Discovering Israel: History, Culture, People, Food, and Weather

Travelling to Israel Without a Visa

If you are a citizen of the United States, Australia or Europe you will be able to enter Israel without a visa. This is great news!

You’ll see armed soldiers everywhere in Israel, but don’t be alarmed. They are there for security purposes.

The Sabbath, which runs from sundown on Friday to Saturday night, closes the city of Jerusalem and most businesses. Plan your trip accordingly.

The History

Israel’s storied history is rich and complex. Religious and secular visitors will discover a wide range of ancient religious landmarks and sites that are revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Then there are modern-day Israel, a city that’s cool, pulsing with street art in neighborhoods like Florentin and Neve Zedek, open food and antique markets and a plethora of inimitable bars and restaurants. Modern Tel Aviv is also home to a growing LGBT community.

Travelers who want to dig deeper can follow the Jesus Trail – a hiking and pilgrimage route that connects many of the places where it is believed Jesus lived and worked, including Nazareth, Sepphoris, Cana (Kafr Kanna), the Horns of Hattin, and the Golan Heights. It’s recommended that you visit with a guide or have access to local healthcare and medical support while travelling, particularly if you are a dual national.

The People

Israel’s residents are largely Jewish, and they are very proud of their heritage. However, the country is also known as a secular democracy and has an active LGBT community.

Israelis are well traveled and receptive to American culture. The United States is the top long-distance destination for Israeli travelers, who visit for shopping, sightseeing, fine dining and national parks.

Almost all Israelis speak English (extremely well) and are happy to practice their language skills with visitors. You’ll also see many Israelis whizzing around town on electric scooters and bikes, especially in Tel Aviv.

Israel has a dynamic Middle Eastern landscape, encompassing coastal plains, central hills, vast swaths of desert, valleys and one of the world’s lowest-elevation lakes. Check the Department of State’s travel alerts for Israel and the West Bank before planning your trip.

The Culture

Israel’s cultural scene is vibrant and modern. Street art dots Tel Aviv’s hip neighborhoods, open-air markets are plentiful and a thriving nightlife is in evidence.

Israeli cuisine is a melting pot of regional and continental influences, with traditional Ashkenazi and Sephardic flair. Many Birthright Israel participants cite discovering a newfound respect for Jewish culture as one of the most meaningful experiences of their trip.

Israel can be a pricey destination if you visit during the peak summer months and choose to stay in high-end hotels, but it is also affordable if you travel during low or shoulder seasons, stay at short-term apartment rentals, hostels or kibbutzim. Israeli tourism is booming, and visitors are often surprised at how much the country has to offer. The country has a high level of innovation in medicine and health, science, space and transportation, agriculture, social impact, and safety and security.

The Food

A foodie’s paradise, Israel is filled with flavourful cuisine from the many cultures that have shaped its history. Israeli eating customs follow the wider Mediterranean region, with lunch rather than dinner being the main meal of the day.

Among the popular street foods to try are falafel (deep-fried balls or patties made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, herbs and spices), hummus, mutabak and kanafeh. Cheese lovers will love kasav, paper-thin filo dough stuffed with crumbled cheese and nuts and baked into envelope shape.

Kosher restaurants are abundant and many display kosher certificates outside. You can also visit vegetarian or vegan restaurants. To avoid potential issues at airports, it’s a good idea to carry all permitted food items in your checked baggage. If you’re travelling with children, remember to pack some favourite toys and a book or two to keep them entertained in case of delays.

The Weather

Israel has a temperate Mediterranean climate with hot summers and cool to warm winters. It’s an ideal destination year-round, but some months are better for visiting certain areas or enjoying specific activities.

In Jerusalem, the first half of June is pleasantly comfortable for sightseeing and touring. The sea is warm enough for swimming, but as you approach midsummer it gets crowded with jellyfish.

The best time for beach relaxation is in early June or late September. During these months, you can enjoy Tel Aviv’s street art and open-air markets or a stroll along golden sandy beaches. Keep in mind that during religious holidays, prices are higher and hotels fill up faster. Maintain a high level of situational awareness in the Golan Heights and other border regions, as rocket attacks are still possible.

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