The greatest 7 day Israel itinerary (with a 4 day extension to Jordan)

The storied nation of Israel knows how to write a drama of ages, some scenes heightened in a harried dash through walled old cities and others slowing the narrative with serene reflections on the hills and valleys that feed the depths of the Dead Sea. The cultural soundtrack along the way fuses Middle Eastern flavours with Mediterranean predilections, all singing to a shared biblical history, at large and still under dispute in the ancient city of Jerusalem. In some cities meanwhile, hedonism is the religion of choice, such as the modern beachside metropolis of Tel Aviv, and it’s here our 7-day journey starts, before moving south to desert oases and finally across the border to Jordan into the lost city of Petra. Follow us as we cover the best of what to do in Israel – with a four-day extension in Jordan – plus tips and advice on how best to get there.

Tailor Made Journey

Tailor-Made Israel

Discover a land held sacred by three faiths, visiting places where events recorded in the Bible unfolded, from Jerusalem to Nazareth, on an immersive independent journey that reveals the complex history of the land, its people and sacred sites.

Out Of Office Israel

Masada, Israel | Photo: Cole Keister

Gay Israel

A Middle Eastern country with a difference, Israel has a stellar reputation among gay travellers for its inclusivity and legal protections for LGBT citizens. Gay and lesbian Israelis are able to serve openly in the military and same-sex individuals and families are entitled to social and legal equality. Tel Aviv, in particular, considered the ‘Gay Capital of the Middle East’ is the centre of liberal society in Israel and home to a thriving LGBT community, out en masse during the annual Gay Pride Parade, hosted since 2002 and having grown into Asia’s largest pride parade, seeing international crowds of over 100,000 each year. Other cities including Jerusalem also have their own parades, signposting to travellers that much of the country is a safe space for LGBTQ+ travellers.

Not quite on the same page as gay Israel is the neighbouring nation of Jordan, which has slightly more conservative attitudes towards homosexuality. Upping your level of discretion is recommended if extending your Israel itinerary to include Jordan, as discrimination and harassment are more common. You may see men holding hands with men in the streets but this is usually among friends while other displays of affection (whether gay or straight) are frowned upon. To find your people in gay Jordan, try the underground scene in Amman with caution.

Photo: Ameer Basheer

Tel Aviv | Photo: Toa Heftiba

When to go

Average temperatures of around 32° Celsius in summer marks the months from June to August as Israel’s high season. If heat makes your hair go frizzy, Tel Aviv’s humidity and regions around Eilat, Tiberias and the Dead Sea are best avoided during this time, though evenings offer some respite with Jerusalem, in particular, a little cooler than most. Outside of the high season, you can dodge the worst heat and some of the crowds, taking advantage of more bearable daytime weather and cheaper rates outside of Jewish holiday periods (including Passover, HaShanah and Sukkot). While spring, fall and the shoulder seasons are top considerations (running from September to November and March to June), leaving winter as the coolest time to visit Eilat and the Dead Sea, though temperatures drop considerably the further north you venture (averaging 10°C) with occasional snowfall in Jerusalem.

How to cross to Jordan from Israel

A guidebook favourite for good reason is the trip from Israel to Petra, crossing through the southwest deserts of Jordan. Put your own spin on the journey by making your own way, or find a full package tour that leaves from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or Eilat. While the latter comes completely hassle-free, inclusive of border crossings, hotel transfers and guided tours within Petra, a self-made itinerary may give you more of a sense of achievement once reaching the ‘rose city’.

First opt to go by land or by sky, hiring a private vehicle or taxi from Tel Aviv, Eilat, or Jerusalem to Petra, or take a domestic flight direct to the Jordanian capital of Amman, then driving from Amman to Petra. Those starting in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem can cross the border into Jordan via Allenby Bridge (granted they hold a pre-issued visa), while those coming from Eilat can cross at the Arava Border. From Eliat the drive takes around 2 hours, with additional time needed for the oft-delayed and slightly pricey border crossing. Regardless of the extra legwork, we recommend driving for the greater independence it’ll give you.

Eilat, Israel | Photo: Yente Van Eynde

Tips for travelling to Israel and Jordan

Once settled on travelling to Israel and perhaps Jordan, your first step is to think about your visa applications to both. Pre-approved visas are available from their respective embassies in your home country but can also be granted upon arrival at an international airport for citizens of most Western countries. For instance, if you arrive in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport you can get a 3-month visa on arrival, which will then leave you the option of moving to Jordan by flight to Queen Alia International Airport in Amman or making a visit to the Jordanian embassy in Tel Aviv to get a single-entry visa for around $56USD. This second option is a good one for those looking to cross the land border into Jordan, as you will not be able to get a visa directly at the border.

