My Israel Story
You may be wondering, “Why were you only in Israel for 48 hours?”
The answer is it was cheap, convenient, and I’ve ALWAYS WANTED TO GO. Forty-eight hours was certainly not ideal, but when it comes to travel and life experiences, I take what I can get.
I had 17 days plotted out to backpack Europe. My fourth stop was Krakow, Poland. The plan was to head to Budapest for three days, on the way to Munich, my last stop. When I was looking for transportation to Budapest, everything was coming up really expensive for my budget, even though it’s only a hop away from Krakow. I decided to try SkyScanner since Momondo wasn’t giving the results I wanted. This is the moment I discovered SkyScanner’s “Search Everywhere” feature. I typed in Krakow, Poland thinking maybe cheap Budapest flights would come up, and lo and behold, a $40 direct flight to Tel Aviv was top of the list.
My first thought was, “Oh, I can’t do that,” not because I feel that I’m not capable, but because I was like “NO WAY I’M GONNA GET TO GO TO FREAKING ISRAEL THIS TRIP.” So I called my mom like I normally do about these things. She is usually extremely wary about me traveling alone (even though the alternative often ends up less than ideal). I told her I saw a super cheap flight to Israel and was thinking about going and she did not react how I expected. I expected her to be like “TAra, there’s no way you can go to Israel alone. I’m not okay with that,” (capital A to emphasive my mom’s pronunciation of my name with her northern accent). However, she said, “Oh wow honey, I would love for you to experience Israel. I think you should book it.” Done! You got it mama! And that’s how I ended up going to Israel.
My experience in Israel was nothing short of amazing. Whether I was walking across Tel Aviv at night to get to my hostel or venturing around Jerusalem for a day, there was not a single time I felt unsafe. Every Israeli I encountered or asked for directions was helpful and kind.
Why You Must Visit Israel
If you have the opportunity to see Israel for only a short amount of time, do it! It’s such a magical place that just a taste is worth it if you are already in the region and have time to spare.
This post is a brief overview of what you can do in Israel in two days. There are hundreds of historic sights and places to see and in this post I only covered what I did. I strongly encourage you to brush up on your history before this trip as it makes everything WAY more interesting when you are actually standing there. In addition, make sure you plan what you want to see in Jerusalem if you are only going to do the free walking tour like I did. Technically I had more than 48 hours in Israel, so I wrote this post with the idea that travelers have a full 48 hours in Israel, not including their arrival and departure.
Israel is such a colorful country that is full of life and the kindest people. L’chaim!
Arrive in Tel Aviv
Arrive in Tel Aviv airport and once you get through immigration buy a train ticket to Ha-Hagana (you can take a bus to the central bus station which I have heard is easier but the train was pretty easy for me). Once you make it to Tel Aviv Central Bus Station (either by bus or from walking from the Ha-Hagana train stop) walk straight down Shalma Road to Florentine Backpackers Hostel. Have the address plugged into your phone or have a map prepared before you go. It’s really easy to find and totally safe to walk around Tel Aviv. Once you arrive, check in, grab a beer and make friends with all the awesome travelers on the rooftop patio.
Now if you’re smart, you’ll go to sleep and get much needed rest for the day ahead. Or, if you’re extremely social, you’ll make friends with two German girls, have the best lamb meatballs of your life at Dalida Restaurant and end up not getting to bed until 3 am. Either way. 🙂
Day 1 in Israel: Jerusalem
Let me just say that Jerusalem is exactly like I expected and nothing like I expected at the same time. To me, it looked just like the movies but felt way more important, if that makes sense. Plus, it was way more multicultural than I expected (what did I expect?). There are Muslims, Jews, Christians, Catholics, Armenians, and I am sure everything in between, peacefully living and working together. It’s a place where you don’t just see how beautiful and special it is, you feel it, too.
Old Town Jerusalem
Wake up by 7 am and have a big breakfast, unless you plan on eating in Jerusalem. Pack a daypack with water, headphones, a powerbank for charging your phone and a scarf in case you get cold. Walk to the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. Once you arrive, walk around the back of the building where you will find little yellow buses/shuttles. Ask around until you find one going to Jerusalem (most of them) and pay the 26 shekels or so to make your way to the City of Peace (City of Conflict would be a more historically accurate nickname, but I don’t make the rules).
Once you arrive in Jerusalem, make your way to the Jaffa Gate for the Free Walking Tour by Sandeman’s, held every day at 11 am and 2 pm. You have the opportunity to do more extensive paid tours with them, which I recommend booking in advance since time is limited. If you are looking for a tour of the city’s major landmarks so you can go back and explore what you like after, this is the tour for you. Take notes of where you want to go after the tour and try to remember where each piece of mindboggling history is located. It’s important to know that this kind of tour will just give you a taste of everything. If you have your heart set on touching the Western Wall or seeing the sites up close and personal, book ahead and plan accordingly.
