Israel may look like far away destinaton for most Europeans, and that means expensive, but if you book your trip in the smart way, you will spend 4 nights in Israel with flights included for less than 250€! Wanna know how? Keep reading this guide!
Israel is really an unique country, several religions live together here, and is not extrange to be in a 100% jewish street, just walk some metres from it and not see any sign in hebrew but in arabic, so the contrast is quite heavy. You will see things here that you have probably never seen before, and will stay in your memory forever, Jerusalem and Masada are totally outstanding, and you should mark them as your main sights. The currency in Israel is the Shekel (NIS) and the value is around 4.4 shekel for 1 euro.
This guide is for a short 4-5 days tour, just seeing the major sights like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Dead sea and Masada, but if you have more time, feel free to keep exploring this country: It's high backpacker-friendly.
First of all is the most important money decission: The flight. Flying to Israel can be around 200€ for both ways in a good offer, BUT, thanks to Wizzair amazing offers, you can book the flight for just 60€ both ways, from Budapest, making it a very doable Erasmus trip if you are in the area. Stay tuned to Wizzair page, look for -20% discount days and become Wizzair discount club for even better prices, and check the flights oftenly, many people is doing it so it's not a myth.
From Ben Gurion airport you can get to Tel Aviv city centre in just 10 minutes by a train which goes every half an hour for 16 shekels, also you can go to Jerusalem by Sherut, a big taxi van which just goes when is totally full (sometimes you wait 30 min before going), but the price really worths it since is door to door and is 41 shekels during the day and 69 in the night, not bad for an hour ride.
So, what to see there? Jerusalem is the main and must thing to see in Israel, there is really not a single city in this planet that you can compare to Jerusalem, sharing some of the holiest places for 3 religions: Western Wall for Jewish, Christ Tomb and Cross remains for Christians and Al-Aqsa mosque for Muslims. From Jerusalem you can easily go to the Dead sea and desert with public transport (Egged bus lines), so you should keep one day for seeing Masada (a huge ruin complex in the top of a lonely mountain close to the Dead sea) and swiming in the Dead sea. Finally, it's good to finish your time in Israel in Tel-Aviv, since it has amazing beaches and incredible weather (we were 30º on 7 of March 2015), it has less things to see, so you can go in a more relaxed way and use your time for eating and buying things in the big amount of flea markets that Tel-Aviv has.
Many people is worried about security in this country, and you should read a little bit in advance not to be surprised. Jerusalem is crowded with IDF soldiers with guns who provide security to all the tourist, also police is heavily armed, so you are kind of safe against most terrorist attacks. A lot of people hich-hike on their own, but you should really check the person in which car you are getting in. About pickpocketing, is like any turistical place, just be smart and don't leave your belongings unattended, specially in Tel-Aviv beach. When you get into the country, you will be asked basic questions about your stay, but it's when you are leaving when you will have to spend more time answering questions and checking literally every item and piece of cloth you are carrying with you. If you don't go close to Gaza, there is no risk of beign hit by a missile, and even so, the Iron Dome takes care of most threats, so don't expect to have problem with that. Just as example of safety: When I was in Jerusalem on 6 of March, there was a terrorist attack with 7 injured, but everything in the city seemed so normal, I just realized in the night when I checked internet, so there was no crazy passport checks or anything like that.
Another concern is Sabbath, during late Friday and Saturday, all jewish go home, and by doing so, the public transport stop working and most places are closed, still, you can move between cities by sherut, for example Jerusalem-Tel Aviv is 35 NIS during Sabbath.
Jerusalem is one of the most unique cities I have ever been in, the Old Jerusalem is so big inside that you will get lost many times in it, and the fact that 3 major religions consider this city one of the holiest places on the planet makes it even better. You can actually see the major sights without spending a single shekel, so you will just spend money on food. Get in your mind that you will get lost, the sights are poorly indicated once you are inside, even if you have a map, because streets are very narrow and 70% of the city is a constant bazar and market, which makes it even harder, but don't worry, simply ask, most people know english and will point you to your destination. Since writing a route is pointless (again, you will get lost, I mean it), I will write about the places you should not miss inside the Old City:
Outside the Old City is the Mount of Olives, a must-go place, in the lower part there is the tomb of Mary, a very old cave-church where the Jesus mother remains rest. By going up the mountain you will see the huge jewish cementery, Oscar Schindler (from the Spielberg's movie) is buried here in a special part for honorable people for Jewish). In the top there is a viewing point where you can see all the city, and there is also a friendly Arab with a donkey or a camel who will let you take a picture for some money.
But Jerusalem is not just old stones, the new part, around Jaffa Street (the one with the tram) is totally different, and is where most young people hang out, if you are in Jerusalem more than 1 day you should go to Mahame Yehuda market, another huge place with food and bars. If you want to have cheap beers, you should go to Cofix, where everything is 5 shekel. For food I recomend to go to the falafel and showarma places pointed in the map, it's really not a tourist scam but the best option to eat (something good, since most other cities maps point tourist rip-off places).
For sleeping, I reccomend Citadel Hostel, in the very entrance of the Old City.
