Israel on a budget: An oxymoron? Beautiful Israel is renowned for being a relatively expensive travel destination. Startlingly expensive actually. You might say that Israel has prices that make you want to cry more than chopping an onion (!)
Prices in Tel Aviv are comparable to those in Central London. However, if you do your research, traveling to Israel on a budget is certainly feasible.
- 1 How to Visit Israel on a Budget
- 2 Currency in Israel
- 3 Israel Budget:How Much Should I Allocate?
- 4 A Breakdown of Average Costs in Israel
- 5 Ways to Reduce Costs and Travel Israel on a Budget
- 5.1 Couchsurf to Cut Costs
- 5.2 Browse for Low-Cost Accommodation Options in Israel
- 5.3 Volunteer in Exchange for Free Accommodation
- 5.4 Make Smart Dining Decisions
- 5.5 Mind Your Alcohol
- 5.6 Be Mindful of Where You Change Money
- 5.7 Find Cheap Flights to Israel!
- 5.8 Go Off the Beaten Track
- 5.9 Take Free Guided Tours
- 5.10 Save Money on Transportation
- 5.11 Consider Renting a Car
- 5.12 Buy a Local Sim Card
- 6 Israel Budget Travel:A Conclusion
- 7 Israel Budget: Pin it For Later!
How to Visit Israel on a Budget
You only need to be willing to make a few small changes to your accommodation and dining choices to notice a marked difference in your Israel travel budget. Opt for free (tip-based) walking tours instead of expensive guided tours. Choose private rooms in hostels instead of hotels, and shop at shuks and street food markets as opposed to expensive restaurants.
“Expensive” is something of a relative term. However, Haaretz estimated that the cost of traveling to Israel was just as expensive (if not higher) than visiting European capital cities such as Moscow and Paris.
I was quite naive when I booked my solo trip to Israel and although I had heard people mention that it was a little on the pricier side, I massively underestimated by how much.
This guide provides some food for thought on how to visit Israel on a budget. It discusses various aspects of planning your trip and how to reduce costs in that area.
Currency in Israel
The national currency in Israel is the Israel shekel (ILS). This currency is also used in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Precise currency conversions are always subject to fluctuations. However, one USD is approximately 3.7 ILS. Subsequently, 1 GBP is approximately 4.36 ILS. You should check the precise exchange rates prior to your trip.
Never exchange currency at airports, hotels, and major transportation hubs. The rates here will be less competitive. US Dollars are occasionally accepted by Israeli hotels and tour companies.
International credit and debit cards are widely accepted in Israel. Most stores, restaurants and businesses accept card payments.
Plenty of ATMs can be found throughout Israeli towns and cities. You should keep in mind that your bank may charge you foreign transaction and conversion charges if you use your card overseas.
How Much Should I Allocate?
All things considered, it may come as a shock to hear that it is possible to visit Israel on a budget of just $20 a day. However, part of that depends on your own travel style and whether you are willing to “rough it”.
Extreme budget backpackers can consider couchsurfing, hitchhiking, ridesharing and cooking their own meals. This way, they can easily adhere to the $20 a day budget.
If you want to travel through Israel comfortably, you are looking at $80-100 per day of your Israel itinerary. This affords you a private room in a basic hotel and some meals out.
Israel on a $20 a Day Budget (Extreme Backpacker)
Israelis are arguably some of the friendliest and most-welcoming people in the world. This is great if you consider yourself an extreme budget backpacker. The sharing economy is thriving in Israel.
Backpackers can use apps such as Couchsurfing to stay with locals and mitigate any accommodation costs. Hitchhiking is a great way to get between Israeli towns and cities for free. Renting bicycles and cycling from A to B is a popular low-cost choice for getting around Tel Aviv.
A budget of $20 a day assumes that you will shop at supermarkets and cook most of your own meals. Dining out in Israel is expensive and a surefire way to quickly burn through your budget.
Israel on a $40 a Day Budget (Backpacker)
The average cost of a hostel dorm bed in Israel is around $15-20. You can travel to Israel on a budget of $40 per day provided that you stay in shared hostel accommodation and cook most of your own meals.
Israel on an $80-$100 a Day Budget (Mid Range)
You should allow a budget of $80-$100 per day if you want to explore Israel with a little more comfort and privacy. This budget assumes that you will stay in the private room of a hostel or an independently-owned Airbnb.
Basic rooms in hotels and Airbnbs start from $35-$40 per night. However, the lower-cost rooms are usually in shorter supply and sell out quickly. Consequently, you should try and make your reservations in advance of your trip. Tel Aviv is arguably the most expensive city in Israel. When you get to Haifa, Jerusalem, Nazareth, etc, prices are usually considerably lower.
This budget still assumes that you cook most of your own meals, take public transport and explore independently.
A Breakdown of Average Costs in Israel
It is helpful to gain an understanding of the average prices of various goods and services in Israel. A handful of average prices are detailed below to help you to envisage how much you are likely to spend.
