Israel is 2 hours ahead of Greenwich Meantime (GMT). Daylight Saving time starts on the Friday before the 02 April. The move back to standard time occurs late September/early October according to the Jewish calendar falling on a Saturday night between Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur. During this period, Israel is 3 hours ahead of GMT.
Standard voltage is 220 volts, 50Hz AC. Primary sockets require the Continental or European, 2 small round pin variety. We recommend that you pack a universal travel adaptor. You will need a voltage converter, and plug adaptor in order to use U.S. appliances.
The currency of Israel is Israeli New Shekel.
Pound Sterling, US Dollars, Euro and other major currencies can be exchanged in Israel. ATMs and exchange facilities are available everywhere. It's advisable to request bank notes in smaller denominations, as it can sometimes be hard to get change from large notes and smaller notes are handy for smaller purchases and gratuities.
Traveller's Cheques are not recommended as they're often difficult to exchange and incur high fees.
You should seek medical advice before travelling to Israel from your local health practitioner and ensure that you receive all of the appropriate vaccinations. As a guide Tetanus and Hepatitis A are strongly recommended.
The tap water in Israel is generally considered safe to drink, but as a precaution against stomach upsets you may want to drink bottled water, which is readily available from shops, hotels and restaurants.
Food in Israel is extremely diverse and generally very good. A well known favourite is falafel – small fried balls of mashed chickpeas, usually served inside unleavened pita bread with houmous (a cream of chickpeas, tehina, onion, lemon and olive oil). Another popular dish is Shawarma, sliced turkey meat which is also served in pita bread. Also try Me’orav Yerushalmi (Jerusalemite mix) which contain several types of meat, or Schnitzel. Fresh fruit and salads are very popular in Israeli cuisine and a Fatoush salad is a must try - chopped onions, cucumbers and herbs are mixed together and topped with fried bread and sometimes feta or grilled halloumi cheese.
Kosher food means anything that is allowed by the Jewish religious laws concerning food. In short, pork and shellfish are forbidden and meat and dairy products must not be cooked together or eaten at the same meal. Most of the hotels in Israel are Kosher (including those we use on our group tours), so breakfast is dairy, and during lunch and dinner it is not possible to have milk in tea or coffee. In religious cities like Jerusalem many cafes and restaurants are Kosher.
Regular Western style food and drinks are readily available for the not so adventurous. Fast food chains like Pizza hut, McDonalds and Burger king are readily available.
Israel tap water is regarded as safe to drink, though bottled water is recommended for short stays. Alcohol is available at many hotels and restaurants (excluding the Palestinian territories). Maccabee and Gold star (costing approx USD$5 a bottle) are both palatable pale lagers and certified kosher. Israeli wine is produced by hundreds of wineries, ranging in size from boutique enterprises to large companies producing over ten million bottles per year. The modern Israeli wine industry was founded by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, owner of the Bordeaux estate Château Laffite-Rothschild. Much of the country is suited for viticulture, prices are a little high though still a top drop can be enjoyed with every meal.
Israeli wine, kosher products, t-shirts and diamonds are some of the best souvenirs on offer. Israel is one of the best countries for purchasing Judaica and Christian pilgrim trinkets.
Bargaining is common in most modern areas in Israel. Usually it’s easier to make a deal if you are buying multiple items rather than a single item. Bargaining is also common in bazaars and the more rural markets, and when buying second hand products. Prices in tourist areas such as the Old City of Jerusalem can routinely be haggled down to as low as 50% of the asking price. Prices are fixed in restaurants, large stores and shopping malls.
Culture & Dress
Despite the inevitable ups and downs of travelling abroad, you will generally be shown great hospitality in Israel. Israel is generally a very relaxed country with a western-oriented outlook. Respect for religion is important to most Israeli’s and there are a few situations when this should be kept in mind.
Visitors to some synagogues, most churches and all mosques should be aware that entry will normally not be permitted to those with exposed legs or women with exposed upper arms. Women may be asked to cover bare arms and legs in both mosques and synagogues. Carry a wrap or bring along long sleeve shirts for these occasions. Further, men should cover their heads when entering a synagogue with a hemispherical shaped skullcap called a kippah or yarmulke (often provided by the synagogue) though a normal sunhat is also acceptable and in mosques both men and women will be required to take off their shoes before entry.
Israeli people are generally quite direct in what they have to say. Openness and honesty are often valued over politeness and projection of niceness. Direct personal questions are common and should not be taken as offensive. Israelis are also very kind and hospitable. When you make a friend here, they will do their best to take care of you while you’re in their country. Foreign visitors are deeply appreciated and are generally shown the utmost respect by locals.
The origins of various Jewish holidays generally can be found in Biblical mitzvot (commandments), rabbinical mandate, and modern Israeli history. Shabbat is the Jewish name for the Sabbath and is observed weekly. It begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. Israeli Jews observe Shabbat in different ways. For example, in Tel Aviv you will see cars on the road and shops open for trade, whilst in Jerusalem Conservative and Orthodox Jews may deem that no work should be done at all. This may include by definition, turning on a light, driving a car or cooking. If staying in Jerusalem on a Friday evening near all restaurants and cafes are closed. Hotel resultants still remain open and room service is often also available.
National Jewish holidays in 2015 where work is not permitted (in addition to Shabbat) starting from sunset the day prior include Purim – 4 – 5 March 2015, Passover - 3 – 11 April 2015, Yom Ha' Atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) - 22 – 23 April 2015, Rosh Hashanah (New Year) - 13 – 15 September 2015, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) - 22 – 23 September 2015. Chanukah the festival of lights is celebrated from 6 – 14 December 2015 where many businesses remain open at this time.