Israel is a fascinating country of contrasts, part ultra-modern society and part state of old traditions, one week in Israel will only allow you to scratch the surface. Filled with culture, interesting cities, incredible history and beautiful natural attractions, Israel is a fantastic destination for your next holiday.
We think this is the perfect Israel itinerary to experience the best of the country in only one week!
If you are lucky enough to have more than one week, consider combining your trip to Israel with neighbouring Jordan (one of our other favourite destinations!).
Everything you Need to Know About Travelling in Israel
A Brief History of Israel
Israel is both young and ancient. The nation was formally created at the end of World War 2, after the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, however the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah (on which the nation of modern Israel is founded) date back to biblical times. Israel has the highest standard of living in the Middle East and is considered a holy place for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.
We won’t attempt to get into the complex history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in this post; it is simply far too nuanced and there are far better resources out there if you are interested in learning more about the subject. Our only advice for travellers about the matter is to be sensitive, open-minded and closed-mouthed regarding Israeli-Palestinian relations while speaking with locals.
Whilst you may have an outsiders opinion on the situation, remember that you are speaking with someone who has lived in the country their entire lives, and you have no idea of their personal experiences.
Listen well (to Israelis and Palestinians alike), and learn about their different perspectives. If someone asks for your opinion then, by all means, feel free to share it (while being respectful), just be aware that passions run incredibly high on both sides of the issue and almost everyone in this country have been personally impacted by the conflict.
Language in Israel
The official language in Israel is Hebrew, but most people also speak English and most signs are in English too which is useful.
In the Palestinian Territories (the West Bank) Arabic is the primary language, but again many people speak English.
The New Israeli Shekel (NIS) is the official and only currency used in Israel and Palestine. The current exchange rate is approx. 3.5 NIS = $1.
Approximate Daily Budget: $60 /person
Israel is a relatively expensive country. We spent approx. $120 per day as a couple, staying in hostel dorms, eating mostly cheap fast food/market food with occasional restaurant meals, and drinking a few too many beers on occasion. We did do a couple of tours (free walking tours when available, plus a full-day tour to Hebron – see below) which can add up.
Obviously this number will be different for everyone, but hopefully this will give you a rough idea for your trip. You could save some money by limiting the restaurant meals and alcohol you indulge in.
A Note About Shabbat
You need to be aware of Shabbat when travelling in Israel. According to the Torah, Shabbat (or the Sabbath) celebrates the day that God rested after creating the world; the word Shabbat literally translates as “he rested.”
In Israel that means that from Friday afternoon/evening until Saturday evening everyone ‘rests’, and all public transport will stop running! This includes city buses, inter-city buses, trains, boats… everything (my mind is still baffled by this modern society completely shutting down every major city for 24 hours, but anyway).
If you have a flight arriving or departing during Shabbat, plan ahead! You will need a taxi, or pre-arranged private shuttle from the airport to/from your accommodation (Abrahams hostel in Tel Aviv offer shuttle transport during Shabbat, while other hostels generally have a list where you can add your name and look for other stranded travellers to join forces and share the cost of a taxi).
The only exception to the no-transport-during-Shabbat is the main-line of (within city) buses in Haifa, and the Arab company buses in Jerusalem heading into the West Bank. They will still be operating, but generally on a reduced schedule.
Therefore, be aware, Saturday will be difficult to get around, so plan your Israel itinerary around this! Try to do a tour, visit West Bank or be in Haifa on Saturday to make the most of your sightseeing time.
Best Time to Visit Israel
The best times to visit Israel with moderate weather (not too hot or wet) are around Spring and Autumn, so April to June and September/October. Though be aware of Easter/Passover in late March or April and Yom Kippur in September when the country basically shuts down.
What to Wear in Israel
Israel is one of the most liberal and progressive countries in the Middle East, but some areas are still quite conservative. In Tel Aviv, Haifa and the beach areas dress as you like (within reason obviously) and feel free to wear those denim cutoffs.
However in the more conservative areas like Jerusalem, Palestine, religious sites and orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods please cover up shoulders and knees like you would in churches in Europe.
One Week in Israel Itinerary
Tel Aviv: 2-3 Days
We recommend spending 2-3 days of your one week in Israel exploring Tel Aviv.
Located on the Mediterranean Sea, Tel Aviv is the largest city and economic centre of Israel. Tel Aviv is also one of the most vibrant cities in the world. Dubbed the ‘Mediterranean Capital of Cool’ by the New York Times, Tel Aviv is a modern city with incredible beaches, world-class nightlife, UNESCO architecture and delicious food.