- Bed in Hostel Dormitory – $15-$20 per night
- Basic Single Room in Hotel/Airbnb – $40 per night
- Mid Range Hotel Room – $80 – $100 per night
- Bus from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv (and vice versa) – $5 each way
- Falafel Pitta – $4
- Shawarma with a Drink and Fries – $10
- Lunch at Basic Restaurant – $15 – $20
- Pint of Beer – $10
- Average Cost of Entry to Museums – $15
- Average Cost of Entry to National Parks – $10
It is important to also note that tipping is expected in cafes, bars, and restaurants in Israel. This ranges between 10 and 15% depending on how happy you are with the service.
A 10% tip should be considered the absolute minimum. 12% is an average tip. Tips are expected so consider the total price when choosing restaurants.
Ways to Reduce Costs and Travel Israel on a Budget
A selection of ways that you can reduce your travel costs and explore Israel on a budget is provided below.
Couchsurf to Cut Costs
If you haven’t heard of Couchsurfing yet,
where have you been then it’s definitely time to download the app. The concept of Couchsurfing is simply that you stay with locals for free.
Couchsurfing provides a great opportunity to make international friends while you travel. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, in particular, both have a very active Couchsurfing community.
Accommodation in Israel is expensive; even hostel beds can set you back over £20 a night. Consequently, opting to couch surf alleviates a lot of your expenses. Not to mention, Israelis are incredibly friendly and fun!
Browse for Low-Cost Accommodation Options in Israel
If Couchsurfing isn’t your thing, I completely get that. Israel has recently started opening up to international travellers in a big way so there are a fair few hostels dotted around – it’s just that they may be a little more expensive compared to what you are used to!
I stayed at the Abraham Hostels in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem (there’s also one in Nazareth which is a converted mansion!) and I have to say that it was one of the most fun hostels I’ve ever stayed at! The hostels are huge, hold events daily and it’s like a whole community of travellers. A bit like the community in Leonardo DiCaprio’s “The Beach” just without the Lord of the Flies-esque behaviour.
Volunteer in Exchange for Free Accommodation
It is also worth noting that certain hostels in Israel offer a volunteer program where you can spend several weeks or months working at the hostel in exchange for accommodation. Abraham hostels are one company that do this. This could be a good option if you are travelling long term.
When I’m browsing hostels and hotels, I also always make sure that I pick ones that include breakfast too so that I don’t have that extra expense. That way, I can stuff myself silly in the morning and I probably won’t eat again until the evening (so what if I’ve given up luxuries like eating in exchange for travel. Who needs food anyway?)
Make Smart Dining Decisions
If you have travelled in the Middle East before, you’re probably rejoicing over the super tasty, flavourful foods you’re going to eat for cheap when you return and visit Israel right? Well, stop that right now!
Eating out at a restaurant in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem will set you back anywhere between 40-60 shekels (basic restaurant), and having a simple sandwich at a cafe or coffee shop can be anywhere between 25 and 40 shekels.
Fast food and street food in Israel isn’t cheap either in Israel and will cost you around the same price. I did, however, find that there are some falafel places where you can get a falafel pita for just 17 shekels (circa £3.60/ $5).
I was actually eating all the time at this one place in Tel Aviv which caused the guy to ask “Are you vegetarian? All you eat is falafel pita!” (No sir just poor). Eating out a lot is a sure-fire way to quickly obliterate your Israel budget so it’s important to try and prepare your own food, or eat street food where you can.
I bought my food mostly from shuks (local food markets) and supermarkets. Typically, I’d buy a huge pot of hummus and eat that every day with pita bread and some cheap fruits and veggies (living the life!).
Mind Your Alcohol
Alcohol prices in Israel are expensive. Most bars in Tel Aviv were charging around £8/$11 for a pint of beer. £8 A PINT!
I actually don’t drink alcohol so this didn’t really affect me too much, but if you are partial to a tipple or two, be prepared to fork over a lot of your Israel budget on alcohol. Of course, it’s much cheaper to buy alcohol from local supermarkets, especially if you are willing to experiment with the questionable “budget” brands.
Be Mindful of Where You Change Money
Major economic and political events can cause the Israeli exchange rate to change. You should purchase a small number of shekels prior to your departure so that you have Israeli currency ready for your trip. As your budget trip to Israel approaches, monitor the shekel exchange rate to see how it fares.
The conversion rate is generally better once you arrive in Israel. You will find currency exchanges with competitive rates in the larger towns and villages (Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, etc).
Find Cheap Flights to Israel!
Many budget airlines offer affordable flights to Israel. This is particularly the case if you are flying from European and Middle Eastern cities.
The low-cost flights do slightly make up for the expense when you arrive in Israel. Flights from London to Tel Aviv can be purchased for as little as $40 each way.