Masada and Dead sea
You should definitely spend one day of your trip to travel in the Dead sea region, very close to Jerusalem is Jericho, Qumran, Dead sea beaches and Masada, but if you don't have a car you will be able to choose just two of this destinations, and the best by far are Masada and the Dead sea beaches. For this day, I recommend you to save a lot of money by buying sandwich food (cheese, ham, salami) in the supermarket (even in your home country, and keep it in the fridge in your hostel) and buy pita bread (less than 1 NIS per piece) and eat them, doing so, you will avoid falling into traps in the middle of the desert, and also... buy water!
DO NOT BOOK ANY TOUR, MOST OF THEM ARE OBVIOUS SCAM AND WON'T INCLUDE TICKETS TO SIGHTS AND TAKE YOU TO PRIVATE BEACHES (WHERE YOU WILL NEED TO PAY AGAIN)
A normal budget for this day should be from 25 to 40 euro (worth it)
From Jerusalem central bus station there are buses to this part every 30 min-1h, with national lines (Egged buses), price is 44 NIS till Masada for one way, and similar to go back (so it's like 20€ on transport). Pay attention to the timetables since at 17:00 is the last bus back to Jerusalem, so wake up in the early morning this day.
Masada is a very old ruin complex in the top of a lonely mountain, where still a lot of things remain and you can get a good idea of how the place looked like. There are two options to go up, by cable car (75 NIS) or by the "Snake Path", a normal hiking route which will take you about 50 minutes, and is 25 NIS this way. There is student discount if you show your country ISIC card, it doesnt need to be from Israel. In the cable car building there are several restaurants and a McDonalds, so you can buy something if you are hungry. After you finish your visit and while you wait for the bus, you can walk just 100m from the road to get very nice pictures of the desert.
For swimming in the Dead sea there are several options, from luxury spa resorts, private beaches to public beaches (the one you should go). The best beaches are Ein Bokek and Ein Gedi, Ein Bokek is one of the most famous in the area (and it has showers!), but is past Masada (Eliat direction) so you will need to swim before going to Masada if you go by bus, the other option is Ein Gedi, in the way back to Jerusalem, but during March 2015 is under construction, so the beach is full of construction signs, but after all, you come here for the swimming so choose this one if your time is running out.
Before you swim in the Dead sea read this: To get into water, walk into it and once is close to your hip, turn and literally sit on it, your hair and head will not touch the water. And the most important advice: DO NOT PUT YOUR HEAD UNDERWATER, if you don't want to have the worst 15 minutes of your life. After you swim, you will feel so sticky, in fact it doesnt feel like swimming in water but in oil, and everything you touch will be like full of shampoo or shower gel, so run for the shower or have some water with you, a last resource could be wet tissues, but really, get clean fast because the feeling is disgusting.
Tel Aviv is the capital city, but if you expected a European-like capital, you will be surprised, except some parts, doesn't look European at all, in fact most streets look like small sea side Greek town ones, and it's quite dirty once you lave main touristical areas (let's face it). But what makes this city amazing is the cool sea side front, where the skyscrapers are and the incredible beaches, crowded from March till November, since the temperature is above 30º during all those months. This city also has an old part, called Jaffa, where a big flea market is, full of things like clothes, antiques, souvenirs... You should not miss the markets of this city, there are some for spices, art, food... just ask your hotel/hostel staff where are located. There is a cool touristical area around the Station Complex, not cheap but cool to see and have an ice cream in the afternoon. You will also realize that this city is full of street art, just like some areas of Berlin, and that it is quite a hipster paradise.
There are many places for eat, but according to my friends (one of them beign vegetarian, so she knows quite a lot about this) and me, the best hummus we ever tried is in Abu Hasan, a small restaurant located in 1 Ha' Dolfin street, they will serve you any kind of hummus you want with pita, so be ready to be totaly full after it, but you will see how it worth the 6 euro (with drinks included) you will spend there, maybe you need to wait a little bit because have some queue sometimes.Also, after a relaxing day in the beach, having a shisha is great, at the end of Jerusalem Boulevard (where it opens to the park in the sea side) there is a shisha bar, the shishas there are 25 NIS for basic and 35 for the big ones (they include a fruit where the coal is placed), seeing sunset from there is quite a experience.
I should reccomend you some places to sleep, but I can just tell you to go to a single one: Overstay Hostel, it's the best hostel I ever was, it's very cheap (prices from less than 10 euro) and the atmosphere is very unique. Don't be afraid by the outside (looks like a favela with graffiti), once you go inside the facilities are top, all clean and working nice, and it even has free breakfast! The staff is also outstanding, they are not just working but enjoying all the time and the best of all of it is the rooftop, another great place to have a beer during the sunset. To book it, you can do it throught traditional pages, BUT, I highly advice to book directly throught them! They will make you a 5% discount if you do so, since Hostelworld and similar pages keep 8% of your booking money for them, they answer the mails quite fast so, please, book direct.
As I said, this is more or less what I did, but if you want to stay more time, the options are endless! Israel can be an amazing trip while you are on Erasmus!
In this section you will find all you need to become a little expert in the guide place, without expending a lot!