Tel Aviv is a place that honestly was never on my list. Why? I have no idea. Perhaps like you, I always envisioned it to be a buttoned up place, with serious people and even more serious heat. While the latter bit can be true in the middle of summer, and even for an autumnal tan, the rest is laughably false.
Tel Aviv is like Santa Monica in the Middle East, but with better priced food, that arguably tastes a whole lot better on the whole too. The sunsets and beach walks are magic, the shopping is unique and everything from Jaffa to North Tel Aviv is one big buzz and fusion of open mindedness. Whether it’s your first time, or you’re a regular and are looking for some drool worthy new dinner suggestions, here’s how to live it up, eat everything and see for yourself why people are flocking to this incredible destination…
Feel free to skip around as needed, but pay attention when it gets to the 48 hour itinerary : )
Ben Gurion Airport (TLV) is a modern well laid out facility, and entry immigration is relatively painless, albeit with some long lines from time to time. If you’ve heard the stories about Israeli immigration, you’ll understand then when you leave, which is when any passport stamps from Arab countries will mean a nice lengthy security process for you…
If you’re looking to get into town ASAP, book yourself a VIP arrival from Maman Aviation to speed things up, or if you really want to splash out, an ultra VIP transfer via the new Fattal Terminal, which bypasses the entire public terminal! A VIP arrival is $199 per group, and an ultra VIP starts at $400.
Best Ways To Get From Ben Gurion Airport To Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport is about 40 minutes to central Tel Aviv, and only 45 minutes to Jerusalem as well, just FYI. Uber, Gett and other rideshare apps work extremely well through the taxi firms in Tel Aviv, and the price from the airport to the central part of the city is roughly 135 shekels, or about $38 or £38 all in.
If you want to save a bunch of money, the train from Ben Gurion Airport to Tel Aviv departs from T3 and is a mere 13.5 shekels, which comes out under $4 and is pretty fast. The train stops in South, Central and North Tel Aviv, so if you’re travelling light, it can make a lot of sense, since walking to your hotel won’t be a big deal.
Of course, you could always grab a cab from the station and still come out way ahead. Just note: the train does not run during Shabat, which is Friday afternoon to Saturday evening. If you forget that, you might be sh*t out of luck.
Tel Aviv has some fantastic hotels, albeit almost all at the fairly pricey end. For the absolute epitome of luxury, The Jaffa Hotel stands nearly in a class of its own in this city, but the Setai, The Drisco and The Vera are bringing added competition.
For the upper mid-range Brown TLV Urban Hotel, Royal Beach, The Sheraton, Hotel Saul, Margosa, The Rothschild and The Yam are all excellent options. Most loyalty program, chain centric hotels are well represented in Tel Aviv, particularly by Marriott, IHG and Hilton. If you’re looking to use points, this is a city where you can save a fortune by doing so.
Tel Aviv is home to some amazing Airbnb’s, and if you’r travelling on a budget, that’s probably the right play here. There are lots of brand new apartment buildings in great parts of town with rooms under $100 per night, and some for much less. Tel Aviv is also world class for budget hostels, but they book up fast, so if you’re more inclined to go that way – plan ahead.
Best Neighbourhoods In Tel Aviv
Getting your bearings in Tel Aviv is easy. If you’re looking at the water, or on the beach, the oldest parts tend to be to the left, which represents the South of the city. If you’re facing the water, things to the right will be the newer parts of the city, or further north, you’ll find beautiful residential areas and parks, like Luna Park.
Expect to spend most of your time exploring somewhere between Neve Tzedek Jaffa, Florentin and Lev Hair, which are all next door to each other. Here’s a breakdown of the neighbourhoods…
Old Jaffa – This is the original port area of Tel Aviv, where you’ll find beautiful old streets full of character. You’ll also find the Jaffa flea market, which is a bit hyped, but you’ll find amazing cafes and shops nearby, not to mention some great Banksy street art.
Neve Tzedek – Shabazi street is culture creature heaven with fantastic cafes, boutiques you won’t find in other cities and lots and lots of art. It’s one of the older neighbourhoods and the winding narrow streets. Start at the Old Train Station, hit the Dallal bakery and explore to your hearts content.
