EP003: DIY Destinations – Israel

Table of Content:

  • Episode Background
  • History and Political Status
  • General Information and Sabbath
  • Airport Transfer and Public Transportations
  • Inexpensive Foods
  • Tel Aviv-Yafo
    • Public Bus and Tel-O-Fun Bike Sharing
    • Jaffa Flea Market
    • Jaffa Clock Tower
    • Old Jaffa Port
    • Jaffa Promenade
    • Charles Clore Garden
    • Banana Beach
    • Carmel Market
    • Tel Aviv Port
    • Rabin Square
    • Ben Gurion House
  • Beit Guvrin National Park
    • Marsha Burial Caves
    • Bell Caves
  • Tiberias
    • Abandoned Hot Spring
    • Yigal Alon Promenade and Sea of Galilee
  • Golan Heights (Israeli-Controlled)
    • Quneitra Observation Point
  • Nazareth
    • Basilica of the Annunciation
    • Salesian Church of Jesus the Adolescent
  • Haifa
    • Transportation
    • Nightlife
    • Louis Promenade and The Bahai Gardens
    • Stella Maris Monastery
    • Elijah’s Cave
    • Bat Galim Beach
    • German Colony
    • Grand Canyon Mall
    • Wadi Nisnas Street
  • Jisr Az-Zarqa
    • Beach
    • Crocodile Stream
  • Caesarea National Park
  • Eilat
    • King City
    • Entertainment Strip and Hanania Beach
    • Princess Beach
  • Eilat-Aqaba Border Crossing
    • Transportation
    • Exit Tax and Tourist Tax Refund

Episode Background:  The background behind this episode was complicated.  Initially, my plan was just to do a DIY Destinations episode just focus on Israel.  However, given the existing conflicts involving disputed territories for Jerusalem and the West Bank.  I am not able to do a episode on Israel without Jerusalem.  I also can not feature Jerusalem without Palestine, as it is claimed both Israel and Palestine as their capital.  I do not want to take position on either side.  The episode was evolved into “Holy Land” episode, which combined all of must see attractions on both side without mentioning “Israel” or “Palestine”, eventually given many factors, the episode was split into three, first being Jerusalem, second being this episode focusing on undisputed area of Israel and third being all of West Bank referred as Palestine.  There was problem right from the beginning, such as between myself and Israeli authorities, such as editorials, conditions for financial support, use of names (e.g. use of Palestinian Territories rather than Palestine), which places I can and can not go in the West Bank, and even use of the maps.  In the end, I decided not to continue seeking support from the any authorities as my job is not trying to produce a propaganda, rather a unbias travel show.

History and Political Status:

Official Map of Israel
Official United Nations Map of Israel

Israel is a small country located in Middle East with a long coastline on the eastern Mediterranean Sea, it is diverse with both different geographic terrain and populations, including 80% Jewish, with remaining being Arab or Palestinian, Bedouin, Baha’i, Muslim, Christian or Druze.  The country was established in 1948 after the World War II for Jewish people and considered a part of Holy Land, others areas includes Jerusalem, West Bank and Golan are considered a disputed terriories.  Given the complexity of conflict, we’ll be only covering un-disputed area of Israel with exception of Golan Heights.  Despite the on-going conflict between Israeli-Arab, Israel in general is fairly safe to visit with occasional stabbing, which are extremely rare.  Today, Israel is a fully developed country with a advanced market economy, with high level of reliance on oil, raw material, military and food import.  In recent years, Israel has developed its internal food self-sufficiency with improvement made to agricultural sectors.

General Information and Holidays:

  • Electrical Outlet:  220V/50 Hz, accept H and C (European)
  • Drinking Water: tap water are perfectly safe to drink throughout Israel
  • Currency Exchange: I recommend you used your bank cards to make withdrawal to get the best exchange rate (typically +2.5% spread), most ATM do not charge fees, but your bank any impose a surcharge.  Some machine also offers U.S. Dollar withdrawals
  • Sabbath: Friday sunset (typically 3:30 pm) to Saturday sunset.  All government institutions, with exception of emergency services and public transportations are closed.  Non-kosher restaurants and good number of shopping venues will be open.  However, popular venues such as Carmel Market are closed.
Egged Bus is the Israel's national intercity bus company.
Egged Bus is the Israel’s national intercity bus company.

