Please sign in to post.

Jerusalem, anyone?

My wife and I are considering a 7-10 day trip to Jerusalem in the next year. We are pretty experienced and fit travelers, having vacationed in much of Europe in cities large and small, walked 125 km of the Camino de Santiago two years ago, and lived abroad as students (Spain, Cyprus, and Pakistan) in the distant past. We've always made our own transportation and lodging arrangements, and planned our own itineraries using RS and other guidebooks, TripAdvisor, and this invaluable forum. Four years ago we planned our own 8-day trip to Istanbul with an overnight visit to Edirne and it came off very well. So we're wondering if we're up to the challenge of Jerusalem.

I'd frankly be more confident about doing this one on our own, too, if Rick had a guidebook on the city or country. Not that there aren't lots of other excellent ones available, we just have a good feel for the type of accommodations, dining, sites, and experiences he recommends and how they relate to our own budget, preferences, and prejudices. I know he's visited Israel and saw his thoughtful TV program about it; it reinforced the notion this is a doable vacation destination.

In the absence of an RS book or tour, we'd much appreciate any input from this forum. Is this an unwise time to go to Israel? (As a gauge of our risk tolerance, I don't think I'd venture Istanbul again right now.) Is a group tour or at least a reliable local guide essential? (It would be our first tour, but discretion may be the better part of valor in this case.) What side/day trips are realistic (with primary focus being Jerusalem)? What guidebooks are there with a close-to-Rick sort of approach to this city?

It's such a compelling sounding destination. Thanks for any advice you're willing to share.

Posted by
7834 posts

Jerusalem and Israel are wonderful places to visit. There is so much history in that small country.

There are some risks in going there, but try to be alert and it is probably best to determine what security is available when you go to the West Bank, even Bethlehem.

Posted by
487 posts

Jerusalem and Israel are a great place to visit and they have great security, there is no reason not to visit in regards to safety. Anything you hear on the news is not focused on tourists, they want you to visit! My husband and I went on a group tour because it was offered through our church but my sister and her husband went independently and either way is a good option.

It gets really hot during the summer so if you can plan your trip away from those months, the spring, fall and winter seasons will be more pleasant. If you want to spend time in the area around the sea of Galilee, you will need to drive and plan an overnight as that area is too far away and too much to see as a day trip. You can go the dead sea as a day trip and Bethlehem as well. Not a day trip, but Jordan is an interesting country also with some great sites such as Petra.

The TripAdvisor forum for Israel is really active and is a great place to visit for more information.

Posted by
18 posts

Geovagriffith and JenC, thanks for your replies. It's encouraging to hear that independent travel there is a viable option. As with any destination, it sounds like preparation, alertness, and flexibility count for a lot.

Posted by
15568 posts

Go to Jerusalem. You will find lots to do and see.

Israel is not a big country. About the size of New Jersey. So don't just limit yourself to Jerusalem.

I took a couple of one day tours through Rent-A-Guide and they were very good. One was a walking tour of the old city and the another was a day trip to Masada and the Dead Sea. They were small group tours and they offer many others.

As stated, Israel gets hot in the summer. I was at Masada in early June of last year and it was 104 degrees. Jerusalem was in the 90's. I'm going back but probably in November when it is cooler.

I felt very safe while there. I dealt with both Israeli's and Arabs, albeit all who work in the tourist industry, and all wanted me to feel safe and have a good time. They make their living from tourists and the last thing they want is for tourists not to visit.

Posted by
18 posts

Frank II and Kaeleku, thank you for your suggestions. I figured Israel isn't an ideal summer vacation spot, but any sunshine is welcome to a Midwesterner. If traveling outside of Jerusalem, is car rental preferable? Or will bus service work? We've always shied away from driving ourselves, and happily relied instead on bus drivers who know the roads, allowing us to read and snooze and gaze out at the countryside.

Posted by
15568 posts

Israel has both buses and trains. I took the train between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Pretty trip through the hills. (Warning the cab drivers at Jerusalem train station are shysters. Agree on a price beforehand.)

