Great food, Mediterranean beaches, international culture and non-stop partying (more or less). Tel Aviv may be small, but it manages to pack all those things into its seemingly random mix of mismatched neighbourhoods. Although it’s less than an hour away from Jerusalem, the two cities couldn’t be more different.
This is not the place to go for ancient history, biblical references and religious sites. This cosmopolitan, modern city is full of non-Kosher restaurants, late-night bars and tattooed hipsters. It has similarities with everywhere from Berlin to Istanbul and New York to Mumbai, yet it certainly has its own unique vibe and style. Here’s how you should spend a short break in Tel Aviv.
What should I see?
Tel Aviv is not big on monuments and standard tourist attractions, although the Eretz Israel Museum and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art are a good introduction to Israeli history, archaeology and contemporary art.
The city itself, however, is like a living museum, with an impressive collection of architectural styles. Visit Old Jaffa for a stroll through Ottoman-era alleyways leading down to an active early morning fishing port.
Further north lies Tel Aviv’s first neighbourhood, the beautifully restored Neve Tzedek, with its Parisian-style cafés and designer boutiques.
Tel Aviv’s main architectural attraction, the famous White City, is not a single location, but rather a collection of notable modernist buildings (predominantly Bauhaus style) scattered throughout its central neighbourhoods. The best way to take it all in is to join a guided walking tour, such as the one offered by Tourist Israel.
In the north end of town, the now thoroughly gentrified Tel Aviv port is good for a wander, providing shopping and dining, as well as cultural events, children’s activities and fairs throughout the year.
Where should I have dinner?
Fusion is key in Israeli cuisine and nowhere in the country is more innovative than Tel Aviv. For a decent, cheap introduction to local street food head to the centrally located Hakosem where you can sample ubiquitous Middle Eastern dishes like hummus, falafel and shawarma, as well as the pride of Israel’s culinary melting pot itself: the salad- and condiment-laden schnitzel in a pita.
The best hummus place in town by far is Abu Hassan’s in Jaffa, which is always packed. If you want to take it up a notch, head over to Hamiznon where, in TV chef Eyal Shani’s gourmet version of local fast food, you can fill your pita with shrimp or try the famous grilled cauliflower.
A more sophisticated take on fusion cuisine can be found at Hamizlala, with its modern, upbeat vibe and beautifully complex dishes.
I like to shop – what’s there for me?
Most tourists head straight to the Carmel market, and for a very good reason. Far from being a tourist trap, the main street and the surrounding alleyways are full of stalls selling everything from fresh produce to cheap clothes, spices, toys and even cosmetics.
Dry fruits in Levinsky market © Mario Troiani/Shutterstock
It’s a great place to stock up on food-related souvenirs such as slabs of flavoured halva (a type of sweet made with sesame paste), zaa’tar (a type of seasoning used heavily in Palestinian cuisine), locally produced olive oil and other local delicacies.
On Tuesdays and Fridays, the parallel Nahalat Binyamin Street features a large craft market that’s perfect for original gifts, homewares and jewellery.
If spices are your thing, you can also check out the popular Levinsky market, which is more like a collection of shops, selling pretty much every type of spice and dried fruit under the sun.
The Jaffa flea market is worth a visit for antiques, vintage clothes and Middle Eastern style souvenirs. Be prepared to haggle hard, though – especially as a foreigner.
Where’s the party at?
Tel Aviv prides itself on its party scene and there’s something going every night of the week. Most of the action happens in bars, but on the weekend the city’s larger clubs kick in with big productions.
Head to world-famous Block Club is for techno and house from the industry’s greatest DJs. For a more varied selection of music gigs and parties, aim for the smaller, trendy Pasaz Club which has everything from blues jams to hip-hop, performance art parties and indie gigs.
The derelict-chic Rothschild 12 bar is the place to go for free gigs by both popular and underground local artists.
If you want to hit town during a big party weekend note that Purim (the Jewish Halloween), Israel’s Independence Day and, of course, Pride Weekend all beat New Year’s Eve hands down for both variety and insanity.
Where can I get some sleep?
The swanky Brown Hotel offers a central location, gorgeous 70s retro design and a hip rooftop bar that’s popular with local creatives and fashionistas.
If you’re on a tight budget, you can try the cheap and cheerful Overstay Hostel, with its large roof terrace and party vibe. While not central, the place offers very cheap bicycle rental, which you can use to get around town.
Top image © Dance60/Shutterstock