Israel on a Budget: Flights & Tel Aviv
(Part 1 of 3)
The first thing that struck me about Israel was how diverse of a land it is. For a country the size of New Jersey, there’s a surprising number of places to see and things to do. Though this country is on the more expensive end, my goal was to both enjoy myself and explore Israel on a budget.
From the often chaotic streets and iconic nightlife of Tel Aviv to the vast number of holy sites for many religions in Jerusalem, it’s quite an experience to learn how many different cultures and people can exist in such a small space. I couldn’t get enough of the conversations with the local people. Jewish, Muslim, Christian and secular alike, everyone had a story, typically one that was complex. The result was often a person who was thoughtful, educated and opinionated. Some of the people I talked to seemed relatively tolerant at first but as the conversation continued they became less so. Others, particularly the younger generation, voiced a distrust of religion based on violence they believe it has caused in their homeland.
“Isn’t there a war going on over there?” Or, “Aren’t you afraid?”
These were the first two questions people generally asked when I mentioned my plans to visit Israel. Honestly, I was a little apprehensive at first. I was in Istanbul when the bombs went off in nearby Ankara. Though Ukraine was completely safe and I never felt in danger, the violence there was far from where I was in the capital city. In Israel, violence was becoming more frequent in Jerusalem and I wanted to go there.
I learned that violence in Israel is almost always directed between those who are Israeli or Palestinians. A red-bearded guy like me and my blonde-haired Swedish friend were likely to be identified as tourists and avoided, even if violence occurred nearby. She and I hoped that advice would prove true. Luckily, it did and we didn’t encounter any acts of violence during our stay.
3 Part Series: Israel on a Budget
Israel on a Budget: Flights & Tel Aviv is the first of a comprehensive budget travel guide to Israel. The second part covers Israel on a Budget Haifa & Nazareth and the third Jerusalem & Mitzpe Ramon (Ramon Crater). In order to save travelers money, I focus on budget-friendly tips for public transportation, street food, mom & pop restaurants, activities and accommodations. I’ve also provided links to other posts and outside resources.
11 Nights: The number of nights is broken down as follows:
- Tel Aviv (2 nights)
- Haifa (2 nights)
- Nazareth (2 nights)
- Jerusalem (3 nights)
- Mitspe Ramon (2 nights)
- Optional travel ideas and day trips throughout
The itinerary can easily be extended well beyond 11 days or decreased to 10 nights or fewer, based on available travel time.
The easiest way to get to and from Israel is almost always by flying. Skyscanner currently lists flights from New York City to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport between $725-$800 and from Los Angles in the $950-$1,000 range. But don’t pay that much!
My Finding Cheap Airfare guide is a good resource to help with monitoring and locating some of the cheapest prices available. I used these resources in finding my ticket to Tel Aviv from Berlin, while I was eating my way across Europe. Then I used the resources in my Top Rewards Cards to cover the full cost of the flight. Using these resources I didn’t pay a single dollar out of pocket. It’s possible for anyone else with access to these cards to do the same.
Ben Gurion Airport & Security
Half way between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem lies Ben Gurion Airport. Security is generally high in Customs and a visit to Israel will likely prompt at least a few questions. A few things to note:
- If planning to head to a majority of other countries in the Middle East, ask to have an entry stamp on a separate paper. Make sure to request this when handing them the passport. This is a common request and the Customs officer should comply. If not, ask to speak with their supervisor.
- Citizens of the U.S. and many other countries don’t need a travel visa for Israel. Make sure to check with your embassy website prior heading to Israel.
- If carrying a large bag or something of an odd size like a musical instrument, airport security may request that it be opened at any time while in the airport. I saw this happen twice in the few minutes I was there.
- Some people have commented about being interviewed by Customs before entry. I didn’t experience this.
- Just about everyone in the airport speaks English. There shouldn’t be a language barrier.
Now that security is out of the way, welcome to Israel!
