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Israel is easily one of the most appealing destinations for backpackers. Few other places in the world can you find culture, history, food, and environmental landscapes on full display with nothing but a passport. And, the fact that Israel lies on the forefronts of divisive politics and religious contention make it all the more intriguing. Given the size of the country (only 263 miles in length), touring the most important sites is well within even the most frugal of budgets. We’ve compiled a guide on the best places to go, stay, and do, as well as some general tips. Enjoy!
Your Go-To Itinerary
Most likely you’ll fly into the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, so it makes sense to start your journey here. Although this is a world-class city with tons of high culture, there are endless things to do that are either free or very cheap. Take a stroll along the Port of Tel Aviv to spot street performers and browse the aisles of farmers markets, explore the art galleries in Old Jaffa, go on a free walking tour, lounge on a beach, and end your day with a meal and a drink on Dizengoff Street — what locals refer to as “the strip.”
Make your way northward up the coast towards Haifa. Netanya is a hidden Mediterranean resort town that makes for a great overnight trip, but feel free to continue onward to Haifa. Haifa is the country’s third largest city and has quickly begun demanding some recognition as a cultural hub of the country. Visit the Bahai Gardens, grab a drink on Masada street, explore the picturesque German colony, and dig through the flea markets to find some undervalued gems. That said, settling on Dado or Bat Galim beaches is definitely worthy of an entire afternoon.
If you’re going out on the town, check out Fattoush where you can sip a drink on the wide stone terrace or head to Libira for Israel’s take on a funky brewery. Some of the city’s best hostels include the Port Inn, and the German Colony Guesthouse.
Nazareth/Sea of Galilee
You don’t have to be religious to appreciate these historical sites. The small peaceful town has lots of history, but the best part is its proximity to the Sea of Galilee. Here, you can tour Roman ruins, stroll the Korazim National Park, do some water sports, and walk the Jesus Trail.
Undoubtedly one of the coolest places to stay in Nazareth is the Fauzi Azar Inn which is housed in a 200-year old mansion in the city center. If you’re feeling a bit outdoorsy and looking to save some money, don’t be afraid to camp under the stars on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. Campsites are equipped with showers, toilets, and electricity, so you won’t really be roughing it.
Take the journey southward from Nazareth to the undisputed heart of the region: Jerusalem. Arguably the most historically important city in the world and a highly disputed holy land, the city of Jerusalem offers tons to see for backpackers. Take in the view of the Old City from the Haas Promenade, walk the Via Dolorosa, hit up the weekly street fair on Emek Refaim, check out the Berber gallery for a peek into the Middle Eastern art scene, and watch some of Jerusalem’s finest jazz musicians trade fours in the German Colony.
Ein Gedi is a desert oasis south of Jerusalem that is definitely worth a stop on your backpacking journey. Be sure to trek around the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve where you can appreciate the canyons, caves, waterfalls and much-needed shady spots. Floating in the Dead Sea is a bucket list item that is pretty close to Ein Gedi and completely free. Founded in 1953, the Kibbutz Ein Gedi is a collective community of old historic buildings where you can spend a night or two.
Israel has an extremely well-developed and efficient network of public transport that makes backpacking pretty easygoing. There are high-quality busses and trains (complete with WiFi and air conditioning) that connect pretty much all of the major destinations. Although the costs can rack up pretty quickly (especially during high tourist seasons), it’s hard to pass up the convenience with plenty of bus stations and intercity buses running every 20 or 30 minutes. For a more thorough rundown on the public bus system, check out Tourist Israel’s site here.
Shuttles, taxis, and domestic flights are also options to get around the country. Shuttles are essentially 15-passenger vans that make more informal stops and take longer but are significantly cheaper. Read more information about train travel in Israel.
What to Eat
One of the best things about traveling in Israel is the delicious culinary scene. Middle Eastern staples are fused with American and European influences to make for some salivating dishes. However, for those on a budget, you should steer clear of the high-end spots. In general, the markets throughout the country are excellent places to score a cheap meal and see some colorful produce. Keep an eye out for the local spots that are frequented by everyday people. Enjoy the street shawarma, falafel, hummus, the Iraqi sabich sandwich and Yemenite meals like chicken soup or ziva.