Israel has never been on my list of places to visit not because of its culture or anything of that matter, it just never came to mind. So when my husband suggested to go there I immediately said yes to the adventure and got on the next flight out.
After 8 long hours of flight time we arrive at Tel Aviv and asked “what did we get ourselves into?!” Nevertheless, we continued our unplanned plan to explore the most this beautiful country without breaking the bank.
Find an affordable stay
First step was to find some where to stay… When traveling, what’s most important to me is having a secure and clean space to sleep in. Yes, there are plenty of hotels to stay at but those aren’t always pocket friendly. With that in mind, we decided to check out the Abraham hostel in Tel Aviv and boy were we happy with the results.
We landed on Shabbat (Judaism day of rest) which meant there was limited public transportation so we took a 20 minute taxi ride for about $35 to the hostel. One we arrived we were able to walk in and book a private room for $80/night. Since this was a last minute trip, we wanted to get situated the first night and then transfer to their shared bunk bed rooms that ranged between $25-$30 per night.
In addittion to its great reviews, we chose this hostel because it provides free or cheap alternatives to explore the city and has daily events such as rooftop barbecues, beer pong competitions, and culinary classes that can bring all travelers together.
Rent a bike
Next we had to firgure out where to go and there’s no better and cheaper way to explore the city in a short amount of time than on a bike and that’s exactly what we did. We rented our bikes from our hostel for 60 NIS each, around $20, for 4 hours. You can also rent public bikes through the Tel-O-fun program which is available 24/7. All you have to do is insert a debit/credit card at any bike station, select the time you’d like to rent it for and take it for a spin.
Visit Old Jaffa
An area we encountered during our ride was Old Jaffa, one of the oldest ports of the world. The architecture and structure of this ancient neighborhood will memorize you.
Just keep in mind that if you decide to stroll through the area during Shabbat most places will be closed therefore limiting your total experience to the local shops, art exhibits, and restaurants
Check out Abrasha Park
Right around the corner from Old Jaffa there is a breathtaking view of the city in Abrasha Park. Here you easily have a picnic with the ocean breeze while avoiding the messy sand. There’s also countless restaurants by the pier and historical monuments like the Statue of Faith.
After the park we decided to take a stroll on the beach. The walk way makes it easy for riders to move along the Mediterranean Sea despite the amount of pedestrian traffic. In our journey we passed many restaurants, street performers and piers with common name brand shops.
Take a bus to Jerusalem
After touring through Tel Aviv for two days, we asked the locals for the best way to get to Jerusalem and were immediately directed to the central bus station. From there we took bus #405 on the 6th floor and paid 16 shekels ($4.50). The bus ride was only 35 minutes, it was ventilated and our fave; it had wifi. Once in Jerusalem, we took the light rail for 11.50 shekels and rode it three stops to the Abraham Hostel in town. If you stay at this hostel they also offer free shuttles but that’s no fun 😋.
Take walking tours
Jerusalem is so easy to get around that all we had to do was literally walk and run into amazing areas like the Old City of Jerusalem. The construction of this holy city is truly breathtaking and A MUST on your to do list.
There are also plenty of stands around the city that offer descriptive walking tours or you can be like us, grab a guide and get lost on your own. We walked everywhere in and around the city. Without looking for it, we even found the US Embassy in the middle of a Muslim community. In all, I felt safe and it was an unforgettable experience you don’t wan’t to miss!
Mahane Yehuda Market
Hungry? Right down the block from our hostel was the markets of all markets, the Mehane Yehuda Market. With over 250 vendors, this lively open-air market is where all the locals and tourist come to find fresh food. Not only can you do your groceries here, you can also skip the kitchen duties and dine at one of the many restaurants along the strip.
Watch the sunset on the Rehabam Observation point
After walking miles around town we decided to see the sunset over the new city and old city of Jerusalem. This can be best seen from the Rehabam Observation Point located right above the Jewish cemetery on Mount of Olive. It’s free and you can either take a public bus from one of the old city gate entrances or walk 25 minutes up a VERY steep hill. Note: Bring water and a sweater for when the sun goes down.
When in doubt buy a tour package
Over time we’ve learned that it’s a lot cheaper to go to a tourist attraction on your own and just paying the entrance fee but if you want to avoid getting lost or suck at planning like we do then travel tours are the way to go. Before this day, we only had spent money on the hostel, means of transportation, and food. All the sights we saw were free so when it came down to going to Masada or the Dead Sea, we didn’t mind splurging and purchasing a tour at our hostel for $72 each.
The package we purchased is a self guided tour that basically just provides a driver to take you to Masada, Dead Sea, and Ein Gendi Natural Reserve. The pick up time for the early tour was 3:30 am and our first stop was the ancient fortress of Masada. Like the people that once lived there, we hiked up the snake path for 45 minutes and let me tell you, I wanted to die. Never have I ever climb so many steps in my life! I was probably the least fit person on the team and I hated the entire route but once I got to the top and saw the magical sun rise it was worth it.
We stayed there for about two hours reading about the abandoned village and then walked back down. By the time I reached the bus my thighs were in pain and my legs were like jelly but in all I wouldn’t of done it any other way.
Note: If you wish to visit Masada but want to avoid the hike, they have a cable car that starts running around 8am that will take you from the tour center to the top of Masada in just 5 minutes.
Surround yourself by nature at the Ein Gedi Natural Reserve
Just 20 minutes away from Masada is Ein Gedi Natural Reserve full of trails, caves, waterfalls and exotic animals. If you hiked Masada beware Ein Gedi also has stairs and steep hills that you must hike up in order o see the waterfalls…let’s just say I did my leg work out for the year. At the entrance you are provided with a map and it is easy to get around the different sights.
Float in the Dead Sea
Our final destination was the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea. The first thing I did was stick my finger in the water and tasted it to see how salty it really was and man IT IS SALTY. With that said, I don’t recommend diving in, instead float effortlessly and enjoy this warm body of water.
The Dead Sea is so salty you’ll find chunks of salt crystals in the mud and talking about mud don’t forget to give your skin some spa treatment. For years, the mud in the water has been known for its detoxifying and therapeutic effects. I had to wash my face off after 10 minutes because it started to itch but it still left my skin it really smooth.
Note: When visiting these places make sure you bring the following:
- water bottles
- comfortable sneakers
- bathing suit
If wedo this trip again, we will definately drive to these locations on our own since it was such an easy and safe ride.
And that’s all folks! This isn’t the ultimate guide to Israel because there is so much more we didn’t get to see but it has been one our best trips so don’t miss out on this beautiful country and check it out.