Israel's main entry point for the international traveller, the newly built Terminal 3 at Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV), named after Israel's first Prime Minister, is situated near Lod and next to the highway linking Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (Highway 1).
The airport, referred to by locals as "Natbag"—its Hebrew acronym—comprises all the usual amenities expected from a first class airport and contains one of the world's largest duty-free shopping malls for an airport of its size. Ben Gurion Airport acts as the base for El Al, Israel's national airline, and is also served by over 50 international air carriers. Travel from the airport to the centre of Jerusalem takes 40–50 minutes and, depending on traffic conditions, often more. It's advisable to budget at least an additional two hours on top of your pre-flight check-in time to ensure timely arrival and completion of security procedures.
Security is extremely stringent at Ben-Gurion Airport, and is especially suspicious of travellers with Muslim names or visas from Islamic countries in their passports. Expect to be stopped and questioned for several hours if this is the case, both on the way in and on the way out. It would be wise to have some phone numbers of local contacts for security officials to call to verify your reasons for visiting. The airport prides itself in being one of the most secure in the world. It achieves this through a number of means. The most evident for travellers will be the pre-check-in security check. (Optional; should you go through it, you will be escorted to skip regular security check). On joining the queue for this security check, a security official will ask you several questions. Based on these (and what appears to be racial profiling) and a brief inspection of your passport, you will be assigned a number from 1 to 6. 1 signifies the lowest security concern and 6 the highest. Foreigners will typically get between a 3 and a 6. Age, appearance, stamps from Arab countries, evidence of visits to the Palestinian territory and other vague factors will be taken into account. Depending on the number you get (stuck on your passport and luggage), the security check is more or less thorough. Travellers who have visited the Palestinian territory and state as much will almost certainly receive a 5 or 6 (but there is no need for this; you can get 5 if you have never been to Israel before, and are of European descent). With a 5 or a 6, you can expect every single item of luggage to be taken from your bag and inspected in detail. Security officials have been known to check individual bank-notes. With a 6 (but sometimes even 5 if they have time), you can also expect to be taken to a cubicle and asked to remove your belt and shoes and have a personal inspection. If your clothes contain any metal that would set off a detector (such as studs in your jeans or a zip) even if plainly visible on the outside, you will be asked to remove the item of clothing. Travellers are regularly prevented from taking mobile phones, laptops and even shoes in their hand-luggage, although there is no consistency, with reports of one policy one week and another the next week. Arguing about such invasive checks is almost always fruitless and security reasons are the only ones that are ever cited. Though encouraging tourism, Israeli authorities would answer to criticism by angry travellers that Israel is not a usual destination, and that people who are looking for sun with no security checks should rather head to Canary Islands. This summary is based on personal experiences. The whole security ordeal may be very irritating, but it is one of the factors which makes TLV's security one of the best in the world.
Getting to and from Jerusalem. The 'Nesher' shared taxi service (+972 2 623 1231 - Hebrew and English) is a 14-seater minibus that runs approximately hourly services to the airport - ₪61.80 one way per person. You must reserve your seat in advance by phone and you will be picked up from your hotel or a chosen location (they have been known to refuse to pick up from some East Jerusalem neighborhoods, so check with your hotel or take a taxi to the Jerusalem hotel where they normally pick up without a problem). Be on time—they don't wait. You will be dropped at Terminal 3 in the airport. For the journey to Jerusalem, you will find them waiting outside the arrivals hall (they are signed from inside). Tell the driver where you want to be dropped. Again they should drop you at your hotel, but have been known to avoid parts of East Jerusalem. The rate is fixed, but it is worth double-checking as it has recently increased.
A private taxi to/from Jerusalem will cost around ₪150-200 (tourist map in Jerusalem quotes oficial flat price ₪197; however this is hard to reach, we were asked for about ₪300 to get to the airport, and finally paid ₪250. Expect to go through an Israeli check-point on the way (via Ramallah).
Expect your taxi to be stopped on the way to the airport—have your passports, tickets, and answers for some questions (how long have you been in Israel, where are you going...) ready.
The Egged bus service does not go directly from Jerusalem to the Terminal. You should take bus #947 from Jerualem's central bus station up to El Al junction (near the airport entrance) and then take a shuttle bus #5 to the terminal. Just tell the driver your destination is Ben Gurion Airport, to buy a conjunction bus ticket for both. You may ask the driver to announce where to change buses.
The train does not run from Jerusalem to the airport yet. There is a train line under construction, due to open in 2018.
Always check which terminal your flight departs from. While most international flights take off from Terminal 3, some airlines (many of the low-cost airlines) such as EasyJet have check-in at Terminal 1 (however then you may be taken to Terminal 3 anyway). So check it before you take the cab (cab driver will be no help in this). There is free shuttle going between T1 and T3 several times an hour.
Jerusalem is connected to the Israel Railway network, but the service, which follows the route of the 1892 Jaffa-Jerusalem line, is noted for its scenery rather than speed.
