Top events in Israel

March
04

A day of fancy dress and a mini-carnival. Purim commemorates events in ancient Persia, in which an attempt to kill the Jews was decisively...

March
11

A week of shows featuring artists, singers and dancers are hosted at venues such as the YMCA Hall, the Jerusalem Theatre, the Gerard Bechar Centre...

March
21

A challenging and extremely popular marathon that leads runners up and over the city’s hilly terrain and past ancient historic sights. The route...

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Israel
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Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Israel

© 123rf.com / Joshua Haviv

Israel Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

20,770 sq km (8,019 sq miles).

Population

7.7 million (2013).

Population density

371.1 per sq km.

Capital

Jerusalem.

Government

Republic. The state of Israel was founded in 1948.

Head of state

President Shimon Peres since 2007.

Head of government

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since 2009.

Electricity

230 volts AC, 50Hz. Round three-pin plugs are standard; many European two-pin plugs fit the sockets.

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.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 26 February 2015

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

Gaza

The FCO advise against all travel to Gaza (including the waters off Gaza).

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 any 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.

The FCO is no longer able to provide administrative support for UK charities wishing to enter Gaza via the Rafah crossing. During Operation Protective Edge, the FCO agreed to forward access requests from UK charities wishing to travel to Gaza via the Rafah crossing, to the Egyptian Government. Following the ceasefire of 26 August, access was once again made possible via Israel.

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. In the past the Israeli navy has fired warning shots across the bows of ships attempting to breach the restrictions, or directed powerful water jets at such vessels.

Occupied Golan Heights

The FCO advise against all travel to the east of Route 98 along the Syrian border.

On 27 August 2014, the Israeli authorities closed parts of Route 98 (from Bar’on intersection to Alonei Habashan) due to an increase in fighting on the Syrian side of the border, especially near to the Quneitra border crossing, which has reportedly been seized by Al-Nusra Front and other Syrian rebel groups.

Rocket attacks and sporadic gunfire have occurred without warning since 2012. An Israeli civilian was killed by fire from the Syrian side of the border fence on 22 June 2014 and an Israeli soldier was wounded following stray mortar fire on 27 August 2014. If you are travelling in the area, follow advice from local law enforcement.

West Bank

The situation in the West Bank is tense.

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 does not normally affect foreign nationals but would affect dual Palestinian-British nationals.

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.

Jerusalem

Be vigilant when travelling anywhere in Jerusalem. The situation in East Jerusalem can be tense.

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). Isolated street protests and demonstrations can also occur in East Jerusalem.

There have been a number of security incidents on the Jerusalem Light Rail line north of Damascus Gate in recent months, including regular reports of stone throwing at the trams in Shu’afat. The trams in this area often have police escorts. You should avoid using public transport in Jerusalem.

Crime

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.

Passport security

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.

Road travel

Driving is erratic and there are frequent accidents. Radar speed traps operate on roads within Israel, and fines for speeding are high.

Be vigilant when using Route 443 between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In January and February 2014, there were media reports of stones and Molotov cocktails being thrown at cars on this road.

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.

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