Could you pull off a four-day trip to the world’s most expensive city, including return flights from the UK, and spend a little over £500? Our writer Heidi Fuller-Love did just that. Here she shares her insider’s guide to surviving — and thriving — on a budget in the White City. Once you've discovered how to make your shekels go further when you visit Tel Aviv, find out why Tel Aviv is the city that has it all.
Tel Aviv is home of succulent street food, superb sandy beaches and the world’s largest concentration of minimalist Bauhaus architecture. It’s dubbed ‘the Nonstop City’ because of its lively nightlife scene and it seemed like the perfect place to spend a long weekend.
One morning in late spring, as birds twittered in Meir Park’s leafy treetops and bunting-festooned party crowds rolled wearily homewards in the early light glittering from distant skyscrapers, I hopped off the 445 bus (₪7/ £1.62) at shuk Carmel, Tel Aviv’s largest open-air food market.
I intended to spend a lot of time here eating (hopefully cheap) street food. This was part of my bid to get by on a budget in this buzzing city, classed as the world's most expensive city by the EIU – and dubbed ‘Hell Aviv’ by countless cash-strapped residents.
Shouldering my rucksack I followed leafy, sleepy Rambam Street to my first hotel. Eager to save a few shekels I’d looked into other options for my four day stay – including couchsurfing or staying in hostels.
Like a party version of Virginia Woolf, however, I wanted a room of my own, where I could crawl back without disturbing anyone at four in morning. Hotel 75, a budget boutique hotel with comfortable rooms for £80 (₪346) a night in TLV’s club- and pub-lined Allenby street, seemed like a good value compromise.
Since mirrors and hallways were daubed with snippets of conversational Hebrew – Boker Tov! (Good Morning!); Targishu Barbait! (Feel Local!) – I reckoned I’d be saving some dosh on language apps, too.
With its blend of sleaze and style, Allenby Street is a short step away from some of the best of the city’s 4000+ UNESCO-designated Bauhaus gems. It's also within easy strolling distance of hip cafes along sand-strewn Jerusalem beach.
It’s a concentrated dose of everything TLV does best. There are junk stores filled with psychedelic sixties gear next to hole-in-the-wall falafel joints. Seedy clubs rub shoulders with superbly decrepit turn-of-the-last-century buildings.
One such relic is Beit Lederberg at 114, which is covered in striking ceramic murals depicting scenes from the country’s pioneering days (an ethos that still oozes from every pore of modern-day Israel).
Keen on culture? It might be worth putting some cash aside to take a Tel Aviv walking tour that takes in the city's architecture, street art and food.
I’d decided to travel mid-week because hotels are cheaper. I’d sidestep potential problems caused by the Shabbat (from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday) when everything, including transport, grinds to a halt, but I was worried that there wouldn’t be much going on.
I had lunch at Jasmino, one of the city’s best-known street snack shacks. There, Ben Julius – owner of Tourist Israel, a hip TLV-based company who organise everything from budget pub-crawls to street art tours – reassured me.
“It’s known as the Nonstop City for a reason – there’s always something happening here,” he said as we tucked into tender lamb kebabs couched in marshmallow-soft pitas (₪25/ £5.80). "Down on the seafront there’s often live music and there’s plenty of really good free street entertainment at The Nahalat Binyamin artisan market".
"Check out the street art in the Florentine district and around Jaffa port or visit some of the free to enter galleries like Ron Arad’s Gordon Gallery or Kiryat Melecha. And remember: Israel is small country so you can do day-trips to the Dead Sea – and even across the border to Petra – which saves paying extra for hotels.”
Discover more Dead Sea day-trips from Tel Aviv.
Warming to the challenge of getting by on a budget in his mega-expensive city, Julius also suggested that I get around on Tel Aviv’s Tel-o-Fun green bikes. They cost ₪17 (£3.90) per day and are free for the first 30 minutes. “After that you pay ₪6/£1.40 per hour, so the trick is to get from one attraction to the other in less than half an hour and change bikes,” he advised. Alternatively, try the Tel Aviv's electric scooters (11/₪£2.50 an hour).
Screeching through red traffic lights or speeding along pavements, these two-wheel electric scooters are everywhere in Tel Aviv. “You locate them with apps like Bird or Wind and - unlike bikes - you don’t need to return them to a docking station: you just leave them wherever your ride finishes,” Julius told me.
There are more than 4.000 Bauhaus buildings in Tel Aviv – including the Shimon Levi House jutting out on Levanda street like the bow of a ship and the Engel House, which was the first in the city to be constructed on stilts.