The Garden Tomb and Mount of Olives
Once you’ve had ample time to explore Jerusalem post-tour and eat lunch, cross the road at the Damascus Gate and walk to the Garden Tomb. If you just walk along the rode in between the little strip of vendors and the beginning of the bus station you will find it. It’s closed on Mondays so don’t be like me and plan your one day in Jerusalem on a Monday. After the Garden Tomb ask around and find the bus station up the street and take the next bus headed to the Mount of Olives. They are consistently leaving so I wouldn’t stress if you miss one or it takes time to find the bus station.
Once the bus takes you to the top of the mountain ask your driver to point you in the direction of the Chapel of the Ascension. Many believe that this is the point Jesus ascended to heaven from and there is a stone with his footprint in it to this day. You will have to take a look for yourself. I personally felt there wasn’t much to this little chapel, but when in Jerusalem, see all the things!
Once you leave the chapel walk out to your left towards the edge of the mountain until you see a big cemetary on the cliff and eventually a staircase facing Jerusalem. The walk down this staircase is beautiful and has SO MANY picture-perfect spots of Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock. The pathway will take you past multiple olive orchards, chapels and eventually the Garden of Gethsemani and the Tomb of Mary. You can walk all the way back into Old Town Jerusalem from here if you just persist to the Lions’ Gate.
By this time it’ll likely be getting dark and you should make your way to the parking lot across the street from the Damascus Gate. There is a ton of trash in it and buses coming and going. I simply walked around to the smaller buses (similar to the yellow bus you took to Jerusalem) and asked who was going to Tel Aviv. You should find one with no problem and be back in Tel Aviv in time for dinner. If you do have trouble ask for help—the locals are very friendly and helpful.
When you get back to Tel Aviv have dinner and enjoy the nightlife. Just make sure you rest up for tomorrow morning because it’s a full day. Also, do not shave! The Dead Sea will burn like crazy!
Day 2: Masada and the Dead Sea
Before your trip, book the Masada and Dead Sea tour with Bein Harim tours. You can book through the Florentine Hostel website and the tour will pick you up at the hostel (or wherever you stay) between 7-8 am. Pack a little day pack with a swimsuit, towel, water bottle, camera, water shoes (to protect you from the sharp rocks in the Dead Sea), sunglasses and snacks. The drive itself is worth the money as you will get a glimpse of desert dunes, the Dead Sea and a herd of camels if you’re lucky!
First you will head to Masada: a city of royalty, survival and eventually, mass suicide! Built by Herod the Great between 31 and 37 B.C., this cliff-top city is incredibly well preserved, even down to the tile designs on the ground. The whole site has black lines along the walls separating what is original from what has been restored. Parts of Herod’s Palace are still standing today, like original painting on the walls, the bathhouse and the three level palace on the edge of the cliff.
The whole experiece of Masada is surreal because you are 1,300 feet high on top of a cliff looking at structures made thousands of years ago…and they are STILL beautiful. Your tour guide will be able to fill you in on the enthralling story of struggle and resilence of the inhabitants of Masada during an attack by the Romans—whose camp grounds you can still see from Masada today. There are pretty little birds chirping everywhere and you feel on top of the world, literally. After Masada you will have lunch and drive to the Dead Sea!
The Dead Sea
The beach on the Dead Sea that Bein Harim tours takes you to is touristy, but still beautiful. There’s a locker room for changing and just about everything you could need for purchase in the shops if you forget something.
Once you get down to the sea, leave your towel behind and prepare to feel weightless. You can cover your whole body in the healing mud of the Dead Sea or swim around—just be careful not to put your head underwater. You will see people there going under, but after the tiniest taste of the water, you’ll realize why it’s not advised. Lay back, relax and enjoy the beautiful view of Jordan across the sea.
The Bein Harim tour should get you back to Tel Aviv just in time for dinner. Since it’s your last night in Israel, live it up! If you’re not staying at Florentine Backpackers Hostel (which you really should) ask your host where the party’s at! Tel Aviv is famous for nightlife and you can find just about any scene you could want.
No matter what time you are leaving Israel, get to the airport at least three hours early. Leaving Israel is an extremely tedious process and not arriving ridiculously early could cause you to miss yout flight. I personally wish I was more mentally prepared for my departure. Everything went smoothly and all airport staff were very kind, but they went through every single thing in my bag and every other person’s in line. As long as you are patient and know the process will take a little while, you’ll be fine.
I sincerely had the trip of a lifetime in Israel, I hope you do too!