luck hitchhiking. A short time later, a very nice couple from Poland stopped to pick us up and even take us to Timna Park. This is a very large national park (about 10 € entrance fee). Here you can admire some impressive rock formations and climb great viewpoints. Since the park is very big, a car, of course, is very practical. But if you take a day off, you can also run through large parts of the park or borrow a bike. However, since we only stayed there for one afternoon, a car was handy. Again, a visit is highly recommended during your Israel backpacking trip.
Backpacking northern Israel
Now I would like to talk about the best sights of Israel in the north of the country. I myself have not visited the North yet, but my brother Dominik rented a car on his backpacking trip to Israel and visited several destinations and attractions in there. Here he tells you about his personal experiences.
In the port city of Haifa, is one of the most famous Israel sights to admire: the hanging gardens. A visit here is worthwhile in any case. There are several viewpoints from where you have a beautiful view of the gardens as well as on the largest port of Israel. Of course, there are also various museums, synagogues, churches, and mosques in the city.
Let’s take another highlight of my journey through Israel. In the old town of Akko, an ancient crusader town, within the city wall you feel as in another time. There, in addition to a stroll through the city, we also bought a ticket for the underground Crusader city and explored it. Here, through an audio guide, you get a lot of interesting information about the crusades of yore – it’s worth it! The harbor, the narrow streets, and the old town in general look just as different as Tel Aviv and on your backpacking trip through Israel you should definitely plan a stay in Akko.
By car we visited Rosh Hanikra. These underground caves are right on the border with Lebanon, and were flushed out by the water. We spent about an hour here to see the terrain. The easiest way to get here is by car from Akko, so rent a vehicle for the north of your backpacking Israel tour.
Tiberias at the Sea of Galilee
Unfortunately, this “sight” in Israel was rather disappointing for me. The city of Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee were unfortunately very dirty, especially the displayed on Google “public beach” on the lake. There really is not much to see here. I’m sure there are beautiful places around the Sea of Galilee, but unfortunately I have not found them, so you can easily skip Tiberias on your backpacking Israel trip.
The city of Nazareth is known to most people primarily from the Bible. Note that it’s not that historic anymore, though, and I ended up stuck in a huge traffic jam in Nazareth, and it took me a long time to get around. Otherwise, most Israel sights in Nazareth are of biblical origin, such as the Annunciation Basilica and the Church of St. Gabriel. Especially for pilgrims, therefore, a stop in Nazareth should be interesting.
Backpacking central Israel
Now I’d like to introduce you to some of the greatest Israeli attractions in the center of the country, which are also the most popular touristic destinations in Israel – namely the coastal metropolis of Tel Aviv, the historic city of Jerusalem, and the famous Dead Sea (which combines well with Masada and Ein Gedi).
Jerusalem was undoubtedly the largest highlight of my Israel backpacking journey. This was because the city has so much to offer and you’ll find some of Jerusalem’s most impressive Israeli sights. I advise you to schedule at least two full days for sightseeing in Jerusalem. In addition, the location is also perfect for day trips; for example, the Dead Sea or the West Bank. The most interesting place in Jerusalem is the old town with the four different quarters, the Wailing Wall, and the Temple Mount (or Dome of the Rock). You get a great view of the old town through the Rampart Walk or from the roof terrace of the Austrian hospice. But even outside the old town, there is much to see. If you want to see some places of the Bible with your own eyes, you should go to the Mount of Olives. There you have not only a great view, but you can also visit the garden Gethsemane, the mortal fear basilica, and the Marien Grab. Learn more about the history of Jerusalem in the City of David, and in the immediate vicinity you will also find the sights on Zionsberg. In the new part of Jerusalem you should definitely visit the Mahane Yehuda market. This market is really interesting and you can try or buy many delicious things. In the evening, when the market closes, the area becomes a bar district. A visit to the market is worthwhile in the evening as well as during the day. A real Israeli insider tip is the Yemin Moshe Neighborhood. This is near the Jaffa Gate and really beautiful for a walk! To go out in the evening, next to the market and the Ben Yehuda Street, there are many bars and Kaffees. While backpacking through Israel, you must not miss Jerusalem.