Airport Transfer and Public Transportations

  • Note: all public transportations are suspended on Sabbath (typically 3:30 pm Friday to Saturday 7:00 pm), however there is shared taxi mini-van or sherut operating everyday, but only leaves when all seats are occupied or someone offers to pay for them.
  • Most inexpensive and easiest way for getting from Ben Gurion Airport:
    • To Tel Aviv, simply take the direct train to one of the four stations in Tel Aviv, we recommend you stay near the Old Jaffa and closest station is Hahagana, while other three are HaShalom, Savidor Center and Tel Aviv University
    • To Jerusalem and Palestinian cities, take Egged Bus No. 5 to the Airport City (El Al Junction) and transfer on to Bus 947 or 423 to Jerusalem Central Bus Station, cost NIS 21.50 and service every half hour.  For Palestinian cities or Arab neighbourhood in Jerusalem, you’ll need to take the Jerusalem Light Rail toward Heil Ha-Avir, and get off at the Damascus Gate stop.  The East Jerusalem Central Bus Station that serves West Bank is right across from the Damascus Gate.
    • To Haifa, direct trains available throughout the day.  I recommend you get off at the Haifa Centre – Ha Shmona, other stations are Bat Galim, near the Haifa Port and Hof Hakarmel near the Beach.
    • To Be’er Sheva, frequent train via Tel Aviv-HaHagana Station.
    • To Eilat, no direct route from the airport, but it is recommend you take a Egged Bus either from Jerusalem Central Bus Station, Tel Aviv-Yafo New Central Bus Station or Rehovot Central Bus Station.  There is direct flight from Ben Gurion, but it cost $100 each way, about 10 times the cost of bus fare from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
CoFizz, one of the discount healthy fast food chain
CoFizz, one of the discount healthy fast food chain

Inexpensive Foods

Israel relies a lot of their raw materials on imports, therefore the food are generally more expensive than in U.S., including western fast food.  However, there is two ways to cut down on your cost of food.

  • Many hostels such as Milk and Honey and Tiberias Hostel offers free basic breakfast with toasts, jams, hummus, olives and olive oils, cheeses, etc.
  • Avoid buying food in touristy places
  • Healthy Fast food, there is two major chains that offers sandwiches Cofix and Cofizz.  All items on the menu consist of salads, sandwiches, soups, juice and all drinks (including alcohol) are NIS 5 or about $1.20.
  • Local Street Foods, you can easily find falafel for approximately NIS 5 in not-so-touristy areas.  There is also a Iraqi-Jewish sandwich called Sabich, consisting of pita stuffed with fried eggplant and hard boiled eggs, it’s available for approximately NIS 7 or so.  Also, fresh fruits and pastries can be found in supermarket at decent prices.

All attractions listed are free unless otherwise, sweet!

Tel Aviv-Yafo:

Tel-O-Fun Bike Sharing Subscription
Tel-O-Fun Bike Sharing Subscription

Public Bus and Bike Sharing Service

Tel Aviv is a very western city with western price.  A single ride on the bus will set you back NIS 6.60 or $1.50, there is day pass which ranges from NIS 13.50 to 26.50 depending on the number of zone, price as of March 2016.  Luckily you can pretty much walk anywhere given its small size, especially with the attractions mention here, that is if you have time and likes to walk.  However, I recommend you buy a day subscription for Tel-O-Fun, Tel Aviv’s bike sharing program.  The daily subscription paid by credit card cost NIS 17 and NIS 23 for Saturdays and Public Holidays  or NIS 70 for the entire week.  Your membership starts at the purchase of your credit card get charged, therefore if your purchase membership at 4:00 pm today, you’ll have access to the bikes until tomorrow 3:59 pm.  The membership will entitle you to unlimited 30 minutes rides with ten minutes wait in between.  For example, you can go from Jaffa Flea Market and return the bike at the Banana Beach, wait for ten minutes or more and check out the bike again.  There is many bike station across Tel Aviv, including at all the sites mention below.  However, beware of your time, the fees are quite high if you exceeded your 30 minutes – check full rate

