You love the hustle and bustle of the city, you savor the sheer Israeliness of the screaming traffic, yet sometimes you yearn for a bit of good old peace and quiet. Enter Israel Railways, the only place where you feel like you’re no longer in Israel, but somewhere slightly more civilized. Sit back in a wide berth and listen to the quiet hum of the train as you take in the country’s breathtaking scenery. Only an hour away from Tel Aviv, set out to explore Haifa’s magnificent Baha’i Gardens or bask in door-to-door service in the other direction - to Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo
First on the list has got to be a train ride to Israel’s ancient capital. Nothing beats the scenery in the ascent to Jerusalem: rolling hills, rocky dales and plenty of forestry accompany your journey. This beautiful journey beats the traffic of Kvish 1 any day, the only disadvantage is that the train drops you off near Malha, which is a fair distance from the center of Jerusalem. However, you can spend a full day in the surrounding area of the train station, either at the Biblical Zoo, Jerusalem’s pastoral animal habitat, or at Ein Yael, the nature reserve across the valley from the Zoo.
Jerusalem’s zoo is hardly run-of-the-mill for myriad reasons, including the fact that all the animals are labelled with the passages that refer to them in the Hebrew bible as well as having a unique breeding program for endangered species. Ein Yael is a living museum which fuses history and nature by allowing visitors to walk ancient roman roads, meet live craftsmen from that period, and take part in a host of interactive workshops.
Return train ticket: Tel Aviv-Jerusalem
NIS 32 adults
NIS 27 senior citizen / student / children under 10
Approx. train time: 1.20 hours, no changes
A trip to Israel wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Akko (Acre). The hour and forty minute train ride flies by with stunning views of Israel’s north, including blooming orchards and long stretches of coastline. Acre itself is steeped in history, with remains of the Crusader town dating back to the 10th and 11th centuries remaining pretty much intact until today. In 2001, UNESCO declared the Old City of Akko a World Heritage Site.
Akko’s rich history and exceptional scenery make it worthy of being in an Indiana Jones movie, replete with mosques, khans and Turkish baths built by the Ottomans, halls and tunnels once belonging to the Knights Templar, and layer upon layer of Crusader ruins. Be sure to take a walk around the town’s lively market and make a stop at chef Uri Buri’s fish and seafood restaurant for a fresh catch-of-the-day. Planning to stay the night? The Efendi Hotel is a hidden gem.
Return train ticket: Tel Aviv-Akko
NIS 57 adults
NIS 48 senior citizen / student / children under 10
Approx. train time: 1.37 – 1.53 hours (depending on train), no changes.
Even though there isn’t a direct train to Zichron Ya'akov (you’ll need to get off at Binyamina and take a twenty minute bus ride #872 or a short cab ride) the extra schlep is well worth it. Built on the southern end of the Carmel mountain range, this picturesque town overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. The town’s main drag, Hameyasdim Street, is packed with boutiques and charming restaurants. The shops hoard endless treasures ranging from pieces of artwork fashioned by local artisans to shabby chic furniture.
Zichron Ya'akov is heavenly for the wine connoisseurs among you, with free tours in the nearby Carmel Mizrahi wineries (04-6391788) and the chance to fill your own bottle at Tishbi wineries (04-6380434). Winemaker Golan Tishbi presents each wine in a Reidel Crystal glass paired with gourmet French Valrhona chocolate.
Single train ticket: Tel Aviv-Binyamina
NIS 35 adults
NIS 29.5 senior citizen / student / children under 10
Approx. train time: 0.39 – 0.53 hours (depending on train), no changes, then board bus # 872
Here’s a trip you won’t find in your local Lonely Planet. Just over a 20 minute train ride from Tel Aviv, Rehovot is home to the little-known treasure called the Clore Garden of Science at the Weizmann Institute. 800 square meters of green lawns comprise the world’s only outdoor science museum.
Over 90 hands-on exhibits demonstrate the laws of physics, solar energy and water power in a highly interactive way to delight children and adults alike. In 2005, the award winning EcoSphere was opened to the public. Built by the architect Dan Peleg and designed by Professor Hanan Da Langeh, the domed structure houses a range of ecological elements including wet and dry vegetation, fish, air, earth and water.
Single train ticket: Tel Aviv-Rehovot
NIS 21.5 adults
NIS 18.5 senior citizen / student / children under 10
Approx. train time: 0.23 – 0.27 hours (depending on train), no changes
Haifa is Israel’s third largest city and arguably the prettiest. Like Jerusalem, Haifa is blessed with rolling hills and steep ascents and like Tel Aviv, it features beautiful beaches and a bustling port.
Haifa has earned a reputation for being a bastion of coexistence, with residents from the three Abrahamic religions living side by side. Haifa is also home to the World Center of the Bahai Faith and any trip would be remiss without a visit to the magnificent Bahai Gardens on the grounds of the Center.
At the center of the Gardens is the gold-domed Shrine of the Bab, the burial place of the Baha’i faith’s founder. Haifa is a wealth of world-class museums and galleries. Take a walking tour of the German Colony and the charming Wadi Nisnas neighborhood or head to Kartel in downtown Haifa’s port, boasting the bright palettes of local and international street artists on rotation.
Return train ticket: Tel Aviv-Haifa
NIS 44 adults
NIS 37 senior citizen / student / children under 10
Approx. train time: 0.55 – 1.11 hours (depending on train), no changes
Alternatives to Driving
The thought of driving in Tel Aviv might thoroughly terrorize you. And your fears are not unjustified: Your fellow motorists apparently have death wishes and the act of parking will destroy your soul. Luckily, Tel Aviv has a trillion other modes of transportation. In fact, it might be the city with the most options for getting around.
First up is the ubiquitous green Tel-O-Fun bikes. For NIS 17 (NIS 23 on the weekends) you can enjoy the bike for 24 hours. There are stations all over the city so you don’t have to worry about locking it up. Alternatively, you can amp the ante by hiring an electric bike for the day (about NIS 120). These are nifty little devices that in recent years have taken off in a big way in Tel Aviv. So far there are no rules (or if there are, no one is paying attention) so feel free to weave in and out of the roads and sidewalks at your own risk.
Another interesting mode of transportation is the Segway. Costing upwards of NIS 300 for 24 hours, it’s a little on the expensive side, but it’s a lot of fun. You’ll be given a ten-minute lesson with an instructor and then you’re on your own. Segways are the ultimate way to zip through Tel Aviv traffic or Jaffa’s alleyways.
Alternatively, you can harken back to your teenage years and rent a pair of rollerblades at the Sportek in Park HaYarkon. It’s not the most convenient mode of transportation because your feet are prone to ache after a while and you’ll need to carry an extra pair of shoes with you. But, if you’re just looking for a bit of excitement you can join the group of rollerbladers that skate around the city on Tuesday nights.
If you want to feel really cool, turn up the heat – and the speed – by renting a Corkinette (approx. NIS 170 per day) – the local name given for these heavy-duty electric scooters. They’re extremely powerful and can reach speeds of up to 25 kmh.
For bicycle, electric bike, scooter and Segway rentals, call Rent Center: *9559, 42 Derech Salame St, Tel Aviv
And if all these snazzy ways of getting from A to B don’t do it for you, you can always rely on old faithful – your feet. In fact, because Tel Aviv is so tiny, it only takes around 20 minutes to get pretty much anywhere around the center by foot. There’s also no better way to really discover the city and you don’t run the risk of accidents. And best of all – walking is totally free.