The best time to visit Israel is typically in the spring (March to May) or during the fall (September to November). At these times, you'll likely find fewer crowds, cheaper accommodations, and the best weather (even for hitting the beach). Summer is the most popular and therefore the most crowded, but it can often be extremely hot and unpleasant.
Whenever you decide to go, use this guide to help plan your trip to this tiny but fascinating country known for its rich culture, fascinating history, stunning beaches, and eclectic food.
Holidays and Festivals
Israel is the world’s only Jewish country, and as such, all of the Jewish holidays are national holidays. They follow the lunar calendar, so the dates are different each year on the Gregorian calendar, but generally they tend to fall in a certain month or season. Some turn into countrywide celebrations for an entire week, while others are more somber or have particular rules that may affect your stay.
That said, it's important to research what occurs on each holiday. For example, on Passover (usually in April), observant Jews do not eat bread, cake, and other foods made with grains, so those foods can be difficult to find during that week. Yom Kippur (usually in September) is a fast day, and everything in the country closes down (even public transit and many roads) starting the night before and through the next day. Holidays like Sukkot or the Feast of the Tabernacles (usually in September or October), Purim (usually around February), and Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day, in May) are rowdy celebrations.
It is worth noting that Muslim holidays, which change every year because they follow the Islamic calendar, are also celebrated in certain parts of Israel. Laylat Al-Miraj is a big event at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, as it marks Mohammed’s rise to Heaven from what is now the Dome of the Rock. Eid Ul-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, brings celebrations to the Muslim Quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem. Check before you visit to determine when these holidays fall on the Gregorian calendar.
Israel has plenty of secular festivals as well, including the Red Sea Jazz Festival, the Israel Festival, the Jerusalem Beer Festival, and Tel Aviv Pride Week, which draws massive international crowds every June. Hotels and other accommodations are more expensive and book up quickly during holidays and festivals, so plan accordingly—Passover is one of the most expensive and popular times to visit Israel.
Even if you don’t come during a long holiday, Jews celebrate Shabbat every weekend, from sundown on Friday to an hour after sunset on Saturday. Practically speaking, this means that public transit stops running to many Orthodox neighborhoods—in fact, Tel Aviv only started limited bus service during Shabbat at the end of 2019. Taxis and other services are also limited, and in Orthodox neighborhoods especially, many restaurants and shops are closed. Of course, Shabbat is not only about limitations, it’s also a wonderful tradition. If you can get yourself invited to someone’s home for a Shabbat meal, you’re in for a real treat. It’s also a great time to relax, be outside, and go on long walks. And, one of the best activities to do before Shabbat on Friday morning is go to one of the big outdoor markets, or shuks, to see the bustling pre-Shabbat shopping—Machne Yehuda in Jerusalem or Shuk Hacarmel in Tel Aviv are both lively options.
The Weather in Israel
With highs creeping into the low to mid-90s in some places in the summer, it's best to visit Israel in late spring/early summer (April, May, or early June) or fall (September and October) to avoid the extreme heat. While the weather is a little more unpredictable during these times (be prepared for the occasional rain shower), you can expect average temps in the 80s, ideal for beach days, hiking, and sightseeing.
Most of the country experiences a mild winter with lows in the 50s. However, winter can get rainy, and some parts do get cold—most notably Jerusalem, which can experience lows in the 40s and the occasional snowfall. Mount Hermon in the north, likewise, gets cold enough that it's home to the country’s only ski resort.
Peak Season in Israel
Despite the often oppressive heat, summer (July and August) is still the most popular time for tourists to visit Israel, and prices usually reflect that.
The week of Passover in the spring is probably the next-most popular time to visit. With schools, workplaces, and many government offices closed for the entire week, attractions, beaches, hotels, and restaurants can get quite crowded and expensive. Book early if you plan to come during Passover.
Winter in Israel is the rainy season and it can get quite wet, depending on the year. Though Jerusalem is one of the coldest cities and the Negev desert gets chilly at night, winter in general is fairly mild here. Attractions, restaurants, and shops are less crowded and flights, hotels, and rental cars are generally cheaper (except during December when U.S. schools are on break).
