Why not plan your trip to coincide with a festival or the best weather, says Alex Benwell
THE SECURITY CHECKS on UK flights (especially El Al) to Israel are rigorous to say the least. Be prepared to answer questions on where you are staying, where and when you bought your ticket, and why you are visiting. The flight from the UK takes about four and a half hours (a bit longer for Eilat) and Israel is two hours ahead of GMT.
Alternatively you can travel overland from Egypt or Jordan. The border crossings with Egypt are at Rafiah (near Gaza) and Taba, south of Eilat. There is a direct bus service between Cairo and Tel Aviv taking approximately nine hours. For Jordan, the two crossings are at Aqaba (near Eilat) or Allenby Bridge (near Jericho).
It's possible to get a ferry to Israel's principal Mediterranean port, Haifa, from many destinations--Athens, Crete, Cyprus, and more.
Getting around Israel is fairly trouble free. Roads are good and most signs are in Hebrew and English. Finding a car to hire couldn't be easier, Tel Aviv and Eilat are teaming with firms waiting for would-be borrowers. But if you're susceptible to `road rage' you should show restraint as most Israeli drivers believe the accelerator peddle is connected to the horn.
Israel has one of the most efficient bus services in the world. Egged (Dan buses in Tel Aviv) runs clean, air-conditioned buses to practically every village in the country at very reasonable prices. Buy your ticket in advance as some services get quite crowded. You will see people, especially soldiers, hitch-hiking everywhere but it's not advisable.
Buses, sheruts and taxis operate in the towns and cities. If you travel in a taxi confirm the price before you get in and haggle if you think it's too much. Sheruts (mostly white Ford transit vans) used by the locals are a cheap and quick method of doing longer journeys. Jerusalem to Bethlehem costs 50 pence and takes 20 minutes.
When to go
There are two things to consider: climate and religious festivals. The two main Christian festivals are Christmas and Easter, and flights to and from Israel get booked up very early at these times. Hotel prices can sometimes double. Jewish festivals and holidays are fairly frequent. The main ones are Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Pesah. The festivals usually last for a day and affect every aspect of life in Israel.
Israel has climatic seasons similar to those in Northern Europe. Winter tends to be wet and cold; snow is not uncommon. However, as the country is so small it is relatively easy to escape to sunny Eilat which remains fairly warm. In spring and autumn it's reasonably sunny and hot all over the country but you may get rain on perhaps two or three days in a month. Early summer (May and June) is the best time to visit, when you will have more or less cloudless days and just bearable temperatures. In July and August, in regions around the Dead Sea and Eilat temperatures can get up to an unbearable 40 degrees centigrade.