Tel Aviv’s Free Attractions

Tel Aviv's Free Attraction Map
Tel Aviv’s Free Attraction Map
Jaffa Flea Market
Jaffa Flea Market
  • Jaffa Flea Market (Shuk Hapishpishim) – we’ll start by visiting one of the world’s oldest flea market, the Jaffa Flea Market is where to go for finding those unique, one-of-a-kind items from long ago.
    • Hours: Sunday through Friday, varies hours from store to store typically open early morning through early evening hour
    • Yefet Street
  • Jaffa Clock Tower – is one of seven clock towers built during the Ottoman period in commemorate the silver jubilee of the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Abd al-Hamid II, its the last being the only one that has not survived until today.
    • Yefet Street at the northern entrance of Jaffa
Old Jaffa Port
Old Jaffa Port
  • Old Jaffa Port – an ancient port on the Mediterranean Sea with a history spanning over three millennia and mentioned in various ancient works, such as Hebrew Bible.  Today, its a popular attraction featuring restaurants and cafés. A lighthouse, Jaffa Light, is located above the port.
  • Jaffa Promenade (Tayelet) – the promenade covers the city’s coastline and offers great people-watching and photo-ops with a backdrop of sea, sand and gorgeous Mediterranean sunsets.
    • Herbert Samuel St
Charles Clore Garden
Charles Clore Garden
  • Charles Clore Garden – covering over 29.6-acre and opened in 1974  and named after the British financier, property magnate and philanthropist.
Banana Beach
Banana Beach
  • Banana Beach – also referred to as Drummer’s Beach, as on Friday evening, the young people begin gathering here at sunset for drum circles, singing and dancing on the cliffs.
Carmel Market
Carmel Market
  • Carmel Market (Shuk Ha’Carmel) – places to sample Tel Aviv’s best street food such as falafel, fresh fruits and pastries.  It also sell a variety of items such as home accessories, and flowers. Tuesdays and Fridays are the signature days with several independent artists and vendors sell unique crafts, art, and jewellery along Nahalat Binyamin Street.
Tel Aviv Port
Tel Aviv Port
  • Tel Aviv Port – this is most popular attraction in Tel Aviv with 4.3 million visitors annually, located in the northwestern Tel Aviv’s, along the Mediterranean coast its a commercial and entertainment district.
    • Nemal Tel Aviv St.
Rabin Square
Rabin Square
  • Rabin Square (Kikar Malkhey Yisrael) – renamed ‘Rabin Square’ following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin which occurred there on November 4, 1995.  It’s site of numerous political rallies, parades, and other public events.
    • Malkhel Yisra’el St and Frishman St
Ben Gurion House
Ben Gurion House
  • Ben Gurion House – an historic house museum served as additional residence for first defense and prime minister of Israel David Ben Gurion from 1931 to 1968.
    • 17 Ben-Gurion Boulevard

Beit Guvrin National Park

Driving from Tel Aviv to Beit Guvrin National Park
Driving from Tel Aviv to Beit Guvrin National Park

Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park is located approximately 13 km from the nearby town of Kiryat Gat.  Archaeological artifacts unearthed at the site include a large Jewish cemetery, a Roman-Byzantine amphitheater, a Byzantine church, public baths, mosaics and burial caves. It also encompass the ruins of Maresha, one of the important towns of Judah during the time of the First Temple.   This is the only attractions in which I do not recommend to travel by public transit, as there is no bus station in the park.  This is one of the few places I recommend you visit with a rental car, additionally the large size of the park made walking extremely difficult.  Click here for driving directions.

  • Admission Ticket: Adult – NIS 27 and Kids – NIS 14

The park consist of two major types of attractions:

Sidonian burial caves
Sidonian burial caves
  • Maresha Burial Caves – there are burial caves for the Greek, Sidonian and Edumite inhabitants of Beit Guvrin with only the caves belong to the leader of the Sidonian community being painted inside.

Bell Caves

  • Bell Caves – there are about 800 man made bell-shaped caves, many linked with underground passageways.  The caves were dig during the Arabian period for its soft stone for use as road pavement.  Today, many are used for events such as concerts.

Tiberias

Tiberias is an Israeli city on the western shore of the lower end of Sea of Galilee, and has been considered one of Judaism’s Four Holy Cities since the 16th century.  For thousands of years, it is famous for its hot springs that many believes which can cure skin illnesses.

