How to Get from Tel Aviv to Eilat: From Culture to Chillout
A great many of Israel’s visitors want to see as much of the country as they can on their trip, and two of the spots they prioritize are Tel Aviv and Eilat. Tel Aviv, the beating heart of the country’s centre, is close to Ben Gurion airport and an ideal place to spend a first night after arrival and even a few more days afterwards, enjoying cafe life, cultural pursuits and some fine dining. Eilat, nestled on the Red Sea, is a popular destination too, especially in the winter when temperatures are warm and swimming and sunbathing are a top pastime. With its breathtaking views (look one way you can see Jordan, look the other there is Egypt, and look behind you for pinkish, orange-red hued mountains) it’s perfect for chilling out, snorkelling and a little hiking in the nearby Timna Park. If you’re feeling adventurous you can also join a Petra tour from Eilat.
Eilat beach. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
From Tel Aviv to Eilat - Four Ways to Do It
The distance from Tel Aviv to Eilat is 281 kilometers. There are 4 ways to travel from Tel Aviv to Israel's southernmost resort: bus to Eilat, rental car, plane, and private transfer. Below, we’re going to give you some helpful pointers to make sure everything goes as smoothly and easily as possible along the way. Luckily, Israel is a small country, so no journey ever takes that long (even when on desert roads!) but having the ‘lie of the land before you set off is always a good idea.
Unfortunately, Israel does not yet have a direct train running between the two cities. The proposed high-speed rail link has been talked about for years but, unfortunately, the project is currently at a standstill. To date, the furthest you can travel by train is to Beer Sheva and Dimona (a tiny town a little way on). There is a small stretch of railway that passes beyond Dimona, running out to some phosphate mines in the Tzin Valley, but the train that heads there is for cargo only and functions on an 'as and when' basis.
Red Sea, Eilat, Israel. Photo by Vitaliy Paykov on Unsplash
Of course, you could take the train as far as Beer Sheva and then catch a bus onto Eilat, but this would mean making a change and, if you have a lot of luggage or small children, it could be inconvenient and tiresome. Still, it’s possible - and let’s give you some insider tips. Firstly, reserve a seat on the Beer Sheva - Eilat bus three days in advance. Try and book one in the middle (not over the wheels) - number 18 is ideal! Look for a seat on the shady side (no. 17 if you’re traveling in the morning and no. 19 if in the afternoon).
Book a train to Beer Sheva and make sure you leave plenty of time for your connection. After arriving (the journey is approx. 1 hour 10 minutes), exit the train station and turn left. You will see the bus station right in front of you. If you need to use the bathrooms, it’s better to do so in the train station - they tend to be cleaner than the ones in the bus station!
Grab a snack or a light bite in the bus station, which has all kinds of eateries, plus coffee shops. We recommend the shawarma and also the bourekas (pastry filled with salty cheese or potatoes). Pick up some water too - the driver will probably stop for a coffee break at Yotvata Inn, but that won’t be for another two hours or so, and if you’re traveling in the summer, it’s essential not to let yourself become hydrated.
Egged intercity buses in Israel. Image: via Egged Facebook pageA tip: when you arrive at Yotvata, you’ll have time to stretch your legs but also to pop inside and treat yourself to one of their famous Italian-style ice creams, which come in a marvelous range of flavors (we recommend the mascarpone and figs). There’s also a fantastic date-flavored frozen yogurt and mango sorbet for those who prefer to avoid dairy. Yotvata also has a gift store where they sell boxes of juicy Medjool dates, all grown on their own kibbutz. Now onto the direct options.
Getting from Tel Aviv to Eilat by Bus
The bus is a pretty good option and, as buses go, it’s a comfortable journey with varied and beautiful landscapes. At around 70 NIS one-way, it’s also rather cheap (public transport is heavily subsidized in Israel). The national bus service is called Egged and their green and white logo is easily recognized.
We’d recommend booking a seat in advance, just to guarantee that you won’t be turned away, but if you want to take a chance, just show up with cash (or a loaded Rav Kav card) and if there’s a spare seat, the driver will welcome you aboard. Tickets can be ordered online via Egged’s website (in Hebrew) or by phone at 03 694-8888 or *2800 (many of the operators speak English as well) using a credit card.