Be prepared for security everywhere. The train stations have airport like security with metal detectors and bag checks. However, when they saw me and I showed them my passport they waved me through. (They profile in Israel so I guess a middle aged American isn't someone they are concerned about.)

The buses in Jerusalem go everywhere and the drivers make change. There is also an efficient tram in the city.

Posted by
487 posts

I think the general consensus was that it was easier to drive in the Galilee/Tiberias and Golan Heights areas because the bus schedule was not setup for tourists. You will not be able to drive into areas under Palestinian control such as the West Bank or Bethlehem due to the insurance requirements on the rental cars. There are tours that can take you into these areas or I think you can take an Arab bus from Jerusalem. My sister did a tour of the West Bank with Green Olive Tours that picked them up at the Jerusalem YMCA and took them to the religious and non-religious sites in the West Bank and they recommend the tour. Note that many tours of this area can be politically motivated. My understanding is this tour was focused on the Palestinian perspective but fact-based and they learned a lot with out feeling uncomfortable.

If you do decided to add time and go to Jordan, a rental car is not allowed to cross that border either. Due to the time required to cross, it would be recommended that you fly into one country and out of the other. The trip advisor forum has frequent discussions on the logistics of crossing the border.

Don't forget about the Sabbath! On those days public transportation and restaurants can be very limited or non-existent in certain areas.

Posted by
10 posts

My sister and I (at the time, a combined age of 122) went to Israel in October 2015. We LOVED it! I had been before but not for more than 20 years and my sister had never been. We walked all over Jerusalem and the Old City and stayed at a beautiful hotel in E. Jerusalem just a quarter mile from the Damascus Gate. We never felt unsafe or scared. There was a big security presence around the Old City, but it just becomes a part of the background after a while. Although my sister did get her phone stolen outside the Garden Tomb, which was inconvenient. Having said that, we also LOVED the Garden Tomb, a cool, calm oasis in the E. Jerusalem bustle. Simply beautiful.

Car rental -- You don't need one in Jerusalem, as others have said. We took a cab to Bethlehem, about 12 m. away. The cabbie hooked us up with a guide, which was invaluable, and waited to take us back a couple hours later. (They want and need tourists!)
We rented a car in Jerusalem (reasonably priced) on the last day there and drove to Haifa, a gorgeous city in the Mediterranean. I'll admit that driving in Haifa (very hilly, like San Francisco or Lisbon) was a bit challenging. We took a long day trip to the Galilee, about 2 hours away. You will definitely want a car there. The Sea of Galilee is beautiful, the roads are easy to follow, and well-signed, and the sights are plentiful. You can walk around Tiberias and get a bite to eat. We just followed all the Christian tour buses from countries all Christendom -- we heard German, Spanish, Polish, French, you name it, as people piled out to see the New Testament sights. We aren't religious but we loved dipping our toes in the lovely Sea of Galilee.

On last note on the climate: When we went in October, Jerusalem was very nice, sunny and dry. Haifa was noticeably cooler, and you needed a light wrap at night, and the Galilee was very warm (low elevation, lots of sun). Summer will be hot, but pack for many temperatures because the dry air cools off a lot at night.

Posted by
18 posts

You are all so forthcoming with advice. Thank you very much. I think I've been persuaded that Israel is a safe place for two people (whose combined age also just happens to be 122 years, marchand) to visit under their own steam. I may come back to the forum as planning advances, but for now, I really appreciate your kind responses.

Posted by
15648 posts

Hi. I'm headed to Jerusalem myself in another hour. But then, I go every week at least once. Last week, it was 3 times.

English is spoken everywhere, usually pretty fluently. One of the things that surprised me about Istanbul was how few people, even merchants, spoke any English. It's quite safe here with normal precautions. There are parts of Jerusalem that I would only go to in daylight, a few that I would avoid completely - but that's no different than when I visit Chicago or Paris.

There are good guide books (though I don't know them). There are lots of on-line resources. One of the best is the Israel forum on tripadvisor.com. There are very reliable local guides, many whose native language is English, others that you'd swear grew up in the U.S. They can enhance just about any place, but they are not at all necessary. Many sights have audio guides in English, I can't think of any sight that doesn't have full written explanations in English.

