Intercity buses are the fastest and easiest way of traveling between the major cities of Israel. Buses between Jerusalem, Haifa, and Tel Aviv depart very frequently. For less frequent buses, such as Tel Aviv or Jerusalem to Eilat, or Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, you must book your ticket in advance. Egged Bus Company connects most cities in Israel and operates buses within Jerusalem and Haifa.
Israel Railways is the country's state-run rail company. It connects Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Nahariya in the north, and also makes stops at Ben-Gurion Airport, Beersheba, Jerusalem, and elsewhere.
A sherut (shared taxi van) is a good way to travel between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and between Tel Aviv and Haifa. Sheruts from Jerusalem leave as fast as they fill up from the corner of Rav Kook Street and Hanevi’im Street in Jerusalem (across Jaffa Rd. from Zion Square), and deposit you at the New Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, where you can pick up local sheruts that ply the Number 4 bus route to the Ha-Yarkon St. hotel district or the Number 5 bus route to Rothschild and Dizengoff Boulevards.
Sheruts from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem or to Haifa wait just in front of the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. Make sure the sherut you enter is going to the right destination. Sheruts to Haifa tend to fill up slowly.
Tip: Intercity sherut fares are virtually the same as bus fares, except on Shabbat, when they double (because no buses run). Because sheruts carry fewer passengers than buses, and there is time to scrutinize passengers, many Israelis feel sheruts are a bit less likely to be terror targets than buses.
In the main Israeli cities, such as Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem, a car is not only unnecessary, it’s a burden. Parking is very difficult, and these cities are also cursed with arcane driving regulations. Plus, taxis, sheruts, and buses are efficient and reasonably priced, so you can easily let someone else do the driving.
A car becomes necessary if you want to explore the Galilee or the sites along the coast. Distances are short, so you can take in many sites. Major road signs are almost always in Hebrew and English; don’t panic if on a major highway a sign is only in Hebrew—the next sign up or the one beyond will usually have the information you need in English.
Important Note: Cars rented in Israel are often not insured for damages or liability if taken into the West Bank or Gaza. That being said, most companies’ rental insurance does permit travel on Hwy. 1, the main east-west highway from Jerusalem to The Dead Sea and on Route 90, the main road along The Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley from near Jericho north to Tiberias. Clarify these regulations each time you rent a car and get explicit instructions as to how to get to these roads in the West Bank, making sure not to stray anywhere else in the West Bank with your rental car. Also, clarify whether your car is insured for East Jerusalem, should you be planning to drive or stay in that part of the city.
Seatbelt use for drivers and all passengers is mandatory.
Road closures: In the ultrareligious neighborhoods of Jerusalem and in ultrareligious quarters of some smaller cities, public roads are closed to cars for the duration of Shabbat. Usually roads into these neighborhoods are blocked with rocks or boulders or police barriers. DO NOT TRY TO ENTER ANY ROAD BLOCKED OFF IN SUCH A WAY. Back up immediately and try to get away from the area. Drivers who inadvertently wander into such neighborhoods will have stones thrown at them and risk bodily harm.
Renting a Car
In general, you’ll do best, money-wise, reserving a car in advance of your arrival. If you plan to travel in the summer, or drive to the Negev and Eilat, you’ll want a car with air-conditioning that really works.
The largest Israeli car-rental firm is Eldan and is always worth looking into. Its fleet of cars is larger and more varied than those of the international agencies, and it often has discounts. Eldan also offers more offices and service centers throughout the country than any of its noninternational, Israeli competitors, so if you have a breakdown, you have a better chance of getting a replacement quickly.
Driving is one of the best ways to see Israel, but it can be expensive. Ways to save:
* Find a package that bundles together the cost of the car with airfare or lodgings.
* Rent on an unlimited kilometer basis so there are no ugly surprises. Renting by the week can be cheaper, but is not a good idea unless you plan to be in countryside areas for the entire 7-day rental period.
* Rent the cheapest class of vehicle: There’s a shortage of these cars at the rental agencies, which means there’s a good chance you’ll be bumped up a class, at no extra cost, if you do this. No guarantees though.
Some smaller Israeli companies offer no rental charge on Shabbat, although you do have to pay Saturday insurance (if it is a religious company, you may be on your honor not to drive on Shabbat). Others offer free transportation from the airport to your hotel if you want to start the rental later in your trip. Companies offering such services are often more expensive, but you may find these extras worthwhile. Warning: Beware of companies that offer to waive rental fees and insurance on Shabbat. If your parked car is vandalized or stolen on Shabbat, you’re in big trouble.
Parking, Gasoline & Breakdowns
In Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and other main cities, parking can be extremely difficult. When you park on streets in downtown areas during daylight hours, you’ll either pay for parking with a meter, or you’ll display a parking card in the passenger window. Cards can be purchased at sidewalk dispensing machines. Tip: Keep a lookout for parking police who may ticket your car while you’re dashing to the dispenser.
Parking is permitted where curbs are painted blue and white, although you may need to display a parking card. It’s forbidden where curbs are red and white or gray. Parking on many residential streets in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv will soon be by residential sticker only. At most hotels in major cities, you’ll have to pay to park in an often distant municipal lot or the hotel’s limited space lot (fees are usually reasonable, but rates vary according to day or night and Shabbat). Most rural hotels have free parking.
Note: Do not park illegally anywhere or you will get towed; parking enforcement officials in Israel are quick and very thorough. You might see locals park on the sidewalks, but unless you know what you’re doing, don’t follow their example.
Breakdowns: Saturday and Jewish holidays, it’s near impossible to have a flat tire repaired in many areas, but your rental-car company will provide you with road service numbers to call in case of emergencies. Bigger companies usually have better service.
Distances in Israel are not great, and with the time you’d spend to get to the airport, pass through security, and go through the arrival process and transfers at your destination, you could probably just drive. But if traveling overland on hot days just isn’t your cup of tea, then by all means use Israel’s inland air service Arkia.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.