Transportation in Israel
- Israel Railways: The easiest and cheapest way to head to Tel Aviv from the airport is via Israel Railways. A platform is just outside the front doors of the airport and down a set of stairs. The train takes just under an hour and costs 27 shekels ($7). There may be a number of soldiers heading to and from deployment on the trains. Many may have their guns strapped over their shoulder. This is normal here. Israel Railways is also the easiest way to travel between some of the larger cities in Israel.
- Download the MoovIt App before your trip for the best access to Israel Railways schedules and closures.
- Taxi: Shared taxis called sheruts are also available but will cost 2-4 times as much money.
- Egged Buses: Though not available from the airport, Egged Buses are the best method of transportation for doing Israel on a budget.
- Egged schedules are also available on MoovIt App. Ask a local or hostel owner to double check the bus schedule between cities when possible.
Note: If you fly into Israel between noon on Friday through sunset on Saturday, the trains and all other public transportation will be shut down for the Sabbath, or Shabat. If this is the case, taxis and sheruts will still be available. Ask people on your flight if they’re heading the same way and you may be able to share one together. If you’re lucky, they may even offer you a ride.
What to do in Tel Aviv (2 nights)
Welcome to Tel Aviv! It’s a city known for its upbeat vibe, numerous authentic restaurants spilling onto the sidewalks and clubs that go all night. Tel Aviv is also home to a number of cultural and historical museums and parks. Pick any of these great places to see what Tel Aviv has to offer:
- Free Walking Tours: Enjoy a free guided tour of the city on foot. Both Visit Tel Aviv and New Tel Aviv Tours offer these tours. Check out their websites for additional info.
- Tel Aviv Port: A great view of the water and a vast number of restaurants and nightclubs can be found here. Though eating and drinking here may be on the more expensive end, it’s worth walking along to enjoy the atmosphere and the view of the port.
- Jaffa Old City & Port: Head to Old City Jaffa and Jaffa Port a quiet holiday destination a little further from the center of town. It offers historic sites and a more laid back atmosphere.
- Markets: Do some bargain shopping at the Jaffa Flea Market or head to Tel Aviv’s famous Carmel Market to see what this wonderful city has to offer.
- Tel Aviv Museum of Art: Israel’s largest art museum with a number of permanent and rotating exhibits.
- Hayarkon Park: A great way to escape the noise of the city. Rent a bike, relax or take a boat ride in Tel Aviv’s largest park.
Where to eat in Tel Aviv
Incredible food is abundant in Tel Aviv. I’m neither vegetarian nor vegan but their food here is so good I surprisingly didn’t miss meat. Take a more in depth look at these option in my Vegetarian & Vegan Cheap Eats post.
- Falafel Hakosem brings expertly made falafel wraps and pitas, Large, green falafel will be some of the best you’ve ever tried.
- House of Hummus is putting together some delicious garlic hummus, pita wraps and even a half hummus, half shakshuka dish.
- Mitbachon is where locals go for their shakshuka breakfast each morning. It’s a dish made in a skillet with tomatoes, onion and eggs and you’re not allowed to leave Israel until you’ve given it a try. Mine was truly memorable.
- A great mid-priced restaurant/bar is called Twenty Two, as the food and drinks are priced at 22 shekels, or about $5.50.
Where to stay in Tel Aviv
- Little Tel Aviv Hostel: This is where I stayed and they provided clean rooms, excellent customer service, a nice common area and a great location. A single bed in a dorm starts around $25 and a double bed private starts at $85. Check their availability.
- CouchSurfing: If I had more time I would have looked into this as Tel Aviv has a very active couchsurfing community. Nearly 2,000 have logged in during the last month and are currently or may be accepting guests.
- AirBnB: The average price listed for one guest is $132, for couples the average is $142.
Israel on a Budget: Parts 2 & 3
La Chaim! (Cheers in Hebrew)
A huge thank you to Adi for all of her help during my time in Israel, being a great host and the recommendations!
Do you know anyone who’s been making their specialty for 40 years or more? Please comment below!
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