A Tel Aviv City Break
When I first booked my visit to Tel Aviv, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve seen so much of the Middle East in the news and many of the images I saw didn’t fill me with wanderlust. I also saw the momentary glint of worry in my mother’s eye when I told her we were visiting Israel. This was followed by her asking “Is it safe?”, a question I answered many times in the weeks before our visit. I naturally turned to the internet to find reassuring travel advice for Tel Aviv city.
You probably wondering someone who describes themselves as an “anxious soul” would make plans to visit Israel. One of my travel quirks is that I allow the Eurovision Song Contest to decide my travel plans. The contest’s host city is decided by the previous year’s winner. Therefore Netta’s victory in Lisbon meant I’d be travelling to Tel Aviv in the following year. Yes, it’s like playing a travel lottery but it’s allowed me to see parts of the world I’d never have considered.
Tel Aviv was nothing like I’d expected it to be. It’s a modern, forward looking city with a laidback, cosmopolitan atmosphere. Stretching down the eastern edge of the Mediterranean sea, the city draws favourable comparisons with beach cities like Miami. And these comparisons are justified.
I left thinking that not only had Tel Aviv been a perfect fit for the Eurovision Song Contest, but it is also an excellent choice for anyone seeking a sunny city break.
Before I dive into my travel advice for Tel Aviv, you can get a snapshot of my trip to Israel in the video below.
Tel Aviv City – How To Get There
Israel sits on the western edge of the Middle East and stretches from Egypt to Lebanon around the Mediterranean coast. Tel Aviv is Israel’s second largest city (after Jerusalem) and is the country’s economic and technological capital
Ben-Gurion Airport connects both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to the world. El Al is the national airline of Israel with good connections to most major cities. I usually use Skyscanner or Expedia to scan for the best flights. I always book my flights on an airline linked credit card to earn additional airmiles while I travel. Always pay this in full if you can.
Tel Aviv – Top Tips & Advice
There is no shortage of things to do in Tel Aviv and enough to keep even the most active of visitors occupied. Here are my top tips from my visit to the city.
The Beaches of Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is renowned for the strips of golden beaches that stretch from the Tel Aviv marina in the north, to Jaffa in the south. For this reason, most sources of travel advice for Tel Aviv will direct you here.
What I loved the most about the beaches in Tel Aviv is locals use them as well as tourists. In fact, The city’s culture is based around this laidback beach lifestyle. On the Shabbat we could barely move for the locals relaxing on the beach, playing volleyball and matkot.
There are many beaches to visit , each of them offering something slightly different. I’d recommend taking a walk from Tel Aviv Port to Jaffa to see them all. See my self guided walking tour blog for more information on how to do this.
I would also recommend that you come back to the beach in the evening to visit the restaurants here. I particularly enjoyed La La Land. The restaurant sits right on the beach so you can sip cocktails while watching Mediterranean sea gently lapping back and forth.
Jaffa is the oldest part of Tel Aviv and there has been a port on this site for thousands of years. It has a very different vibe to the rest of Tel Aviv city. Wandering through the streets of Jaffa, it feels historic, traditional and in parts, delightfully dishevelled. There is also a much stronger Arab influence here than in other parts of Tel Aviv.
My visit to the Jaffa Flea Market was a personal highlight. Make time to browse eclectic selection of market stalls, selling everything from jewelery to broken television sets. Take a look at my Jaffa Flea Market photo blog which brings this to life in more detail.
Also make time to visit the Old Port in Jaffa. It’s obvious that a lot of effort has been taken to regenerate tise area. The port is a mix of historic buildings with modern restaurants and quirky pieces of public art. You also get some stunning views towards Tel Aviv, particularly from the HaPisgah Gardens.
Although I’m don’t usually borrow content, the Australian post card at Eurovision in 2019 gives a really good flavour of Jaffa with some dancers thrown in for good measure. Take a look below.
This is one of Tel Aviv’s oldest neighbourhoods and I loved its modern bohemian vibe. Today the neighbourhood is one of Tel Aviv’s trendiest areas and is home to quirky cafes and artisan boutiques.
One of the things I loved about Neve Tzedek was the quirky design and street art. Around each corner is a new piece of graffiti or design. Tel Aviv is generally a very cultural city and there’s a lot of street art, but it was in Neve Tzedek where I saw this this most.
Before I left we stopped for a bite to eat in the sun at a restaurant called Suzana which I’d recommend. It was extremely busy as our visit was during Shabbat but the food was very good (Make sure you try the artichokes and the falafel). Plus I got to sit next to a dog called Gloria which is always a bonus.
The Carmel Market and Yemenite Quarter
The most visited street market or shuk in Tel Aviv is the Carmel market and it is in the south of the city centre. Bustling and busy are good words to describe the atmosphere here. The market sells everything from groceries and spices, to caricatures of world leaders sat on the toilet (I honestly didn’t realise there was a market for this).
The best place to enter the market is on Allenby street and you’ll spot the market entrance hidden by the colourful display above. The market gradually meanders downhill from this point.
It gets particularly busy here on Thursdays and Friday mornings as this is the time preceding Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath. The market closes on Saturdays, so don’t turn up on a Saturday like I did and expect the market to be open. It was completely desolate and a far cry from the bustling atmosphere I experienced less than 24 hours later. More detail on the Shabbat later in the blog
The Carmel Market is next door to the Yemenite quarter which is another of Tel Aviv’s trendy neighbourhoods. Here I found everything I loved about Neve Tzedek but in more rustic and traditional surroundings. An eclectic mixture of tradition sat beside graffiti and street art.
