Israel travel guide
Israel has always been an alluring destination. From biblical times to present day, this slice of holy land in the Eastern Mediterranean has long attracted visitors. It has attracted turmoil, too, and Israel remains a politically sensitive country. Nevertheless, its appeal for visitors is enormous and the day-to-day issues facing residents have little effect on those coming to appreciate its astounding historic relics, impressive religious sites and exquisite natural beauty.
Home to the Mount of Olives, the Sea of Galilee and the ancient port of Jaffa, it’s hard to go anywhere in Israel without stumbling upon a place of religious significance. None, though, compare to the holy city of Jerusalem. Sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, this ancient metropolis is claimed by both Israel and Palestine and its status remains one of the core issues of the Israeli-Palestine conflict.
Jerusalem’s stunning skline belies the ugly political landscape, with its beautiful bell towers, striking minarets and the golden dome of the Al Aqsa Mosque. Split into Arabic, Jewish and Christian quarters, this cultural melting pot translates into a sumptuous culinary scene, as well as a feast for the eyes.
Tel Aviv is a different story. Israel’s commercial and political heart is a city of glistening skyscrapers, thronging streets and sandy beaches; of contemporary art galleries, excellent restaurants and hedonistic inhabitants. Quite a contrast, then, to neighbouring Jaffa, an historic port city of sprawling markets, cobbled docks and crumbling city walls. This juxtaposition of old and new is typical in Israel, where ancient cities like Nazareth and Akko exist alongside modern metropolises such as Haifa and Eilat.
Israel’s landscapes are equally diverse. Mountains, deserts and fertile valleys can all be found in this slither of the Middle East, while the Dead Sea, Red Sea, Sea of Galilee and Mediterranean coastlines offer everything from unique geological spectacles to seaside holiday resorts.
If you can read beyond the headlines and see past the politics, in Israel you will find a beautiful and beguiling nation quite unlike anywhere else on Earth.
20,770 sq km (8,019 sq miles).
8,192,463 (UN estimate 2016).
387.5 per sq km.
President Reuven Rivlin since 2014.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since 2009.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs with three round pins are standard; many European two-pin plugs fit the sockets.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
This travel advice covers Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories
You should keep up to date with local travel advice via local news outlets and international outlets like the Access Coordination Unit
There are frequent demonstrations in many of the areas of the city visited by tourists including in and around the Old City, especially after Friday prayers. Some of these protests have led to violent clashes. Stay alert at all times in the Old City and leave the area if there is evidence of tension or unrest (for example if the shops in the souks suddenly begin to close their shutters). The entrances to the Old City may be subject to checks or closures.
Isolated street protests and demonstrations can also occur in East Jerusalem.
The FCO advise against all travel to Gaza (including the waters off Gaza).
You should not approach the perimeter fence surrounding the Gaza Strip.
The FCO is not able to support individuals applying for entry or exit permits for Gaza. If you decide to visit Gaza against FCO advice, you will need to contact the relevant Israeli authorities well in advance. If your entry to Gaza is via the Rafah crossing, you will need to contact the relevant Egyptian authorities in advance. The FCO is no longer able to provide administrative support for UK charities wishing to enter Gaza via the Rafah crossing.
The Rafah border with Egypt regularly closes with no warning and for long periods of time. At these times it may be impossible to enter or leave Gaza. The FCO can no longer offer routine consular assistance in Gaza. If you travel to Gaza you should review your security arrangements regularly and make sure you know what to do if you hear a warning siren.
The FCO recognise the need for major international organisations to carry out humanitarian and reconstruction work and to engage in independent reporting and verification of the situation on the ground in Gaza. Medical and other essential specialist staff should co-ordinate their entry to and exit from Gaza with those organisations.
