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Israel is a very culturally diverse country. Jews, Muslims, Christians and other religions share this small piece of land and they each have their sects and sub-cultures. From scantily-clad people at the beaches of Tel Aviv to Hasidic Jews in formal black clothes and fully covered Muslim women in hijabs - you'll see it all during your visit to Israel. Which begs the question for travelers: What to wear in Israel? What dress code should you adopt to avoid offending others and stay out of trouble?
I've lived in Israel all my life - that's almost 45 years now, mind! - so I can recognize the local dress codes and know what to wear where. I've put together this list of essential tips that should help you understand what to wear in Israel and figure out what to pack for your journey.
Editing to add -
More than 100 readers have asked more about what to wear in Israel in the comments section, so I decided to update this post with answers to the most common question: What to wear in Israel during each month of the year.
The complete list of what to wear in Israel month-by-month is available right after the nine tips. Have an awesome trip!
Tip #1 - Keep it casual
Generally speaking, dress codes are extremely relaxed in modern Israeli society. That said, it's always a good rule for us travelers to avoid torn and dirty clothes. Casual does not mean looking like a bum. Just try to blend in with clean and tidy casual wear.
As a rule, jackets and ties are not required, unless you are a lawyer or judge in a courtroom. As a traveler, you are probably neither, so you can safely leave the tie and jacket back home.
You're likely to see young men in t-shirts and jeans even at gourmet restaurants, concerts or the local opera. A button-up shirt is more commonly worn for these occasions - especially with the older generation - but that's as fancy and formal as it gets for most Israeli men.
For women, gowns are reserved for weddings. A nice dress or blouse are the norm for a fancy outing, but ladies, you can absolutely get away with a pair of jeans and any clean shirt as well.
Tip #2 - Dress for the summer heat
In Israel, sum mer begins around April and can last all the way through October. If you're wondering what to wear in Israel during a summer visit then the answer is: airy, short and comfortable.
Would you need any warm clothes at all during summertime? A light jacket or long-sleeve shirt is recommended for for evenings spent in the desert, Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. Also, you'll find most place in Israel are fully air-conditioned which some people find too chilly. That extra layer could come handy if you're one of those people.
Oh, and no need to bring an umbrella. Rain is extremely rare between the months of May and September
Tip #3 Hike in appropriate clothes
Hiking is best done during the cooler months but if you must hike in Israel during summertime, wear lightweight long-sleeve clothes and try to cover as much as your skin as possible. Avoid hiking in the middle of the day and opt for the cooler hours of early morning and late afternoon.
Use sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun even if you're hiking in a sleeveless shirt and a pair of shorts. Don't forget a hat and sunglasses!
Most trails are relatively short, so choose your hiking shoes accordingly. Many of the locals happily hike in a good pair of sandals or sneakers.
Tip #4 Be prepared for any kind of weather during winter
What to wear in Israel during the short winter period is actually a good question. The locals face that dilemma practically every morning. Some days can definitely be warm enough for t-shirts, especially in the coastal areas or if you're out hiking. However, we do get cold fronts, rain and the occasional local storm, so bring along a rainproof jacket and some warm clothes.
Jerusalem, the Upper Galilee and the Golan Heights tend to be colder than the coastal areas and can even get some snow during winter. Yes. I did say snow. I know some people think of Israel as some sort of scorching desert, but it really isn't. It can actually get cold and even snow during winter time.
Speaking of the desert, remember that it can get very cold during the night out there during wintertime. Don't let the sun fool you. You can hike in sandals and shorts during the day, but bring something warm to wear in the evenings and early mornings. Last, but not least, it can actually snow in the desert as well, so keep an eye on the weather forecast if your itinerary includes a desert hike.
The key for what to wear in Israel during winter time is the same as everywhere else in the world: Layers. Check the local weather forecast and dress accordingly, adding or taking off layers as may be necessary.
Tip #5 Pack a swimsuit!
There are so many options for swimming in Israel, every month of the year, you simply must bring a swimming suit. The Mediterranean sea starts warming up in June and stays warm enough to swim until late October. Even during winter time, it's never as cold as the ocean.