Free Abandoned Hot Spring in Tiberias
Free Abandoned Hot Spring in Tiberias
  • Free Abandoned Hot Spring in Tiberias, this secret location is located right by Israel-Jordan border, initially it is a Syrian resort, but became abandoned along with the natural hot springs after Israel taken control of this area.  If you want to visit this hot spring, we recommend you stay at ILH Tiberias Hostel as the owner Omer regularly taken his guest to this secret hot spring few times a week.
Sea of Galilee where it is believe Jesus walked on water
Sea of Galilee where it is believe Jesus walked on water
  • Sea of Galilee and Yigal Alon Promenade, the Sea of Galilee is the largest freshwater lake in Israel and lowest on Earth.  Many of Jesus’ miracles are also said to have occurred here, including  walking on water, calming the storm, feeding five thousand people with the boatload of fish.  From the Yigal Alon Promenade, you’ll get a breathtaking view of the Sea of Galilee along with many fish restaurants, additionally it is considered the best sunset in Tiberias, with a multi-colored sky tucking way the sun.

Golan Heights (Israeli-Controlled)

The Golan Heights has been occupied and administered by Israel since 1967 after the Six Day War.  One of the interesting places that you can look into Syria.

Quneitra Observation Point at Golan Heights
Quneitra Observation Point at Golan Heights
  • Quneitra Observation Point, from this lookout point you can see United Nations Disengagement Observer Force and its blue buildings which acts as a buffer between Israel-controlled and Syrian side.

Nazareth

Nazareth is known as “the Arab capital of Israel”, majority consist of Muslim and Christians, its also the largest city in northern Israel.  The city is described as the childhood home of Jesus in the New Testament.

Basilica of the Annunciation
Basilica of the Annunciation
  • Basilica of the Annunciation – the site where it is believed Mary received her Annunciation took while she was drawing water from a local nearby spring
Salesian Church of Jesus the Adolescent
View from Salesian Church of Jesus the Adolescent
  • Salesian Church of Jesus the Adolescent – One of the largest and most beautiful churches located in the highest hill in Nazareth. You can see it from the city center and it is visible from a distance.

Haifa

DIY Destinations' Free Attractions in Haifa
DIY Destinations’ Free Attractions in Haifa

Haifa is Israeli’s third largest city built on the slopes of Mount Carmel with a settlement history spans more than 3,000 years.  Today, Haifa is one of the Israel’s most important seaport located on Mediterranean coastline.

