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Trip to the Holy Land

Has anyone ever traveled to the Holy Land on their own. My sister (age 814 but in good shape) and I (age 70 in good shape) are planning on traveling in February. For budgeting reasons, we are not going with a tour group. We have found a tour group in Tel Aviv that only charges like $150 a day for day tours (Regina). So we are planning on this for 2 or 3 days, then doing several days on our own.

Does anyone have any insights on travelling without a tour group to the Holy Land Christian sites?

Posted by
7184 posts

I visited Israel in December 1985 and spent four wonderful days in Jerusalem.
We took tours from our hotel to Bethlehem and Hebron as well as the city. It is not hard to do for Jerusalem, you can take day trips on tours (look up tours on the internet).

My wife has not been to Israel, so we booked a Gate 1 Travel tour of Israel and Jordan for next February. It is two week long and should be great.
Our tour starts in Tel Aviv, visits Galilee, Jerusalem the Dead Sea and Massada. Also, we cross into Jordan and spend several days there.

I am in my mid-70s and prefer tours to doing it yourself. The tour takes care of luggage, transport, most meals and day tours as well as hotels.

Posted by
105 posts

"We took tours from our hotel to Bethlehem and Hebron as well as the city. It is not hard to do for Jerusalem, you can take day trips on tours (look up tours on the internet)."

Where was your hotel?

I am the opposite. I generally prefer to go it alone, rent cats, take trains in Europe all the time. But a little touchy about Israel.

Posted by
276 posts

We found Israel an easy place to be an independent tourist. No problem English spoken. Sites easy to reach. We sometimes used a taxi. We sometimes rented a car. Food fresh and delicious. We had a private guide for 1/2 day to see the walls of Jerusalem. And we separately took one of the free walking tours the city of Jerusalem offers. But all of it would have been easy to do ourselves. If you do take a group day trip be sure you understand all the details and have clear expectations how many people, what is just a drive by, what is an actual stop, how much time your will have, whether there is a obligatory shopping stop, etc.. If you want to scope out what might be possible you might look at viator.com, toursbylocals.com or getyourguide.com who all offer a range of tours through their platforms. You can book through the platform or see what company is actually offering it and book directly. Enjoy the planning.

Posted by
105 posts

Laurie Ann,

Whew. What a relief to read your insights. And thanks for the right questions to ask when planning a day tour. Like I said we found a reasonably priced one (Regina) but we will now ask them all these pertinent questions.

One other question, we were going to stay in Jerusalem. I realize it is a city of 1,000,000 people,. but is it difficult to drive to a hotel in the older part of the city, ie., are the streets nigh near impossible to traverse by car? ken

Posted by
276 posts

You cannot drive into the oldest parts of Jerusalem. When we were there even humans made traffic jams. One caused by a group of men carrying a whole sheep to the market. Where and why exactly did you want to drive there?

Posted by
105 posts

Why do I want to drive there? To get close to walking distance of the Christian holy sites.

Posted by
105 posts

Don't presume we know the lay of the land. We've never been there, that's why we're asking.

Posted by
128 posts

Not sure where you are planning to do the several days on your own, but I wouldn't want to have a car if I was staying in Jerusalem. Or even in Tel Aviv---but it depends on where you want to drive. We've been twice and did one tour with our church (you generally only get one side of things doing that) and once on our own, combined with an educational tour with Green Olive Tours for several days ---- if you visit some places by yourself, without a guide, you won't get the most out of the sites----when we went the first time, there was so much education provided about the sites, I probably absorbed about 30% of it, hence we went again and did many of the things over the 2nd time! Tour guides have to go through extensive training and are incredibly knowledgeable -- I've never had a tour guide anywhere in the world as knowledgeable as those in Israel, Palestine & Jordan. You can cobble together day tours and see exactly what you want, instead of going on a week-long tour that may include sites you are less interested in---so doing it yourself is ideal.

I don't think you can drive to Bethlehem or Jericho, but not sure where you are looking to drive.

Posted by
105 posts

Kathy,

I understand about Bethlehem and Jericho. But let me make sure. Are you saying they are too difficult to negotiate or that they are Palestinian controlled and thus more dangerous?

If you were wanted to see the old Jerusalem on your own, do you have a hotel or an area to stay in that would allow the Christian sites in Jerusalem that would be reachable by walking? And one where you could take your car to I should add.

Posted by
641 posts

You have to go through checkpoints to visit Bethlehem and Jericho. We didn't have any issues when we were there last April, but I understand that it's sort of the luck of the draw as to whether one will encounter problems. I was glad that we had a guide with us.

I understand about Bethlehem and Jericho. But let me make sure. Are
you saying they are too difficult to negotiate or that they are
Palestinian controlled and thus more dangerous?

For whatever it's worth, I did a private tour with my mother and two friends. We had originally planned on a group tour, but it fell through, and by the time the tour was cancelled, my 87 year old mother had her heart set visiting the Holy Land. It was expensive, but it was the best we could do under the circumstances.

