How to plan a trip to Israel?
Israel, Holy Land is a beautiful country and this tiny country is definitely in our top list of countries to revist. Before you plan your trip, I want to share some information about visa, travel details, safety tips, best time to visit and top must visit towns/citites.
How to apply for a Israel visa from US?
We went to Israel in March, 2015 and we applied for the visa at Consulate General of Israel in San Francisco. If you are a US citizen, then you can stay upto three months from the date of arrival. You do not need a visa but must hold a passport that is valid for atleast 6 months from the date you are departing the country. All the details can be found here.
When to Go to Israel?
We visited Israel in March 2015 and left before Passover holidays. You should plan your visit around the weather and holidays. Summers are from April to October and it can be very hot with humid conditions along the coast. Winters are from November to March and the temperature are cooler. It was raining when we were at Galilee. It was like Indian monsoon. As you all know, Israel is a Jewish State and the busiest months tend to be October and August.
When is the weekend in Israel?
The weekend in Israel is on Friday and Saturday. Sunday is the start of the work week. In the Jewish religion, Saturday is the holy day of the week. All public offices and most business are closed from friday afternoon to Saturday evening. Trains, trams and bus services can be affected on these days. This can delay your plans for the trips planned on Friday and Saturday. We rented a car during our stay in Israel.
Is Israel safe to visit?
Israel’s location is tricky. Israel shares land borders with 7 countries: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syrian Arab Republic, Yemen, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon. Their conflict with Palestine remains unresolved. Hence their vigilance in security matters is top noth. We spotted full time secruity guards everywhere be it the supermarket, restuarants, shopping malls or shuks. Gaza Trip or West Bank requires prior clearance. Overall it is a safe place to visit. We went with my 2 kids and returned back to the US safely.
What is the currency in Israel?
The currency in Israel is the New Israeli Shekel (NIS).
1 US Dollar = 3.48 Israeli New Shekel
What to pack?
- I travelled with my 4.5 years old boy and 18 months old girl. Israel is sunny and warm in March however it rained cats and dogs in Galilee when we stayed. So carry a thick jacket with a hood for both kids and adults.
- Comfortable walking shoes as we walked a lot & flipflop for the beach
- Stroller for the baby
- Electrolyte packets for all
- Cotton pants and tops
- Sunscreen, hats and glasses
- Food for the kids
Things to plan and be aware:
- Travel time from San Francisco was close to 20 hours including transit hours. We flew from SF to New York and then to Tel Aviv. It is definitely a long flight so be prepared with toys, games and favourite movies for your kids
- Culture is very similar to India. We spend time with my husband’s colleagues and interacted with their neighbors. The kids in the neighborhood know each other and they run across the streets to neighbor’s house and there are impromptu visits from neighbors. My husband’s colleague lived in moshav. The culture and hospitality among them reminded me about India where I played in the streets till sunset and I knew most of the people in the neighborhood.
- I fed my kids heavy breakfast and dinner so anything in between is snack . BAsically, they ate what they wanted. We stayed in airbnb apartments and I could cook some of my kid’s comfort food like rasam, rice and eggs for breakfast.
- Always drink bottled water
- Read my post on kid’s travel food.
Day 1-4 at Haifa
- We drove straight to Haifa on the day we landed at Tel Aviv. We rested that day.
- The following morning we woke up to a beautiful view from the apartment we are staying in Haifa. Then we went to my husband’s office at Or Akiva for a welcome lunch. The meal gets prepared by their cook every morning.
- I had sore throat, cough before we boarded our flight to New York. Over the days, it got worse and on the day we landed Tel Aviv, I had severe ear pain while coughing and my eyes turned red. So first step while planning an international trip is to carry travel insurance. Major health insurance companies from US like Cigna, Aetna, Anthem Blue Cross process your claim. The colleagues at my husband’s office arranged for a doctor who visited me at their office. Isn’t that so convenient? Last time I remember having the luxury of doctor visiting the patient was in my grandmother’s home in the village. But the sad part was the doctor spoke only hebrew and absolutely no english. We had my husband’s colleague translate it for us. Just as a precaution call your insurance provider about international medical claim before you fly out . I did it as I was traveling with my kids and it came useful for me.