With that visa in hand, both countries’ roads and highways open up a stream of opportunities to travellers, allowing for countless landmarks and relatively easy border crossings between the two. Prepare to have your bags searched when crossing in either direction and know that there is an exit tax of 179 shekels ($55 USD) to leave Israel at Allenby Bridge and a further 10 Jordanian dollars ($15USD) to return. Some routes out of Israel can be cheaper, such as those at Sheikh Hussein and Wadi Araba ($32USD), or splurge on the VIP private shuttle service which speeds the process up and provides a tea and coffee lounge at a cost of $115USD one way (extra border fees and visas not included). Bring cash to pay all the fees in the right currency or exchange money at the border if necessary.

Be mindful of the days you are travelling as you don’t want to be caught out by an unexpected Jewish holiday. Timing is also important as most borders close at 8 PM on weekdays and fluctuate on weekends and some holidays. During Yom Kippur, all three borders out of Israel will be closed.

Though Jordan and Israel have a peaceful diplomatic relationship, travellers looking to continue touring the Middle East now or in the future should know that the Israeli passport stamp does not sit well with passport officials in some other Arab countries. If the stamp could be an issue for you, try flying into Amman and crossing into Israel via Allenby Bridge where the custom is to not stamp passports. Otherwise, if using any other land crossing, kindly tell the immigration officer to stamp a piece of paper instead of your passport.

One more thing to note about border stations is regarding the taxis that await on the Jordanian side. While they are perfectly safe, prices to get to your destination are likely inflated. Instead, agree on a price upfront to a nearby town and get another cab from there. Pre-arranged services made through your hotel or online are also available. Once in Jordan, consider buying the Jordan Pass if staying for more than a couple of days. This is a sightseeing package that includes admission and the visa into Petra alongside forty other tourist attractions for the steal price of $100 USD.

Western Wall, Jerusalem | Photo: Toa Heftiba

Wadi Rum, Jordan | Photo: Andrea Leopardi

More things to know before travelling

While you could get lucky and whiz through security, some travellers report having to endure a long security interview in and out of Israel which can screw up any schedule. Arrive 2-3 hours in advance, stay calm and keep your answers brief when being interviewed. One of the reasons for seriousness at the border is due to the various religious tensions within the country. Besides the much-maligned issue of Palestine, there is also some related conflict between the three main religions practised, primarily Judaism, Orthodox Judaism and Islam. One Jewish practice to be aware of is the Shabbat, happening every Friday after sundown until Saturday night around the country. At this time you’ll likely find many shops, bars and restaurants closed, with transport services limited, particularly in Jerusalem but less so in Tel Aviv.

Though religious, many Israelis hold modern attitudes and lifestyles, meaning you should feel free to dress as you wish, particularly in Tel Aviv. Exceptions include visits to orthodox neighbourhoods and religious sites such as the Wailing Wall and Esplanade of the Mosques, where you should dress modestly by covering your arms and legs.

If self-driving, you shouldn’t have too much to stress about, besides the somewhat expensive parking fees and busier traffic in the key cities. Long drives through the desert (driving on the right-hand side) can get dull quickly however so make sure to break regularly and stay alert for camels crossing the road.

Israel | Photo: David Mark

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Nicknamed the Manhattan of the Middle East, Tel Aviv will leave you dumbstruck with its cosmopolitan energy infused with beachside glamour and Jewish architectural heritage

Tel Aviv (2 days)

Nicknamed the Manhattan of the Middle East, Tel Aviv will leave you dumbstruck with its cosmopolitan energy infused with beachside glamour and Jewish architectural heritage. Lovers of the Bauhaus movement will feel at home in Tel Aviv, a city of 4,000 Bauhaus builds, a quarter of which are listed by UNESCO as key emblems of this ‘White City’. Aside from star-studded coastline and non-stop party lifestyles, Israel’s capital overflows with creativity, notable in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and showcased by myriad street art murals and independent galleries centred around the bohemian neighbourhood of Florentin. Theatrical performance is also big and there is a rich theatre scene, inclusive of classical music, opera and ballet, with busking acts frequently livening the coastline from Metzitzim to Alma Beach. Read more on where to stay in Tel Aviv and wild lifestyles in the capital with our full Tel Aviv travel guide.

Tel Aviv | Photo: Shai Pal

Photo: Itay Verchik

Jerusalem (2 days)

Also in North Israel and carving out a groove in the disputed territory of the West Bank, is the biblical city of Jerusalem, seen as a sacred place by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Walled in and layered by millennia of faith-based and often bloody conflict, the city sings a chorus line of disparate culture, each ringing out at certain times of the day. Whether it’s the call to prayer from the early rising mosques, the church bells of service or the ram’s horn ‘shofar’ announcing the Sabbath, at every corner of the city you’re reminded of the interplay between the city’s differing demographics. Never is this more apparent than in the battleground territory of East Jerusalem, where bookshops, cafés and galleries offer a liberal look at the future of the country and a resolution with Palestine, despite political turbulence in the area.