You can also bathe in the Sea Of Galilee or the Jordan River, for a recreational experience with a spiritual twist. There are several lovely swimming holes in Israel. Some are fed by hot springs so you can enjoy a swim there during wintertime as well.
The Dead Sea is Bucket List item for your visit and the exprience won't be complete without the obligatory float in the extra-salty water. Make sure you read my Complete Guide For Visiting The Dead Sea before you head out there.
Last, but not least, swimming and diving in the Red Sea is an amazing experience, so if you can work 2-3 days in Eilat into your itinerary, you're definitely going to use that bathing suit.
Tip #6 Cover up when visiting religious sites
If you're visiting any religious site, such as a mosque, synagogue, church or even the Wailing Wall, cover yourself. In most places, clothes that cover you up to your elbows and your knees should be ok. That means avoiding bermuda pants or short skirts.
Definitely avoid sleeveless shirts. Some places will be ok with t-shirts but others not so much not so much. To stay on the safe side, carry a long-sleeve shirt or even a pashmina with you. Wrap up if you're asked to. This rule holds true for men and women and for places of worship of all local religions.
If you're visiting while a ceremony is taking place, or the locals are praying, respect their festive customs and dress up a bit. A buttoned-up shirt, long pants and shoes for men, and a long-sleeve and long dress or skirt for women are usually enough. You may be asked to cover your head as well, so come prepared with your own hat or wrap.
Tip #7 Cover yourself properly when visiting Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods
There are several areas in Israel where extreme Orthodox Jewish communities reside. The most famous ones being in the Me'ah She'arim area in Jerusalem and the city of Bnei Brak, not far from Tel Aviv. Local secular Jews either stay away from these places or try to dress modestly when visiting them. They're actually good for an interesting anthropological experience, especially if you read up on the culture or take a guided tour. Just make sure you dress modestly, wearing long sleeves and full-length pants or skirts.
Tip #8 Don't wear a keffiyeh in Jewish areas
The keffiyeh is a traditional Arab head wrap for men. It usually has a red-and-white or black-and-white checkered pattern. You'll see older people in Arab markets wearing them.
However, anyone wearing one in a Jewish/Israeli town or city is asking for trouble. I won't go into the complexities of the issue, but the bottom line is, you could be perceived as a potential threat.
What's going to happen if you do wear one as a scarf? Probably nothing, except for some frowning here and there, but someone could call the cops on you and they may ask to see your ID. In Israel, cops can do that at any time, even if you haven't done anything illegal. If you use a keffiyeh to cover your head, that's more likely to happen. Cover your face too, you'll certainly attract the wrong kind of attention.
Assuming you're in Israel to travel and not to become involved in local politics, it's best to avoid wearing keffiyehs, just like you shouldn't try wearing a yarmulke as a fashion statement when visiting Arab villages (less likely to happen, I know).
Tip #9 Keep political slogans off your clothes
It's not just the Keffiyeh (although that one would be the most problematic in terms of personal safety).
This is an region of intense - and sometimes violent - conflict. To stay out of trouble, it's best to avoid wearing your heart on your sleeve, or your political views anywhere on your clothes. Don't visit a Palestinian village with an overtly Zionist message on your t-shirt, and don't visit a Jewish area with a pro-Palestinian slogan either. In fact, it's best to avoid having text in either Hebrew or Arabic on your shirts. People may or may not be able to read it and it could look out of place in the wrong area.
Israel is generally very safe to travel in but it's always best to avoid conflicts with the locals. It's also just more polite, I think.
So, what to wear in Israel?
It's not very complicated, really. Most of these guidelines hold true for travelers everywhere. Dress according to the weather, in clean, respectable clothes, don't show too much skin in religious places and try not to stick out in a crowd. I hope the tips I provided you with here will help you do just that and keep you comfortable and safe too!
Bonus Guide: What to wear when visiting Israel by the month
With so many questions regarding specific times of the year, I've decided to add this quick guide with specific recommendations for each month of the year.
Remember, Israel is small but its climate is diverse. The coastal areas are generally warmer and more humid. Going beyond the "what to wear" issues, you should also read my guide about the best time to visit Israel.