Jaffa (or Yafo) is the ancient port city from which Tel Aviv has grown. With references to the city dating back to 7500 BC, Jaffa is one of the oldest continuing cities in the world and has seen many changes during its time. Definitely check out the Jaffa Clock tower in the middle of the old town square, the old railway station, and wander the narrow streets of the town, now the artists quarter. The port area in Jaffa is also a great place to spend an afternoon, with picturesque views, live busking performances and delicious street food, it’s no wonder why young Tel-Avivians (Tel-Avites? Tel-evisions?) flock here.
Jaffa is also home to the famous Andromeda’s rock, where according to Greek Mythology the beautiful daughter of King Cepheus was chained as a sacrifice to a sea-monster to appease Poseidon. Fortunately for the young Andromeda, the great hero Perseus slayed the sea monster, rescued and married the fair Andromeda.
Florentin & Neve Zedek
The Florentin and Neve Zedek neighbourhoods near Jaffa are a wonderful place to walk around the explore. Cool Florentin has some amazing street art to be found, while hip Neve Zedek is a great place to get a coffee and browse the shops selling unique local designer clothes, antiques and anything else your hipster heart desires.
Don’t miss Tel Aviv’s beaches, perfect for a lazy afternoon in the sun. Walk along the promenade from Old Jaffa back to your accommodation, or rent a bicycle and explore more of the city and beaches along the bike path.
Carmel Market is the largest Shuk (or market) in Tel Aviv and a great experience for anyone new to the Middle East. Frantic rows of shopkeepers, fresh produce and bargain hunters all combine in a hectic cacophony of noise and scents.
Rothschild Boulevard is certainly less busy, but an equally beautiful place to spend time. Tall leafy green trees line the pedestrian path, along with dozens of boutique cafes, restaurants and fashion stores.
Definitely check out Benedicts on Rothschild Boulevard. A favourite among locals and travellers, Benedicts serves an incredible all-day breakfast with awesome affordable meal deals that include drinks (yes beer and mimosa’s are considered ‘drinks’) for around 85 NIS (~$24).
Tel Aviv Nightlife
If you have some cash to spend, Tel Aviv has a rocking nightlife (but we didn’t have the cash, or the inclination, to go clubbing during our trip, so can’t help you with club recommendations).
Where to Stay in Tel Aviv
We loved Roger’s House Hostel in the Florentin / Neve Zedek area. The hostel is very affordable (by Tel Aviv standards) and is really relaxed and social. Also it’s located in a cool hipster neighbourhood close to the beach and Old Jaffa.
We also stayed at Abrahams Hostel for one night at the end of our trip. The hostel has great facilities, many tours and nightly activities organised, but is huge and felt a little impersonal (and is also more expensive). It is located close to Rothschild Boulevard though which was a nice treat for our final night in Israel.
If you’re splitting your time in Tel Aviv (ie. starting and ending there), consider staying at both hostels, or choose two hostels in different neighbourhoods to get a better feel for the city.
Jerusalem: 3 Days
Considered the holiest city in the world, Jerusalem has been fought over for millennia and remains a highly spiritual yet divided place. Sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims for different reasons, it is somewhat ironic that the city is also the place where the father of all three religions (Abraham) almost sacrificed his son before God intervened.
Regardless of whether you are religious, no Israel itinerary would be complete without a trip to Jerusalem. A city of tradition, religion, and history, but also, increasingly, of modern culture and heritage, it is a city with so much to offer that you could spend years here and still not see everything.
Day One: Jerusalem Old Town
Day One should be spent experiencing the Old Town of Jerusalem, home to some of the most sacred places of all three Abrahamic religions. The Dome of the Rock, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Western Wall and Tomb of King David are all must-sees, but try not to simply rush between the most popular sites. Instead breathe in the atmosphere of such a spiritual city, full of pilgrims from all faiths from all over the world.
Dan was also keen to see the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was betrayed by Judas on the night before his crucifixion. But for those less religiously inclined, you can also find incredible views of Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock from Mount of Olives, an easy walk from the old city with numerous viewpoints along the way.
If you’re looking to get away from the crowds afterwards, head back to Jaffa Gate via the City of David and the valley beyond. We walked this way in spring and it was very relaxing and peaceful, and we saw the most beautiful wildflowers, plus you get to see two very different sides of Jerusalem from the bottom of the valley.
