How to Visit Israel on a Budget
Israel is renowned worldwide for its natural beauty and historical importance. Over 3 million tourists visited Israel last year and year on year numbers are rising.
If you are keen to experience Israel for yourself, whether travelling solo, with a partner, friends or your family, you need to know this isn't the cheapest destination in the world. Prices for getting there, accommodation, sightseeing and eating out can easily eat up your budget.
But the good news is there are lots of ways you can travel in Israel without spending a fortune and there are lots of free and low cost things to do in cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Check out our simple tips which will help you to travel cheaply in Israel and start planning a dream break today.
1. Travel Out of Season
Summer is one of the most popular times of year to visit Israel, tourists flock here inbetween June and September.
Due to the amount of tourists visiting during this period prices are at a premium. If possible, try to avoid visiting during summer and consider a different time of year which will be more friendly to your wallet.
Spring (April and May) and autumn (September and October) are highly recommend when temperatures are more pleasant and also prices are cheaper.
2. Work Out a Budget
How long are you planning to visit for? How much money do you have available to spend? If you work this out you can generally try to budget per day for how much you can spend. To have an idea of how much money you have every day will help you to plan and keep to a budget.
3. Change Money Before Departing
Changing money at airports is never a good idea, and neither is withdrawing money from ATM's on arrival. You will get much worse rates than exchanging in advance and sometimes also be charged a fee. There are though lots of places to exchange money in cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem which do offer favorable rates. In Israel the local currency is the new shekel, £1 is currently around 4.5 ILS.
4. Getting to Israel
The majority of international tourists arrive into Israel by plane arriving at Ben Gurion Airport which is about 45 km northwest of Jerusalem and 20 km to the southeast of Tel Aviv. This is Israel’s main airport and there are flights here from north America, Europe and other destinations around the world.
You can get direct flights to Israel from the USA, Canada and Europe. If you plan to visit Israel from either the USA or Canada you might want to break the journey up with a stop off in Europe, this usually makes fares cheaper.
From Europe, you can catch flights from a lot of cities and in recent years several low cost airlines have started providing flights including Easyjet.
You might also want to search for flights into Ramon International Airport which has some good fare options.
To get the best deals book well in-advance of your departure date and use a comparison website like Skyscanner.
5. How to Get From Ben Gurion Airport
Ben Gurion Airport, is the main international airport of Israel and where most international visitors arrive into the country. This is the busiest airport in the country, located on the northern outskirts of the city of Lod, which is about 45 km northwest of Jerusalem and 20 km to the southeast of Tel Aviv. From Ben Gurion Airport to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, there are three main ways to travel.
Ben Gurion Airport to Tel Aviv
The distance between Ben Gurion Airport and Tel Aviv is 19 km so not that far. The cheapest way to travel is by bus and costs around £5. You can also book the train or take a taxi which is more expensive at around £50.
Ben Gurion Airport to Jerusalem
The cheapest way to get to Jerusalem from Ben Gurion is to take the shuttle bus (number 485) which costs £4 and takes approximately 1 hour. A taxi costs around £70 and takes around 50 minutes. You can also take the train for around £5 but sometimes this can take longer than the bus due to having to change. We recommend the shuttle as it is reliable and leaves every hour from both the airport and city centre 24 hours a day, 6 days a week (excluding Shabbat).
6. Getting Around
Depending on where you are going the cheapest way to get around the main destinations in Israel is by public transport. Israel has a great modern public transport system and you can use buses, trains, sheruts, bikes.
Here are the best ways to get around:
In cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv the cheapest way to get around is walking! You will get to see lots of places and save money. These cities are also a lot smaller than than most cities in Europe and the U.S., so walking around is fairly easy.
Hitchhiking isn't really recommended but it is popular with budget backpackers looking to get around the country cheaply.
In cities like Tel Aviv one of the cheapest ways to get around is by bike. Tel Aviv is quite a big city and so using a bike is a great option to see the sights. The city has lots of green bicycles where you need to registrater with your credit card and pay an amount which depends on the days you will rent it. Prices are very cheap and there are over 150 stations scattered through the city.
Buses & Sheruts
There is a reliable, quick and cheap bus service connecting towns and cities throughout Israel.
If you are keen to visit places outside of the cities like Nazareth, the Negev Desert, the Judaean Desert, Mitzpe Ramon or the Golan Heights then your only option is to book a bus.
Getting around a city like Tel Aviv costs aroind £1 whilst the bus journey from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv is around £5 (16 shekels).
Sheruts are large 10-seater minivans that operate on popular routes throughout Israel. Advantages include being able to stop where you want and not just at the main bus stops.
Booking a train can be a quick way to get to and from popular destinations like Tel Aviv, Haifa, Be’er Sheva and Jerusalem. Prices are slightly more than buses but still affordable.
Taxis are a quick way to get around but they are also the most expensive. A lot of travellers have also complained that some taxi drivers are quite rude and charge more than they should so be aware of this and always find out rough costs in advance.
There are lots of options when it comes to places to stay including hotels, hostels, guesthouses, hoemstays and AirBnB.
Hotels in Israel tend to vary in price. The first thing you should do is start searching as soon as possible well in advance of your arrival date. Prices are generally cheaper the earlier you look. You should also also use a comparison website like booking.com where you can quickly find accommodation and compare prices.