Don’t attempt to enter Gaza by sea, including via a flotilla. The Israeli Navy routinely patrol the area and have made clear that they will prevent any vessels attempting to breach the restrictions. You will be detained and deported, and your electronic equipment is likely to be confiscated. The FCO does not believe that humanitarian supplies should be delivered in this way. Anyone wishing to send humanitarian assistance or other goods to Gaza should do so through established channels.
In 2010 Israeli forces boarded a ship bound for Gaza. Nine foreign nationals were killed and many more injured.
Occupied Golan Heights
The FCO advise against all travel to the east of Route 98 along the Syrian border.
Rocket attacks and sporadic gunfire have occurred in northern Israel without warning since 2012. There has been an increase in the number of accidental or deliberate artillery, rocket and mortar fire from Syria. On several occasions the Israeli authorities closed parts of Route 98 due to the increase in fighting on the Syrian side of the border, especially by the Quneitra border crossing, which has been seized by Syrian rebel groups. If you’re travelling in the area, follow advice from local law enforcement.
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to 10km either side of Route 60 south of Gush Etzion Junction, including the city of Hebron in the southern West Bank following numerous security incidents in the area. There have been several violent incidents in the northern West Bank area (north of Tappuah) including throwing of stones and other objects on Route 60. There have been arrests of individuals carrying weapons in Nablus. You should be especially vigilant in this region.
The Israeli authorities sometimes restrict movement in and out of the West Bank, either on Jewish High Holidays or as a result of a security incident. This doesn’t normally affect foreign nationals, but would affect dual Palestinian-British nationals. Road closures can occur with little notice. You should keep up to date with local travel updates.
Expect road closures and numerous checkpoints across the West Bank. Travel in and out of the West Bank is not possible without passing through at least one Israeli military checkpoint. You will need a passport and immigration slip to go through these checkpoints.
The cities of Bethlehem, Ramallah and Jericho see large numbers of tourists including on organised tours and there have been no recent reports of any serious incidents involving foreigners. However, you should take care when travelling anywhere in the West Bank. Demonstrations and violent incidents can occur without warning particularly in areas close to refugee camps across the West Bank and in the cities of Jenin, Nablus and Hebron. You should avoid all demonstrations or large gatherings, including student protests.
Israelis living in the illegal settlements in the West Bank occasionally organise demonstrations in the West Bank which sometimes turn violent. Take particular care if you are near any of these settlements, including those in the hills around Nablus and in the South Hebron hills. There is a closed military zone in the H2 area of Hebron (around Ash-Shuhada Street and the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs), where there is a risk of a hostile reaction from members of extremist groups.
There are also regular demonstrations against the route of the separation barrier in various locations including the villages of Bil’in, Ni’lin, Nabi Saleh, Jayyous, and Al Mas’ara. These frequently turn violent. It is extremely dangerous to attend these demonstrations.
Due to restrictions on travel, the ability of the FCO to provide consular assistance in the West Bank may be limited.
Most visits to Israel and the OPTs are trouble-free, but the theft of passports, credit cards, and valuables from public beaches is common. Keep your personal belongings in a safe place.
Crime is generally not a problem in Israel and the OPTs, but you should take precautions to protect yourself and your belongings.
A Serious Organised Crime Agency investigation into the misuse of UK passports in the murder of Mahmud al-Mabhuh in Dubai in January 2010 found circumstantial evidence of Israeli involvement in the fraudulent use of British passports. This has raised the possibility that your passport details could be captured for improper uses while your passport is out of your control. The risk applies in particular to passports without biometric security features. Only hand your passport over to others (including Israeli officials) when absolutely necessary.
Driving is erratic and there are frequent accidents. Radar speed traps operate on roads within Israel, and fines for speeding are high.
If you intend to drive in the West Bank, check that you are insured before setting out. It may be easier to arrange West Bank insurance at a hire company in East Jerusalem than from the major hire car companies in Israel.
It isn’t safe to hitchhike in Israel.
If you’re travelling to the desert, go with others, take a supply of water and a mobile phone, and let someone know your itinerary and expected time of return.