Without a doubt, this is the most frequent question that we get asked. Why Israel?
Well, we knew right from the outset that we weren’t going to have a traditional ceremony with a church and a dress and all that malarkey. Similarly, from that very first “should we take a honeymoon?” conversation, we knew that we didn’t want to go to Fiji or Hawaii or any other typical warm, sunny beach. To borrow a cliche (as we are clearly loathe to do), it just didn’t feel like “us”.
Other couples we knew had done those honeymoons at resorts with cocktails and leisurely beach-side strolls, and they’d all had a wonderful time… but we just couldn’t mentally insert ourselves into those beach resort selfies.
Working out the logistics of a trip to a country as controversial as Israel can be a bit of a nightmare. You might be lucky enough to have an amazing travel agent to manage it all for you. If not, never fear: we’ve got it all here, in one place! This is our guide to everything you need to know about travelling to Israel.
Visas to Enter Israel
For Australian and Kiwi tourists travelling on an Aust/NZ passport: you don’t need to apply for a visa ahead of time. Upon arrival, you’ll fill out some forms, and they will issue you a three-month tourist visa on the spot (free of charge). They might also ask you a few questions about why you’ve come to Israel, what you plan to do there, and when you’ll be leaving. You’ll receive a tiny slip of paper (it looks like a fancy EFTPOS receipt), and you need to keep this on you at all times. We kept ours tucked inside our passports, and we were asked to show them on several occasions. You’ll also need it to depart without problems, so DO NOT LOSE IT!
Israel has similar arrangements with a number of other countries (including the U.S., U.K., and much of Europe), but it’s always best to double check with your Israeli embassy or your own government before jetting off. If you’re one of the unlucky ones that does need to apply in advance, there’s a visa application form available online, which needs to be sent ahead along with copies of your passport and roundtrip ticket (and, of course, a small fee).
Bear in mind that these rules apply for tourists only: if you’re planning to work or live (>3 months) in Israel, you’ll need a different visa.
It probably won’t come as any great shock to those of you who have followed this blog for a while, but… we didn’t do a great job in preparing ourselves for our honeymoon. One thing that we really should have locked in ahead of time is managing money in Israel. There were a lot of tips and tricks that, had we known before we left, would have made the trip much smoother. Here’s everything with which we really should have armed ourselves before we jetted off, put all together in one place, just for you!
Currency (Israeli New Shekels)
Formally, Israel’s currency is the Israeli New Shekel, but pretty much everyone calls it by its former name: the New Israeli Shekel. This gets abbreviated to “NIS” a lot. Technically, the NIS breaks down into “aragot” (100 aragot to the NIS, so it’s the exact equivalent of cents in the dollar), but we didn’t see prices in aragot all that often. Most prices are rounded off.
Like most dickhead millennials, we knew almost nothing about Tel Aviv before we landed there. We’d heard that it was a bustling cosmopolitan hub in the Middle East, there were rumours of a killer live music scene, and I’d discovered through work that there were a lot of hot technology start-ups flourishing there… but, on the whole, we were pretty bloody clueless. On the one hand, this was great, because it meant that we were pleasantly surprised at every turn. On the other, I think it’s a bit of a bummer that kids like us with a taste for adventure might not know the rewards they’ll reap for making the sojourn to Israel’s second largest city.
I’m not going to give you a list of historical sites and tourists attractions – you can find those lists all over the Internet. These are the little things, the wonderful and unexpected details that make Tel Aviv well worth a visit.
For those of you lucky enough to have no dietary restrictions, the ability of a country to cater to your needs (literally!) is not a high-priority criterion when deciding on a honeymoon destination. Unfortunately, I can’t count myself among you. I am (sigh) the gluten-free girl. That means wherever I travel, I need to spend a bit of time researching which local cuisine options won’t kill me, and how to ask for them in the native tongue. You might be surprised to learn that Israel is excellent at accommodating the needs of travellers in this way. That’s why this edition of the Ultimate Guide to Eating in Israel will highlight what’s available for the intolerant and observant among us. There are restaurant listings available everywhere (Best vegetarian restaurants in Tel Aviv! Best kosher meals in Jerusalem! etc.), so this guide will focus on more general information about what’s available, wherever you go.
Vegetarian/Vegan Options In Israel
You can’t swing a cat in Tel Aviv without hitting a vegetarian/vegan menu. Veggie options are available everywhere – moreso than kosher, even (see below). This is partially because a lot of traditional Israeli foods fall into this category without modification (e.g., hummus, falafel), but also because Tel Aviv prides itself on being a cosmopolitan hub of progressives and bohemians and those communities more inclined to chose a plant-based life.
For us gentiles, flicking through a beginner’s guide to kosher is probably a good idea before heading to Israel. We didn’t (of course) but we picked it up fairly quickly as we went along. Most of the kosher guides online are aimed at people who were raised in the Jewish faith who already keep kosher, or those who plan to convert. In the interest of catering to people more like us – curious tourists, eager to respect local traditions – I figured a beginner’s guide to kosher our way would be a good addition to this Ultimate Guide to Eating in Israel series.
Kosher is a Hebrew word that translates roughly to “prepared” – foods permitted and prepared according to the Torah (the basis of all Jewish law). Anything not-kosher is called “treif”. I’m certainly not a position to give a religious education here, but this guide should cover off everything you need to know ordering food in Israel as a curious/respectful tourist.