Events to check out:
- The holiday of Hanukkah, celebrated nationally, typically falls in December; while it’s not as big of a celebration as some other Jewish holidays, there are often public menorah lightings, concerts, and parties.
- Christmas is not a public holiday in Israel, but the Armenian Quarter and Via Dolorosa in the Old City in Jerusalem and Nazareth are good places to experience the holiday in Israel. Many tours also go to Bethlehem in Palestine.
- Secular New Year’s Eve in Israel, sometimes called Sylvester, is celebrated with parties and a night out, but it's not as widely celebrated as it is in other countries because the Jewish New Year actually occurs in the fall.
- The national holiday of Purim falls in February or March and is generally a rowdy holiday that involves dressing up in costume, reading the story of Purim from the megillah, eating triangle-shaped hamentaschen cookies, having a celebratory meal, and drinking alcohol.
Spring in Israel is absolutely lovely, with wildflowers blooming and temperatures creeping up to the mid-70s and 80s. It’s pleasant beach and hiking weather, and it’s perfect for trips to the Negev desert, Dead Sea, and Jordan Valley—some of the hottest parts of the country that are often unbearable in summer. Spring also brings some of Israel’s best holidays and festivals.
Events to check out:
- The Jewish holiday of Passover usually occurs in late March or April and is celebrated across the country for a full week. Some days are yom tov days, with stores, restaurants, public transit, and more shutting down for a day. The rest of the week is filled with events, festivals, and lots of touring because the entire country is on vacation the whole week.
- Lag Ba’Omer comes 33 days after Passover. It is a national holiday but is especially celebrated in the city of Meron, where the famous Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is buried. Lag Ba’Omer is traditionally celebrated with bonfires, picnics, and singing.
- Usually in May, the Shavuot holiday is celebrated 50 days after Passover. It is like Shabbat, where many things close down across the country, and it lasts one eve and one day. It’s a tradition to eat dairy food on Shavuot.
- Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, typically occurs in April or May, and is accompanied by picnics and barbecues. Don't wear nice clothing: Children and teens often walk through their city and spray shaving cream or silly string at people.
- Easter is celebrated in Jerusalem, with festivities usually focused around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City.
- The Israel Festival is usually held at the end of May or beginning of June at multiple Jerusalem venues and is filled with art shows, dance performances, theater, concerts, and more.
Summer in Israel can get very hot. It never rains in the summer though, so you’re guaranteed good, if hot, weather. It’s the most popular time for tourists; many attractions fill up quickly and beaches across Israel are crowded. While there are no Jewish holidays in the summer, there are several festivals.
Events to check out:
- Pride Week is held in Tel Aviv in June. Visitors from around the world flock here for parades, parties, and various celebrations.
- The Jerusalem Festival of Light in June illuminates the Old City with light installations and art on the ancient stone walls and cobblestone streets.
- Come August, more than 150 breweries (both international and domestic) are represented at the Jerusalem Beer Festival, which hosts food stands and live music, too.
- The Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat is a three-day-long festival held the last week in August with about 10 concerts per night and daily workshops.
Fall is very pleasant in Israel, as the oppressive heat of summer dissipates and temperatures are mild. The Jewish New Year occurs in fall, and there are several holidays during this season.
Events to check out:
- Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year; it typically occurs in September and is celebrated nationally over two days. Though many things shut down, there are lovely traditions around Rosh Hashanah, like eating apples with honey and blowing the shofar (ram’s horn). The fast day of Yom Kippur takes place 10 days later, and everything in the country shuts down again. It is a serious holiday, without lively celebrations.
- The weeklong holiday of Sukkot, or Feast of the Tabernacles, is a wonderful holiday to be in Israel for. More of a harvest festival, there are small huts set up outside for eating in and elaborate meals are typical. You’ll also see people walking around carrying lulavs and etrogs (palm fronds and citron fruits)—especially around the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where thousands of people can gather on certain Sukkot mornings. There are some days of yom tov, but the rest of the week is filled with events, festivals, and lots of touring because the country is on vacation. The week ends with Simchat Torah, a raucous celebration with a lot of singing, dancing, and alcohol consumption.