- After an awesome heavy lunch of more than 12 dishes of rice, chicken, salmon, salads, corn, pea soup, eggs we headed to Birds Mosaic Mansion. The lovely people at my husband’s office packed food for us so we can eat it for dinner.
- Birds Mosaic Mansion in Caesarea was originally part of a large 6th century mansion. The mosaic has a border of animals and trees which are native to the land.
- Then we went to Aqueduct, Caesarea with its Roman amphitheater, port, hippodrome.
- The day started off with my visit to my husband’s office at Or Akiva to meet with Limor, cook. She started to cook from 9.00am and reached only at 11.00 am. I watched her make the salad. She made 8 dishes today and my most favorite one was whole roaster cauliflower with mayonnaise, salt, pepper and oregano. She roasted them at 400F for 1-1.5 hours.
- Next we drove to Nazarath to visit the beautiful Basicilia of Annunciation, the largest church in middle east.
- We walked through the bazaar that leads to the church and drank fresh pomegranate juice and ate falafel sandwich.
- We walked further through the streets and found fresh almond fruit and an Arabic sweet called Awami ( crispy small donut balls fried and coated with sugar syrup) and crunchy baklava cigars
- Final stop was to view Haifa Port.
- We visited Bahai gardens on day 3. It took close to 1.5 hours from start to finish and back to the car. Do remember to check out the schedule for Walking tour in english before you arrive. That will help you save time.
- Next we went to Carmel beach for a lovely lunch with my husband’s CEO and family. Food was amazing and we ordered fresh pita bread with hummus, babaganoush, spicy butternut squash and beets dish. I ordered grilled fish with salad and rice.
- We then went to Ein Ayyala Moshav. Moshav means village in Hebrew and thats where my husband’s CEO lives. His house was nestled among banana plantations. My son loved the huge backyard, dogs, swing, trampoline, tractor. I felt as if I visited my family in Southern India. I felt really great to know about the village and understood the difference between village and Kibbutz (communal living) and every word I heard from CEO and his wife were so informative and I am feeling more knowledgeable about Israel now.
- It is so true that intracting with the locals helps one see many faces of the country. I heard real life stories about holocaust as his father lived through that phase in history . I got more insight about the country for sure.
- Then they were kind enough to take us to Zikhron Ya’akov. Since it is Shabbath ( weekly holiday) roads were empty and we walked past synagogues, stores and many historic buildings in the Zikhron downtown.
- Finally we drove to Yokneum Illit to meet my husband’s dear friend for Shabbath dinner at his home. His parents and family welcomed us with an amazing meal.
Day 4 & 5 at Galilee
1. We went to spice village at Beit Lechem. This place is a treat for food lovers. Spices! spices! More spices every where. I felt like a kid in a candy store. I was so excited and I was tempted to pick every spice mix. I still bought close to 6 different spice mix to cook with fish, meat, rice and also to mix with hummus. A great place to add to your list.
2. Then we were off to Akko, northern costal city at Haifa bay. We ate at Abu Christo restaurant which was right next to the water. I tasted Turkish coffee for the first time with Baklava. Coffee was super strong, thick and black. We enjoyed a delicious lunch there.
3. We walked through the Akko shuk and I bought sweets, few Arab kitchen items and souvenirs.
4. We drove to the Kibbutz in Galilee area and called it a night.We are staying in Kibbutz in Galilee, Northern Israel. Kibbutz means communal living and the place is very scenic. It feels like visiting a hill station like Ooty, Kodaikanal, Southern India. There are little cottages and vast open space between each. My son enjoyed climbing trees, jumping in the puddle, plucking flowers, climbing rocks. It has been raining for the last two days and we are also taking a break from sight seeing to enjoy the place and catch some sleep.