Much of Jerusalem lies a world away from this reality, but modern life is never far removed from ways of old. Take the new downtown area with its pink-hued palette reminiscent of the old city, or the fruit and veg vendors of Mahane Yehuda Market plying wares beside hip craft beer and coffee houses. Orthodox communities continue to expand just doors down from the city’s newest and most extravagant condominiums, but even as the city constantly reinvents itself, new gems from the past serve to reground and enrich. To stay with the old, take a guided tour of the world beneath the city, scurrying under the Western wall to find sacred church crypts and active dig sites at the City of David. Learn of how Jerusalem came to hold the beguiling power it wields today, crossing through the various layers of the city, from the dusty pink streets of the old city to incense-laden souks and beyond with our full Jerusalem travel guide.

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem | Photo: Sander Crombach

Masada, Ein Gedi, & Dead Sea (2 days)

One more definitive answer of what to see in Israel is Masada, a nice break from the nation’s crowded cities. Rise early so as not to miss Masada’s best time, hiking to meet the sunrise at its peak or ascending via cable car if you’d rather snooze a while. Transporting explorers to a time of Roman Judea, Masada is the desert site where the Roman Empire finally overcame Jewish resistance in a bloody siege of 73 CE. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Masada grants visitors the chance to explore palaces of King Herod and remains of siege bases belonging to the 10th legion.

Combine your trip to Masada with a stop at Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, an unlikely oasis of freshwater springs, Eden-like waterfalls and verdant land cradled between two Judean canyons which link the desert to the Dead Sea. Save a couple of hours to watch for wildlife along the many trails circling the reserve – from Nubian ibex to boulder-dwelling hyrax – before moving to lower lands and bathing in the Dead Sea. Worthy of a visit not simply for its tranquil beauty but also for the ancient history of its soothing mineral waters, the Dead Sea is said to hold great healing properties and has been the centre of kibbutzim settlements for millennia, today expanding into tourist hubs with luxury hotels and guesthouses to serve as your base.

Ein Gedi Oasis, Israel | Photo: Robert Bye

Dead Sea | Photo: Ri Butov

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Combine your trip to Masada with a stop at Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, an unlikely oasis of freshwater springs, Eden-like waterfalls and verdant land cradled between two Judean canyons which link the desert to the Dead Sea

Eilat (1 Day)

One last day in Israel sees us into the underwater world of Eilat, a Red Sea beach resort famed for its snorkelling and diving opportunities. While you only really need to wade out ankle-deep to see the marine life, don a simple snorkelling mask to catch clownfish, pastel corals and parrotfish below the waves. The popularity of Eilat among local families makes it a loud and busy destination all-year-round, though the family-friendly atmosphere and smiling patrons make it a firm consideration. Spend the day chilling on the beach and freediving among the coral reefs, or take to the hills nearby for spectacular views over the desert and coastline.

Eilat, Israel | Photo: Boris Izmaylov

Extension to Jordan (4 days)

Those who aren’t quite done with the ancient magic of the region can take a cheeky few days in Jordan to fill up on evermore cultural curiosities. Of the many places to visit in Jordan, most travellers come for the ancient heritage city of Petra in the south. An archaeological beauty comprised of caves, tombs and various structures carved into rose-coloured rock, Petra is easily recognised as one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World, marking the Nabataean kingdom and dating back to the 5th century BC. Of the top attractions in Petra, the Qasr al-Bint grand temple centres the city’s religious past, the Street of Facades offers up a number of ornately-carved houses and tombs, while the High Place of Sacrifice allows for 360° desert views from the heights of Petra’s sacrificial platform.

The Rose City can take a few days to explore in its entirety so most people opt to base themselves in the nearby historical village of Wadi Musa, which, as well as offering a good choice of hotels, also offers tours of the Siq gorge and the Treasury by candlelight. Day two of sightseeing sees many take to the mountains on foot or by donkey, up the 800 steps to Petra’s largest monument, a mountaintop monastery and temple. On your way up, pass by the Qatar ad-Dayr waterway cave and a hermitage carved with crosses, refuelling at the highpoint café before returning to ground level. From here, consider moving south to Wadi Rum with its desert wilderness adorned with basalt rock formations, canyons and rock bridges. Tour the area and its rolling dunes on a Jeep or camel before embracing the myriad camping opportunities on offer, such as at the Wadi Rum Bedouin Camp with its space odyssey pavilions and Arabian Nights realness.

After sleeping under the stars, the penultimate step on your Jordan Israel itinerary is to return north, passing by the Jordan Dead Sea for an optional morning float, before continuing into Amman Old City. Take a walking tour to uncover top sites such as the Citadel and the Roman Theatre before delving into hidden back alleys and side streets to find vibrant markets, selling handmade crafts, street eats and more. For lunch, try a local restaurant touting traditional dishes such as mansaf (roast lamb with yoghurt sauce), before finishing up the afternoon with a visit to the King Abdullah Mosque, the modern art galleries of Jabal Al-Weibdeh, or a last-minute shopping spree on Rainbow Street.

Jordan | Photo: Roxanne Desgagnes

Petra, Jordan | Photo: Spencer Davis

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Wadi Rum, Jordan | Photo: Heidelbergerin

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