- Continent: Asia
- Area: 20,990 km²
- Population: 8,146,300
- Capital city: Zion
- ISO code: IL
- National language: Hebrew, Arabic
- International dialing code: +972
- Currency: Sheqel
- License plate number: IL
- Flight routes from Israel: 1324
- Flight routes to Israel: 1294
- Popular airports: Tel Aviv (TLV), Haifa (HFA), Timna-Ramon Airport (ETM)
- Large cities: Tel Aviv-Yafo, Haifa, Rishon LeZion, Netanya, Holon, Bene Beraq, Bat Yam, Ramat Gan, Ashqelon, Herzliyya B, Kefar Sava, Hadera, Bet Shemesh, Lod, Ramla
- Airlines based in Israel: El Al Israel Airlines, Arkia-Israeli Airlines, Israir Airlines
Israel travel guide (Asia)
Israel is the only non-Muslim country in the Middle East and borders in the west on the Mediterranean Sea, in the north and northeast on Lebanon and Syria, in the east on Jordan and in the southwest on Egypt and the Palestinian territories.
Geography: the state of Israel, with a total area no bigger than Belgium, stretches along the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea with a length of about 470 km (292 miles). Israel is very narrow, the widest part measures about 135 km (83 miles), the most narrow about 15 km (9.3 miles). The geological characteristic of this Mediterranean country is the rift valley that begins south of Turkey and extends throughout the entire country to east Africa. This rift valley is the location of the Dead Sea and hosts some of the oldest relics of human history. Israel has three entirely different natural and vegetative regions. The north on the border to the Golan Heights and Lebanon is humid and mountainous. The rift valley and mountainous areas dominate the centre of the country and the south consists of the farmed Negev desert, which extends to the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea.
Mountains and rivers: the highest point in Israel is the mountain Har Meron with a height of 1,208 m (3,963 ft) on the Israeli-Lebanese border. The longest river is the Jordan, measuring 360 km (223 miles) with its source in the Hermon Mountains, flowing along the Israeli Jordan border and eventually into the Dead Sea near the city of Jericho. The Dead Sea lies 420 m (1377 ft) below sea level and is the lowest measurable point on earth.
Climate and best time to visit: there is no good or bad time to travel in Israel, as the climate varies greatly due to the geographical circumstances. In general it can be said that the climate in Israel is temperate to subtropical with mild and rainy, sometimes cool winters in the north and a warm and in parts hot south particularly in the Negev desert, which takes up about 40 % of the countries area. The most pleasant time to visit is during the transition months in the spring and the autumn.
Language and communication: the official and national languages are Modern Hebrew and Arabic. Various languages of the inhabitants’ countries of origin are also spoken, for example Yiddish, English, Romanian, Hungarian, French, Spanish, Russian and Armenian.
Health and vaccinations: vaccination against hepatitis A, typhoid, diphtheria, polio and tetanus is recommended. Long clothing should be worn to provide protection against mosquitoes and other insects; a locally purchased insect repellent should also be used. Medical care in Israel is good. Visitors are advised to take out comprehensive medical and travel insurance that covers repatriation costs. A first aid kit should be packed and fruit and vegetables peeled or boiled before being eaten.
Entry requirements: British nationals do not require visas to visit Israel for a period of up to three months. Passports must normally be valid for at least six months from the date of entry.
Some countries require documentary evidence of parental responsibility before allowing lone parents to enter the country. For further information on exact requirements at immigration please contact the Israeli representation in the UK. More information on vaccination and entry requirements, and in particular, on travel to the Palestinian Occupied Territories can be obtained from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Website.
Security issues: travellers should keep themselves informed of current security issues and the political situation in the media before travelling to Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories as well as during their entire stay. There is a danger of suicide attacks in particular in the bigger cities and in large crowds. Visitors are currently advised against entering the area within 5 km of the Gaza perimeter.
Arrival and onward journey: the Israeli airline El Al has the most stringent and best security measures in force of any international airline. It is advisable to arrive at the airport 3 to 4 hours prior to your scheduled departure time, as questioning by Israeli security forces may be lengthy and luggage is checked meticulously. Flights to the international Airports Tel Aviv (TLV) and Eilat (ETH) are provided by many international airlines, for example El Al Israel Airlines (LY), Israir (6H) and Arkia Israel Airlines (IZ). Lufthansa (LH), Austrian Airlines (OS) and SN Brussels (SN) all fly from London Heathrow (LHR) to Tel Aviv. Due to the short distances involved, flying within Israeli is not common, but bus routes are well developed and served by the Israeli coach company Egged. Israir operates flights at relatively low prices to Eilat from Tel Aviv.
Capital city: the official capital of Israel is Jerusalem. However, the non-binding United Nations Security Council Resolution 478 declared this decision as void. Jerusalem has 700,000 inhabitants and is a holy city for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It is also one of the oldest cities in history and has been inhabited for 5000 years without interruption. The contrast between antiquity and modernity is especially striking in Jerusalem, as is the multi cultural and ethnic diversity of the population. About 450,000 Jews live in the western part of the city and about 250,000 in part with Israeli passports live in the eastern part of the city. The city of peace (the translation of the Hebrew word Yerushalayim) can be roughly divided into three districts: the old town in east Jerusalem that is enclosed by the city wall, which is also where most of the attractions are to be found; the part of east Jerusalem that is inhabited by the Palestinians; and the new town in the west that is populated by Jews. The famous old town, forming the core of Jerusalem, is also made up of a Christian, Jewish, Armenian and Muslim district. The Temple Mount, also known as the noble Sanctuary, the site of the Dome of the Rock, dominates the cityscape and forms the origin of the conflict as it is a significant site for both the Jewish and the Muslim religions. At the foot of the hill is the holy western wall, the remains of the second Jewish temple which is the most holy site for orthodox Jews, the Al-Aqsa mosque, the Islamic museum, the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the lively bazaar selling bits and pieces along with clothing and food. The Mount of Olives (ascension of Christ) is also worth visiting as it provides a breathtaking view of the city. The Palestinians also lay claims on Jerusalem, called al-Quds asch-scharif meaning the holy city, as their capital city and thereby conflicts have been brewing for over 50 years. The holocaust memorial site Yad Vashem is also very worth seeing as it reminds of the 6 million Jewish victims of the holocaust.
