After a painful flight from Dulles to Istanbul and a long, boring layover, my plane touched down at Ben Gurion airport close to midnight on the 27th. I easily followed the signs to baggage claim and uneasily waited in line for passport control. I seem to have chosen the one line in which every person was getting interrogated on their intentions for traveling to Israel.
While other lines whizzed past receiving a visa printout, our line slowly crept forward. When it was my turn it seemed as if she was asking me trick questions – Did you travel here alone? Yes. How are you getting around? With a tour group. Ha! You lied you do not travel alone. Well no, not after I get inside your country… – but after a few dizzying conversations I was granted my visa printout (Israel no longer stamps your passport when you arrive at Ben Gurion).
After grabbing my backpack, the signs to the taxi line were easy to follow and my driver knew where to go when I showed him Hayarkon 48 (the name and address of my hostel). I checked in and had a quick late night reunion with Maggie in so we could discuss all of our exciting plans for the next couple of days.
Together Traveler tip: Book a shuttle into the city to save money.
Ha-Yarkon Street 48
I slept well past normal Tel Aviv hours out of sheer exhaustion and jet lag. I completely missed any chance of jumping onto Maggie’s group tour to a town near the Gaza Strip, so I laid back down and let sleep take over. When I finally rolled out of bed around 1 PM I drank lots of water and took a shower to freshen up. I’m eternally grateful that I can use the tap water here. It was such a pain brushing my teeth with water bottles in Thailand.
Rabbi Akiva Street 18
For lunch I walked to an adorable little restaurant I found on Trip Advisor. Hamitbahon, the cat place, was tucked away but easy to find following walking directions on my phone. No one was speaking English, which made the place all the more appealing to me, but it was nice when they brought over an English menu. I tried a lentil and rice dish called mujadarra on the recommendations of my server (when I first asked, she told me lasagna to which I replied no I want something different). The serving was so big I could have easily shared it, but looking around all the Israelis had multiple dishes in front of them. They must take leftovers home.
Hamitbahon was tucked away behind Carmel Market so I decided to walk through before following Allenby down to the beach at dusk. The views were stunning. I love how the buildings of Tel Aviv push right up against the sea.
Food + drinks:
King George 81
For amazing hummus we sat down on King George at Abu Dhabi. Normally it’s easy to grab a seat here but it was busy and we ended up sitting on the bench sipping lemonade on the house while we waited. Well worth the wait. We ordered steaming hot black bean hummus with pita, Israeli salad with tahini and 2-3 falafel balls each. When we finished the black bean hummus they whisked out another one on the house. Be aware the menu is only in Hebrew but the female server speaks English well and can help. When all else fails, look at what others have and point at what looks good. The whole meal was 60 NIS.
King George 4
Maggie took me to Par Derriere, a wine bar tucked away along King George, after dinner because it is reminiscent of two of our favorite spots in NOLA, Salu and Bacchanal. We sat in the hidden courtyard, ordered a bottle of Cava and caught up on all the missed months since our trip in Thailand. This is the first time we’ve been separated so long tel in over two years but it feels natural to fall right back into step with her, even in somewhere new like Tel Aviv.
86 Herbert Samuel
We were still wide awake after Par Derriere so on a whim we decided to stop into an American bar on the beach on the way back to Hayarkon 48. Football was on and the place was packed with Americans on birthright. Definitely a social place and perfect since it was open late but not where I would normally go on my few days in a foreign country. They serve a house beer on draft for a steal at 20 NIS.
We stopped into a little bakery on King George to grab a variety of bureka and iced coffee for bureka-fast (see what I did there?). I actually stole that joke from Maggie. If I had to, I would happily live off bureka. They are flaky little pastries consisting of phyllo dough sprinkled with sesame seeds wrapped around fillings like potato, cheese or spinach. I had never heard of them before but if you find yourself in Tel Aviv, order one of each! Also the iced coffee was blended and delicious.
We joined a free walking tour to explore Old Jaffa. It met at the clock tower at 11 AM and we were whisked off through history and a series of sites. My favorite part was walking down to the port and exploring along the waterfront. The town consists of small alleyways lined by art and jewelry shops, hidden staircases, old residences brimming with stories of the past, and views of the sea and Tel Aviv skyline. Remember to tip the guide since it is how he earns money giving free tours.
83 Kedem St | Hangar 1
After our tour we went to The Old Man and The Sea for lunch. This is definitely the place to eat when in Jaffa. Our guide told us there were two locations, and we sat down on the newer location right next to the port. Our guide also wisely informed us that the salad plate – an endless sampling of about 20 different Israeli salads – would be more than enough for our meal.
It was fun to taste each dish and figure out what it contained, and by the end we had clear favorites and were building sandwiches with the salads and pita like pros. The lemonade served with the meal was amazing (they add mint leaves) and the whole deal was only 100 NIS total ($25).
Corner of Allenby and King George
I absolutely love walking around the markets in different cities. They are all the same but somehow just a bit different. Endless choices of watches, jewelry, Judaica, spices, dried fruits, candy and produce will keep you busy for hours, if not days. We wandered off to one of the side streets on our way back and I was pleased to find a variety of adorable shops and dressmakers. Don’t be afraid to cut off the beaten path here to see what lies beyond.
We are headed to Nazareth next before a tour of a few towns in the Galilee region with Abraham Tours. I will let you know how this goes since we have no plan and little knowledge of the bus system here.
Have you been to Tel Aviv? Which places did you explore?
Planning your own trip to Israel and looking for suggestions? Check out my itinerary for one week in Israel plus a second week to visit Jordan and Egypt.
Wondering why I’m in Israel? Read this post here.