If you work in the tech world you may find yourself heading to Israel for a business trip.
Israel’s tech industry is booming and most of the huge tech companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Intel have big operations there. Plus, investors love it. So do tech companies looking to acquire startups.
Israel is also known as a major worldwide tourist destination for vacations.
But a typical business trip isn’t the same as a vacation. You don’t have the same amount of time and freedom to spend on sightseeing, and you may have had days, not months, to plan your trip.
We recently took a business trip to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to meet with some the nation’s hottest startups.
And we compiled this list of tips of how to sneak in some last-minute sightseeing, and other oddities you need to know when travelling to Israel.
Since the heart of Israel's startup scene is in Tel Aviv, your trip can easily include some time on the beach, swimming in the warm waters of the Mediterranean sea.
You don't need to bring your own chair or umbrella. You can rent them on the beach. Just plunk yourself down and these guys in bright pink shirts will come by to collect. It costs about 30 shekels, or about $10.
You'll probably want to book your hotel near Rothschild Blvd, the heart of Tel Aviv's startup scene. There are tons of great cafes there. You can also find hotels that are west of Rothschild, walking distance to both Rothschild and the beach. Tel Aviv is home to 52 hotels as well as Airbnb. It serves 1 million visitors a year.
I stayed at a boutique hotel west of Rothschild called the Brown Urban Hotel, a short walk to the beach. It included a free breakfast at my choice of four restaurants (although only one of them opened early enough to eat before my business meetings). And it gave me a complementary bottle of wine and ...
It's very easy to hail a cab or use Uber. However in Israel the Get Taxi app is more popular because it's an Israeli company that promises not to charge surge pricing. When using Uber and Get Taxi, the drivers arrive in cabs. Look for the little sign on top of the cab that indicates it's your hired ride.
Tel Aviv is a big food city, with cafes everywhere that stay open late. Try to check out the old Port area, filled with restaurants, shops, and dance clubs. Many of the restaurants in this area aren't kosher, so they serve fresh shellfish. One local favourite is called The Old Man And The Sea.
The 4,000-year-old area in the south of Tel Aviv called Jaffa is a must-see, and is easy to squeeze in. It's a healthy walk down the beach or short cab drive.
Jaffa is a place where the ancient world meets the modern world. It's filled with restaurants, little shops where you can barter for goods, and funky outdoor bars.
One section of Jaffa is the old walled city. Walk into it and you'll find high-end jewellery stores and other shops.
Jaffa is bigger than the walled-city area. It started life as a port and today includes many streets, everything from flea-market shops to custom-made perfumes.
Breakfast is a big deal in Israel. The country prides itself on its produce so an Israeli breakfast usually includes salad or a salad bar ...
But often, instead of bacon or sausage (not Kosher), you'll find fish. This is pickled herring, oily/salted herring, and a variety of tuna. The fish is an acquired taste but good. You can find cafes that serve bacon and eggs in Tel Aviv, but not likely at your hotel.
It is customary to tip your restaurant servers: 10% for good service, 15% for really good service, and 20% for great service. But tips are expected to be cash. There's no place to add the tip to your credit card bill. You have to tell them in advance to add the tip to your bill if you don't have cash.
It's only an hour's drive from Tel Aviv to the incredible city of Jerusalem, home to some of the most sacred spots on earth like the Temple Mount (the gold dome), a holy place for Islam. You can take a two-hour bus or a train, or have your hotel order you a cab, which will cost about $100. Better still, book a tour. It will pick you up and return you to Tel Aviv. I booked with a company called Bein Harim through my hotel -- last-minute -- the day before.
My tour cost about $100 plus $12 for lunch. It started off in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a big, modern city where many buildings are made out of stone so they look ancient.
The Old City is where most of the can't-miss stuff is. One popular tour is a two-hour free tour (you tip the tour guide) and can be booked last minute. Other tours take you to archaeology sites and underground, but often sell out, so should be booked in advance.
Inside the Old City are spectacular holy sites. This is the Western Wall, the most sacred site for Jews.
It is mandatory that men cover their heads and that woman cover their shoulders. It is customary that women cover their heads, too. If you forgot a scarf or need a 'kippot' (the tiny hat Jewish men wear), you can borrow one from a table near the entrance.
Men and women pray separately, the women on the right, men on the left. The men are in front of that tarp.
You don't have to be Jewish to pray at the Western Wall, just quiet and respectful. It is customary to write your wishes (or prayers) on a tiny piece of paper and leave it in a crack in the wall.
Jerusalem is also home to holy sites for Christians like the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus took before the Crucifixion. It wanders through the walled city and ends, here, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The tour I took included a visit inside the Church. It was spectacular. A tour guide isn't necessary, you could wander in on your own, but the guide told me history and facts that I wouldn't otherwise know.
The city is safe but it's a twisty maze of streets and easy to get lost. Beware scam artists that offer to help you find your way. Still, if you hate tours, or don't have time, there are self-guided tours like this one outside the walls. Look at the stones on the bottom of this wall ...
Those stones date back to 1100 years before Jesus was born, to early biblical times, according to this sign that's part of the self-guided tour.
The weekend here is Friday and Saturday night, which means Thursday is party night. A business traveller in Jerusalem on Thursday night can head to the Mamilla Mall a short walk from the Old City, where you'll find a fairs, restaurants, shops ...
... and street performers. Don't be fooled by their clothing. These guys were doing rock songs like 'Stairway to Heaven' and jumping off their chairs. They were great. The woman on the violin really rocked.
A short drive from Jerusalem is the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on earth. My tour included an afternoon there.
And the water was hot too. But worth it. The sea is 30% salt and minerals so you float like you're sitting in a chair and it leaves your skin feeling soft and great. You can run the mud on your skin too, and it will help clear up minor skin problems.
The Dead Sea has all the amenities you need like food, water, beer, and hard liquor. You can also book a massage.
On Friday night in Jerusalem the streets fill up with people in their finery rushing off to prayer services.
The city basically shuts down for the Jewish Sabbath (called Shabbat), Friday night and Saturday. Plan your site seeing for Sunday (the Israeli Monday). You might want to spend Saturday in Tel Aviv where more cafes and stores will be open.
Also on Saturday, beware the Shabbat elevator. One elevator at your hotel will stop at every floor on every ride. That's because pushing buttons is forbidden for Orthodox Jews on Shabbat (the Sabbath). If your hotel has two elevators, one will probably operate normally. That blue light indicates the Shabbat Elevator is on.
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