Vintage Egged bus from the Egged Bus Museum in Holon. Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
Sunday-Thursday: This is the Israeli work week and buses leave regularly, with line 394. This is located at Platform 601, on level 6 of the Central Bus Station on Levinsky Street. Buses leave regularly i.e. every 90 minutes, with the first one departing at 06.30.
On Friday, the last bus usually leaves around 14.00. This is because the Jewish Shabbat begins when dusk falls on Friday and public transport in Israel generally stops running a couple of hours before. On Saturdays (i.e. the Jewish Shabbat) buses depart a little before the end of the day (i.e. before night falls) - sometimes as early as 14.00 from Tel Aviv. Always check the timetable carefully and, if possible, call up in advance to confirm your departure, as all times are subject to change, depending on adverse weather conditions (e.g. flash floods in the Negev).
Self-Service Tickets with Eilatomat
Another thing to bear in mind is that if you decide to book tickets in advance (through the website or the Customer Service Center) you will need to collect them from a self-service ticket machine named Eilatomat. These machines can be found in the central bus stations of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Rishon le Zion, Haifa Hof ha-Carmel, Haifa Central, Hadera, Rehovot, Beer Sheva, and Netanya. A ticket can be collected from an Eilatomat ticket machine up to 2 hours before boarding and then shown to the driver when you enter through the front door. We recommend arriving 20 minutes in advance, as the lines can be long!
Antique Egged buses from the Egged Bus Museum in Holon. Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
Getting from Tel Aviv to Eilat with a Rental Car
It’s relatively simple and not particularly expensive to rent a car in Israel if you want to drive. Both Ben Gurion airport and Tel Aviv have a number of car rental businesses, including Eldan, Hertz, Tamar, and Shlomo Sixt. Just bring your passport and driver’s license and you should be issued with a vehicle within 30-45 minutes.
The journey from the country’s center to the far south will take between four to five hours (depending on your speed and if you stop for a coffee break in Mitzpe Ramon, where you can admire the views of the crater and even pop in on the Artist’s Quarter or if you’re with young kids, the Alpaca Farm).
From Mitzpe to Eilat, the road is winding and narrow (and it’s where accidents often happen) so please take particular care, especially at night, when there will be long stretches of road with no light. If you are easily car sick, we would advise taking this journey in the day, when it’s easier to stop and take a breath! The scenery is also beautiful - the desert landscapes are arid and rugged, and as you drive through the Arava, the rocks will turn pink, orange, and red in color.
Sunset in Eilat area. Photo credit: © Oksana Mats
Getting from Tel Aviv to Eilat by Plane
This is a fast option and an excellent idea if you need to travel straight to Eilat, after arrival in Israel at Ben Gurion Airport. The internal flight will take just under an hour and Arkia, Israel’s domestic carrier operates a service every couple of hours.
After a long, international flight, taking trains, buses, or renting a car could quickly turn into an ordeal, particularly if you’re very jetlagged. Flights cost around $100, so save yourself time and energy - with Arkia, you’ll be in Ramon airport in no time. From there, it’s a 15-minute journey to Eilat, either by taxi or local bus. Of course, if you want to see desert scenery, you can always catch the bus back to Tel Aviv, on your return leg, or rent a car.
Musical fountain in Eilat. Photo credit: © Oksana Mats
Getting from Tel Aviv to Eilat with a Private Transfer
If you are based in Tel Aviv, the quickest and most convenient way of all would be to book a private transfer to Eilat. This ‘door-to-door’ service means you’ll be picked up and dropped off exactly where you choose - and you can also break the journey if you choose (a pit stop at Beer Sheva, Mitzpe Ramon, or the famous dairy store at Yotvata Kibbutz - see above). Make sure to choose a trusted tour operator, who will answer all your questions in advance and tailor the experience to your specific needs.
Now you’re ready. Don’t forget your COVID-19 Vaccination Certificate, sunglasses, sunscreen, and a snazzy bathing suit. Everything else is optional! Trust us, you’re going to have a fine time. Shalom and enjoy!
Getting to Eilat by camel is not an option anymore. Photo credit: Muhammad Abo Omar