First (only?) trip to Israel next month, best side trips for 3-4 days?
December 9, 2014 1:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to Tel Aviv next month for a school function for about 5-6 days, that will include a 1-2 day side trip to Jerusalem. I'll also have a couple days before and after on my own, what should I do?

I'm an experienced traveller in Europe, Asia and Central America but have never been anywhere in the Middle East. I have no local language abilities or personal connection to any of the region's cultures. I love art, religious and political history, local/street food and nature, not so much interested in night life or expensive food/drink. I'll be staying near Tel Aviv University and will be relying on public transportation I think.

I can fly in 2-3 early and stay 1-2 days late, so I am trying to think about taking some side trips. Although it's possible I'll never be back, I don't like to try to rush to see everything. For example, if I had only 2 days in Beijing, I would probably skip the Great Wall. But I don't know very much about the region and have no idea what I should be trying to do. Recommendations? I'm not averse to crossing borders if it's not a multi-hour ordeal (I'm an American so whatever issues apply for boarder crossings), and can't really stomach the idea of a bus ride of more than 4 or so hours. I've read this helpful thread but am hoping for more information about outside Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

If I'll just be taking a day-long trip to Jerusalem, should I go back there (unfortunately details of the itinerary aren't set yet, so I don't even know exactly how long we'll be there or what we'll be doing). I'll also have some evenings free in Tel Aviv, so recommendations for interesting places there are also appreciated, I've read in the other thread that it's a great city for food.

Super excited, looking forward to reading your ideas! Thanks!
posted by skewed to Travel & Transportation around Israel (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How about a trip to Mahktesh Ramon (the world's largest erosion crater?) The negev desert has a certain stark beauty that is not commonly seen. It's around 3 hrs away (by train? maybe)
posted by dhruva at 1:07 PM on December 9, 2014

Response by poster: oh, one more thing: recommendations for a local sim card for my unlocked GSM phone? I'd like to be able to make calls/texts and maybe use data.
posted by skewed at 1:08 PM on December 9, 2014

English shouldn't be a problem, though you might want to pick up a guide book with helpful phrases. You can buy a SIM card at the airport.
posted by oceanjesse at 1:27 PM on December 9, 2014

Also, this guy Niro Taub can give you a pretty great street art tour in Tel Aviv if you manage to make arrangements with him far enough in advance.
posted by oceanjesse at 1:29 PM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There's honestly not much outside of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem - Israel is a very small country, both in terms of land mass and population. The only other cities of any size are Eilat (which is an 8 hour bus ride from tel aviv, and not really worth it once you're there unless you like resorts or scuba diving) and Haifa (which is totally worth a visit, it's a short bus ride from Tel Aviv and the Baha'i Gardens is one of the most beautiful places in the world). Aside from those cities the country is mostly urbam suburbs of Tel Aviv, and desert.

That being said, Abu Ghosh is worth a trip. It's a small Arab village outside of Jerusalem, you can get a bus there and back from the Jerusalem centeal bus station. They've got amazing hummus.

Language won't be a problem, I've never met a Hebrew speaker under the age of sixty who didn't also speak at least passable English (though there are lots of Russian speakers who speak neither Hebrew nor English, especially in some of the aforementioned Tel Aviv suburbs).
posted by Itaxpica at 1:44 PM on December 9, 2014

-You'll be relatively close to the beach, which is walkable all the way to Jaffa, and the weather will be great for that. If you get enough of walking, there are a bunch of fairly decent restaurants right along the path.
-The Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem would be something I would recommend to have seen.
-I personally liked the vistas of Haifa, but then again, I was shown around by someone with a car, no idea how it is on your own.

Langage: English no problem, but in some areas, the signs tend to be in Hebrew and Arabic only, so one does need to ask people occasionally.

Airport: take good time on the way out. The security checks can take a tochesload of time.
posted by Namlit at 1:45 PM on December 9, 2014

Aand seconding Abu Gosh and its food.
posted by Namlit at 1:46 PM on December 9, 2014

Best answer: I don't know what your itinerary is for Tel Aviv, but if it doesn't include Yaffo, I would spend some time there (Yaffo, or Jaffa in English, is adjacent to Tel Aviv from the south, and it's part of the same municipality, but incredibly different in terms of people, vibe etc. It's a mostly-Arab city which really sets it apart from Tel-Aviv-proper). In Yaffo I would recommend the flea market, the old city and the waterfront. You should go to a restaurant in the flea market called Dr. Shakshuka for some of the best shakshuka you will eat in your life.

I don't think a few days is enough to get out of the city. As opposed to some of the comments above, I think Israel has a lot to offer in terms of nature (especially the deserts, but not only). But with just a few days, I think spending a few extra in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem is really your best bet.

If you want to take your trip a step further, I'd recommend visiting the Palestinian territories. Both Ramallah and Hebron are a really short bus ride (think under an hour) from Jerusalem. Both are very different from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and have a lot to offer in terms of culture and history. If you don't feel like travelling in the West Bank, you can still immerse yourself in arab culture by checking out Abu Gosh or Yaffo, as recommended, but bear in mind that they're much more "westernized" than the PT.

Within Tel Aviv, you shouldn't miss:
- Carmel Market
- King George and Shenkin streets
- the waterfront
- Florentin (hipster neighborhood. Not much during the day, but at night lots of nice pubs, restaurants, parties. Also a lot of good graffiti)
- Neve Tzedek (oldest neighborhood in Tel Aviv, has been gentrified and now is very quaint with interesting boutique stores, architecture and restaurants. Also, best ice cream in the city).

If you need more specific recommendations (places to eat, stay, hang out) feel free to memail me.
posted by alon at 2:51 PM on December 9, 2014

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