Tel Aviv at first glance reminded me a bit of Miami. Mind you, I had never been before and was simply glancing at photos on the internet, but the whole city skyline meets the palm tree-lined beach plus the funky colors and art just gave me that vibe. It took me right back to my weekend in Miami Beach a few summers back.
In person, Tel Aviv definitely stands on its own creating an entirely unique look and feel. But the similarities still exist. Of all the places I could chose to live in the world, I am always teetering back and forth between the big city and the beach. Well here, my friends, you can have both. And possibly the nicest thing about Tel Aviv is that it’s layered with history. The city itself has grown and changed throughout time, but you don’t have to look far to find evidence of this regions historical past.
How to get to Tel Aviv?
When you fly into Tel Aviv you land at the Ben Gurion airport. Now I’m not being technical here but it feels like you’re landing smack dab in the middle of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. You will walk off your plane towards baggage claim, but not before passing through a rather tedious passport control. I didn’t have any issues, they just asked a lot of questions and my line moved very slowly compared to the others despite looking short.
Beyond baggage claim the exit was easy to find and I followed the signs to the taxi queue. There is also the option to take the train, as noted on my hostel’s website and by their staff, but I arrived late and felt best taking a taxi. I paid 200 NIS (I heard this was a bit overpriced but he ran the meter per my request) to be dropped off at the corner of Hayarkon and Allenby.
Update: The most cost effective way to get into the city from the airport is to take this shuttle service.
From any other city in Israel, Tel Aviv is easily accessible by a public bus or shared minivan called a sherut. I recommend the sherut because it is sometimes cheaper and makes fewer stops along the way. I also had a more pleasant ride on the sherut when it came to my motion sickness. Just as your hostel or the information desk at the airport where to find the sheruts or buses (they are usually in the same area). They should direct you to the pickup point and tell you which line to get on if you are riding the bus. When all else fails, be sure to repeat your destination to the drivers and they will load you onto the right vehicle.
1. EXPLORING OLD JAFFA
Old Jaffa is the oldest part of the city and is rich with history. The scenery is beautiful and offers stunning views of the Tel Aviv skyline across the water. Some of the best hummus can be found in Old Jaffa along with adorable artist shops dotting the streets leading all the way down to the port.
2. WALKING ALONG THE BEACH AT SUNSET
These views can’t be beat and the Tel Aviv beach stretches along the entire eastern side of the city so there are many places to hop on the path and explore.
3. SHOPPING FOR LOCAL FOODS AND OTHER GOODIES AT SHUK HACARMEL
Personally, markets are always my favorite. I really liked this market because there were lots of little restaurants and shops hidden between and behind the stalls. I came back almost every day to discover something new.
4. EATING A LIFETIME SUPPLY OF HUMMUS
You can’t really go wrong with hummus in Israel. There are so many places where it is readily available and you may never look at grocery store hummus the same way again. When you sit down you will be provided with a plate of pickled vegetables, fresh onions, tomatoes and olives. This is followed by a steaming hot bowl of hummus, sometimes topped with black beans, spices or sautéed vegetables at your request, and a pile of warm doughy pita. You may also find a spicy red pepper spread sitting on your table, give it a try. Don’t forget to order falafel! If the menu is only in Hebrew, all the better, you know this stuff will be good. Just kindly ask your server for hummus, falafel and Israeli salad with tahini too if you’re especially hungry. When it arrives, pile your pita high and dig in.
5. CREATING MY OWN NECKLACE AT MANGO TREE
I knew I wanted to get a hamsa when I traveled to Israel. I also knew I wanted a nice piece of jewelry. Enter Mango Tree shop where I was able to find both items and customize a necklace to my liking as the owner constructed it right in front of me. They offer a variety of styles, chains, stones, charms and pieces. All items can be made to order or bought as they appear on display. Talk about the perfect souvenir.
THE CAT PLACE // Order a traditional Israeli dish at Hamitbahon (Rabbi Akiva Street 18) to experience the home-cooked local cuisine.
HUMMUS // Order black bean hummus, falafel and Israeli salad with tahini at Hummus Abu Dhabi (King George 81). Pile it all into a pita when they arrive and don’t forget to spread on a little of the spicy red sauce. Falafel is ordered by the ball so specify how many you want. This restaurant (if you can call it that) almost always offers a refill of classic hummus on the house so no need to over order here.
FALAFEL // Stop by Falafel Ratzon and order a pita falafel sandwich for just 6 shekels at this street side stand (around King George 16). You can see everything behind the counter so it’s easy to specify what you do or don’t want on your sandwich.
SHAKSHUKA // No trip to Israel is complete without trying the breakfast favorite Shakshuka. Order it at Café Sonya (King George 18) where they offer a variety of flavors in addition to the traditional version of the dish. It’s served up with Moroccan bread, fresh salad and the first cup of tea is free. Big enough to share.
BUREKA // Order a variety of bureka at one of the bakeries lining the streets of Tel Aviv. The cheese and potato varieties are delicious. Don’t forget to try a blended iced coffee as well.
THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA // When you explore Old Jaffa be sure to stop by The Old Man and The Sea (Hangar 1). They have two locations, one is the original restaurant while the newer one boasts views of the port. Upon being seated you will received a bottomless supply of what seems like hundreds of little dishes filled with Israeli salads. It costs 50 shekels per person and is so filling you probably won’t feel the need to order an entrée. Make sure you get a pitcher of the mint lemonade – the first one comes with the meal.
DRINKS // If you are looking for a nice spot to sit down, relax and enjoy a drink, Par Derriere (King George 4) is your spot. When the weather is nice they uncover the courtyard so you can sit under the stars. For a drink with a side of people watching, grab a seat outside of a cafe on King George in the afternoon so you can catch everyone walking home from work.
A SOCIAL HOSTEL // Book a shared dorm or a private at Hayarkon 48 so you can stay right on the beach and walking distance from the action of King George and Allenby. I decided to stay here at the recommendation of a friend and am very glad I did. In addition to being clean and offering good wifi, the hostel provides a variety of other amenities including a kitchen area so you can make breakfast or store the leftovers from all the amazing restaurants you try. This is a great spot for solo travelers looking for a social environment – they host parties and tours for guests on a regular basis and the staff happily provide directions and recommendations for what to do around the city. At my request, the staff provided me with a list of all the events and festivals occurring in Tel Aviv during my staff and helped with recommendations for New Year’s Eve plans in addition to offering their own rooftop party.