This little Middle Eastern country is just a tiny dot on the map of the world, but once inside its borders, Israel offers an incredible amount of diverse things to do, unique scenery and incredible activities. Getting from place to place or city to city, this blog will help you navigate your way across this amazing little country. For more information on private transportation please see our following blog.
Within cities buses are the fastest and easiest way of traveling between the major cities of Israel (although traffic jams in recent years have led the country to resuscitate its almost forgotten train service along the Jerusalem–Tel Aviv–Haifa corridor). Buses between Jerusalem, Haifa, and Tel Aviv depart very frequently; at peak times as fast as each bus fills up. The Jerusalem–Tel Aviv fare is NIS 25. For less frequent buses, such as Tel Aviv or Jerusalem to Eilat (fare NIS 165 round trip) or Jerusalem to the Dead Sea (NIS 100 round trip), you must get a Rav Kav: which is a multi-ride transportation ticket.
Where can I buy a Rav Kav?
A Rav Kav card can be purchased at any Rav Kav service station across the country or from the bus driver him/herself. You can also order your Rav Kav on line via the Egged, Israel Railways and Metropoline websites.
There are two types of Rav Kav; the Personal Rav Kav and the Anonymous Rav Kav.
At the Rav Kav service station you will need to produce a valid identity document. A digital photograph will be taken and processed onto the card (just like on a driver’s license). The Rav Kav card is issued on the spot and your personal identification details are printed on the underside of the card.
Tourists, or anyone who does not wish to purchase the Personal Rav Kav can buy a Rav Kav Anonimi (the anonymous card) for a one-time fee of 5 shekels, from the bus driver or at the service stations across the country. The Rav Kav Anonimi can only be used for single rides. Multiple rides and season tickets cannot be loaded onto this card.
You purchase the appropriate fares (up to 8 different route combinations) which are loaded and credited to the card. Each time you use the public transport, you swipe the Rav Kav card in the card reader, either on the bus, train station or other public transport, and the appropriate fare is deducted from the balance. Eight different fare combinations can be loaded into a single Rav Kav card. Except on trains, a ride is valid for 90 minutes. This means you can get on and off and transfer to another line, an unlimited number of times within a 90-minute window and still only pay for one single fare.
Israel Railways (www.rail.co.il) has been undergoing a revival and expansion for more than a decade. Arlosoroff Street Central Train Station in Tel Aviv is the rail hub of Israel. The cost of a rail ticket is slightly higher than comparable bus fares. A rail line with frequent service along the Mediterranean coast connects Tel Aviv to Haifa and Nahariya in the north; a second line connects Tel Aviv to Ben-Gurion Airport; a third line goes from Tel Aviv to Beersheba; and a fourth line goes from Tel Aviv to the western outskirts of Jerusalem. Service along the coast is fast and frequent; the Beersheba and Jerusalem lines are less frequent. Please Note: Trains do not run on the Sabbath.
While many tourists opt to visit the bigger cities of Israel, there are plenty of other tourist attractions scattered throughout the countryside. Some places can be more difficult than others to reach by public transportation, so really sometimes a rental car is necessary. But other times you’ll find the intercity buses quite convenient options. Buses in Israel are often the cheapest option and you’ll most likely see them crowded with young Israelis going to and from their homes and their military bases.
Yep, that’s a gun pointed at my knee.
With Tel Aviv and Jerusalem just 65 km apart, buses are fast and depart regularly (every 15 minutes). They often fill-up past capacity with people sitting and standing on bags piled up in the aisle. Sometimes these buses even have wifi. (And sometimes that wifi even works!)
One thing that stands apart about the buses in Israel is the incredible amount of soldiers that you’ll find on the public transport. And all of them with large, scary and intimidating guns. It can be incredibly disconcerting at first, but, before you know it, it will be just another thing that you acclimate to as a true “sabra”.
My preferred method of getting around Israel are the sheruts, however, take note they only run in the Tel Aviv area. They run 24-7 all over the country and will pick up and drop off passengers anywhere along their typical routes. Often just a few shekels more than the public buses, they’re faster and more comfortable.
In Tel Aviv where the public transportation city buses are privatized and owned by a confusing amount of companies, sometimes the city sheruts are the easiest option for getting around the city (that is if you’re not on a bike). It can be intimidating at first because though the sheruts are numbered and have routes, they don’t have set stopping points or schedules. They come when they come and because they can only fit up to 12 or so passengers, if they’re full, they’re full. To take a sherut in Tel Aviv, you have to do the following:
Like mentioned above, the public sheruts follow similar routes to the other bus companies. The most common sherut lines in Tel Aviv are the #4 and #5.
Because most public transportation does not run from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening, I recommend planning your trip so that you spend weekdays outside the cities – in either the mountainous Galilee region or the Negev Desert – and weekends in the main cities. Another advantage is that the nature parks are much less crowded on weekdays and that there is much more going on in the cities on weekends.
On a final note, there is heavy traffic in the mornings toward Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The most traffic is on Sunday mornings and Thursday afternoons, while the roads are fairly clear on Fridays and Saturdays. When weather is nice on Saturdays, there will be pretty bad traffic from the north toward Tel Aviv.
Enjoy your travels and like always keep us posted!