Although the modern beach city of Tel Aviv does not have as many sights of Israel as Jerusalem, it is still worth visiting the city on your Israel backpacking tour. Because here too you can discover a lot. In any case, one should look at the Carmel Market, where there are many market stalls and cheap street food. The beach in Tel Aviv is also really nice; the Jerusalem Beach was my favorite and there is always a lot going on there. I recommend a long walk along the beach promenade to get an impression of the typical attitude to life of Israel. The district of Old Jaffa should not be missed when backpacking in Israel. There is a beautiful harbor from which you can explore the area further. There are many small streets and you are suddenly far away from modern Tel Aviv. There is also a flea market in Old Jaffa, which is unlike other markets and where you can really buy anything you can imagine. Tel Aviv is also known for its nightlife. Almost every backpacker hostel is full of -happy party people, so travelers go out and party often in the evenings or go to the pub crawl. Even if you do not necessarily come to Israel to party, you should definitely go out and explore the bars and clubs of Tel Aviv – it’s worth it (though celebrating in Israel is not exactly cheap). In any case, a visit to Tel Aviv is definitely worth your while on an Israel backpacking tour. The city is full of young people and ideal for resting on the beach or enjoying life. Although there are few historical Israeli sights, Israel is just fun and the beach metropolis reminds me of Los Angeles or Barcelona for example.
I summarize these three Israel attractions, as they can be wonderfully combined. Masada is a historic fortress in the Judean Desert perched high on a rocky mountain. There are only ruins left of the former fortress and you have a great view from up here. From Masada you can see not only the Dead Sea, but even the mountains of Jordan. The ascent can be done either on foot or by gondola. Here I have seen a great sunrise as part of a day trip *. Next we went to Ein Gedi, not far from Masada. This natural reserve is considered an oasis in the desert and you will find waterfalls and rivers in the barren rock landscape. Hiking trails take you through the grounds and you have great views of the area. The last stop of my tour was the Dead Sea! Although the beach was not exactly beautiful, floating in the water was still a unique and cool feeling! As already mentioned, I took a sunrise tour to Masada, Ein Gedi, and the Dead Sea and therefore saw these sights in one day. This tour is available either from Jerusalem or from Tel Aviv!
Backpacking the West Bank / Palestine
During your stay in Israel, you should also take the opportunity to visit the West Bank or Palestine (the terminology depends on who you ask). While Israelis do not dare to go there, there is no danger for tourists and I have always felt safe. The people here were even a lot friendlier and more open than the Israelis, and are happy to welcome tourists.
This city is located in the northern part of the West Bank. There is not much to see, but it is worth noting that there is a huge refugee camp of Palestinians who were expelled from Israel and have not had a real home for decades.
The city of Nablus is one of the typical, less touristy cities in the West Bank. Here you can explore the markets and bustling streets of the center, see the famous mosque, and make a detour to Mount Gerizim, where the small community (about 700 people) of the Samaritans lives secluded from the outside world.
This is virtually the capital of Palestine, or the “Palestinian National Authority” (as I said – the political situation and terminology is complicated). Not far from Jerusalem, you can easily visit the city. Just outside is the Mausoleum of Arafat, which is probably the most famous attraction in Ramallah.
Historic Jericho is considered one of the world’s oldest civilizations and you can visit sunken ruins in the Judean Desert. There is not much left of the historic city!
Bethlehem is one of Israel’s most famous tourist destinations and the city is easily explored as a trip from Jerusalem as both cities are close to each other (but of course separated by the border). The most famous attraction in Bethlehem is the Nativity Church, which was built on the grotto where Jesus was supposedly born. Under the church, you can also see exactly where the place is, and a star marks the spot where it seems Jesus was born. If you’re in Bethlehem, you should definitely visit the Separation Wall, full of political art.
Jordan River (Qasr-el-Yahud)
In the very east of the country, on the border with Jordan, lies the Jordan River, which divides the two countries. Both Israel and Jordan claim that Jesus was baptized on “their” side and consequently both attract tourists. Especially religious pilgrims who can be baptized here in solemn ceremonies, which is really worth seeing.
Conclusion on Backpacking Israel
Although Israel is not a classic backpacking destination, I can definitely recommend you a holiday in the country. There is so much to see and you can not only get to know another culture, but above all, learn a lot about the politics and religion there, which is incredibly exciting and fascinating. As you have hopefully seen, besides the famous Israeli attractions in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, there are many other great destinations in the north, south, and West Bank. Therefore, you should definitely count with enough time and plan a trip to Jordan. I had a great time and am looking forward to traveling to Israel again soon.
I hope I gave you a good impression of my backpacking Israel tour. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions and let me know in the comments how your trip was!