Lev Hair – If it’s time for some culture, it’s time to head to Lev Hair. This is where you’ll find UNESCO listed “White City’, as well as Rothschild Boulevard, known as Tel Aviv’s oldest road. At the same time, this is where Israel’s tech boom is booming. Have a sniff around Carmel Market, explore The Tel Aviv Art Museum and keep the camera close by.
North Tel Aviv – This is the leafy, residential are where you can find amazing restaurants, bars and insights into Tel Aviv life in one of the nicer neighbourhoods. This is far less touristy than other areas and if you’re into upscale semi suburban feel, it’s a good look.
Florentin – Florentin has become the equivalent of New York’s Meat Packing District, with edge warehouse vibes, street art galore, the hippest of hipster food – which is usually a compliment – and at night, it’s where you can find virtually all the parties.
But first, coffee. Hotels are traditionally horrible at anything other than a drip coffee, so if you’re into a well roasted flat white with alternative milks, V60, Chemex or any of the other preferable ways to max out your caffeine intake, you’ll want to branch out.
The Best Properly Roasted Coffee In Tel Aviv
Cafelix is an amazing roastery and shop which rivals any of the better coffee spots you’ll experience. It’s got a couple other outposts in the city, but Jaffa puts you in a great place from which to explore and start the day. Nahat is another star with a keen focus on proper roasting, all done in small batches with great frequency.
Coffee Shop 51 and WayCup are two other stars guaranteed to get you the proper caffeine fix, with all the alternative milks and speciality coffee you crave. Fear not, almost all of the above take contactless or credit card, so taking out cash generally isn’t a big deal.
Everyone explores at a different pace, so wherever you leave off, just carry on the next day. A great way to start your Tel Aviv exploration is from old to new. From Cafelix, make your way to the Port Of Jaffa and weave your way to Abrasha Park and surrounding gardens, which offer amazing views back toward the Tel Aviv skyline via HaMidron Garden.
Next, make your way to Jaffa Flea Market, just so you can say you went, and then spend your time in better ways by weaving the streets full of incredible design shops, clothing boutiques and cafes. You may even find yourself some famous street art at El Jamila, on the corner of Yefet and Ole Zion.
After some window browsing, or sending quite a few things back home via post, it’s time to head to Florentin. This area takes on two different characters between day and night, but day time is lovely. Walk up and down the streets as if you were searching for someone, with particular focus on Shalma Road, Florentin St and Abarbanel.
If you’re starving, Casbah is the lunch spot, and there’s even a mezcal bar if you need a cold one, appropriately called Mezcal. If you can wait just a bit longer, there’s more…
By now, you should still be well caffeinated and a few hours into the day, and are probably starting to get hungry. The good news; you’re fairly near all the good food in nearby Shabazi, Neve Tzedek and Lev Hair. Since it’s the perfect spot for continuing your afternoon tour, Vicky Cristina isn’t Israeli, but does amazing tapas style food in a cool setting. If that doesn’t sound appealing, Romano, nearby is also fantastic.
After lunch, reward yourself with the city’s undisputed best ice cream at Anita. It’s pretty heavenly, especially in the abundant Israeli sun. And on that note, don’t forget to bring your sunscreen, because there’s not a lot of cover here…
Keep walking up Shabazi street (Northeast) until you reach Rothschild Boulevard, the grand dame of Tel Aviv. The gorgeous street will take you through the Lev Hair neighbourhood past museums, clubs, shops and the UNESCO listed white bauhaus buildings which make this neighbourhood so famous.
Finish up with some time at the Tel Aviv Museum Of Art and then think about making your way back to the hotel for sunset along the beach, or if you’re not staying on the beach, make your way to Frishman Beach for a long sunset walk along this absolutely gorgeous promenade…
If you haven’t heard, aside from the gorgeous Santa Monica-esque beaches, amazing shopping and stunning markets, it’s the food of Tel Aviv that leaves people drooling and plotting their return. Yotam Ottolenghi may be the most famous to do it, but Israel is home to so many fantastic chefs and their take on Middle Eastern cuisine shines in unexpected ways.
Oh, and some of these are open for lunch too…
For an upscale but low key dinner, Mashya, Night Kitchen and Casbah are all great calls. HaBasta is another fantastic option amongst the highest end in the city, but in a setting which couldn’t be more laid back. It’s mainly the food and prices that are upscale.
