Israel is such a colorful country that’s full of life and the kindest people. Plus, there’s something for everyone, whether you’re looking for beautiful landscapes and beaches, rich history, amazing food or a diverse culture.
The first time I went to Israel, I went solo and had just two days to explore. (TL;DR I found a $40 flight on Skyscanner from Krakow, Poland while I was traveling there and couldn’t resist). The trip 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.
Israel Travel Guide for Two to Three Days
This Israel travel guide covers an overview of how to travel Israel and see the absolute top sites in just two or three days. It includes Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Masada and the Dead Sea.
I strongly encourage you to brush up on your history before this trip. 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’re only going to do the free walking tour (like I did).
Best Area to Stay in Tel Aviv
If you want to be in the heart of it all—beach, markets, restaurants, nightlife—the best area to stay in Tel Aviv is Jaffa. Book at room at either Isla-Tel Aviv or Abraham Tel Aviv (budget friendly) and you’ll be perfectly positioned to have a killer time. Both hostels are beautiful with tons of activities and a bar.
Also, don’t forget to try malabi (a delicious dessert made of rice flour and milk) while you’re there. It will be easy to find in Jaffa. And if you need a good restaurant, you’ll love Dalida in Florentine. I had the best lamb meatballs of my life there and still think about them regularly.
Arrive in Tel Aviv
Arrive in Tel Aviv airport, go through immigration and head to your accommodations. Spend the rest of your day or evening relaxing and get a great night’s sleep!
Tel Aviv is extremely safe to walk around so don’t be stressed about finding your hotel or hostel. I arrived late at night and walked like a mile to my accommodations in Jaffa from the Ha-Hagana train station and was completely fine. Just have the address plugged into your phone or have a map so you’re prepared before you go.
Travel Israel Day 1: Jerusalem
Plan to wake up early today so you have the entire day to spend in Jerusalem. It’s a city steeped in history, conflict, culture and SO MUCH MORE. You want to have plenty of energy to take it all in and explore.
You’ll be spending your entire day out and about so pack a small daypack or purse with water, headphones, a power bank for charging your phone and a scarf in case you get cold (I love this collapsible daypack or this bag that converts from purse to backpack). Also, be sure to dress appropriately for the religious sites—this means no shorts or sleeveless shirts! If it’s especially hot when you’re traveling, I recommend a comfortable dress or maxi skirt and a chambray shirt you can wear over top for religious sites—I never travel without one!
How Far Is Tel Aviv From Jerusalem?
Tel Aviv is 57 kilometers or 34 miles from the Old City of Jerusalem. The drive from Tel Aviv to Old Town Jerusalem takes approximately one hour
How to Get From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem
You can easily take a bus from the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station or even the train for under $10 each way. If you want to make it really easy on yourself, just book this day tour of Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. If you want to do the New City of Jerusalem as well and stop at the Holocaust Museum, do this tour with both Old and New Jerusalem. Either tour takes you round trip, plus you have a guide for the day!
If you want to see Bethlehem as well, I’d do this day tour that includes Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Onward to the City of Peace (City of Conflict would be a more historically accurate nickname, but I don’t make the rules)!
Old Town Jerusalem
If you book a day tour of Jerusalem, you won’t need the specific information here because your day will be planned out for you! The bonus of having everything planned for you is that you don’t have to stress or figure it out on your own. The drawback is that you won’t have time to roam or explore freely based on what you’re most interested in.
Jerusalem was 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.
Jerusalem Walking Tours
If you travel to Jerusalem on your own, I recommend doing a walking tour of the Old City so you don’t have to find everything on your own and you get all the history behind each site.
Book this Jerusalem Guided Walking Tour in advance or do the Free Walking Tour by Sandeman’s that starts at the Jaffa Gate every day at 10:30 am and 2 pm. I did the free walking tour and I learned a ton. Neither tour includes the Mount of Olives or Jesus’ tomb, so you’ll have to do those on your own (which I highly recommend). Free walking tours are by excellent tour guides and you tip them at the end.
These kinds of tours 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. I recommend taking notes of what you want to see more of for after a tour and remembering where each piece of mind-boggling history is located.
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, find the bus station up the street and take the next bus headed to the Mount of Olives. They run regularly 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 cemetery 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 Gethsemane 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 pick-up point for your return bus or train to Tel Aviv. You should be back in Tel Aviv in time for dinner. If you do have trouble finding the bus or anything, 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!
Travel Israel Day 2: Masada and the Dead Sea
Today is going to be a very long day! You’ll need to bring a small bag with a swimsuit, quick-drying towel, water, camera, sandals or water shoes (to protect you from the sharp rocks in the Dead Sea), and snacks.
This is the Masada and Dead Sea Tour From Tel Aviv that I did and I highly recommend. It’s definitely touristy, but that’s kind of the sacrifice you make when you’re visiting the top tourist sites in a destination. I had an amazing time and learned SO much at Masada.
How to Get From Tel Aviv to Masada and the Dead Sea
The easiest way to get from Tel Aviv to Masada and the Dead Sea is by booking a tour that picks you up from your accommodations and takes you to both. The drive itself is worth the money because you get a glimpse of desert dunes, the Dead Sea and herds 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 experience 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 resilience 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 the Masada and Dead Sea Tour 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 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 Isla-Tel Aviv or Abraham Tel Aviv (which you should!) ask your host or hotel concierge where the party’s at! Tel Aviv is famous for nightlife and you can find just about any scene you could want.
The End of Your Israel Travels
No matter what time you are leaving Israel, get to the airport at least three hours early. Airport security in Israel can be an extremely tedious process and not arriving ridiculously early could cause you to miss your flight (yes, seriously). 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!