Buses can take you almost anywhere in Israel. Most in Jerusalem are run by Egged and most buses in Tel Aviv are serviced by Dan, though other city bus companies also operate. Buses in Israel are clean, comfortable, air-conditioned, and some have Wi-Fi. Intercity bus fares vary according to distance traveled. During weekday rush hours, allow time for long lines at the obligatory security checks to enter most bus stations. Buses are often overcrowded on Saturday night as people return home after Shabbat and always packed on Sunday morning when it looks like the entire Israeli army is returning to base after a weekend at home.
The Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv resembles an M.C. Escher drawing: a jumble of staircases and escalators appearing to lead nowhere. The stark concrete building has multiple entrances and exits on several levels, endless corridors, and a dizzying array of platforms. It's all topped off by dozens of kiosks selling fast food and cheap merchandise, plus Asian minimarkets serving the local community of foreign workers. By contrast, Jerusalem's Central Bus Station is clean, well-organized, and easy to navigate. There's a pleasant enough food court, ATMs, information desk, and branches of some of the country's best-known stores.
Although buses resemble those in most other countries, there are a few quirks. When you're in Jerusalem, lines 1 and 3 primarily service ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods and end at the Western Wall area. On bus lines like these, it's generally accepted that women sit separately, in the back of the bus, and men in the front half. Although gender segregation is not compulsory by law, in ultra-Orthodox society it is the norm. If you’re a woman and sit in an empty seat next to an ultra-Orthodox man, you shouldn't be surprised if he would rather stand than sit beside you. (In case you're wondering, ultra-Orthodox women generally accept this arrangement.)
Frequent bus service is available between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Egged Bus 405 runs from the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station every 15–20 minutes, and Bus 480 from the Arlozorov Street terminal (near the Savidor train station in Tel Aviv) leaves a bit more frequently, depending on the time of day (NIS 16 for each). There’s a similar service to Jerusalem from most major cities, terminating at the Central Bus Station. The three small bus stations in East Jerusalem are for Palestinian-operated bus lines, with daily service to West Bank towns such as Bethlehem and Ramallah. The main bus depot is next to Damascus Gate light-rail stop.
For both local and long-distance travel, drivers accept payment in shekels. Drivers on long-distance buses grumble when they have to make change for a bill over NIS 100, so make sure to have smaller denominations. Unless you are running to catch a bus, it's almost always faster to buy your ticket at the office in the bus station. On city buses you don't need exact change. Children under age five ride free whether or not they occupy their own seat.
If you need a round-trip bus ticket, you have to buy an electronic Rav Kav card from the bus driver. It costs NIS 5 but you can load money on the card and use it for all tickets on all Israeli buses, trains, and Jerusalem’s city tram.
The fare on most central city routes is NIS 5.90. If taking another bus within 90 minutes, ask for a free ma'avar, or transfer ticket.
Intercity fares are based on distance traveled. The one-hour trip between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem cost NIS 16, while the 2½-hour journey between Tel Aviv and Tiberias runs NIS 37.50. There are no advance reservations except to Eilat or the Dead Sea area.
Most major bus lines are available Sunday to Thursday from about 6 am to midnight. Keep in mind that public transportation in all cities except Haifa ceases to run on Jewish holidays and Shabbat, which lasts from sundown Friday afternoon to an hour after sundown Saturday evening. Be sure to give yourself extra time if traveling just before Shabbat.
Every large bus station has an information booth with schedule and platform information in English. The Egged website has an easy-to-use trip planner that includes timetables, routes, and fares.
Dan. 03/639–4444; www.dan.co.il/Eng/.
East Jerusalem Bus Station. Sultan Suleiman St., opposite Damascus Gate, East Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Jerusalem. 02/627–2881.
Egged. 03/694–8888; www.egged.co.il/eng.
Jerusalem Central Bus Station. 224 Jaffa Rd., Romema, Jerusalem, Jerusalem. 03/914–2237; egged.co.il/eng.
National Bus Hotline. *8787; www.bus.co.il.