The most difficult piece of planning a trip in Israel is timing. Holidays should be avoided - it's always high season during them, most sights either close or have very limited hours, most locals are on vacation and swamp the ones that are open, and much public transportation is curtailed. The holidays are on a lunar calendar, so the dates vary from year to year. This includes the weekly sabbath - Shabbat - from Friday afternoon till Saturday night. Then there's the summer heat.

The best day trip from Jerusalem is to the Dead Sea with a rental car or by bus. Even better is to stay overnight. It's an hour or so by bus or shared taxi to Tel Aviv, well worth a day to see this modern city and enjoy its miles of beaches and trendy bars and cafes.

Or spend 3 nights in Tel Aviv and day trip to Haifa, Akko, and/or Caesarea. Or rent a car and spend 2-3 nights on the Sea of Galilee.

If it makes you feel any safer, tourists have never been a target of terrorists here, and violent crime is rare. The main dangers are pickpockets (not nearly as bad as other places) and overpriced souvenirs.

Posted by
2 posts

Like you, goodch713, my husband and I love Rick Steves-style trips that we do on our own with the help of his excellent guidebooks. But of course he doesn't offer any in the Middle East. That said, after his Holy Land special that you mention above, Rick posted a blog listing several tour companies for his fans to consider.

One of the tour groups -- Meet the Middle East -- sounded the best to my husband and me. Last night we attended their free info meeting and now we plan to travel with them. Their next trip is scheduled for November 1-9 (Palestine, Israel and Jordan) with an optional Egypt excursion from November 9-15.

My husband and I have never gone on a tour before because we value our independence, but we were impressed with MTME and have decided we want the security and insider tips that will come with a tour with local guides. Good luck with your decision-making!

MeetTheMiddleEast.org
720-608-1882
Executive Director Iman Jodeh

Posted by
15648 posts

I just looked at the tour description on their website. If you take that tour, you'll see a lot of Palestine and Arab Israel, and miss the rich Jewish experience in this vibrant country. To each his own.

Posted by
15568 posts

And it's interesting that the person promoting those tours has only posted three times on the forum and each one was to promote the tour company

Posted by
919 posts

Besides Jerusalem, I would suggest maybe spending a couple of days on the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) including Nazareth. A lot of history both ancient and modern. If you have the time, probably not with 7-10 days, you could travel down to Eilat, not only a tour of the desert, but there are some mountains that give you a stunning view of Israel along with Jordan and the Sinai. We would and hope to go back to Israel again and see even more of the country.

Ed

Posted by
15648 posts

Frank - I reported that yesterday to the webmaster.

Besides Jerusalem, I would suggest maybe spending a couple of days on the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) including Nazareth. A lot of history both ancient and modern. If you have the time, probably not with 7-10 days, you could travel down to Eilat, not only a tour of the desert, but there are some mountains that give you a stunning view of Israel along with Jordan and the Sinai. We would and hope to go back to Israel again and see even more of the country.

I have to admit, I feel extremely fortunate to live a a country with so much to see and do.

Ed - There's a mountain view near Eilat where you see Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well as Jordan and Israel. And back down to the city, there are usually some flamingos in the salt flats. Plus the clear waters, with colorful tropical fish and corals. Let me know when you start planning a return visit!

Posted by
919 posts

Ed - There's a mountain view near Eilat where you see Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well as Jordan and Israel. And back down to the city, there are usually some flamingos in the salt flats. Plus the clear waters, with colorful tropical fish and corals. Let me know when you start planning a return visit!

Chani:

I have that photo. I don't know if it can be uploaded to the forum. We did see the flamingos on the salt flats; did not have time to see the fish and corals which we heard was an excellent snorkeling trip. What I have learned most was the diversity that exists in Israel and Jordan based on some very good guides that we have had on our trips.

Ed

Posted by
18 posts

I appreciate the recent flurry of replies. I think we are likely to go, notwithstanding some unfortunate headlines out of Jerusalem this summer. Life's too short to cower at home! Thanks to you all.