While guided tours are certainly informative, they can also be restrictive, so it may be worth getting a guidebook or audio-tour so you can visit the different sites at your own pace.
Check out this comprehensive list of awesome things to do in Jerusalem!
Day Two: A Day Trip to Masada & the Dead Sea
Masada is an ancient fortress where Jewish rebels held out against the Roman army, and to this day remains a symbol of Jewish strength and resolve the face of tyranny and oppression. The site is so revered that the Jewish armed forces still hold their graduation ceremonies on the site.
The Dead Sea needs no introduction – one of the lowest points on earth the minerals of the surrounding desert cause the water to be up to 8 times saltier than any other sea, meaning that it’s almost impossible to sink in its waters. Just make sure not to get any of the water in your eyes!
Check out more of our tips for visiting the Dead Sea…
Day Three: A Day Trip to the West Bank- Bethlehem, Jericho, Hebron
We don’t feel that a trip to Israel would be complete without visiting the West Bank, to help understand both sides of the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, and experience the wonderful spirit and hospitality that exists under the current circumstances.
During our time in Jerusalem, we did an amazing dual-narrative tour of Hebron, a highly contended divided city (by Israel and Palestine) in the Palestinian Territories. It provides incredible insight into both sides of the conflict and real-life interactions and experiences of those who are living the consequences daily. We highly recommend it!
Read more about our experience in Hebron.
If that is a little too divisive for your tastes, we still encourage a visit to the West Bank. Bethlehem is only 9kms from Jerusalem and is an easy day trip, taking only 30 mins or so on public transport. A fairly small town, Bethlehem is very easy to explore independently, be sure to check out the Walled Off Hotel – owned and run by the UK street artist Banksy, as well as the Church of the Nativity.
Or you can join a West Bank tour from Jerusalem and visit multiple destinations in one day, such as Jericho, Bethlehem or the northern (rarely visited) region of the West Bank.
Where to Stay in Jerusalem
We loved the Cinema Hostel in Jerusalem. It’s in a really central location, has a cool common area and a bar, and super comfortable beds. Plus they play a movie in the common area every night with free popcorn (Dan was sold on this place the second I mentioned that!).
We also visited the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem as we booked the Hebron tour from there, and hung out with some new friends after the tour in their common room. Just like it’s Tel Aviv brother, this Abrahams was huge and had a nice common area and bar with many activities, however for our dates it was twice the price of Cinema and we didn’t think it was worth it.
Haifa: 1-2 Days
Haifa is a very chilled out beach town in the north of Israel with great seafood and a very relaxed vibe. We spent 5 days here and think it’s definitely worth including Haifa in your Israel itinerary!
Haifa is a very secular and multicultural town, a pluralistic place where many different religions peacefully co-exist. A great example of this is the magnificent Bahai Gardens which dominate the hill above the town centre. An absolutely spectacular sight, the perfectly tended garden and temple is worth the uphill trek.
Following you hike up the gardens you can cool down at the town’s most popular beach – Carmel. Full of music, bars and sun, anyone who’s anyone in Haifa will find themselves down on the sand at the end of a long (and hot) day!
Akko (or Acre) is an ancient port town which bears the architecture and cultural impacts of thousands of years of various occupying forces. From Greek, Roman, Persian, British and Israeli the town is a fascinating mish-mash of history and remains far more authentic and untouched than its southern counterpart Jaffa.
Where to Stay in Haifa
The Haifa Hostel! Seriously there is no need to look elsewhere. This is probably our favourite hostel after 4 months of travel. For us it was the perfect mix of wonderful welcoming staff, great location, relaxed vibe and awesome fun like-minded travellers.
We had an amazing time just hanging out with other travellers and the staff in the common area. Also, they have delicious (vegan-friendly) pancakes for a small donation every morning, and the most beautiful chilled out dog, Buzby, to hang out with.
Want more info about Israel and Jordan? Have a look at these posts for some inspiration!
- Cool Things to do in Jerusalem
- The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Jordan – Everything You Need to Know!
- Tips for Visiting the Dead Sea
- WADI MUJIB, Jordan – an Awesome Canyoning Adventure
- Wadi Rum – the incredible Jordanian desert
- 10 Awesome Tips for Visiting Petra
And that’s it, you’ve just planned an incredible one week in Israel. Like many of the people we met there, you may be inspired to extend your
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