If you’ve ever thought about visiting Israel, you should absolutely 100% do it. Seeing the places where Jesus lived, walked, and ministered is powerful. It causes you to read the Bible in a new way, with a new passion, and with greater understanding.
This year, my wife and I were privileged to visit Israel for the first time. We signed up for Scott’s Cheap Flights and came across a deal one day where we were able to buy two roundtrip flights for $980 total. (Yes, you read that right.) We would have loved to take a 2-3 week tour with Moody or The Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies (and we still plan to someday), but that is not something we were able to do this time.
So instead, we booked a weeklong trip to Israel and decided to do our own self-guided tour. We did hire a private tour guide for one day, and also joined another tour group one afternoon. Going on a weeklong trip just the two of us was awesome, and a lot more affordable — about 60% less than going with a tour company.
Listed below is our experience broken down into bite-sized takeaways for you to prepare for your first visit to Israel. Click on the section below to jump straight to it:
- Must see places in Israel.
- Israel travel tips and useful resources while visiting Israel.
- Is the Palestinian and Israeli conflict something to be concerned about?
- Small important things to remember before you go.
- Transportation: how to get around in Israel.
If you have any further questions, feel free to reach out by email or in the comments section below!
Must See Places in Israel
1. Sea of Galilee
The Sea of Galilee was where Jesus called his first four disciples (Mark 1:16-20), walked on water (Mark 4:35-41), calmed a storm, (Matthew 8:23-27), and taught many along the shores (Mark 4:1). This was one of our favorite places to visit and spend time at. It’s very peaceful and awesome to see the same geographical area still intact — the same body of water Jesus walked on.
Capernaum is where Jesus lived and worked for a large part of his ministry (Matthew 4:13). It’s also where the Apostle Peter lived, too (Matthew 8:14-15). There are ruins from the time of Jesus’s day, and partial remains of the synagogue where archaeologists believe Jesus healed the man with a withered hand (Mark 3:1-6) One of the craziest things that hit me about Capernaum, is that the city is literally no longer there — just like Jesus prophesied (Matthew 11:20-24).
3. Mount of Olives (Garden of Gethsemane)
Visiting the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane was powerful. (And also provided some great views that overlook Jerusalem.) My favorite part was seeing the Ziziphus spina-christi, a type of tree that grows in Israel that contains long thorns, which is likely the type of tree from which the soldiers made the crown of thorns for Jesus (John 19:1-3).
4. Old City Jerusalem
Most of our trip was a self-guided tour, however, we did hire a private tour guide while visiting the Old City of Jerusalem. It was worth it because there is so much to see in the Old City, and it can feel really overwhelming and confusing your first time. There is so much history in the Old City, and it is definitely worth seeing while visiting Jerusalem.
5. The Dead Sea and Ein Gedi
The Dead Sea was nuts! I was skeptical it would be so buoyant, but man was I wrong. I literally could not sink. It’s worth jumping in and floating for a little bit — just make sure to bring some towels, and if possible, try to jump in near a shower so you can wash all the salt off afterward.
Ein Gedi is another beautiful place we visited that was close to the Dead Sea. Ein Gedi is mentioned in Song of Songs (Song of Songs 1:14) and is also near the cave where King David fled to when Saul chased him and tried to kill him (1 Samuel 23:29; 24:1-2:).
Israel Travel Tips and Useful Resources While Visiting Israel
Here are some useful resources to pick up ahead of time, and tips to remember, while in Israel:
- Ask any friends or family members for tips and recommendations before going.
- Ask locals while in Israel for tips and recommendations.
- Israel “2-in1” Map. We bought a similar map to this one and used it to understand the Biblical and modern-day cities/areas.
- Go to Galilee A Travel Guide for Christian Pilgrims by Jacob Firsel. This was an invaluable resource for our self-guided tour around Galilee! Highly recommend.
- Berlitz Hebrew Phrase Book & Dictionary. This was another awesome travel companion and helped us communicate with the locals.
- Read the Bible stories that occur in the places you visit.
Is the Palestinian and Israeli Conflict
Something to be Concerned About?
When we told people we were going to Israel, a lot of people expressed concern. They’d heard a lot of stuff on the news about the Palestinian and Israeli conflict, and felt like Israel was unsafe to visit.
So, is the Palestinian and Israeli conflict something to be concerned about?
In our experience, the conflict between Jews and Palestinians is something to be aware of but not something to fear. For example, some parts of Israel (such as Bethlehem and Jericho) are located in the Palestinian territories, and it is not safe for Jews to enter. (See picture below.) However, many of our American friends told us that they visited these territories with their tour groups, and many Jewish people told my wife and I that it was safe to visit the Palestinian territories. (And even encouraged us to do so!)
My wife and I decided to not venture into the Palestinian territories since it was just the two of us and because many Palestinians were angry about President Trump’s recent decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
So, yes, there are tensions between both sides in Israel, and there are certain places you may not want to visit alone (just like in America or any other country), but travelers are safe in Israel. There are Israeli soldiers protecting you throughout the country, so you actually feel pretty safe. My wife and I drove all throughout the country and didn’t face any threats or hear any bombs go off.
Stay informed with The Jerusalem Post, sign up for State Department STEP notifications, and use common sense. When in doubt, be smart and don’t venture somewhere you don’t feel safe going.
Small Important Things to Remember
- Buy a charger converter for electrical outlets.
- Having a portable charger with you is a great idea.
- Basic Hebrew and Arabic Phrases to Know (Hello, please, thank you, etc.)
- Download google maps offline when connected to wifi.
- Make sure your passports are up to date. (And take pictures of them on your smartphone so that you have a digital copy, just in case.)
- Make sure you let your bank know you are going overseas so that you can withdraw money at the ATMs. If possible, use cards that don’t have international transaction fees.
Transportation: How to Get Around While in Israel
How you get around while in Israel depends on where you’re visiting. In Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, it can be easier to get around by bus, train, or Gett (Israel’s version of Uber.) If you want to explore the country, renting a car is definitely the way to go. (In Israel, you drive on the right side of the road.)
I’m grateful to have visited Israel with my wife this year. It was an awesome trip, and also one of my travel goals to accomplish before age 35. We definitely want to go back in the near future. Hopefully the Israel travel tips above will help you on your own journey to Israel, as well!
Questions? Let me know in the comments below.
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