Known as “The White City” or the “Miami of the Middle East,” Tel Aviv offers stunning beaches, great food, and world-class nightlife with some of the world’s most beautiful people. No, this is not the Israel you see in the news. If you are looking for year-round fun and sun, you have come to the right place. Welcome to Tel Aviv, Israel’s seaside cultural and commercial capital.
FOR THE TOURIST
Independence Hall: Being a relatively new city, Tel Aviv is not famous for its history, but if you make it to one museum during your stay, make this one it. This museum was originally the home of the city’s first Mayor, Meir Dizengoff, but on May 14, 1948, the country’s leaders gathered here to declare the establishment of the State of Israel. The hall is well preserved to look exactly like it did on that historical day and tour guides usually give moving reenactments of the events.
Gordon and Frishman Beaches: This stretch of sand is the most popular of Tel Aviv’s beaches. Come here to tan, listen to drummers practice, and watch locals play games of matkot (beach tennis) or shesh-besh (similar to backgammon). Go to Lala Land Restaurant or Café Mezada for drinks and watch the afternoon sunset.
The Old City of Yafo: Undoubtedly the most picturesque part of the city, the Arab section of Yafo, or Jaffa, is worth an entire afternoon for exploration. Over 4000 years old, it is one of the world’s earliest ports and it was from here that Jonah started his journey in a whale. On either side of Yafo’s stone cobbled alleys you can find art galleries, old-fashioned bakeries, and antique shops. Stop at the flea market (which is best in the late morning) and pick up some old coins or a hand made rug. Don’t forget to go to Abu Hasan to try some of their hummus, known for being Israel’s best — just be prepared for the long line.
If you want to get a different view of the city, visit the Azrieli Observatory. Take an elevator to the 49th floor and get a 360 degree view of Tel Aviv from the highest perspective possible. If you’re hungry, try some gourmet Mediterranean kosher fare at the restaurant on top, 2C. The prices are expensive but the view is unbeatable.
Tips for the young woman:
Tel Aviv is a very social city, and it can be made more enjoyable if you have friends to explore the city with. It’s fairly easy to meet locals and other travelers on the beach, especially on the weekends. There is drumming on the Dolphinarium beach every Friday, which is a good way to meet people and dance.
OUT AND ABOUT
Tel Aviv is undoubtedly the Middle East’s capital for nightlife. The club and bar scene is varied and offers something for every taste in music and crowd. Be aware that there are some clubs for older crowds (i.e. 23+ and 25+) but the rules aren’t too strict, especially if you are a tourist and a girl. The party doesn’t get started until past midnight so make sure you’re up for a late night!
The Namal, or port of Tel Aviv, is filled with trendy Top 40 clubs and big name restaurants, and is bubbling with activity on the weekends, especially during the summer. Some of the biggest names include TLV Club, Clara, with it’s electro music and tikki hut bar, and the open-air spot Galina.
If you’re searching for more of an ex-pat friendly scene, head to Mike’s Place, a famous American style bar right next to the US embassy, featuring live music, pool tables, and several selections of international beer. For a more European feel, the English Bar is filled with rowdy British soccer fans and an eclectic mix of local Israelis. While you’re here try a local Israeli beer like Goldstar or the traditional Arab drink “Arak”, a very strong anise-flavored liqueur.
When most people think of Israeli food they think of hummus, falafel, and shwarma. But Israel’s multi-ethnic society has come up with some other culinary delights that should be sampled on a trip to Tel Aviv. Sabich was introduced by Iraqi Jews and consists of a pita filled with fried eggplant, egg, potato, tehina (sesame paste) and amba (mango sauce). Jachnun is a traditional snack from Yemenite Jews, made of sweet fried dough, baked for almost the whole day. The bread is served with tomato paste, hot sauce, and sometimes hard boiled eggs. Jews from Turkey and the Balkans brought over bourekas, made from phyllo dough or puff pastry, sprinkled with seeds and filled with mashed potatoes, cheese, eggplant, mushrooms or spinach. Israelis love their bourekas so much you can buy them anywhere, even gas stations!
