Israel is different. This is probably the most adequate phrase to begin the summary of my one-week trip to this tiny but oh-so-fascinating country.

One Week in Israel - Sarah Rainer

Different in what way, you’re asking? For starters, different in terms of culture, obviously. One of the most peculiar things I experienced was Shabbat, which is the Jewish day of rest and lasts from sundown on Friday till sundown on Saturday. And trust me, when they say “day of rest”, they mean it – with a few exceptions everything (cafes, restaurants, hotels, tourist attractions and public transport) will shut down completely. As a traveller this is important to consider and prepare and plan the journey accordingly.

Israel is also different in terms of security: Considering the recent developments in the Middle East, Israel is quite a – let’s say – unusual destination – at least for me, having mostly travelled around European and North-American countries prior to this trip. And yet, I never felt unsafe. There are so many security checks and guards everywhere that I didn’t feel like I had to worry too much. Besides, Tel Aviv’s airport is said to be the most secure all over the world. Still, be sure to check up on the current situation before booking and get there well-informed.

One Week in Israel - Sarah Rainer

Finally, Israel is different when it comes to its inhabitants who show a truly fascinating diversity due to the country’s history – with people immigrating from all over the world. Another thing I noticed about them is that all of them seem to speak perfect English. So even for the case you get lost in the jungle of Ivrit road sings there’s always a helpful and (as in our case) over the top friendly person to get you back on track.

Although it might be intimidating to travel a country where so many things differ significantly from your daily routine, don’t let that stop you from discovering the country’s utter beauty. To begin with, here’s a small guide on how to make the most of one week in Israel.

One Week in Israel - Sarah Rainer

Day 1-3: Discover Jerusalem (3 Days)

Explore the bustling streets and diverse neighbourhoods of Jerusalem’s old town. Officially it is divided into 4 quarters: the Armenian, the Christian, the Jewish and the Muslim quarter. And yet, the narrow alleys are home to even more diverse cultures – in the Christian Quarter for example, there’s one street that is taken up almost exclusively by Greek Orthodox believers dressed in their traditional costumes; one street further you will find someone completely different.

Go on a City Tour

I can highly recommend taking a tip-based city tour with a local guide. They give you insight on Jerusalem’s fascinating history and know their way around very well. You can join one of them several times a day at Jaffa Gate.

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Indulge in Israeli Food

Israeli food is amazing, and my absolutely favourite restaurant in Jerusalem was Tmol Shilshom. It is presumably the loveliest place I came across during my entire journey. Tmol Shilshom is a small café/restaurant/bookstore that is tucked away in an alley off Yafo Street. Their food is beyond delicious and they regularly host readings and other cultural events. Make sure to check out their event calendar before you go there.

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Day 4: Float in the Dead Sea

Quite a no-brainer – and a touristy one too. The Dead Sea – or lake that it actually is – and its surrounding landscapes will blow your mind! The water is said to have healing effects on your whole body and besides, floating on its surface is an unforgettable experience. But watch out, the water contains 33% salt (for comparison: the Mediterranean Sea contains only 3%) which will terribly hurt when it gets into your eyes – not that I could speak of experience…..

One Week in Israel - Sarah Rainer

Travel back in time

As you float and try to keep your head out of the water, you will spot an ancient Roman fortress on a hill by the Sea’s shore. The fortress is called Masada and you should check it out while you’re here. There is even a convenient cable car taking the lazier folks up the hill.

How to get here

Rather than renting a car or booking a spot on an organised tour, go native and take the public transport to come here. One of the bus companies is called Egged Bus. This is an easy option and saves you money on top.

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Day 5-7: Explore Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv is Israel’s beating heart right by the beach . It is only 70km away from Jerusalem – so just a quick bus ride away. Similar to Jerusalem there are various cultural quarters and a very diverse population. So there is a lot to discover.

See the Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Truth be told, I never expected this museum to be as impressive as it turned out to be, but it really is home to an amazing collection of art works. Even the building itself is quite a gem. The museum is housed in the Herta and Paul Amir Building and was opened in 2011. Even if you are not easily impressed by architecture, this is a must-see in Tel Aviv.

One Week in Israel - Sarah Rainer

Beach Time

Hang out at one of Tel Aviv’s numerous beaches – from gay-friendly to Hipster, there’s undoubtedly a pile of sand for everyone. Never in my whole life have I ever seen so many young good-looking people in one place. No surprise Tel Aviv’s long stretches of sand are referred to as the Miami Beach of the Middle East. Even when you’re not in the mood for a swim, you can easily spend a whole afternoon just people watching.

One Week in Israel - Sarah Rainer

Culture Clash

If you’re in for the complete opposite side of the city, visit the old town of Jaffa, which is the Muslim quarter of the city. It lies south of the city centre and is indeed like a different world. But the best part? Abu Hasan on Ha’ Dolfin Street supposedly sells the best humus in all of Tel Aviv – a mouth-watering treat!

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As you can see there’s plenty of fun stuff to do and see (and eat) in Israel. Have you ever been and explored more? Tell us in the comments!

This is a guest post by Sarah Rainer who has also contributed two other stories for Travelettes here and here.
Find more travel stories on her blog here.

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