You’ll be looking at between $40 and $100 a night, for a budget to average hotel. Even though these are the cheaper hotels, you’ll find that the standards provided are quite high. Throughout the year there are also special offers, which are very popular among Israeli hotels.
In Tel Aviv look for accommodation close to the beach, as that’s probably where you’ll spend most of the time, avoiding the hot Israeli sun. It’s also often a good idea to pick a hotel in Jerusalem near the historical sites, so you can experience the rich history easier on foot rather than having to pay for transport.
If you are a budget backpacker you might want to consider staying in a hostel which is a lot cheaper than hotels. Prices for a bed in a dorm are very good value compared to private rooms meaning your budget will stretch further. To find good backpacker hotels in Israel and search prices visit HostelWorld.
Alternative Budget Options
AirBnB and renting your own private accommodation is a great option if you will be travelling with other people as the cost you will pay will be generally cheaper than your average hotel room.
Something else you might not have considered is using a website like Couchsurfing or Hospitality Club. Both websites offer the chance to connect to local people living in Israel who let you stay with them for free. If you are lucky and get a good host they will also provide food and show you the local sights.
8. Book Tours
Travelling independently usually is cheaper than booking organised experiences, but this really depends on how long you plan on visiting for. There are lots of organised group tours available to book which although might seem quite expensive, they can work out good value.
For example, the price usually includes accommodation and some meals and you will be taken to see the best places in Israel with an experienced guide. There are also lots of free walking tours in popular destinations like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Eating out everyday can be expensive but you can keep costs down by shopping at local markets, making your own food, avoid eating at restaurants everyday and go off the main tourist hotspots to get better value for money.
Falafel and hummus are to Israel what pretzels and hotdogs are to America and pasties and sandwiches to England. They are available everywhere, eaten by everyone from construction workers to business-people, and are incredibly affordable costing as little as NIS 10 in some areas.
It’s amazing value and you can be pretty certain that it’ll taste good. Because Israel is such a melting pot of cultures, there are other popular street foods which are available everywhere including Bourekas (fine pastry filled with different fillings), Schnitzel, and Shwarama.
In Jerusalem, be sure to visit the Machane Yehuda Market and in Tel Aviv check out Carmel Market. Here you can find hundreds of stalls selling food and snacks at really affordable prices. Some things are also up for negotiation so get ready to haggle.
10. Phones & Internet
Most hotels, hostels and cafes have free WIFI and even in a lot of public areas there is also free access. If you plan to travel outside of the cities you might want to consider buying a local sim card so you can use maps and the internet whilst on the move. Several local companies offer affordable packages.
11. Free / Low Cost Things to Do in Israel
Israel has some of the most famous and iconic religious and tourist sights in the world but there are countless places to see in Israel without spending anything. If you stay centrally in most cities, towns and villages you can access most popular tourist sites on foot saving you money on public transport.
Some places are totally free to visit too, including the stunning Haifa Gardens as seen in the image above. Other options include city sightseeing or just heading to one of the many gorgeous beaches in Israel which is a great way to spend time and doesn't cost anything.
Another tip is that although Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are two of the most well known destinations, these are also two of the most expensive places to visit in the country and so you might want to limit you time here and venture out to see more areas of the country where you get better value for money.
If you are keen to take in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv the following articles will help to give you ideas for things to do cheaply.
13. Free Things to Do in Jerusalem
Jerusalem offers something for everyone - holy sites, culture, food and so many activities.
There are some of the best places to see in the Middle East here, these are some things you can do for free / low cost:
- Explore the Old City
- Visit the Machane Yehuda Market
- Walk the Haas-Sherover-Goldman promenades
- Visit a park - Wohl Rose Park, Teddy Park and Liberty Bell Park are great
- See exotic birds at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory
- Walk down Emek Refaim Street
- Take a free guided tour of Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) or the Supreme Court of Israel
- Pause for thought at Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the millions of people murdered in the Holocaust
- Explore the Ein Karem neighborhood
- Visit the Nachlaot neighborhood
- Get a photo of the 18 meter high impressive Montefiore Windmill
- Take in the atmosphere at the Old Train Station
- Join a free guided tour of Brigham Young Mormon University
- Book a free city walking tours
- Enjoy wandering around the Bezalel Street Fair
11. Free Things to Do in Tel Aviv
There are so many reasons why you should visit Tel Aviv, this city is really interesting and vibrant. Although prices are on the high side there are still lots of activities and things you can do without spending anything. Recommendations include:
- Explore the Port of Tel Aviv and the Port of Jaffa
- Wander around Old Jaffa
- Book a free walking tour of Tel Aviv
- Visit the Ben-Gurion House museum
- Head to the beach - banana beach, frishman beach, and gordon beach are all fantastic - swim, relax or sunbathe.
- Explore the Nahalat Binyamin Arts and Crafts Market
- Visit Carmel Market - a great place for cheap fruit and vegetables (a lot cheaper than most supermarkets)
- Hang out on the vibrant and trendy Dizengoff Street
- Walk down Shenkin Street, full of local cafes and shops
- People watch Tel Aviv-Yafo promenade
- Relax in Hayarkon Park
- Sit and enjoy the atmosphere in Habima Square
- Explore the Neve Tzedek neighborhood
- Take interest in the Bauhaus architecture which can be found everywhere in Tel Aviv
Hopefully our tips will help you to enjoy a cheap visit to Israel. Have you got any recommendations for travelling in Israel on a budget? Or any tips for free / low cost things to do? Let us know in the comments section below.