Tourist Tip #204 / When to Visit Israel

When you come plays a big role in how you spend your time in Israel. Whichever season you choose, each has something special to offer.

Tourists flock to Israel all year round, but some seasons offer advantages over others. If cost is a major consideration you may consider the off-season, particularly January and February, when hotel rates and airfares tend to be cheapest. The high season is during the summer, Passover, the fall Jewish holidays and Christmas.

For many Jews and Christians, it's particularly special to celebrate religious holidays in Israel. And the spring national holidays, which culminate with Independence Day, provide a glimpse at some of the most solemn and festive moments of the year.  But visitors should be aware that many public venues close early or are closed altogether on Jewish holidays. That said, the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot feature many special events, particularly for children.

Those who want to get the full feel for Israel's unique identity should stay in one of the cities on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. The airport is closed. In Jewish areas all businesses, restaurants and places of entertainment are shuttered, and by custom, no one drives a car. As a result, the streets and even freeways are taken over by pedestrians and, among the secular population, by bicyclists.

During a nine-day period in the spring, Israel commemorates Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day with special events and ceremonies. Holocaust Day and Memorial Day are marked by the sounding of air raid sirens, during which even motorists come to a stop to remember the dead.

Weather is an important factor to keep in mind. It may often feel like year-round summer here but Israel does have its distinct seasons. Spring and fall generally bring ideal weather with occasional rain and temperatures in the center and north of the country in the high 70s Fahrenheit (or mid 20s Celsius). The south is warmer. Most spring and fall days in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the north should be picture perfect.

December through February tend to be the wettest and coolest, with frequent heavy downpours. The rain brings on a profusion of greenery, and the country is undoubtedly at its most beautiful in late winter and early spring. Wildflowers abound even in some desert areas and most parts of the country are lush and blooming.

Visitors in winter may opt for an itinerary of more indoor venues, like museums. But a string of a few cold rainy days is generally followed by warm sunny ones. In Tel Aviv, typical winter daytime temperatures will be in the 60s Fahrenheit (the high teens Celsius). Jerusalem and higher elevations in the north are colder, especially after sundown, and are occasionally even known to get some snow. The northern Golan Heights, with the country's only ski resort, gets a steady supply of snow. But if you want relief from winter, head south to Eilat.

In winter and spring, hikers in the desert must be aware of the risk of flash floods in otherwise dry riverbeds that can fill up with water without warning.

Summers are hot and rain-free, perfect for outdoor activities, including concerts and dining al fresco. Highs are generally in the mid to high 80s and sometimes the 90s Fahrenheit (about 30 to 33 Celsius) in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, no matter how warm it is during the day, it tends to be cool in the summer evenings, so pack a sweater. In Eilat, the summer high temperatures are generally over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (about 40 Celsius) and very dry.

In hot weather, Israelis know to carry water with them and drink throughout the day to fend off dehydration, even when they don’t feel thirsty – and so should you. You also might want to avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day. But if you come during the summer, you won't have to pack an umbrella.

Michal Fattal
Ariel Shalit