In March this year I was excited to finally step foot in a country that had been on my must-travel list for over three years. I’d actually planned to visit in 2015 but decided to start my digital nomad career instead and headed to the much cheaper countries of Central America. This time around I planned to spend only 6 weeks in Israel but ended up there for 3 months!
My Israel vacation was like nothing I could have imagined and there was so much to love I know I’ll be back soon. Here’s a list of my personal things to love about Israel and I hope it inspires you to visit this crazy beautiful country.
1) Most of their really important sites are free to enter
One of the most important religious sites in the world for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Dome of the Rock (Al-Aqsa Mosque)
The third holiest site for Muslims, it is built over a sacred stone. This stone is believed to be the place from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven during his Night Journey to heaven.
The Wailing Wall
The only remains of the Second Temple of Jerusalem.
Church of the Holy Sepulcher
The place of both the crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.
Believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion.
A staircase of nineteen terraces extending all the way up the northern slope of Mount Carmel which houses the final resting place of the Prophet-Herald of the Bahá’í Faith.
Israel’s living memorial to the millions murdered in the Holocaust.
Elijah came to pray here before challenging the prophets of Baal.
Basilica of the Annunciation
Said to rest on the site where Mary received her message from God that she was pregnant.
2) Everything shuts down on Shabbat
Imagine leaving work on a Friday and walking out of your office to the site of no cars, no buses, just people wondering around the streets. Most in their best dress and usually in family groups. The sun is setting and everything is quiet except for children’s laughter and the birds that you never usually hear over the sounds of the city. It’s almost like you’re in a dystopian movie but nobody is trying to kill you.
Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest, starting at sundown on Friday and ending at sundown on Saturday. If you are observant then you do not work during this time and that includes operating any electronic equipment (including mobiles) and cooking. Shabbat usually includes the Shabbat Dinner which is a special meal once a week to share with family and friends.
Shabbat was my favourite time of the week, especially in Jerusalem where it is more widely observed. If you get the opportunity, definitely try to attend a Shabbat Dinner and get the full experience.
3) The food is soooooo good and very vegetarian friendly
There were a few middle eastern treats that I had tried before visiting Israel but it seemed like I was finding something new and delicious to try every other day. I’ll have to dedicate a whole post to food in Israel but here were some of my go-to favourites.
Israelis that I would meet on my travels always told me that hummus never tastes as good as it does in Israel and now I completely agree. I can’t eat hummus now. They’ve ruined it for me. Grocery store hummus? Blech! I did learn how to make it from scratch but honestly, it really is never the same.
Shakshuka is great for breakfast, and lunch, and even dinner.
Tahina! I knew about tahina, knew it was an ingredient in hummus but I never knew tahina was its own thing! Its own delicious, creamy, nutty thing.
Halva - so good, yet so bad for me. Basically honey and tahina with other sweet ingredients sometimes added in.
Pomegranate is something I’ve only ever had in a bottled juice form. Fresh pomegranate is for rich people in Australia and not for the likes of a poor travel blogger. In Israel, however, you can buy these things by the kilo or get some freshly squeezed pomegranate juice in any of the markets. I particularly loved pomegranate and orange juice mixed together.
Falafel and my favourite, late-night falafel sandwich is filled with creamy hummus, spicy sauce, fresh veggies and topped with tahina. Simple, cheap and delicious.
4) The relaxed dress code
As a backpacker it’s difficult when travelling to big cities where there’s an expectation that you need to dress up in order to get into bars and clubs. I have nothing nice and very little makeup so sometimes just have to miss out, or hide behind some better dressed people as they walk inside.
In Israel, all bets are off. You can go out in jeans and a t-shirt and you'll fit right in. In fact, if you dressed too well I’m pretty sure you would stand out like a sore thumb.
5) There is so much to see and do there
You could spend three months (like I did) and not see everything. If you're into hiking, adventure sports, waterfalls, whatever, Israel hsa you covered. There are over forty national parks and 150 nature reserves in Israel including important archeological sites like Tel Megiddo and Beit She'an.
Some of my favourites places to visit were:
- The Dead Sea
- The Sea of Galilee
- Masada at sunrise
- The Old City of Jerusalem
- Tel Aviv and its beaches
- The Negev Desert
- Bet She'an
6) Modern country with a unique Middle Eastern culture
In Israel you get the amenities and infrastructure of a modern, developed country with the culture and practices of a middle eastern nation. Their buses have wifi and usb charging ports and actually run on time, all the time. Everything is clearly signed and it’s so easy to get around. On the other hand, you have the hustle and bustle of the big shouks or markets where you feel like you’ve been dropped into the middle of a completely different country.
Locals drive like they’re possessed and seem to always be in a hurry to get somewhere. If you need to get anything official done it can seem like you’re working against Israeli’s version of “island time” and you’re the lowest priority. Strange new languages are heard as you walk around, Hebrew, of course, and Arabic, but also Russian and Amharic.
7) The weather
I was there for three months and I think it might have rained twice? This is probably not great for the people who live here but if you’re visiting then it’s such a great opportunity to get out and see the country.
8) Small, compact country
The size of the country makes it very easy to get around by public transport or even renting a car. You could see some snow on Mount Hermon and then drive down to the sweltering Negev desert a few hours later. Everything is within driving distance and the public transport routes are easy to follow.
9) The people
I didn’t know what to expect in Israel as a solo female traveler. As someone who is not religious, I was worried that I wouldn’t fit in amongst all the Jews, Muslims and Christians. I could not have felt more welcome, though. I was fortunate to often be invited to Shabbat Dinners and other meals with friends and families around the country. I also met so many great people there that I was never wanting for a couch or a spare bed as I travelled around.
Honestly, isn’t that all you want in life? To be fed delicious foods, have meaningful conversations with locals and to sleep in a warm bed at night marks a successful vacation for me.