The two faces of Israel are represented in the country’s accommodations. First, the nation’s importance on the geopolitical map is reflected in its imposing, prestigious urban hotels — the top tier of which are fit for presidents and diplomats. And second, there are the leisure-oriented beach resorts with pools and Mediterranean views.
If you’re looking to live like a local and rent out someone’s home, there’s ample inventory, just like in the major cities in the U.S. and Europe. In fact, it’s helpful to think of Israel as a more southerly European country, except with schekels instead of euros. On the plus side, many Israelis are fluent in English (with a solid command of American idioms), which makes nailing down that Airbnb condo off the beach in Tel Aviv that much easier.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
– Most travelers base themselves in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, or split time between the two. Both are convenient to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport. Such attractions as Masada and the Dead Sea are a day trip from Jerusalem.
– Hotel rooms are typically on a bed-and-breakfast basis, which, frankly, is brilliant. That’s one less decision you have to make, and you’ll have energy for whatever touring and sports you want to engage in. And Israelis take breakfast seriously. In European countries like Italy and France, substantial hotel breakfasts were grafted on: They were not part of the culture (and to locals, still aren’t) until the British expected them on their European tours. But the Israeli buffet breakfast has a more organic tradition, deriving from extensive farm breakfasts on the kibbutz. So expect various kinds of white cheeses and yogurts, in addition to what you’d find on a typical American breakfast buffet table (eggs, fruit, breads, pastries). You may even score pancakes, French toast, crepes and smoked salmon.
– Many major hotels, especially in Jerusalem, are kosher.
– Israel’s Internet service — including in hotels, where there is often free Wi-Fi — is excellent, reflecting the country’s healthy investment in technology. Likewise, mobile phone service is top-notch, even better than in many European countries.
– To plug in your gadgets at Israeli hotels, just bring along the two-pin adapter you’d use in Europe.
Israel Chain Hotels
American visitors to Israel will find comfort in familiarity: Sheraton, Marriott, Hilton and Renaissance all have a presence. There’s even a swank Ritz-Carlton with a rooftop pool in Herzliya that looks a lot like the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey in Los Angeles. LGBT travelers should know that the Hilton in Tel Aviv is the visual marker for the city’s gay beach — some refer to this sandy cove as “Hilton Beach.”
Hilton’s Waldorf-Astoria brand planted a flag in Jerusalem and offers what are quite possibly the country’s most modern and luxurious guestrooms. The public spaces are equally impressive, especially the lobby level with its soaring atrium, various arches and art deco influences. Every art installation and piece of furniture has been chosen with remarkable care.
You can’t travel around Israel without noticing the ubiquitous Dan chain. This luxury brand has 14 hotels in the country, including the legendary King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the first stop for many a president and prime minister. Dating back to 1931, the hotel is older than the country and is so intertwined with the founding of the state that the lavish property warrants its own Wikipedia page.
The discretion of a sister property, the Dan Boutique Hotel, will appeal to independent travelers and design mavens. This chic hotel boasts a prime hilltop position overlooking the Old City, and it’s only 20 minutes on foot from the breakfast buffet (great blintzes!) to Jaffa Gate. Sunrises are spectacular from the guestrooms, and the huge windows even open.
In Tel Aviv, you can’t really ask for a more central property than the sleek, modern Dan. It’s right on the beach, with great access to the promenade, restaurants and beach bars galore, and bike rentals. When you want to escape from the frenzy of activity, there’s the serenity of a vast deck boasting indoor and outdoor pools. With free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel, the Dan offers the best blend of business and leisure amenities on the beach, and the concierge service is second to none.
Other Israeli hotel chains include the arty Atlas and the more corporate Leonardo.
Israel Boutique Hotels
A favorite of the creative class, Tel Aviv’s 30-room Brown Hotel boasts retro design. The standout amenity — other than the two stylish bars — is the rooftop deck with Jacuzzi, outdoor showers and complimentary popsicles. It’s located 10 minutes from the beach (on foot), but lets you experience a local’s hood that is convenient to the landmark Rothschild Boulevard, the Carmel Market and the Nahalat Binyamin pedestrian mall. The hotel has a well-equipped spa, and gym access is off-property at the nearby Energy Club.
The Norman Hotel in Tel Aviv is arguably the most luxe property in the city. Because it was formed from two historic, iconic buildings at 23 and 25 Nachmani Street, the room configurations are varied — there are actually nine different types. Some of the most interesting are the high-ceilinged, open-style lofts and, for high rollers, the Corner Suite, which boasts a circular balcony.
In Haifa, a top boutique hotel is Templers, which has verdant views — it overlooks Baha’i Gardens — and is situated in a historic building in the German Colony that dates from 1870. With its 13 rooms, Templers is one of the most romantic and intimate hotels in Israel. Some guestrooms boast claw-footed bathtubs. In Eilat, the 91-room Herods Boutique Hotel is distinguished by its fanciful Moorish architecture and huge swimming pool.
Israel Boutique Hotel Resources:
Israel Apartment Rentals
Because Israel is such a wired society, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv offer a full inventory of options on Airbnb, VRBO and similar sites. Apartments almost always offer Wi-Fi. In Jerusalem, small apartments can be had for under $100 per night, with rooms for $50 or less. You want to be near the Old City, the charmingly pedestrian-friendly German Colony or Mahane Yehuda Market (the “shuk”).
Tel Aviv is slightly pricier, but the competition (it is not uncommon to find more than 1,000 choices on Airbnb, even during the popular summer tourist season) means that you can find a lovely garden apartment just off Rabin Square (a 10-minute stroll from the beach) for little more than $100 per night. An oceanfront condo apartment with two bedrooms is more expensive, of course, but still a fabulous deal (around $200 per night). Modern condo accommodations near Eilat’s Red Sea Beach may set you back more than $250, especially if you want a pool. As in Jerusalem, apartments almost always have Wi-Fi access.
Israel Hostels and Kibbutzim
ILH, a network of independent hostels, operates more than 30 properties around the country, including in the major cities. Hostelling International also has a presence, with more than a dozen properties. The good news is you can rent a private room in addition to a dorm room. Note that Airbnb rates in Israel are competitive with the private rooms in hostels, which tend to be bare-bones.
For information on staying on a kibbutz, see how to live like a kibbutznik.
Israel Hostel and Kibbutz Hotel Resources:
–written by Drew Limsky
Editor’s Note:is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.