1. We enjoyed a hearty Mediterranean breakfast in the Kibbutz and headed to a historic church and ate an awesome lunch from a local restaurant.
2. We spend the rest of the day relaxing at the Kibbutz and kids played in the olive orchards there.
Day 6-9 at Jerusalem
1. We drove back from Kibbutz to Jerusalem. We rented an awesome apartment in the downtown through AirBnB. Its close to shuk, train /bus station and all awesome restaurants, bakeries, supermarket, pharmacy, laundry service.
2. We spent the day walking through the historic alleys talking to locals, eating great food and shopping souvenirs. We also went to Mahane Yahuda and I shopped for some more spice mixes.
1. We went to Yad Vashem, museum in Israel. We took a train and my son loved it. This museum contains world’s largest information on holocaust. This was one of the places I was waiting to visit. I highly recommend to spend your time here if you care to know about Jew’s history.
2. We spend close to 8 hours at the museum and our way back we headed to Pasta Basta Restaurant at Mahane Yehuda for dinner. It is one of the popular food place to check out in the shuk. Its small, cramped and crowded. They have a limited menu and the food was brilliant. We ordered tomato soup, roasted pepper -cream-mushroom pasta and tomato- cream-zucchini pasta. They were super tasty. Do add it to your list of food to try inIsrael.
3. We walked back enjoying the busy streets of downtown and I am munching on hand crafted chocolates from Aldo, a shop opposite to the apartment.
1. We had an early start today . The plan was to cover Masada and Dead Sea. We left the apartment at 7.30am ( from Jerusalem) and reached Masada close to 9.00 am. Masada is an ancient fortification located in the Southern district of Israel overlooking the dead sea. You can hike to the top but we took the cable car . It is easy this way with kids. It takes 4 hours to do a complete tour of the fort. You cab buy the audio guide at the information center. It is very informative and it reminded me of Senji Fort, Tamil Nadu and Golkonda Fort in Hyderabad and other forts in India . Masada is one of the most popular tourist attraction in Israel. There was also a music performance by the locals.
2. Then we were off to Dead Sea to float. Yes! Did you know that we can easily float in Dead Sea because of natural buoyancy. The water had high salt content and hence there is no fish or any aquatic life in it. We reached there around 1.00 pm. I will recommend driving south as you exit Masada as you can find free entry to the beaches after a 20 minute drive. We went to the beach next to Hotel Herold. I saw everyone with mud on them. I didnt see any dark mud in the beach and I was so curious that I asked a fellow tourist. They told me that they are sold in packets in the souvenir shop. We bought a packet of dead sea mud, applied it over the body and sun dried it for 20minutes. Kids below 5 are not allowed to play but my son played with the water and pebbles. He was excited to find salt crystals along the shore and rocks covered in salt. I scrubbed my feet with the salt crystals that he got for me from the shore. He brought back few pebbles as a souvenir. I recommend kids to wear swimming goggles as eyes burn when salt water touches the eyes and skin. I floated and soaked myself in the sea for more than an hour. My skin feels super soft. Note-to-self: Do epsom salt bath every 15 days 🙂
3. On our drive back, we stopped in highway 90 to meet the camels. My son was so excited about meeting a camel. There were camel rides. One more happy memory there!
4. We reached the apartment at 7pm. After a quick shower, we went to try some local food. The fruit shop owner below our apartment gave us tips on places to visit and eat in Jerusalem downtown. Today he asked us to walk to Hummus Ben Sira. It takes about 10 minutes to walk to that place. I ordered garbanzo hummus with salad, pita and falafel and my husband ordered chicken hummus with pita and beer. With happy tummy and two sleepy kids, we ended the day.
1. We took the FREE 2 hour tour at Jaffa Centre, Jerusalem. Make sure to do this when you are in Jerusalem. It covers all the four quarters of the old city. My husband during his previous visit in Israel prayed in the Western wall and he does that every time he comes to this beautiful country. We can write our wish/prayers in a small sheet of paper and place it in between the gaps of the wall. Its a belief that the wish will be granted. Women and men pray in two separate sections of the wall. There is a small passage that leads to mosque where people with Islamic belief pray and we were at the Jewish quarter.