For slightly more formal, Michelin star style dining where a blazer wouldn’t feel out of place, Shila by Sharon Cohen and OCD TLV and Toto are great calls. Shila is the definitely one of the more amusing people watching spots in the city, so it can be fun even if you’re just there for a drink – and yes, the food is worth it.
If you’re thinking more low key, Miznon, Ha’Achim and Port Sa’id are the perfect ports of call. There’s great food everywhere here, but these places make you feel at home, just with food you couldn’t ever dream of pulling off…
If you’re into craft cocktails, you won’t be remiss here. This city stays up late, and the stiff drinks will keep you buzzing as long as you like. From speakeasies inside low key hotels to epic rooftops overlooking the beach, it’s got it all. For your big night out in Tel Aviv, any of these spots will leave you with a smile…
Imperial Cocktail Bar – If you like craft cocktails, it really doesn’t get better than Imperial. This seating only bar offers brilliantly inventive drinks with an irreverent service that warms to you as you warm to them. From the all too smooth clarified milk punch to bartenders choice twists, you absolutely can’t go wrong. Reserve your seats though, otherwise you may end up on the outside.
Haiku Lighthouse Rooftop Bar – For sunset drinks, it’s really hard to beat Haiku at the Lighthouse Hotel. This is one part clubby, one part beautiful and all things fun. Expect western five star hotel bar prices, but views that make them worth it too.
The Chapel at Jaffa Hotel – This is the spot for upscale drinks in a place where you’ll feel like a Bond villain. It looks like a church, or at least a chapel in every way possible, with stunning lighting in every direction. The Chapel is “swanky” by every shade of the definition, in one of the best hotels in Israel.
Alright, there’s a fair chance you didn’t get everything from day one done, so if you didn’t try to fill in the gaps. Also, it’s hard to beat relaxation in the sun, so if you did manage to do most of Day One, you can rest easy knowing you hit the main “must do’s” in Tel Aviv, so a day by the pool, or on the beach is totally fine.
On that note: if you’re looking to burn off a few calories from the day before, start the morning by taking full advantage of a run, walk, or bicycle ride along the beaches, which run from the South of the City all the way to the North. It’s such a spectacular way to see things while getting a sweat on, and the walking and biking lanes are totally separated from traffic and make this an amazing way to get around.
Since you mastered South Tel Aviv, it’s time to move to the upscale, laid back and gorgeous areas around North Tel Aviv and areas just South. North Tel Aviv is defined by places North of the Yarkon River, but all areas nearby semi count as “Old North”. Head to Benedict for breakfast, and then have a stroll through Independence Park. Recommendation: the shakshuka.
Historically, this is the “posh” area of the city. Of course, the posh people positioned themselves along the nicest beaches too, so make your way to Secret Beach or Tel Baruch and then if you enjoy views similar to Central Park, work your way inward along the Yarkon through HaYarkon Park. Enjoy the casual stroll, snap some pics and then head back South, where the good food is just South of the river.
Since you’ve maxed out on Israeli options already, it’s probably time for pizza, or at least some lunch. As pedestrian as the name might be, Brooklyn Pizza is world class, and if you like sushi, you’ll also find arguably the best in the city at Fu Sushi, with a mix of other Japanese inspired dishes as well.
Dizengoff St is your one way ticket back to Central Tel Aviv, and it couldn’t be a better way to get there. It’s lined with all things fascinating. In fact, it’s known as the Champs De Elysées of Tel Aviv. Enjoy the high shops, zip past the massive embassies and be sure to save a little extra room for the numerous bakeries. Before you know it, you’ll be back at Dizengoff Square, which is one of the most photographed attractions in Tel Aviv.
At this point, you can say you’ve really seen Tel Aviv, and undoubtedly had some memorable meals, experiences and thoughts that will last a lifetime. I never expected to fall in love with Tel Aviv the way i did, but I did quickly and keep coming back. You’ve got plenty of bars, restaurants and things to go back and revisit, so if you have any extra time left over, go make the most of it. Or, just watch sunset from the beach.
Oh, and before we go, be sure to get to the airport earlier than you’d usually expect to. Israeli exit immigration can take quite a long time, and you can expect to answer quite a few questions. With that in mind, don’t stay out all night…