Gan Meir Park
This park is an ideal spot to get some respite from the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv city life and is an absolute must for dog lovers. The people of Tel Aviv come here to relax by the pond or for coffee in the centre of the park. There are many shaded areas and the landscaping makes the park cooler than the surrounding streets.
More excitingly though, this is where the city’s four-legged friends run free. The park is full of dogs of all shapes and sizes, playing and running around together while their owners sit quietly on the sidelines. If you’re a dog lover I’d recommend spending some time here to watch this.
Not a dog lover? The dogs a restricted to a particular section of the park so it you’re not great with dogs then steer clear of this section of park. There are plenty of signs and you will see the dogs past the fence so it’s easy to avoid this section if you need to.
You might be thinking that Jerusalem isn’t in Tel Aviv. They’re completely different cities! Why is Jerusalem in a travel advice blog for Tel Aviv?
When I planned my trip to Israel, I wanted to see both cities but didn’t have time to visit them separately. So instead I booked a day trip to Jerusalem which is a 50 minute journey from Tel Aviv city.
The vibe in Jerusalem is so different from the atmosphere in Tel Aviv. The cities are much like chalk and cheese. For starters, Jerusalem is much more conservative than Tel Aviv. I didn’t have to spend long in the city to appreciate how Jerusalem has been shaped by its rich heritage and religious history.
The trip took me to all of Jerusalem’s main attractions including Temple Mount, the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
For that reason alone I am including a trip to Jerusalem in my travel advice to Tel Aviv. I’d recommend making time to see Jerusalem city while you are in Israel, even if it’s just a day trip from Tel Aviv.
There are many tour operators providing tours of Israel, many of which can be found on Viator. I visited Jerusalem with Abraham Tours following an excellent recommendation and I was very happy with the excursion.
Tel Aviv – Travel Advice
I found it easy to navigate around Tel Aviv and the transport systems was quite reliable.
One of the best ways to see Tel Aviv is by electric scooter. These are a relatively recent arrival to the city. All I had to do was register on the app, find a scooter in the street (which you can do on the app also), scan a code and I was ready to go.
When I was finished, I simply left the scooter on the side of the street for someone else to use. There are a number of providers available, but I used Lime as they had the most scooters available at the time.
Another note is that Gett is much more popular in Uber in Tel Aviv and is the best way to order a taxi. The only difference is that I didn’t get an upfront charge like with Uber, but the rates I received were reasonable nonetheless.
The Jewish people of Israel celebrate their sabbath or Shabbat from sunset on Fridays, until early evening on Saturday. There are a number of rituals linking to Shabbat although which rituals a person follows will depend on how strictly they follow the religious law. In essence, Shabbat is a day of worship, relaxation and celebration.
During Shabbat many of Israel’s normal functions shut down completely and you should be aware of this when planning your visit. As Tel Aviv is essentially a secular city, you will still notice Shabbat, although not as much as you would in more religious parts, such as Jerusalem.
The main ways I experienced Shabbat during my visit
Shops and markets close completely during the Shabbat and are very busy before Shabbat starts. This is because Jews prepare special meals for the sabbath and were buying the fresh ingredients to make this.
Many tourist attractions and museums close for Shabbat so plan your visit to these on a different days. The Shabbat is a great day to spend at the beaches which get particularly busy on Saturdays.
Bars and restaurants will be open although they will be very busy as the people of Israel love to socialise during the sabbath.
Public transport is extremely limited during the sabbath. I even had difficulty ordering a taxi via Gett. If you have plans for Saturday evening, make sure you plan your transport well in advance. I made this mistake and I had to walk three miles to get to our venue.
I found that getting into the lift/elevator was more difficult during Shabbat. Jewish law forbids any kind of working during the sabbath and for many this includes pressing electrical switches. During this time, hotel elevators are set on ‘Shabbat mode’ which means that the carriage stops at every floor without requiring that buttons are pressed. This can cause queues at the elevator and a longer time in the lift. Leave plenty of time and prepare to take the stairs if needed.
Is Israel Safe?
I’ve been asked this question so many times now and I’m not in a position to provide a definitive answer to this.
That being said, my advice would be to keep an eye on the travel guidance provided by your national government. This will give you the information you need to plan your trip. Here’s the UK travel guidance.
I felt completely safe while I was in Israel. I could tell that security was tight because it was visible. There is a strong presence of armed police throughout, particularly in and around the airport.
Unfortunately, it’s no longer possible to say that anywhere is completely safe and although I’d advise being vigilant while in Israel, I would apply this to any large city.
You will notice how seriously Israel takes security at the airport, both in arrivals and departures.
Upon arrival there were long queues at border control and longer queues of people waiting for questioning by immigration. I was asked a number of questions by border control and they looked at the stamps in my passport. Although, I wasn’t taken for further questioning I saw others who were although I am reassured that this is completely normal. They just take security very seriously.
Also expect many stages of security when departing Israel. I was questioned by the airport staff at this stage to ascertain what I had been doing while I visited Israel. Me and my partner were separately asked the same questions and our answers were crossed checked.
With this is in mind, I would recommend leaving more time for security than you would at other airports.
Tel Aviv – Travel Advice and Top Tips
I hope that you enjoyed reading this blog. I really loved my time in Tel Aviv and I hope that you have caught some of my enthusiasm for this amazing city.
Why not try some of my other blogs before you go?
- The Beaches of Tel Aviv – DIY Walking Tour
- Jaffa Flea Market – Photo Blog
- Eurovision Travel – Explore Europe with Eurovision
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