Touring Israel Alone
When you book a trip to Israel, you need to decide whether you’ll be touring the country alone, taking a package tour for the entire trip, or combining independent travel with the occasional day tour. If you take Israel tours or stick to touring Israel alone, you will still want to cover the countries highlights. There are advantages and disadvantages to all these travel styles.
Tourist on a solo trip to Israel. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Getting Around Israel When Traveling Alone
Arranging transportation is one of the major differences between independent travel and using a tour company. If you touring Israel alone you will have to navigate the Israeli bus system and plan your time according to the public transport schedules. Israel’s public transport system is excellent, but it does not reach all the top attractions outside main cities.
Since Israel observes Jewish holidays and Shabbat, public transport is extremely limited (and in some places non-existent) between Friday sundown and Saturday sundown. With an organized tour of Israel, you are not faced with this problem.
Jerusalem Light Rail. Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
- Renting a Car - Renting a car in Israel requires a valid driver’s license from your home country, and you must be over 24-years-old. Parking in Israel is complicated, with various curb markings, and car stickers allowing only certain cars to park on the street at certain hours. Pango is a parking fee-paying app that could help you navigate the pitfalls of parking in Israel. Driving in Israel can be challenging if you are not familiar with driving on the right-hand side or Israeli drivers!
- Using Taxis - Using taxis within large cities is a good option, but traveling by taxi between major cities would be excessively expensive. For example, Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by taxi could cost you about 70€/$85. Inner-city taxis must use the meter, but the driver can usually tell you a fixed price for journeys between cities. Most Israeli taxi drivers speak some English, and tipping is not customary. Taxis operate on Shabbat but with a higher tariff.
- Israeli Railway System - The train system is efficient, clean, and not expensive, but the routes are limited. The southernmost train stations are Be’er Sheva and Dimona. The northernmost point on Israel’s train line is Nahariya. This means that top attractions like Eilat, the Dead Sea, Masada, Rosh HaNikra, the Sea of Galilee, Tiberias, and Nazareth cannot be reached by train.
- Israeli Bus System - Israeli buses reach every corner of the country, although the schedules are often inconvenient. Tickets are relatively cheap but you can no longer pay with cash on Israeli buses. Instead, you have to buy a reloadable RavKav transportation card. Once you have the card you can “load” it with credit that is deducted each time you use the bus or train. There are many disadvantages to the RavKav card, the main one being buying the card in the first place, and understanding the system.
Old buses at Egged Bus Museum in Holon, Israel. Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
Traveling between Major Cities in Israel
Intercity buses are the fastest and most convenient way of traveling between the cities in Israel. They are generally frequent and air-conditioned but sometimes slow due to traffic congestion.
Public bus in Haifa, Israel. Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
- Tel Aviv to Jerusalem - Buses leave Tel Aviv’s Arlozorov Station and Tel Aviv Central Bus Station every 10-20 minutes and arrive at Jerusalem Central Station about 50 minutes later. The new high-speed King David Line connects Jerusalem’s Yitzhak Navon Station with Ben Gurion Airport in about 20 minutes and continues to Tel Aviv HaHagana Station in about 45 minutes. There is also a slow, scenic route that takes almost 2 hours.
- Tel Aviv to Acre - There are no direct buses, but with transfers, the journey can be done in about 3 hours. There is a direct train from Tel Aviv to Acre which takes 1.5 hours.
- Tel Aviv to Nazareth - A bus from Tel Aviv to Nazareth takes almost 2 hours. If you want to use the train, you will have to travel to Haifa and from there continue the journey by bus. The total time for this journey would be 2.5-3 hours.
- Tel Aviv to the Dead Sea - There are no trains that reach the Dead Sea, but you could take a train from Tel Aviv to Be’er Sheva, and from there continue the journey by bus. There are buses from Tel Aviv (and Jerusalem) to the Dead Sea. Bus 421 leaves Tel Aviv Arlozorov Terminal, Sunday to Friday, twice daily. The journey can take 2-2.5 hours.
- Tel Aviv to Bethlehem - There are no direct buses connecting Tel Aviv and Bethlehem, but you can get there with transfers. You could take bus #21 from East Jerusalem, although this route is not reliable. Bethlehem is in the Palestinian Authority territory, so visiting from Israel requires crossing a checkpoint. There are no trains to Bethlehem and you cannot take a taxi from Israel into the Palestinian Authority to Bethlehem.
Old bus at Egged Bus Museum in Holon, Israel. Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
Pros and Cons of Group Tours
In many ways, an organized day tour in Israel is better than traveling alone in Israel. Independent travel can result in missing out on top attractions, just because of logistics. Traveling alone can also make a vacation hard work.
Guided tour of Bahai Gardens, Haifa. Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
Here are some of the pros to joining a tour package in Israel:
- All transport is arranged for you, there is no need for you to find parking, fathom bus schedules, or spend long hours reaching attractions.
- On a group tour, you’ll have a professional guide, with extensive knowledge, giving clear explanations in the language you have chosen for your tour. It is not worth standing in front of a 2,000-year-old structure if you have no understanding of its history or significance.
- Reach attractions that are off-the-beaten-track, without having the stress of planning transportation. Many other top Israel attractions like Rosh Hanikra or Caesarea can be too complicated to reach on your own, so it's better to join a guided coastal tour combining both of them.
- You may think you are saving money by traveling in Israel alone, but there are added extras and unexpected expenses that you could avoid with a guided tour.
- With an organized tour, the guide will arrange entrance tickets to attractions and you can skip the lines.
- Christian and Jewish tour packages in Israel include free days in top destinations like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as well as days with the tour guide.
- Day tours fit in all of the top attractions in one day. This saves you time and you won’t need to decide where to go, as the tour company has chosen the best of the best for you to see.
- On a group tour, you will travel in modern, air-conditioned, comfortable vehicles, with Wi-Fi and not on packed public transport.
- Organized tours are an excellent opportunity to meet fellow tourists and make new friends from diverse backgrounds and cultures.
Masada and the Dead Sea day tour by Bein Harim Tourism Services. Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
Where Can You Go with Israel Tours
You might be wondering what group tours cover. The simple answer is – everything! You can find day tours that cover specific destinations in fine detail, like Jerusalem tours and Tel Aviv tours. There are also tours geared towards Christian sites, Jewish or Islamic gems. Other excursions focus on a theme, such as archeology, or a region, like Galilee tours or West Bank tours.
If you prefer to book a package tour that covers your trip from the time you land at Ben Gurion to the time you leave, then opt for a package group tour. These tours include all transportation, accommodation, and sightseeing. They also give you a few days to explore the country on your own. You could even choose a package tour that includes a short visit to Petra in Jordan.
A tour guide explaining the trip plan to tourists for Jerusalem Tour by Bein Harim. Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
Include Day Tours in Your Israel Itinerary or Opt for a Package Tour
Give yourself a real break from the rat race, and take Israel tours. You don’t need to spend your vacation managing your itinerary and logistics as you tour alone in Israel. What you need is to sit back and let someone else do the work while you enjoy the sites of Israel.
Tourists in Masada on a Masada tour by Bein Harim. Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin