Holy Land on the cheap!

The Temple Mount, Jerusalem © Gavin Drake
The Temple Mount, Jerusalem
© Gavin Drake

Regular readers (do I have any?) will know that I have a close affinity with the Holy Land and love to visit Jerusalem. I try to go at least once a year. It isn’t always possible – either the finances aren’t there or I can’t find the commissions to support such a trip.

But I am often asked about how to visit and where to stay.

I’ve seen some advice – tips for ethical travel to the Holy Land – which says that Christians should only stay at Christian-run guest houses in order to support the struggling Christian community. Whilst some of this advice is sensible I cannot agree with all of it – not because the remnants of the Christian community in the Holy Land don’t need support (they certainly do) but because it is discriminatory, it supports segregation, and because some of the Christian-run hotels and guest houses are very expensive.

And, along with the security situation, it is the cost that puts many people off visiting the Holy Land. The security situation is more of an issue for Brits than for people elsewhere. People from all over the world are visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories; but people from Britain will, generally speaking, go only as part of an organised tour or pilgrimage. Here, in Britain, Israel isn’t seen as a holiday destination of choice unless you’re Christian or Jewish. And that’s a pity because Israel and the Palestinian territories are perfectly safe places to go – even on your own.

My last visit to the Holy Land was in November, as a guest of Tourist Israel, an independent group funded by local tourism businesses. My report about that visit – and how an independent traveller can explore the Holy Land – was published in the Church Times‘ travel supplement last month. More reports will appear on the new Holy Land News website which is due to launch before Easter.

It was a useful visit in many ways, not least because it re-introduced me to hostel-based accommodation.

The Abraham Hostel, Jerusalem © Gavin Drake
The Abraham Hostel, Jerusalem
© Gavin Drake

In Jerusalem, I stayed at the Abraham Hostel, adjacent to the Ha Davidka stop on the Jerusalem Light Railway. This vibrant youth-focused hostel appeals to visitors of all ages; and a short-spell in the hostel’s bar will result in you having conversations with visitors from all over the world. And, what’s more, a night in one of the hostel’s mixed dorms will set you back just £14.

If a mixed-dorm isn’t for you, the hostel also provides single-sex dorms and a range of private-, couple- and family-sized rooms at equally good value.

It is the perfect base for exploring Jerusalem, Israel and the Palestinian territories. Not only is it adjacent to the tram service that will take you to the Old City or Yad Vashem, to the city’s amazing market or the central bus station; it is within walking distance of Ben Yehuda Street which is a centre for eateries and bars; it also has its own in-house tour company, Abraham Tours.

Here you can book day trips to various sites around Jerusalem but also further afield – including a Best of the West Bank tour, a day in the divided city of Hebron, and a Meet the Orthodox Jews. They will also take you to the Dead Sea and Masada – including a pre-dawn departure to climb Masada in time for sunrise.

You can also use the Hop-On Hop-Off tour bus to change locations. In Nazareth there is the spectacular Fauzi Azar Inn, which is just as good value for money as the Abraham. It is wrong to describe this as a hostel (but it does have dorm-type rooms) and it is equally wrong to describe it as a hotel (but it does have luxury private rooms). It remains a family home and is somewhere in-between a hostel and and hotel. A dorm space costs around £15 per night while the luxury double-room can be yours for around £60 per night.

The Rosh HaNikra Caves © Gavin Drake
The Rosh HaNikra Caves
© Gavin Drake

Not only is this a remarkably peaceful place to stay; it is also a useful base from which to explore the sites of northern Israel, including the stunning Rosh HaNikra caves near the Lebanon border, and the sites around the sea of Galilee, including Cana and the mount of the Beatitudes.  You can also ascend the Golan Heights for views across the valley into Syria – and all of this is available on trips organised through Abraham Tours.

The Holy Land is a remarkable place to visit. Almost everybody I know who has been speaks about wanting to visit again. If you’re thinking of going, don’t let security or costs put you off. You can visit as part of a pilgrimage – and that’s a perfectly good way to travel; but you can also DIY with regular flights from most regions of the UK and very cheap quality accommodation at places like the Abraham Hostel and the Fauzi Azar Inn.

And remember: the sooner you go, the sooner you can long to visit again!


Public Interest Disclosure: I visited Israel in October and November 2013 as guests of Tourist Israel, the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem, The Fauzi Azar Inn in Nazareth, the Gordon Inn in Tel Aviv and Abraham Tours. This blog post has not been sponsored nor was it agreed as requirement of arranging the visit. The recommendations are my own and genuinely offered.

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