During summer, you can count on it being hot just about anywhere but indoors it's almost always air-conditioned. During winter, the Galilee and Jerusalem are usually about 10 degrees colder than the Coastal area (Tel Aviv-Haifa). The desert areas (the Judean Desert/Dead Sea and the Negev Desert/Be'er Sheva) will be nice and warm during the day but cold during the night.
The following month-by-month breakdown assumes that you'll be visiting Jerusalem and/or the Galilee so covers you for those as well.
- January-February: The temperatures in Jerusalem and the Galilee are in the mid-forties (Fahrenheit) so bring a warm jacket or coat. A scarf or warm hat may be necessary too, especially during the night time or on a windy day. You could even encounter a day or two of snow in these elevations but nothing worse. For your days in Tel Aviv or other coastal locations, bring light clothes. You could get days that are warm enough for shorts, a tee, and sandals, especially if you're doing some hiking/walking. This is the rainy season too, so consider bringing an umbrella along.
- March Still cold(ish) in the Galilee and Jerusalem. A jacket will be required on most days but you may want to wear short sleeves under that jacket. A few minutes of brisk walking and you could be warm enough for a tee-shirt. As with most places during this time of year, dressing in layers certainly makes sense!
- April Spring is here! While nights may still be cool in elevated regions, it probably won't go under the 50°F mark. Days should are nice and warm even in Jerusalem and the Galilee (think mid-seventies warm). The coastal areas are several degrees warmer so again, pack something light and airy for your visit of Tel Aviv.
- May-June This is practically summertime in Israel. Daytime temperatures are likely to hit the 80's even in higher elevations. Mornings and evenings are cooler though, so do bring a jacket for those evenings out in Jerusalem or Tiberias.
- July-August-September Summer. Definitely summer. Expect heat waves on most days and they are humid ones, especially in the coastal areas. The key here is lightweight and airy. Tel Aviv is as casual as no-sleeves, shorts, and sandals, practically anywhere and any time of day or night. The dress code in more conservative areas (Jerusalem and Arab towns and villages) so if you're moving out of the greater Tel Aviv area, it might be better to go for a tee-shirt and pants that are somewhere in the knee-area (they can go above the knees, as long as you're not entering a religious site). It's a dry season, so don't worry about the rain at all. The only "cold weather" item you may want to bring along is a light jacket for evening time in the elevated regions.
- October It's gradually cooling but not nearly fast enough. October is usually very warm, including occasional actual heat waves. In fact, don't forget to pack your swimsuit if you're traveling along the coast. The Mediterranean sea is still warm - probably warmer than the air - and perfect for a quick refreshing dip in the sea. Rain is a possibility but probably nothing more than a light short drizzle. In Jerusalem and the Galilee, the temperatures can get down to the 70's during the evening, so you may want something warmer if you're planning on going out at night.
- November For Tel Aviv, stick to light and airy still. Believe it or not, heat waves are not out of the question. There can be some rain now and then but most likely light showers that will clear up within a few hours. The elevated areas of Jerusalem and the Galilee are colder though. With daytime temperatures in the 50's and 60's so do bring something warm too.
- December This is officially wintertime but unless you're very sensitive cold temperatures, you will be able to get by with shorts and a teeshirt in Tel Aviv. At least on most days. The first storms may be here though, so if you want to watch the waves from the Tel Aviv promenade, you'll need a waterproof jacket. Dress warmly for other areas in the country but a lightweight, short-sleeved layer is probably a good idea, especially if you're going to be physically active. Monitor the weather forecast for those storms from December until early March. Don't worry, these are not actual blizzards, although they may bring snow in higher elevations. You can still go outside but it could be windy and rainy for a day or two.
That's it! I hope this helps. If you're still not sure about something, feel free to ask me here by leaving a comment! I'll answer the best I can and can even check things locally for you if that will help.
Don't forget to check out my other posts about traveling in Israel. For places to visit, my favorites would be the one about 11 things to do in Tel Aviv, the guide for visiting the Dead Sea and the guide to my favorite world heritage site in Israel: Akko. For more general - yet important! - guides, try these posts -
How much does it cost to visit Israel? (Including money-saving tips)
Should you rent a car when visiting Israel (and how to do so)
What's driving in Israel like (in case you're going to rent one!)