Places of interest: Israel is an interesting and fascinating country to visit, with a vast natural, cultural and religious diversity. There are excellent beaches on the Red and Dead Seas as well as on the coast of the Mediterranean.
The cities of Bethlehem and Jericho in the West Bank, both situated about 30 minutes by car from the centre of Jerusalem, are also well worth a visit. The church where Jesus was born is in Bethlehem as is Rachel’s tomb, which is honoured in equal measure by Jews, Muslims and Christians. Jericho is further northeast and even en-route to the city the landscape is breathtaking, the road falling from 800 metres (2,624 ft) above sea level to 395 m (1,295 ft) below sea level due to the Jordanian rift. The resulting difference in altitude is 1,200 m (3,937 ft). The oasis town of Jericho is the lowest lying and oldest town in human history. Its age is estimated to be at least 10,000 years. Attractions in Jericho include the mountain and monastery of Djebel Qarantal, a few towers and walls that about 9000 years ago were part of the most powerful fortress in the world and are thereby 4000 years older than the pyramids in Egypt. There is also the Greek orthodox monastery of Qarantana and St. George’s monastery in the Wadi el-Kelt. The city of Hebron is equally important and is also near Jerusalem. It is also one of the oldest cities in human history and is mentioned in many parts of the Bible as King David was crowned here and Hebron declared the city to be the first capital of his realm. The Galilean city of Nazareth and Lake Genezareth near the Golan Heights are also of great significance for Christianity, as Nazareth is the birthplace of Jesus, and is now one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Israel. A visit to Nazareth should include an excursion to the Mediterranean town of Haifa. This is the third largest city in Israel with a total of 300,000 inhabitants and also has the most important harbour in the country, with an impressive fortress and good shopping facilities in a number of large shopping centres. The highlight or the most important sight in the north of Israel is the old crusaders city of Acre (also referred to as Akko), only 20 km from Haifa. The city was never destroyed and takes the visitor straight back to the Middle Ages. Behind its walls the city harbours a labyrinth of shady lanes where travellers will time and again stumble upon traces of the crusaders and Arabs. The underground citadel of the crusaders is particularly worth seeing in Acre, this is where the order of Hospitaller knights had its headquarters in the early Middle Ages during the crusades.
The city of Tel Aviv provides an ideal break from this journey through archaeological and religious history. This Mediterranean city is only 100 years old and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. The city is perfect for hedonists as the city is a party town in the summer months that is populated by locals as well as Israeli tourists along with thousands of tourists from around the world. The city never sleeps and the beach is one of the best in the Middle East with countless bars, cafes, discos, clubs cinemas and restaurants extending as far as the town of Jaffa 15 km from Tel Aviv.
Beaches: due to the geographical location, Israel has two possible destinations for the beach holidaymaker. Firstly, the Mediterranean Sea in the southern part of Israel and secondly squeezed between Jordan and Egypt, the beach towns of Eilat on the Red Sea. The Israeli Mediterranean coast is host to kilometres of well-kept sandy beaches with a wide variety of water sports e.g. windsurfing, sailing, fishing, and waterskiing. The surrounding area is overgrown with pine forests, citrus orchards and Eucalyptus trees and is one of the most beautiful beach areas in the whole of the Mediterranean area. Tel Aviv is without doubt the most important beach resort as it has the best water sports facilities, other good beach resorts include Nahariya, Akko, Haifa, Caesarea, Netanya and Ashkelon. The city of Eilat has developed into an important beach resort in recent years due to its dream location and excellent infrastructure and the constant wind also provides good conditions for windsurfers. Eilat is located on a blue shimmering coral reef, which provides for some of the best diving in the world. The city is a good starting point for visits to the Negev desert and the Dead Sea.
Highlight: one of Israel’s highlights is the Negev desert, which takes up a large part of the south of Israel. Since the state was founded large parts of the desert have been irrigated and used for the export of agricultural produce. The desert is popular with walkers and due to the fact that it is one of the resting places for migrating birds en route to and from Africa and Asia, also provides excellent bird watching opportunities for ornithologists in the spring and autumn. The desert is also of interest for archaeologists and those with an interest in history, as the ancient Nabataean towns of Mamshit, Shitva and Advat are to be found here. The oasis towns were used as terminals on the spice route and as protection from highwaymen on the caravan routes.
The Dead Sea in the east of the Negev desert is one of the most interesting destinations on earth. The sea lies at 418 m (1,371 ft) below sea level and is the lowest accessible place on earth. No visitor to the Dead Sea can resist the temptation of floating on the water and feeling its incredible buoyant force. The water in the Dead Sea is seven times more salty than is usual and, with its high concentration of minerals, has incredible healing properties in particular for skin diseases, rheumatism and asthma. This quality is of extreme importance for tourism and export. The oasis of Gedi near the Dead Sea is also worth a visit: it is located in a tropical, lush green area with many springs and waterfalls.
Religion: Jews are in the majority with 80 %, with 15 % Muslims and 5% Christians.
Major Cities and accommodation: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Ashdod and Beersheba.