2. We ate lunch at Tala hummus and falafel place in the old city. I don’t think I can ever get bored of hummus, shawarma or pita. We have been eating the same menu every meal and we are loving it.
3. We spent rest of the day walking through the historic streets of old city.
4. For dinner we went to Pinat. It was mentioned in airbnb reviews that it has one of the best hummus in Jerusalem and it was right behind where we stayed. A quick stroll to the eatery and we took a take-out as they close at 7.00 PM
Day 10-12 Tel Aviv
1. We went to Mini Israel before we drove to Tel Aviv, our last stop of the trip.
2. We took a long nap and headed to the beach that is 5 minutes away from the airbnb apartment we stayed. We spend the evening playing in the water, collecting shells and walking through the busy streets of Ben Yehuda, Tel Aviv.
3. Ofcourse eating a lot of great food along the way.
1. My day started off with a brief meet up with a popular food blogger in Tel Aviv. We had so much to talk about and I am so glad that we could meet.
2. We met with my husband’s friend and family at Tel Aviv Port. We walked through the board walk with kids stopping at each play area. For lunch we went to most famous restaurant called Beni, the fisherman. First they served fresh out of the oven hot buns with more than 5 dippings and salad; there was hummus, babaganoush, tahini, pickled cauliflower, beets, cabbage, carrots, cucumber and deep fried cauliflower and fresh summer salad. To wash them down, we ordered fresh lemonade and orange juice. I was completely fill after eating them. For entree, we ordered deep fried and grilled Mediterranean Sea Monk with onion rings and roasted potatoes. I felt too stuffed for sure. Post lunch we walked a lot to make room to try some local food at the shuk in boardwalk.
3. There was an arabic stall with awesome array of sweets, chestnuts, beans and nuts. There was a crepe stall and also an Arab women was making fresh wrap with a bread similar to Indian Romali Roti. She topped with tomato sauce, zaatar spice blend and eggs and rolled it into a wrap. I tastes the semolina dessert from that stall.
4. Next to it was Holland pancakes made like South Indian paniyarams. They were served with chocolate spread, whipped cream and fruits.
5. After that was a Lebanese stall where a bread similar to Indian flaky parathas were made into a wrap with eggs and tomato sauce.
6. The most attractive one for me was the Italian Crema Fresca stall where fresh ice cream were made right before us in a super cold plate (-37’C temp) and served as roll ups. They also served fancy waffles in a stick. I tasted them both as it was too hard to resist.
7. We continued to walk around the beach, river and watched a public performance.
8. We then decided to wrap the day by visiting the last stop for the day – Max Brenner Chocolate Bar. My son wanted a bark of milk chocolate with hazelnuts in it. My husband bought a cappuccino and our friend and his wife bought chocolate milkshake. His youngest son ordered chocolate pizza and I went with Chocolate Souffle. They bought two milk chocolate syringes. I have never seen anything like this before.
Burp! I am in a food coma now.
1. Today my son and I took the bus to visit Carmel Shuk which was about 15 minutes bus ride from Ben Yehude, the place where I am staying. I took my son with me as he wanted to ride a bus. We spent two hours walking through the market and tasting few dishes that grabbed our eyes.
2. Then we took another bus to Levinsky market to join a walking food tour with @delicious israel. I was introduced to Inbal, the women behind the company Delicious Israel through a blogger friend. I joined a group of 12 people and we walked through the streets of Levinsky market tasting and talking about the culinary influence in Tel Aviv. I will share more details in my blog post. In the meanwhile enjoy the pictures of the food that we tasted today.
3. In the evening we went to the beach again to collect more shells for our travel journey DIY project.
4. We dined at a fancy Asian restaurant right across the street. Its called Nini Hachi.
Day 13: Our lovely vacation came to an end and we were on our return flight to San Francisco.
I hope this post will be helpful for anyone who is interested to visit Israel.
When are you going to Israel?