Go Off the Beaten Track
Israel is pretty expensive as a whole. However, you will find slightly lower prices once you escape the major cities. In Northern Israel and in smaller towns and settlements, prices are slightly lower.
If you decide to travel to Palestine (you should!), you will find that prices are substantially cheaper than in the major cities. In the West Bank, you can get a sandwich or a falafel pita for 10 shekels for example, as opposed to the 20 + you would typically pay in the major Israel cities. (Obviously, there is a lot more to Palestine than just cheap sandwiches!)
Take Free Guided Tours
Tours can be costly and as a rule of thumb, I only ever really use them if I am visiting an area that is difficult to get to as a solo traveller. I personally prefer the independence to wander around by myself and I would assure you that Israel is a pretty safe and liberal country for travelling alone.
That said, sometimes it’s nice to pop along to a tour and to meet new people or hear more details about the local history. New Sandeman’s Tours offer free walking tours of Jerusalem’s Old City and Jaffa that depart daily. It should be noted that you are expected to tip on these tours but the amount is at your discretion.
For organised day trips, Abraham Tours and Get Your Guide both have an excellent reputation. I loved GYG’s Masada sunrise tour. A trip of this kind can cost you anywhere between £50-£150 pounds, or $70 – $200.
Save Money on Transportation
Transportation in Israel can also be pricey. You need to be aware that “shabbat” aka Israel’s Jewish holy day has a major impact on transportation and business schedules. From Friday to around midday on Saturday, public transportation stops running therefore it is important to take this into consideration when planning your itinerary and your journeys around Israel!
Getting To/From the Airport
The train is the cheapest way to get from Ben Gurion International Airport to Tel Aviv Central Railway station. The train costs 13 shekels (aka £2.80 or $3.80) for a one-way ride.
Bus number 485 runs from Ben Gurion to Jerusalem and costs around £3.50/$4.50 each way. There are other options for getting to and from each city but here I have highlighted the cheapest.
When I’m in a city, I personally choose to walk everywhere so that I can save on costs, stay fit, and discover hidden gems along the way. In Tel Aviv there are also tons of bicycle rental places dotted around.
Cabs are quite expensive in Israel. Taking one from one side of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem to the other can set you back between $20-$30 so I would really advise that you try not to use this option unless you really find yourself lost and in a mess, lest you want to obliterate your Israel budget.
Israel also has “sheruts” which are essentially shared taxis. The drivers follow a set route around cities or between them. Once you flag the driver down he will stop for you provided there is room in the car. Sheruts do run between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv but they operate on a very limited schedule and so it is sometimes more convenient to get a bus or take the light rail.
Trains & Buses
Trains and buses in Israel are modern, clean and efficient and some of them even have wifi installed. You can check the latest train prices, routes and schedules here and the details of the buses here.
Other Transport Options in Israel
Abraham Hostels have a hop-on, hop-off bus that runs around Israel as well as a shuttle that runs several times a day between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
From Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and vice versa, it’s 25 shekels or £5.30/$7. The hop on hop off bus stops at various cities and towns around Israel. Notably, it includes Caeserea, Acre, Beit She’an (Jordan River Crossing), Safed, Tiberius, and Nazareth. Since it can be quite awkward to get to some of these places independently (especially the Jordan crossing), this is a pretty useful transport link to know about.
Consider Renting a Car
Renting a car in Israel is fairly reasonably priced. You can expect to pay approximately 80 shekels ($22) per day for a rental. If there are several of you, or you plan on venturing out to some of the more “off the beaten path” places like Masada, Ein Gedi, Nahal Katlav, etc, renting a car will be more economical than paying for tours or purchasing several transport tickets.
Many reputable rental companies operate from within Israel. Roads here are in very good condition and driving in Israel is not as daunting as it perhaps sounds!
Europcar, Sixt, Auto Shay, TIR, and Hertz all offer rentals from Tel Aviv. Consider collecting your rental after you have done exploring Tel Aviv. You don’t need a car here, and can explore on foot to save some money. Not to mention, finding parking in congested Tel Aviv is a nightmare!
Buy a Local Sim Card
Forgetting to turn off data roaming and needing to make calls while you travel is a sure-fire way to rack up unnecessary additional extras during your trip. Buy a local sim card when you arrive in Israel so that you will always be connected.
Israel Budget Travel:
If you couch surf, walk everywhere, only participate in free tours and activities and eat a mixture of cheap street food/falafel takeaways and self-prepared supermarket dishes, you can definitely manage to travel to Israel on a budget of less than $20 a day.
If you don’t want to couch surf and you would prefer to stay in a hostel, opt for one with breakfast included to save a little extra. You can still manage to make your trip cheap and affordable and can travel Israel for less than $40 a day.
Israel Budget: Pin it For Later!
Do you have any additional questions about traveling to Israel on a budget, the Israeli passport stamp, or planning a trip to Israel in general? Please don’t hesitate to contact me. I will get back to you as soon as I can. Safe travels! Melissa xo