From Tel Aviv, you should take the train to Jerusalem, with stops en-route at Lod (where you can make connections to Beer Sheva, Ashkelon and Rishon LeZion), Ramla, Bet Shemesh, and arrive at Jerusalem's Malkha train station, which is inconveniently located at the south of the city. The old train station in the city center is currently out of service. A few trains also stop at the Biblical Zoo station, but it is within walking distance from Malkha station.
Journey time from Tel Aviv Merkaz/Savidor station to Malkha station is about 1.5 hr. There's one train per hour 05.54-19.54 on weekdays, 05.25-14.25 (15.25 in summer) on Friday, 20.10 (22.10 in summer) on Saturday. Trains from Malkha depart on weekdays 05.44-21.41 (the last one only as far as Lod), on Friday 06.00-13.56 (14.56 in summer), on Saturday at 19.47 (21.47 in summer).
From the train station there are several buses to destinations in and around Jerusalem. To downtown take bus #4 or #18, and ask for "MerKaz Ha-ir" or for "Kikar Tzion" (Zion Square). To the central bus station, #5 is the fastest, though the #6 and #32 are alternatives. Taxis are also available.
A high-speed rail link (connecting Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in half an hour and Ben Gurion Airport in 20 minutes) is under construction and is scheduled to open in 2017. Its terminus will be an underground station (80m below surface) near the central bus station and Binyaney Ha'uma (convention center). Until then, use the train if you have plenty of time and want to see nice mountain scenery, but not if you are in a hurry. Interestingly, while digging the underground station, the first underground river in Israel was found on this site.
Bus services to Jerusalem from Ben Gurion International Airport and most Israeli cities are frequent, cheap, and efficient. Egged is almost the only operator of intercity buses to and from Jerusalem, as well as the entire urban network. To check on these services look at its website or dial *2800 from any phone.
Most intercity buses arrive at the so-called Central Bus Station (CBS) at the western edge of Jaffa Street, the city's main road. Also the new Jerusalem Light Rail line has a station just outside the Central Bus Station that can link you to many other parts of the city (see Light Rail elsewhere in this article).
The Egged bus #405 from Tel Aviv leaves about every 20 minutes, starting at 5:50 AM and ending at 0:00 AM midnight, from Tel Aviv CBS and arrives at Jerusalem CBS. It takes 62 minutes and the fare is 18 NIS (Jun 2012). Bus #480 leaves from Arlozorov about every 10 minutes, starting at 5:50 AM with the last bus at 0:10 AM, for Jerusalem CBS. It takes 58 min and costs 18 NIS (Jun 2012).
From the Central Bus Station it is a long but enjoyable walk (or short local bus trip) along Jaffa Road to the centre of West Jerusalem and further on to the Old City. Inter-city buses arrive and depart inside the station building, city buses outside of it, both in front of the building and on Sederot Shazar. When exiting the CBS, turn left to walk towards the city, or turn right to find the city buses. (Finding your way when you leave the CBS for the first time can be a confusing experience, since there are almost no city maps around. There is a city map on the large square opposite the CBS, on the right side, towards Sederot Shazar.). Note that busses do not run on Shabbat—from half an hour before sunset on Friday till after sunset on Saturday. Hours vary by the time of year. In December (winter solstice) Shabbat starts as early as 3:55 PM and ends at 5:15, while in June (summer solstice) Shabbat starts as late as 7:10 and ends at 8:30.
Public buses do not run during Shabbat (between sunset on Friday and sunset on Saturday, roughly speaking), during which your only option is a sherut (shared taxi). These depart from Tel Aviv's Central Bus Station and Ben Gurion Airport, and charge a small surcharge on top of the normal bus fare. As of mid-2012 a sherut costs 23 NIS (28 NIS at night, 33 NIS at Shabbat) and drops you off downtown, not far from Zion Square. A sherut from the airport to anywhere in the city costs about 50 NIS. The company offering the sherut service is called "Nesher".
Shared taxis are also the best option if travelling from Jerusalem to Palestinian cities, especially Ramallah and Bethlehem. The main bus station (On Sultan Suleiman street, next to the Rockfeler Museum) serves the surrounding Palestinian towns and villages, including Abu-Dis (Line 36), and Bethlehem (Line 124), those buses are colored mostly in blue strips . Another bus terminal, on Nablus road (Straight on from the Damascus gate) serves Ramallah, other main Palestinian cities. There is a shared taxi direct to/from the Allenby bridge (The border crossing with Jordan), for 38 NIS plus 4 NIS (Dec 2011) per luggage (picking up from Al-Souq Al-Tijaree "The commercial souq" not far away from the main bus station).
All Palestinian shared taxis are very cheap, 5.00 NIS for the surrounding villages, 5.50 NIS for Abu-Dis and 6.50 NIS for Ramallah.
The bus operator in the eastern Jerusalem is called Al-Safariat Al-Mowahadda "The united traveling service". Note that the taxi is called "Moneet" in Hebrew, and called taxi in the Palestinian side. Both differ from the shared taxi, which runs fixed routes for many people like a bus. Moneet or Taxi is a private taxi.
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