Arad, Israel is a city in the Negev desert. As of January 2010, Arad has a population of 25,000. Arad is Israel's first planned town. It shows - Arad with built with space in mind. If you drive east from Beersheva, Arad is on the way to the Dead Sea - 45 minutes from Beersheva and a half hour from the Dead Sea.
If you're an independent traveller or backpacker, Arad is worth a visit! Real travellers look for those places that cruise ships and 4 star tourists skip - small towns with an authentic, laid back and interesting culture and lifestyle. Arad is one such gem in Israel. Arad is a desert town, but it is as far from metropolitan Beersheva as can be. This is Israel's quiet desert town with a lot of cool things to see.
How do I get to Arad? Arad is an hour and 45 minute to two hour ride directly from Tel Aviv. There are a few buses back and forth every day. Roundtrip tickets in January 2010 cost 65 shekels ($17). There's no need to wait for the next direct bus - there are buses every 20 minutes from Tel Aviv to Beersheva all day! The ride costs 19 shekels ($5). The ride takes 75 to 90 minutes. There are buses from Beersheva to Arad which take about 35-60 minutes, depending on traffic and how many times the bus stops along the way. The ride costs 10.80 shekels ($2.90) and buses run as frequently as every 10 minutes during peak morning and evening hours.
What can I do in and around Arad?
The Dead Sea is a short ride away. There is easy bus service from Arad to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is a must see for every visitor to Israel and there's no better place to base your visit from than Arad! You'll be going from Israel's pastoral desert to the lowest point on earth in half an hour. Fans of health travel will love the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea attracts many travellers from all over the world who regularly visit once to a few times a year.
Savannah has 24 squares and Arad has 20 sculptures spread around the city. They are numbered on the map above and are fun to find - on foot or in a car. You can easily do all but four on foot in the spacious center of town. The other four are located in two areas you need to visit anyways - Arad's Artists District and the Lookout Point to the Dead Sea. Arad's boutique artist area is situated a few minutes outside of town - a short taxi ride (the taxi drivers here are nice to residents and tourists alike!). There's a glass art musuem, a few other galleries, and even Arad's one and only Asif Winery!
There are a number of hotels in Arad - mostly boutique hotels and small guesthouses. Arad has an indoor two floor mall with a food court. Next to the mall is the outdoor commercial center with dozens of more stores and places to eat. Muza is our best known restaurant - designed like an Irish sports bar and where the best Israeli musicians love to play to intimate audiences.
Monday is market day with a big outdoor market under a tent - located just outside of town. And on that note, you'll do fine here on English and will hear quite a bit of Russian and Spanish. A large bag of fruits and vegetables costs me 20-30 shekels ($5 - $8). The merchants in town are patient and honest - this isn't the big city Israel where everyone's in a rush and listening to the news every half hour. Taxis within the city are 15 shekels ($4). This covers all but a few extra long rides. Its a few shekels more after 9pm and the drives typically aren't as quick to charge for extra bags as in bigger cities.
Arad is an awesome town if you like to walk and do sports! As Israel's first planned town, Arad was build with a larger population and a lot of space in mind. The roads and walkways are wide and there are small parks throughout the city. When you add the desert scape around you, this makes Arad one of Israel's prettiest cities to experience on foot. Its a short walk from the center of town to the Country Club. Visitors can buy a one day pass with access to the gym, indoor and outdoor pools, a jacuzzi and saunas. Next door is the tennis center - a tennis court for an hour costs 30 shekels ($8). Private lessons are 75 shekels ($20).
Its free to walk through Arad's unique neighborhoods and see the desert on all sides. Arad is a microcosm of Israel. There is a religious neighborhood, Bedouin work and live in Arad, and immigrants from the former Soviet Union are living next to 4th generation residents of Arad. You'll also hear Spanish, French and Portuguese here. Arad is the good story of Israel's melting pot. Maybe its the relative isolation of the desert or just good, decent people.
Beersheva is the classic modern-ancient desert city. Remember Tattoine from Star Wars with all the interesting characters and boppin' music? That's Beersheva! University students prepare for Israel's hi-tech society a short walk from a Bedouin market selling food and trinkets from another age. Beersheva's main center of town isn't too big - you can easily do it on foot.
My friends and I remember Beersheva as a sleepy desert post in the 1980's. We'd sit at small fast food places, wishing Israel's desert capital would one day become a real metropolis. By the mid-2000's, Beersheva did it! Every time I visit, I notice another spot where Beersheva is growing that I hadn't noticed before. There are new neighborhoods sprouting up on all sides. In the past decade, Beersheva became Israel's first college town. Ben Gurion University was always a big attractor and by 2005 the student population hit the roof to the point where it has a large impact on the apartment rental market there. Lots of other colleges followed suit and today Beersheva is a great place to spend a few semesters.
Beersheva is definitely the restaurant capital of the Negev. Beersheva has all the bases covered when it comes to food - especially on the low and middle end. A good meal at a good restaurant for lunch is the way to go - the good restaurants all have lunch specials as they do most of their business in the evening and at night.
Beersheva is the transportation hub of the south. There are two modern train stations and one of Israel's last outdoor old-style bus stations. Take the train as you'll have more space and a better view. There are trains and buses to every major spot in Israel - Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Eilat and dozens more.
On your next visit to Israel, I hope you include a few days in the Negev. Arad, Beersheva and the Dead Sea are a part of Israel you don't wanna miss!!
In the summer of 2010, after seven years in the Negev (including two in Arad), it was time to move on.. I'm glad I tasted Israel's Negev desert - it was as different from Miami and Tel Aviv as it gets. I missed the beach. The two hour bus rides to Tel Aviv were taking their toll. I missed my friends - I was hours away from the center and north of Israel.
Arad was boring - even compared to Eilat. A third of the population were retirees and the rest worked for the municipality and factories in the area. I never saw my neighbors walking around beyond the parking lot - even on weekends and holidays. I know, people are busy.
That's the desert - isolated.
I wanted to live somewhere with a beach but wasn't ready for the craziness and high prices of Tel Aviv. Onto Hadera!