Most of them are free to visit. As with most big cities, free walking tours are also on offer, but they had been suspended because of Covid, so I downloaded a GPS My City tour of the city (£1.45), which happily works offline so doesn’t use up your data allowance.
My first excursion took me to see the best of Bauhaus architecture. Also known as the International Style, Bauhaus was brought over from Germany by Jews fleeing the country in 1933 when Hitler came to power. With some 60,000 thousand immigrants arriving in Tel Aviv between 1933 and 1939, there was an urgent need for housing and the functional Bauhaus style was favoured for this immense building project.
The following day, I hopped on a green bike and pedalled out on a tour of the art galleries and designer boutique-lined streets of Neve Tzedek, clustered around HaTachana. Jaffa’s old railway station is now home to chic shops including Made in TLV selling unique souvenirs including photojournalist Ziv Koren’s (expensive but snazzy) Tel Aviv-printed belts (£45).
I also sought out the house of the Isreal's first Prime Minister. It’s now a fascinating museum showcasing David Ben-Gurion’s 20,000 volume library and the stuffy room he used as an air raid shelter during the Sinai Campaign and the Six-Day War (admission free).
I spent several happy hours exploring Old Jaffa’s echoing tangle of narrow lanes lined with craft stores, fish restaurants and some of the city’s best hummus shops.
During regular pit stops between sightseeing forays I filled up on (huge) portions of the city’s iconic egg and tomato dish shakshuka (₪35/£8). It’s served with spicy merguez sausages and a creamy dollop of fresh tahini at Shakshukia on Ben Yehuda Street.
I also refuelled with sabich – chewy laffa bread stuffed with fried eggplants and hard boiled eggs smothered in tangy amba mango pickle (₪18/£4.15) – in the cardamom-scented alleys of Levinsky spice market. The market is at the heart of the colourful, if genteelly downtrodden, Florentin district.
Nightlife on a budget was more challenging in this city where a small beer costs upwards of ₪21 (£7). Luckily most bars have 1+ 1 Happy Hours and most clubs in Tel Aviv are free on weekdays.
Whether it was open mic night at Israel’s first microbrewery The Dancing Camel; street parties at Bugsy’s in Florentin or evenings ultra-hip indie electronic club Radio EPGB (where they have1+1 on drinks until midnight), I rarely spent more than ₪80 (£18.50) a night.
To celebrate my last evening in The White City, I splurged and spent a night at the Cinema Hotel (₪500/£115), a glorious retro-styled boutique hotel housed in a Bauhaus building which was once the Esther cinema.
Grabbing a bag of (free) popcorn in the lobby and ordering a Happy Hour cocktail (₪15/£3.50) I totted up the cost of my stay. Including flights (£211 return with Easyjet) I’d spent just over £600, which was roughly the price of two nights at a hotel like this one in central London – and not bad going at all for four fascinating days (and three fun-packed nights) in the world’s most expensive city.
Crowds flock to Tel Aviv in summer when temperatures are sizzling. For travellers on a budget the best time to visit Tel Aviv is in early spring (March and April) or autumn (between September and November) when it’s far less crowded (and not so hot). In winter prices are generally lower. However, although days are often quite warm, you can expect some rain.
Tel Aviv is a city where you can easily survive on street food. If you’re seeking cheap eats make a beeline for the markets (Levinsky and Carmel). Or, head for boho districts like Florentin. Here stores like Hummus Ve’shut and Shmuel kebab dish up large (cheap) portions of city favourites – hummus; falafel; charcoal-grilled lamb kebabs.
Try Sabich Tchernichovsky to sample the city’s best-loved snack: fresh aubergine, hard-boiled egg, potato and tahini-stuffed sabich pitas.
The world’s most expensive city does have a few decent hostels offering budget accommodation. The pick-of-the-crop (and by far the largest) is Abraham Hostel. Close to the city centre, this lively hostel organises regular live music evenings and other events, making it a great option for solo travellers, too.
Florentine Backpackers hostel in the edgy Florentin area is also a good budget choice. As well as dorms they also have (far more expensive) single and double rooms.
For further inspiration, read the culture-packed Insight Guide to Israel. Alternatively, the Explore Guide to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv is full of walking routes for travellers on a budget to follow in their own time, without shelling out for tour guides. Find inspiration for future trips with Rough Guides' customisable tailor-made trips to Jordan.
Prefer to follow lesser-travelled paths? Discover five under the radar Middle Eastern cities, and spectacular off-the-beaten-track sights in the Middle East and North Africa. And if money’s the main thing on your mind, dive into our gallery of 20 of the cheapest places to travel, and read up on the best places in Europe to travel on a budget.
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