Haifa's "Carmelit" Metro Subway System
Haifa’s “Carmelit” Metro Subway System
  • Transportation – Haifa has two main intra-city transportation, the public bus and metro.  There is direct train and Egged Buses that connect to Tel Aviv, Akko, Beer Sheva, Nahariyya and the Ben Gurion Airport.
    • Metronit local buses runs seven days a week, 24 hours a day with many of the route, including #1.  The service is reduced between 10.30 PM and 5:00 AM on Friday evening to Saturday morning.  Such ride cost NIS 5.90 with 90 minutes transfer allowance.
    • During infrequent hours, there are fixed price shared taxi mini-van “sherut” in parallel with buses.
    • Carmelit, Israel’s only metro subway and shortest on earth.  However it only cover small portion of Haifa, and mainly used for getting up or down the mountain from downtown.  The fare also includes transfer to buses for a period of 90 minutes.
    • For Egged Buses and Train Station, there are two main station:
      • Mercazit HaMifratz / Lev HaMifraz train station.  This station services northern suburbs like Krayot and the Galilee.
      • Mercazit Hof HaCarmel /Hof HaCarmel Train station.  This station connects to southern destinations, like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
      • For Egged Buses and Trains, they do not operate on Sabbath.
    • There is also a Haifa Aerial Cable Car from Mount Carmel to down the mountain to the Bat Galim promenade and the beach.
Eli's Pub in Haifa
Eli’s Pub in Haifa
  • Nightlife – Haifa has a very active nightlife.  There is two main clusters of local pubs:
    • Horev Shopping Centre (Moriah Avenue) to Carmel Center via Moriah Avenue.
    • Ben-Gurion Avenue, right below the Bahai Gardens with many decently priced restaurants.
    • The crowd begin to gather at 9 pm to later into the night, be prepare to arrive earlierit may get overly crowded on the weekends.
Baha'i Gardens
Baha’i Gardens
  • Louis Promenade and The Bahai Gardens – people have referred it to “the balcony of the country” with the breathtaking of city of Haifa.  The promenade was built in 1992 with a total length of 400 meters starting from Yaffe Nof St. to the upper entrance to the Baha’i Gardens.  The garden is considered the centre of Bahai faith and the Hanging Gardens of Haifa, constructed in 1992 by Iranian architect Fairborn Sahba and opened to the public in 2001.  The total area extends close to a kilometre up the side of Mount Carmel consist of garden terraces and the Shrine of the Báb.  In 2008, it was added to World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its profound spiritual meaning to the Bahai faith and their strong tradition of pilgrimage.
Stella Maris Monastery
Stella Maris Monastery
  • Stella Maris Monastery – located on the slopes of Mount Carmel, the Carmelite monastery is located near caves the Prophet Elijah and serves as a centre of Carmelite spirituality throughout the world.  The history of the monastery dated back 1631 when it was first constructed near the lighthouse until 1761 when it was forced to move to the current location by the ruler of Galilee Zahir al-Umar.
    • Hours: 08:30-12:00, 15:00-18:00, seven days a week.
    • Stella Maris Rd
Elijah's Cave on Mount Carmel
Elijah’s Cave on Mount Carmel
  • Elijah’s Cave – it is a grotto where it is believed the prophet Elijah took shelter after traveling for 40 days and 40 night and upon awaking he talked to god.
Bat Galim Beach
Bat Galim Beach
  • Bat Galim Beach – Haifa is known for it’s free beaches, this is the closest beach t0 the Elijah’s Cave.  You can either hike down the trail or take a cable car down.  The beach is surrounded with free parking, playgrounds and other sporting facilities.  It is also close in vicinity to Haifa Bay and Haifa Port.
Old Templer House in German Colony (Wikipedia)
Old Templer House in German Colony (Wikipedia)
  • German Colony (Hamoshava Hagermanit) – established in 1868 by the German Templers, its the first of several colonies established by the group across Ottoman occupied Palestine.  In recent years, some of the old Templer’s home have being restored along the Ben Gurion Boulevard and converted into cafes and restaurants, it is also one of the nightlife hub of Haifa
  • Grand Canyon Mall – this is the largest shopping mall in Northern Israel consist of 220, mostly chain stores.
    • Address: Derech Simha Golan 54
    • Hours: Sunday-Thurday 10:00 – 22:00, Friday: 09:30 – 14:30, Saturday night: 10:30 – 22:30
    • Bus Station: Hof Hacarmel
Falafel Hazkenim
Falafel Hazkenim
  • Wadi Nisnas Street – is a Arab neighbourhood with some of the best Falafel in Northern Israel.  There is two must-try falafel shops, one is Falafel Hazkenim and another one is Michelle Falafel, both located right across from each other.

Jisr Az-Zarqa

Jisr az-Zarqa is the last remaining Arab town situated on Mediterranean coast in Israel.  Despite sandwich between one of Israel most popular attractions Caesarea, well-established Kibbutz Managuan Michael and Israel National Trail, it is one of the poorest and most neglected villages in Israel.  In 2014, Neta Hansen, Jewish and Ahmad Juha, Arab, partnered to opened Juha’s Guesthouse after a successful crowdfunding.  It’s purpose is to provide employment opportunities through tourism for the local, while allowing guest to experience Arab narratives through experiencing their cultures, food and hospitality.

Jisr Az-Zarqa Beach
Jisr Az-Zarqa Beach
  • Jisr Az-Zarqa Beach – considered the last remaining undiscovered beach in Israel.  It is surrounded by Arab fisherman and fishing boats, giving visitor a sense of day to day in this traditional village.
  • Crocodile Stream (Nahal Taninim), this is a nature reserved for habitant of crocodiles lived in the nearby Kebara swamps until the early 20th century. The water in the river is the cleanest of Israel.

