Whether you’re planning to visit for a few days or you want to traverse the country for weeks on end, there’s a lot to consider when backpacking in Israel. There are different regions and landmarks to explore, accommodation and transportation options to sort out, and considerations for keeping your travels budget-friendly. But of course, we’ve got you covered.
Here’s Abraham’s full guide to backpacking in Israel, with everything you need to know.
Why Travel in Israel?
Let’s start with the basics: why should backpacking in Israel be high on your to-do list? What makes it so great? Backpacking in Israel is a truly incredible experience that has rich experiences for every type of traveler. Here are some of the highlights of backpacking in Israel:
The culture: From vibrant cities to incredible cuisine, Israeli culture is an exciting world to explore. You can dive into the different cities, communities, foods, and spheres of life here in Israel.
The history: The history of Israel dates back to biblical times. You can hike past Roman ruins, visit religious sites significant to millions of people around the world, and step inside some of the holiest sites on the planet.
The nature: One of the most incredible parts about Israel is the natural diversity. In a considerably small country you can find lush mountains, vast deserts, the lowest point on earth, and the stunning Mediterranean Sea.
The people: The Middle East can be many things. It can be loud, energetic, and dynamic. But one thing is for sure: the people are welcoming, are helpful, and are full of spirit and personality. Many travelers find Israelis to be hospitable and friendly.
The backpacker community: Backpackers, you know how much having a robust community of other backpackers makes a difference. When you’re backpacking in Israel, you’ll find a well-worn backpacker path, with social hostels and easy travel routes. Plus, you’ll find it easy to connect and make friends with travelers (especially when you stay at hostels in Israel).
Places of interest
One of the hardest parts about backpacking in Israel is going to be deciding where to go. We’ve broken down the highlights of the country by region, city, and by notable hiking destinations.
While Israel officially has many different districts, these are the unofficial “regions” of the country, or the general areas that you can visit when you’re backpacking in Israel.
The North: The north of Israel is where you’ll find rolling hills, dense forests, deep valleys, rivers, and even a huge freshwater lake – the Kinneret. Here you’ll find the areas known as the Galilee and the Golan Heights. Due to winter precipitation, the plants flourish here in the springtime and into the early summer.
Central Israel: In the middle of Israel you’ll find some of Israel’s most populous cities: Tel Aviv on the coast, and Jerusalem in the middle of the country. You’ll also find the Jordan Valley region, which encompasses some of the West Bank, and reaches to the north of the Dead Sea. When traveling through central Israel you’ll experience vast deserts, winding hills, and a sprawling stretch of the Mediterranean Sea.
The South: If you love desert landscapes, the south of Israel is for you. The entire southern portion of the country is mostly vast desert, with a few sporadic cities, such as Mitzpe Ramon (famous for its huge crater) and Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city. The south is an excellent place for quiet escapes from the cities, desert activities (such as hikes, Jeep tours, and rock climbing), and stargazing.
Main Cities: Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, Haifa, Nazareth, and Eilat
Here is a list of some of the main cities which you should visit while backpacking in Israel:
- Jerusalem: Perhaps the most notable city in Israel, Jerusalem is known around the world for its biblical significance and ancient history. Here you can find religious sites and monuments crucial in the world’s major religions. The best way to explore the Old City of Jerusalem is with a free walking tour, or with a full Jerusalem day tour.
- Tel Aviv: Israel’s vibrant cultural hub, Tel Aviv is known for it’s sunny beaches, 24/7 nightlife, great cafe and food scene, and art museums and galleries.
- Haifa: To the north of Tel Aviv and on the coast of Israel is Haifa, a notable port city. You can visit the Bahá’í Gardens, and enjoy the peaceful beaches in Haifa.
- Nazareth: Tucked into the hills in the north of Israel is Nazareth. The largest Arab city in Israel and the birthplace of Jesus Christ, Nazareth has a stunning Old City, with many notable sites to explore.
- Eilat: If you’re a fan of the sun and the sea, then a trip to the city of Eilat is well worth it. Reachable by bus from both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Eilat is nestled along the Red Sea, and is an excellent destination if you love swimming, snorkeling, diving, hot weather, and chill seaside vibes. You can also visit nearby natural wonders, such as Timna Park.
