Things to do in Israel when traveling alone
BY Lee Saunders DATE 26/08/2021
After the invention of the steamboat in the 19th century, hundreds of American pilgrims flooded into the Holy Land, and in 1866, a young author, Samuel Clemens, later known as Mark Twain decided to travel alone to the Land of Israel. Upon his solo travel in Israel, he noted: “The further I went, the hotter the sun got, and the more rocky and bare, repulsive and dreary the landscape became…There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere.”
With the exception of the scorching sun, how times have changed. Today, Israel is one of the only nations in the world that entered the 21st century with more trees than it had 100 years ago, and Israel currently has over 200 million trees in forests and woodlands covering some 300,000 acres providing Israelis and tourists with a wide range of opportunities for outdoor recreation and appreciation of nature.
Israel’s natural landscape is more diverse than you may expect. Dotted with canyons and craters in the Negev desert, it forks to the left along the Mediterranean Sea, to the right around the Dead Sea and north to the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). The country is also touched by hills and mountains – Judean in the center, Carmel and Hermon in the north, and Eilat Mountains in the south.
Is Israel safe to travel alone?
Incredibly hospitable and welcoming to the independent traveler, the country is both off the beaten path and on the must-see list of so many! Israel is such a mesmerizing country to explore solo, and yes, it is as safe as any European or US city. If anything, Israel’s heightened sense of security makes exploring the cities safer. Bag checks at bus and train stations, shopping malls and crowded hubs should reassure you that every day the security checks keep everyone safe, so you can enjoy your life and time here. Here are some things to do in Israel when travelling alone.
Tel Aviv is an eclectic city, vibrant and colorful and screams: “Look at me.” The whole city exudes a fun, youthful atmosphere, while each neighborhood and district has its own unique personality. Head down to the hip Florentine hood, in south Tel Aviv, a short walk from the spice-laden Levinsky market and iconic Carmel markets. Admire the street art on a tour of Florentine, hang out at trendy coffee shops here, such as Levinsky 41 and Cafelix, and those civilized venues, such as Nina Cafe in nearby Neve Tzedek, close to the Dan Panorama Tel Aviv.
At the end of the day, head to any one of the beaches to unwind. If the heat is too much, download the e-scooter apps, Lime or Wind, for example and join the locals as they scooter down the promenade, sea breeze in their hair, to their preferred stopping point. From Tel Aviv port in the northern part of the city down to the ancient, cobbled alleys of the ancient port city of Jaffa, whose long history ripples through the centuries. You can learn more on one of the free licensed tours, such as Sandemans Tours, which has a range of additional tours in the Mount of Olives and Jerusalem.
Jerusalem – ‘a venerable city that gleamed in the sun’
Mark Twain did describe Jerusalem in glowing terms: “Perched on its eternal hills, white and domed and solid, massed together and hooped with high gray walls, the venerable city gleamed in the sun. So small!” And while he claimed it was small, there is so much to do for the solo traveler. Close to the fabled King David Hotel, you can begin a scenic stroll along historic landmarks that takes you down to the endlessly fascinating Old City, the center of a story as old as time itself, with each cobbled corner presenting an opportunity to photograph the unique sights of this lively and bustling area.
A mecca for pilgrims, Jerusalem offers a fascinating glimpse into 3,000 years of history for the solo traveler to soak up. Grab a coffee and meander through the maze of lanes and high walls, and work your way through the labyrinth of the Jewish, Christian, Armenian and Muslim quarter, watching the day-to-day events unfold as everyone goes about their business. The Western Wall of the Temple Mount dates back over 2,000 years, and is Judaism’s holiest site, where it has long been tradition to push slips of paper with wishes and prayers into the cracks of the stone. Built in the 7th century on the Temple Mount is the stunning Dome of the Rock, the Golden Shrine, a beacon for Muslims, while nearby The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is where Jesus is believed to have been buried and resurrected and the Via Dolorosa is the route taken by Jesus as he walked to his crucifixion.
If you wish to escape the heat, take in some of the city’s world-class and life-altering museums, such as Yad Vashem, the awe-inspiring Holocaust Museum, which recounts the unimaginable tale of the Holocaust, and the Israel Museum, one of the world’s leading art and archaeology museums, where you can see a model of the city before it was destroyed by the Romans in 66 CE and the Shrine of the Book that features some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Solo travel in Israel has to include a visit to the Dead Sea and Masada. Bathe in the therapeutic waters of the Dead Sea, a bus ride and 40km away from Jerusalem, simply one of the most enduring experiences you will ever have. Soothe all your pandemic anxiety with a surreal floating experience in the water famous for its high concentration of minerals, while you can cover yourself in mud at Kalia Beach, and feel years younger.
As a solo traveler and Instagrammer, few experiences can match sunrise at Masada, the ancient fortification on the edge of the Judaean desert that overlooks the Dead Sea and offers immense panoramic views. Remembered for the Herodian palaces and Roman siege of Masada, both almost 2,000 years ago, take an organized early morning trek, approximately an hour, to the top of the mountain or opt for the cable car! Watch the sun peak through the Jordanian mountains.
Mark Twain’s descriptions of ‘rocky’ and ‘bare’ may have rung true for him when he made his solo trip here all those years ago. Today, he would surely have changed his mind.
Tips for Solo Travelers
- Getting Around: It is safe to travel to Israel alone, and cheap and easy, with trains and buses running between Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa (for the Baha’i gardens), Akko, Nazareth, and Eilat. Download the free Moovit app, a lifesaver for tourists and peace of mind for the solo traveler. It gives you public transport schedules, live arrival and departure times, directions, and route plans. It is also connected to taxi apps.
- Chutzpah: Ask!
Israeli society is altruistic by nature, so don’t be afraid to approach people for help. Most Israelis speak a decent level of English, especially in Tel Aviv. Many cities in Israel have Facebook groups, such as ‘Secret Jerusalem’ and ‘Secret Tel Aviv’ with thousands of members, many of whom are locals, who can also give you the lowdown.
- Clothes: Pack light for most places – you won’t typically need jackets at all in the summer. If you’re planning a trip to Jerusalem, given the reverence of the Old City, in particular, dress more modestly, generally covering shoulders and knees.
- Closing Times: Shabbat: This is something pretty important for the solo traveler to consider. Every week in Israel, as the sun sets on Friday evening and until it sets again on Saturday, public transportation comes to a halt and most restaurants and shops close. Plan around this to avoid getting stranded somewhere. In Tel Aviv, however, many restaurants, bars, and supermarkets remain open over Shabbat.
Written by Lee Saunders