Caesarea National Park

Caesarea Marítima - Roman Theater
Caesarea Marítima – Roman Amphitheater
  • The Caesarea Maritime – is one of the most impressive archaeological site in Israel.  The city and harbor was built by Herod the Great about 25–13 BC and named in honor of Augustus Caesar.  Today, the site consist the beautifully restored harbor here was built by King Herod and engineering marvel even by present day standards.   Another popular site is Roman Amphitheater, which many concerts are held.  This location is also the site of the 1961 discovery of the Pilate Stone, the only archaeological item that mentions the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate, by who order the crucifixion of Jesus.
  • Station: Akiva Interchange Egged Bus Station and walk 30 minutes or 5 minutes by taxi
  • Admission Ticket: Adult -NIS 40, Child – NIS 24, 50% discount for Israeli senior citizens
  • Hours: April-September 8 A.M.-6 P.M., October-March 8 A.M- 4 P.M, Friday close one hour before sunset.

Eilat

Eilat is the southernmost city in Israel, consisting of a busy port and popular resort located at the northern tip of the Red Sea.  It borders both Egypt by Taba Corssing and Aqaba Crossing with Jordan. It is famous for its beaches, coral reef, nightlife and desert landscapes.

Derech Paamei HaShalom
Derech Paamei HaShalom
  • King City (Derech Paamei HaShalom), this is remain of former biblical theme park.  Today, it still have varieties of rides or the young and the old along with many trendy pubs.
Mall Hayam in Eilat
Mall Hayam in Eilat
  • Entertainment Strip, located along the Ha-Palmakh Street, consist of Eilat Museum, Eilat Art Gallery, Shopping Mall and parks and Hanania Beach, one of the few free beaches in the city.
Princess Beach, one of the Eilat free beaches
Princess Beach, one of the Eilat free beaches
  • Princess Beach – we’ll end the best of Israel by snorkelling in Eilat.  This is the only free beach located on the Coral Beach Nature Reserve near the Egyptian Taba Border.  There is no showers, but a changing room with toilets.
    • Public Bus: Egged Bus No. 15

Eilat-Aqaba Border Crossing

Eilat has two international border crossing between Aqaba, Jordan and Taba, Egypt.  Given the security situation in the Sinai, we decided to cross into Jordan instead.  The official name is Wadi Araba Border Crossing and until December 2015, you can enter Aqaba VISA free, but as of January 1, 2016, VISA-on-Arrival is no longer available in this crossing.  Therefore advance VISA is required with exception for Israeli tour groups. The new rules as of January 1, 2016 are as follows – courtesy of Eszter Pápai at Go2Jordan.INFO – Your Guide To Aqaba & Jordan:

The Aqaba Special Economic Zone (ASEZ) officer gives the tourists a passport list with the ENTRY date stamp and a payment receipt for the JD 60.

  • If they (tourists) leave Jordan from a different border point: they will lose the money JD 60.
  • If they leave Jordan from the same border point  after spending 3 days / 2 nights:  full refund even if they do not visit Petra during the holiday in Jordan.
  • If they leave Jordan from the same border point  after 2 days / 1 ngt or only for a day visit only BUT in both options they visit Petra: they will get refund JD 20.
  • On departure they have to prove that they visit Petra by getting stamp from the visitor centre in Petra on their passport list.
Israeli side of Wadi Araba Border Crossing
Israeli side of Wadi Araba Border Crossing
  • Transportation, we strongly do not recommend you use the Egged Bus to get to the border.  The closest the public bus stop is Eilot, which is over 1.6 km uphill from the Yitzhak Rabin Border Terminal, the road leading to it has no paved sidewalks and can get busy at times.  We simply recommend you get few fellow tourists and share a metered taxi from Central Bus Terminal directly to the border.
  • Exit Tax and Tax Refund, the border only accepts cash for the exit tax of NIS 101 as of January 1, 2016 plus NIS 6 for processing fee regardless number of taxes yo are paying.  So, gather all your newly met friends and pay the exit tax together and all of you save NIS 6.  Also, remember to keep your receipts for merchandise over NIS 400 you are taking outside of Israel.  You’ll get 17% refund on the price of the qualified goods.
  • Hour of operation: Sunday through Thursday6:30 to 20:00, and from 8:00 to 20:00 on Fridays and Saturdays, open seven days a week with except the Islamic New Year and Yom Kippur.

We hope you enjoy this episode of DIY Destinations, please share, like and comment here and our YouTube videos.  Lastly, don’t forget to subscribe!  Have a safe journey!