Popular Points of Interest: The Dead Sea, Masada, The West Bank, Sea of Galilee & Golan Heights
- The Dead Sea: One of the most famous natural wonders in Israel, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth. True to its name, nothing can live in it because of the amount of salt and other natural minerals that are found in it. When you swim in it, you’ll find that you’re particularly buoyant, and the mud is known to have powerful health benefits when used on the skin. Because it is located in the desert, it’s best to go on a tour of the Dead Sea to reach this area.
- Masada: An ancient fortress perched high in the desert, Masada is a unique site. You can reach it by cable car, or by hiking the winding snake trail. There are tours which will take you to Masada, the Dead Sea, and En Gedi (a natural reserve), all in one day.
- The West Bank: There are many highlights to explore in the West Bank, which have significant cultural and religious sites. You can visit some parts of this extraordinary region on Abraham’s Best of the West Bank tour.
- Sea of Galilee and Golan Heights: As we touched on earlier, the Sea of Galilee and Golan Heights are features in the north of Israel, which are full of both history and natural beauty. You can see biblical sights, ancient fishing villages, taste superb Israeli wine, and even gaze across the Syrian side of the ceasefire line. And of course, in the hotter months, you can take a swim in the Sea of Galilee.
Judean Desert Jeep Tour
One of the joys of backpacking in Israel is the hiking destinations. You’ll quickly notice that there is a diverse range of landscapes and trails to explore. The Galilee region boasts some of the most beautiful hikes in the country, including the popular Nahal Amud trail, which winds through a river valley.
If you prefer desert landscapes, you can hike in the Negev Desert, and explore the breathtaking canyons and red rock formations of the Ramon Crater. Another excellent place to hike is in the Judean Hills, where the Masada fortress and Ein Gedi nature reserve are located.
There are also some multi-day (or even multi-week) hiking trails available. In the north of Israel you’ll find the Jesus Trail. This unforgettable hike takes you through history, culture, and spirituality, and travels along the trail where Jesus Christ carried out his ministry. Abraham offers a Jesus Trail hiking package which starts in Nazareth, and includes accommodation, breakfast, and all of the guide materials you need for the journey.
And for the most adventurous hikers, there is the Israel National Trail, which crosses Israel between its southern and northern borders. It is approximately 1199 km (683 miles) long, and it’s possible to complete portions of it as a day hike, or multi-day trip. Completing the entire trail typically takes at least two months.
Accommodation options differ based on where you are in the country. When backpacking in Israel you might want to stay at hostels, campgrounds, hotels, or guest houses, for example. Abraham Hostels has locations in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Eilat and Nazareth. Our facilities differ based on location, but you’ll typically find breakfast, other food options, a bar (or two), rooftops, outdoor spaces, lounge/coworking spaces, and even a pool.
What to Eat
Backpacking in Israel is a dream for foodies. Here you’ll find local cuisine, food that’s influenced by the region, and food from around the world. For budget-friendly options, look for Israeli street food (such as falafel, shawarma, and hummus), or head to the local shuk (market) to buy fresh food at a fair price. Be sure to try popular Israeli foods during your trip.
Backpacking in Israel is generally very safe, but as with every trip, travelers should take precautions. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:
- Be aware: Even when you’re in a beautiful place, be aware of your surroundings, and exercise caution when you’re exploring unfamiliar places.
- Carry the essentials: Always carry the supplies you need for the duration of your hike or travels, including things like water, food, and safety supplies. In the hot summer months, you’ll likely need much more water than usual, as well as things such as a hat and sunscreen. Also, always carry a form of ID on you.
- Stick to the trails: Always stay on designated hiking trails to avoid getting lost, and avoid hiking after dark. If you’re camping, choose a designated camping area.
- Carry a phone: When backpacking in Israel, it’s wise to carry a working phone in case of an emergency. You can get an eSIM, or a local Israeli SIM card.
- Stay up-to-date: While Israel is typically safe, it’s always wise to stay up-to-date on current events in the region.
- Know your transportation options: Transportation in Israel is reliable, and you can reach most parts of the country by train or by bus. Google Maps works well here in Israel, as does the transportation app Moovit.