By Briana Seftel
Planning a vacation to Israel, also known as the Holy Land? Here are ten things you absolutely must know before you go!
1. Cover up at holy sites
Since Israel is a very religious country, it's advised that both women and men dress respectfully when entering holy sites. Women should wear blouses with sleeves and long pants or a skirt, while men at Jewish religious sites need to wear a kippah (yarmulke).
2. Israeli cuisine fresh and flavorful
No trip to Israel is complete without indulging in hummus, falafel and shawarma, all signature dishes of Israeli cuisine. The dining scene in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv is flourishing, with restaurants serving modern and classic interpretations of iconic dishes. However, keep in mind most hotels serve kosher food, as well as some restaurants. A kosher diet does not combine dairy with meat and prohibits pork, so don't expect to find a bacon cheeseburger while you're there!
3. Saturday is a day of rest
Shabbat, which starts sundown on Friday and lasts through nightfall on Saturday, is considered a day of rest. Many businesses are either closed or have limited hours, while there is no or very limited public transportation. Leave your sightseeing for other days and take the day to relax. If you're lucky, you might even be invited to a Shabbat dinner or lunch.
4. Israel enjoys a mild climate
Israel enjoys a mild climate year round with warm, dry summers and generally mild winters. Expect cooler weather in hilly regions like Jerusalem and Safed and heavy rainfall in the north and center of the country. In the Negev desert in the south, which accounts for 60 percent of Israel, there is almost no rain.
5. Tel Aviv is very gay-friendly
Tel Aviv is considered one of the world's most gay-friendly cities and hosts the second biggest Gay Pride in the world. Experience the city's excellent nightlife, beaches and cultural centers that cater to the LGBT community.
6. You'll encounter the Israeli army
On your visit to Israel, you will encounter soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) almost everywhere you go. All Israeli men and women are required to serve in the military up to three years starting from the age of 18. While at first you may be alarmed at the sight of heavily armed young men and women, don't fret - it's just part of everyday life.
7. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth
Floating in the Dead Sea is no doubt a highlight on a vacation to Israel. At 1,412 feet below sea level, it is the lowest point on earth. It's also one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world, due to the fact that water can't escape and just evaporates. Travelers all around the globe descend upon the Dead Sea for its mineral-rich mud and healing properties.
8. Israel is smaller than New Jersey
Israel is tiny. Smaller than New Jersey, traveling around Israel is a breeze (just be weary of traffic in and out of big cities). If you plan on basing yourself from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, you can take easy day trips by train, bus or car to Haifa, the Dead Sea, Masada and Safed.
9. Most Israelis speak English
While most Israelis speak English, Hebrew and Arabic are the two official languages. Before your trip, it's encouraged to learn a few key Hebrew phrases.
- Hello: Shalom
- Bye: Leitraot
- Yes: Ken
- No: Lo
- Please: Bevakasha
- Thank you: Toda
- Good: Tov
- Okay: Sababa
- Sorry/Excuse me: Slicha (slee-ha)
- English?: Anglit?
10. Don't miss out on museums
Israel has more museums per capita than any other country in the world. See the Dead Sea scrolls at the Israel Museum, learn the tragic yet necessary history at the Holocaust Museum (Yad Vashem) and ogle contemporary masterpieces at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (just to name a few).
You might have heard native-born Israelis being referred to as “Sabras.” A sabra is a cactus fruit that grows in Israel that's prickly on the outside, but sweet and juicy in the inside. That pretty much sums up what Israelis are like - they can appear rather brusque on the outside, but deep down they are very warm and caring.