Getting Around in Israel
BY Lee Saunders DATE 09/07/2023
The journey of a thousand miles may begin with a single step, according to the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu back in the 6th century BC, but today, for getting around in Israel – a country the size of New Jersey – all you need is a few apps, a Rav-Kav travel card, and ‘some’ patience.
With just six hours between the northern town of Metula and the southern Red Sea city of Eilat, and 3 hours between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordanian border, to the east, Israel transportation – particularly buses and trains – plays a crucial role. While getting to landmark tourist attractions in the major cities can be easily done via bus or train, there are also ways to safely explore, off the beaten path, and around the Negev Desert through the use of reliable car rentals, and even taxis. Here, we help you understand Israel public transportation and the best ways to navigate it.
The first thing you’ll need is a Rav-Kav, a smart credit card-sized travel card introduced in 2019. Instead of cash, these are now tapped on buses, trains, or the Light Rail when travelling. You can buy this on landing at the airport from the ticket machines outside, close to the well signposted train station and taxi rank, or in designated kiosks dotted around all towns and cities. With the Rav-Kav card, you can top up your card via its app on any Apple or Android mobile phone that supports NFC, or at any bus or train station, Super Pharm, Good Pharm, and other convenience stores and kiosks.
Next, download a navigation app – such as Moovit or HopOn, free apps in English that show you how to get from A to B in the best possible way. Train and bus times, maps and timetables are available in real time. You can use these apps to plan your route by bus, train, underground, bike, scooter, or a combination of all of them, and you can also pay through the HopOn app as it uses a QR code to be scanned on the bus, with payment made through the app using a credit card. Consult staff at any of the Dan Tel Aviv hotels to help or use the navigation apps.
Buses Galore in Israel
Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, public transportation infrastructure was initially limited and relied on privately operated buses and shared taxis, known as the “sherut.” With urbanization and immigration, the demand for public transportation grew, and two major companies, Egged and Dan, played a pivotal role. Egged primarily operates inter-city bus services connecting various towns and cities across Israel, including Jerusalem, Haifa and many others, while Dan focuses on urban bus services within the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. Like any city, Tel Aviv has several very useful high-frequency bus routes and as the city isn’t so big, for most visitors, knowing three or four bus routes, such as the 4, 5 and 18 can be useful.
Most bus lines run from early morning until late, with some night lines available as well. While most buses in Tel Aviv do not run on Shabbat – with services ending on Friday mid-afternoon and resuming on Saturday night, there are sherut services (the little yellow taxis or minivans) and a small number of ‘Shabbat buses’ that do run, with more details to be found in our article about Getting Around Tel Aviv.
Inter-city bus travel is likely to take you to the central bus terminal, known as the Arlozorov or Tel Aviv 2000 Terminal, a major bus station located next to the Tel Aviv Central railway station, or the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station in the southern part of the city. Comprising eight floors and 2.5 million square feet, or about 43 American football fields, this station is the largest and most fascinating central bus terminal in the country and one of the largest bus terminals in the world, bigger than New York’s Grand Central, London’s Waterloo, or Shanghai’s General Long Distance Bus Station.
Israel trains – a modern and efficient network
Coming from the train-strike landscape of the UK, the sheer joy I felt when boarding an air-conditioned double decker train in Israel was unparalleled. Spacious, cool, and filled with charge points, travelling on this modern network was a far cry from the four centuries of Ottoman rule (1517-1917), when a network of ancient railway lines could actually take you to Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. With a much improved network (and continued electrification), Israel trains are easy, with the fast train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv now taking approximately 40-45 minutes, and Tel Aviv having four major train stations from which to depart (Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv Savidor Central, Tel Aviv HaShalom (near the Azrieli Center shopping mall) and Tel Aviv HaHagana (near the central bus station). Download the app for Israel Railways, which is the operator of the county’s train services, connecting many cities and towns across the country.
There is also the Light Rail system – first introduced in Jerusalem in 2011, and will also have the Red Line in Tel Aviv, due to be operational this summer, after many delays. In Jerusalem, the Light Rail is a convenient mode of transportation in the city, travelling down Jaffa Street, close to the Dan Hotels Jerusalem, and also linking various neighborhoods and many tourist landmarks. Both will accept the RavKav. In Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, the
Carmelit, or unique underground funicular railway, connects downtown Haifa with the residential neighborhoods on Mount Carmel. It is currently the only subway line in Israel and listed in the Guinness World Records as the shortest subway system in the world.
In Israel – Hail Taxi! Or just choose Gett
if there are a few people in your party, it is extremely hot, or time if of the essence, then hailing a taxi in Israel can often be the best way to get around. When you land, there is an official taxi rank at the airport, with taxis metered and the fare to Tel Aviv between NIS 150-200. Like most airports, there are off-the-the-meter cabs where you are likely to pay more. Within the towns and cities themselves, there are taxi ranks at train and bus stations where you can pay cash to the meter, but one of the best ways of getting a taxi is to download the Gett or Yango apps onto your smartphone, allowing you to book and track your ride, estimate fares, and pay electronically. Just relax and safely await your ride.
While the majority of cabs should be metered, if you’re traveling long distances or outside the city, it’s advisable to negotiate the fare beforehand. It’s important to note that fares may vary depending on the time of day, traffic conditions, and any additional luggage charges. It’s advisable to have the destination address written down or use GPS navigation to ensure smooth communication with the driver, especially if you don’t speak Hebrew.
Renting a set of wheels in Israel
With traffic hectic and the towns and cities well connected, renting a car is ideal for an epic road trip, getting off the beaten path and getting to Caesarea National Park, not far from the classic Dan Caesarea in the north or down to the Dead Sea and Masada or Mitzpe Ramon. If you want to head out on such an adventure, there are many scenic routes to take, so, while most signs are also in English, rent a car with GPS or use the Waze app, which provides great GPS and real-time traffic info. Among the main companies, you will find well-known international brands, such as Hertz, Avis, Sixt, and others, all with competitive prices, diverse vehicle options and offices in major cities.
Dan Hotels: Ideally placed for the vacation of a lifetime
With four luxury hotels in Jerusalem, including the flagship King David, as well as the Dan Jerusalem, Dan Panorama Jerusalem, and Dan Boutique Jerusalem, you are at the heart of where you need to be, and close to all public transport. In Tel Aviv, aside from being an easy city to navigate with public transport and on foot, you also have car rental companies, such as Budget, with a Tel Aviv office close to the Dan Tel Aviv, and Enterprise, right by the Dan Tel Aviv Panorama. Rent a car from near the Dan Carmel Haifa, or the Dan Panorama Haifa to explore the Mount Carmel National Park or in Eilat, where there are the stunning Dan Eilat, Dan Panorama Eilat and Neptune Eilat, an ideal base from which to explore the Timna Valley, Mitzpe Ramon and the shimmering landscape that is the Negev Desert.
Whether you rely on Israel transportation or take matters into your own hands, some preparation will get you ready for the trip of a lifetime in the finest hotels in Israel.
Written by Lee Saunders