On the weekend:
It’s important to note that unlike most other countries, Israel’s weekend is Thursday-Sunday, due to the observance of the Jewish holiday of Shabbat from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. If you are in Tel Aviv during Shabbat, don’t worry, many things will still be open! Take this time to relax and walk the Tayelet, the boardwalk that stretches from the North of Tel Aviv to Yafo. Go to Benedict’s (171 Ben Yehuda Street) and try their famous eggplant shakshouka, a dish brought over by Tunisian Jews consisting of poached eggs in sauce made of tomatoes, chili peppers and onions. After the beach take a trip to Hayarkon Park, Tel Aviv’s answer to New York’s Central Park, featuring botanical gardens, artificial lakes, sports facilities, and a water park.
Tel Aviv has great weather for the majority of the year so it is easy to explore by foot. City buses are also a great way to travel, as they are frequent, cheap, and will take you to the parts where you want to go. Taxis are a bit more expensive (but still cheaper than the US) and are recommended at night or on Shabbat when public transportation shuts down.
You will also be impressed by the amount of English spoken in Tel Aviv. If you are lost don’t be afraid to approach someone on the street and ask for directions. Once you get past their bluntness and honesty you will see that most Israelis are friendly people and will be glad to help out a lost tourist.
Best place to stay:
One drawback of Tel Aviv is that the hostel scene is not very well developed. There are youth hostels along Ben Yehuda and Allenby streets, which will run you about $25 for a bed in a dorm room and $80-90 for a private room. Most of them also include a basic breakfast in the morning. Some good budget choices include Gordon Inn and the Tel Aviv Beachfront Hostel. For a midrange pick, choose Dizengoff Suites, which offers newly renovated rooms near the best shopping center in the city. If you’re in the mood to splurge, the David Intercontinental in the charming Neve Tsedek area is your best bet.
Insider tip: one sneaky way to save money:
Since you will most likely be coming into Tel Aviv by way of the Ben Gurion airport, save the $40 or so you would spend on a cab into the city by taking a train into the city. Tel Aviv has 4 stations and for best access to the city center, get off at Tel Aviv Merkaz/Savidor or HaShalom, located next to the giant Azrieli shopping mall. If you want to take a bus out of the city, take the train to “HaHaganah”, which is close to the central bus station.
Best travel guide:
Wikitravel’s website on Tel Aviv offers a comprehensive summary of all sections of the city as well as continuous updates on the hottest nightlife spots. Tel Aviv’s Lonely Planet guide offers an extensive review of the city’s best shopping areas and restaurants.
Areas to avoid at night:
Tel Aviv is an extremely safe city, especially for women and tourists. Be prepared to open your bags and go through metal detectors at museums, malls, bus stations and even occasionally cafes. There are pickpockets in some touristy areas of the city so keep an eye on your money at all times. The area around the central bus station (“Tachana Merkazit”) in the south of the city is a bit seedy during nighttime as well as the non-touristy sections of Yafo, so avoid going there on your own.
Common tourist scams:
Taxi drivers might identify you as a tourist and use the opportunity to overcharge you. Just make sure you come prepared and it won’t be a problem. You can hail a taxi (“mo-NIT,” in Hebrew) as you would in a city like New York and the driver is obliged to give you a metered ride once you get in, unless you settle for a price beforehand. The driver might claim his meter is broken, and if this is the case just get out and find another taxi. A local ride within the city should be around 30-40 shekels, and to the nearby suburbs around 60 shekels. It makes sense to get a fixed price in advance on Friday night and Saturday when there is a Shabbat surcharge or during rush hour in the mornings and afternoons.
Maybe also plan a summer vacation to Bangkok, Thailand?
Where are you traveling this summer? Tell us in the comments!