Filled with rich history, beautiful architecture and important Christian religious sites, Israel is a fascinating destination. From the Western Wall in Jerusalem to the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, this country is a holy land for several different faiths and a popular pilgrimage site.
When it comes to visiting Israel, it’s important to keep in mind the social customs, local laws and social etiquette. Plus, there are many things you should know that will make your trip a much better experience. Here are some important dos and don’ts when visiting Israel.
Don’t Talk About Politics
It’s important to be sensitive about political topics while traveling in Israel. The best advice is to simply avoid these topics, especially with people you don’t know very well.
You may be at risk of making uninformed statements about contentious political issues. This can be incredibly awkward, so its best to simply avoid it.
Do Dress Appropriately
When you are traveling in Israel, it’s important to dress appropriately – especially when visiting religious sites. These sacred places of worship will have their own dress codes, but the general rule is to keep your knees, shoulders and chest covered. Women may also need to cover their hair with a scarf.
Although it can be extremely warm, these dress code guidelines are not too difficult to follow. Pack long pants and long-sleeved shirts in a lightweight material, so you can be covered and comfortable.
Also, bring a sarong or scarf with you just in case you need to wrap it around your head. This is one of the most important dos and don’ts when visiting Israel.
Do Feel Free to Haggle
When you are shopping in the bazaars and markets, you don’t have to accept the first price quoted. If you really want to buy a souvenir, a carpet, some jewellery, or anything from one of the vendors – you can use your haggling skills.
The first price quoted will always be high, so give the seller a counter offer and negotiate until you find a price that works for you. It might feel strange at first if you aren’t used to haggling, but this is one of the major dos and don’ts when visiting Israel that you should know.
(Here’s a tip, if the seller won’t budge, just start to walk away. More often or not, they will call you back and accept your offer.)
Don’t Expect Much to Be Open on Religious Holidays
During a religious holiday in Israel, many of the shops will close during the day. Also, public transportation will stop running and most people will go home to be with their families.
So, if you plan a big day of sightseeing during a religious holiday, you might find there’s not much open and no way to get around the city. Also, you might find that other services are limited during religious holidays.
For example, many people in Israel are Arab and they observe the holy month of Ramadan. This means that they will be fasting during daylight hours and it may be difficult to find restaurants that are open and serving food.
Do Remember That the Weekend Falls on Friday-Saturday
You might be used to a Saturday-Sunday weekend, so this might take some adjusting. The Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest, begins at sundown on Friday and lasts until the first stars appear in the sky on Saturday.
During this time, Jewish people will traditionally stay at home with their families and relaxing. There are several things that are forbidden during this time, such as using electricity.
It’s important to know this when you visit Israel, because many Jewish-owned shops will close on Fridays and Saturdays. (If you’re planning a short trip, plan it during the week instead!)
So, instead of shopping during the weekend you can spend your time wandering the Holy City and watching the ceremonies for the start of the Sabbath at the Western Wall on Friday evening.
Don’t Get a Passport Stamp
In the past, tourists were concerned about receiving a passport stamp from Israel. Due to the tensions in the region, there are several other countries who will not allow you into the country if you have previously visited Israel.
However, this is no longer necessary. Instead, on arrival you can have your photograph taken and given to you on a small identity card with a barcode. You can present this tourist card to any car rental agencies or hotels to prove that you are on a tourist visa.
When you depart Israel, you’ll be provided with another version of the card – except it is pink. This system means that you never have to get an actual stamp in your own passport.
Do Use the Public Transport
When you are staying in the city of Jerusalem, take advantage of the excellent public transport system there. The metro tram runs across the city from one end to another, a convenient way to get around quickly.
Plus, there are also many public buses that operate throughout the country. The prices for these are very affordable, especially if you are using one of the communal vans.
If you can’t find a public transport option to get you where you need to go – you can always use Gett. This Uber-like taxi app is used all over Israel and will offer you a cheap ride to wherever you need to go.
Don’t Be Surprised If You See People Smoking Indoors
If you’re from most Western countries, such as the UK, Canada, Australia, the USA, etc – it’s probably been many years since you’ve been in a restaurant or bar where smoking was allowed. However, in Israel you might feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
There have been bans on smoking indoors in Israel, but they have only been recently introduced and they haven’t really caught on yet. Even tough laws can’t stub out this prevalent habit in Israel. If you’re a non-smoker – don’t judge those who smoke indoors too harshly and don’t be rude about it. For them, that’s just the way it’s always been.