If you are willing to do your homework and scout out good companies for day tours, I think you can do it on your own. It depends on exactly what you want to see while you are there.

  • Tel Aviv - it's easy to get around via taxi.
  • Old City Jerusalem -- Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Western Wall, etc. You will have to do that on foot, and you should be able to manage with a good guide book and map.
  • Other parts of Jerusalem - Garden of Gethsemane, Mount of Olives, etc. --- you will need a taxi or a day tour.
  • Bethlehem. I would hire a guide or do a day tour.
  • Nazareth, Cana, Megiddo - Rent a car or hire a guide.
  • Galilee - you will need to rent a car or hire a guide. The sites are spread out a lot.
  • Masada, Qumran and the Dead Sea -- I would do a day tour from Jerusalem.
  • Caesarea, Acre -- We used Haifa as a base. You would need to rent a car or hire a guide.
Posted by
14142 posts

While I have never used this tour company, they have a good reputation and offer Christain day tours:

https://www.beinharimtours.com/christian-day-tours/

Please understand that Jerusalem is a big city. However, all the sites you really want to see are in the OLD city. The old city has a Christian quarter. It's small. You can easily walk the whole thing.

My suggestion is take a taxi to the Jaffa gate entrance to the old city. You can also get a taxi from there back to your hotel.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Quarter

Posted by
15477 posts

Hi Ken. How good is the shape you're in? You'll be walking a lot, some of it up and down slopes and steps. There's plenty of time to get in better shape before February. February in one of my favorite months here because of the mild weather and relative lack of tourists. The mild temps make sightseeing much easier but the rain can make paved walks very slippery. Be sure you have comfortable, thick-soled shoes with good traction. There are usually lots of spring wild flowers by mid-month.

It's probably not too early to make hotel reservations. While prices are lower in winter, overall prices are higher here than in Europe - which no one here understands.

Try to find a 2-3 night guided tour based in the Galilee. That's where many of the Christian sites are located and day trips from the big cities will spend hours of bus time just going back and forth. Driving in the area isn't difficult, the roads are good, the signage is also in English and there's not much traffic. The only drawbacks I can think of are that a couple sites on the Sea of Galilee are a tad difficult to access and have very limited parking. Do not drive to Nazareth. If you want to go there, go on a tour! Driving is a madhouse and parking is almost impossible to find. You can hire a guide/driver or probably find a group day tour. Haifa would be a better place to base for that. It's also an easy trip from Haifa to Akko (Acre) which has wonderfully preserved Crusader sights.

I can't think of any Christian sites in or around Tel Aviv. Do plan to spend a lot of time in Jerusalem, which is chock-full of them. You can easily see most on your own. You absolutely do not want a car in Jerusalem. The one-way streets and dedicated bus lines would drive you crazy even without the many traffic jams - and parking is expensive.

You cannot drive a rental car to Bethlehem, it's illegal and there is a checkpoint which will not let you through. Cars, taxis and buses registered as Palestinian can go there. It's easy to take a bus from East Jerusalem or a taxi or get a private guide/driver.

Posted by
15477 posts

I forgot to mention the Israel Forum on tripadvisor.com. There's a goodly number of "destination experts" there, some are locals, including licensed guides, others tourists who've made multiple trips here. Douglas Duckett has even written a personal travel guide - download here - which he has updated after each of his dozen or so visits. It has tons of valuable practical information and It's well worth reading just for the insights into life here.

Posted by
3520 posts

We were just in Israel in March. Definitely split your days between Jerusalem and Tiberias. Tel Aviv was our least favorite. You definitely need a guide to go to Bethlehem. They would be able to let you know when the boarder is open for tourists. When we were there we visited in the late afternoon as the border was closed all morning.
In Tiberias we stayed at the Scot’s Hotel. It was fabulous and not kosher. Not that the kosher food we had at our Jerusalem hotel wasn’t delicious, but over Friday night and Saturday you can get hot food. Our hotel in Jerusalem was the Inball Hotel.
Definitely go to Masada, it was an interesting and sad story for survival.

Posted by
3861 posts

Several years ago we stayed for 2+ weeks at this hotel inside the Jaffa Gate. https://gloria-hotel.com/ It was great to be in the old city and have so much to see just an easy walk away. We were on a study semester so all of our outside of Jerusalem transportation for sightseeing was taken care of but we loved this hotel and it’s location.

Posted by
105 posts

Our deepest appreciation to everyone for taking the time to share. We have so much to go on now!

Posted by
128 posts

Ken, as mentioned by Chani, you can't drive in Bethlehem. I don't find it dangerous anywhere there, although we visited Hebron (Cave of the Patriarchs--Abraham's tomb, etc.) & Nablus (Jacob's Well, Samaritan museum) and some might consider those areas dangerous, but we were with a Palestinian guide.