Those who live or have lived in London, can understand very well the desire that every inhabitant has to leave it, after having spent several months marked by cold and rain. The nomad in me had reached the limit, after so many grey weeks. I needed to get back on the road and I was looking for a country with pleasant autumn temperatures that gave me the opportunity to go out without having to wear a jacket. Eventually, I decided to go to Israel. It was my first trip back from Asia and the last one before the Coronavirus spread and, even today, I remember with pleasure that beautiful feeling of discovery that only a new place can transmit! My journey began in Tel Aviv, a vibrant, cosmopolitan, young and modern city where the desire to party is felt on every street corner. National Geographic has ranked it as one of the 10 most impressive seaside towns in the world and in this article I have collected the most important things to do and places to see throughout the city.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Tel Aviv was founded on April 11, 1909. That day, dozens of families gathered on the sand dunes outside Yafo (present-day Jaffa) to allocate land plots to a new neighborhood called Ahuzat Bayit, later known as Tel Aviv. As the families could not decide how to allocate the land, a lottery was organized to ensure a fair division of land. Akiva Arieh Weiss, president of the lottery committee and one of the leading figures in the city’s founding, collected 66 grey shells and 66 other white shells. On the former he wrote the names of the participants and plot numbers on the latter; as all white shells were paired with grey shells, each family was assigned a lot and so the first modern Jewish city began to develop. His name, from that moment on, remained linked to the “hill of spring”, that place which in the Book of Ezekiel represents the house of the Jews in exile.
HOW TO GET TO TEL AVIV FROM BEN GURION AIRPORT
There are various solutions to reach the city center:
- by bus 445, whose stop is just outside the airport and in 40 minutes, at a cost of 9.90 NIS, arrives in the historic heart of Tel Aviv. You can do the ticket directly on board.
- The fastest way is to take the train, which would cost you about 15 NIS and requires 12 minutes of travel, except on public holidays where there are no rides. Be sure to keep your train ticket to your final destination, as you will need to use it to exit the station. The intermediate stations before the center of Tel Aviv are those of the districts of Tel Aviv Mrkarz, Hashalom and Hahagana from which you can go on foot or by bus to reach the center and the city beach.
- The last solution is to take shared taxis, or sherut in the local language. This is a very convenient solution, as the driver will leave you at any point in the city you want at an affordable and popular price.
- Those who want can also rent the car. I met people who did it without problems, given the good condition of the roads. If you want to go to Palestine with a car with an Israeli plate, I suggest you check with the charterer if it is feasible.
HOW TO GET AROUND TEL AVIV
USE OF PUBLIC TRANSPORT
The city is not very large so you can move on foot or by public transport. If you choose this second option, I recommend you download Moovit, the most useful application for Israeli public transport that provides schedules, maps, routes and everything you need to get around. Buses operate regularly from 5:30 AM until midnight (except on Shabbat, the rest party celebrated every Saturday). A single ticket costs 6.90 NIS, a daily ticket 13.50 NIS, and a weekly card 64 NIS. Since 2019 it has become impossible to buy a ticket on most buses in Tel Aviv, so it is essential for passengers to have the Rav Kav rechargeable card, in which you can add a sum of money to be able to travel by public transport. A Rav Kav card costs only 5 NIS and you can buy it at the designated shops in the central bus station and any railway station.
RENTING A BICYCLE
Thanks to the presence of the bike paths that cover much of the city, renting a bicycle is definitely the most alternative way to explore Tel Aviv. The daily cost is 17 NIS but you can also rent it for several days: for the sum of 48 NIS you can have the bike for 72 hours but if you pay 70 NIS or more, the means bicycle will be at your disposal for a week. You can also rent your bike daily for a short period of time by paying the cost that covers only half an hour of rent. If you’re past that 30 minutes, you’ll have to pay a little more every half-hour. Be sure to always check the status of the bike before hiring because sometimes it may present some defects.
WHAT TO DO IN TEL AVIV
#1 PARTICIPATE IN A FREE WALKING TOUR
One of the tips I give when visiting a new city is to participate in the free tours that are organized with a local guide. Tel Aviv is no exception and I was really happy! Within two hours I was able to explore this old and beautiful city with a well-prepared guide that, starting from the clock tower, led me to the discovery of Jaffa telling the details of its history.
If you will be staying from one to three days in Tel Aviv, I highly recommend a nice guided tour, as first thing to do when you arrive.
#2 EXPLORING OLD JAFFA
One of the main tourist attractions of this city is the ancient Jaffa, an important urban core that until 1949 was a city in its own right of which Tel Aviv was only a detached neighborhood. In 1950 the two centers were united and as time passed, while the ancient Jaffa kept its extension almost intact, that detached neighborhood expanded to the point that the roles became overturned. Thus Jaffa (Yafo in Hebrew) became the historic district of the new and modern Tel Aviv. According to a Semitic legend, Jaffa was founded by Noe’s son, Jafed. It was famous throughout the ancient world for its oranges which were exported throughout the Mediterranean and the Near East. Over the next few centuries, Jaffa maintained its commercial reputation as one of the most important ports in Palestine. The city centeerr is still very beautiful, made of cobbled alleys along which overlook picturesque houses with windows in pastel colors. It is precisely in this network of alleys that you will find all the ancient flavor of restaurants, cafeterias and the exotic atmosphere of art galleries. Along the way you will find some religious sites including the Church of San Pietro, dating back to the seventeenth century, the house of Simon the tanner and the tomb of Tabitha, the woman Peter rose from the dead. To admire the view from above, I recommend going to the park Ha’Pisga which has a beautiful view of the city. Finally, do not miss the Bridge of Desires where the signs of the zodiac are depicted on the handrail. Legend has it that it’s good luck to touch your mark looking at the sea.
#3 VISIT THE PORT OF JAFFA
It is said that the old port of Jaffa is one of the oldest ports in the world, where hundreds of merchants have created many commercial exchanges right along the docks of this port. It is a place also mentioned in a text of the Bible, the Book of Jonah; in fact the pier of Jaffa would be just the starting point from which the prophet began his preaching. Today the port is still used, especially by local fishermen, who have the opportunity to sell their catch directly to the managers of the restaurants along the port in the company of excellent markets and shops. The port of Jaffa has been neglected for a long part of the 20th century, but has recently been renovated by adding to the docks used by fishermen, a second more modern designed for yacht docking, making it a popular tourist destination. The largest ports destined to the great commercial ports have been recently constructed to south of Tel Aviv and to north of Haifa.
#4 BARGAINING AT THE FLEA MARKET
One of the most curious attractions of Jaffa is certainly the flea market. It’s a maze of more or less hidden shops that offer everything from vintage furniture that costs thousands of shekels to bizarre but cheap trinkets and old electronic devices. There’s probably nothing you can’t find, or you can’t bargain with. Here bargaining is a huge part of the experience, so do not hesitate to try to lower prices. It works pretty much every time!
#5 ENJOY SOME RELAXATION ON THE BEACH
The beaches are a huge part of the lively life of Tel Aviv. Since throughout the year the water temperature is very mild, people are always at the beach to enjoy the heat, to swim, play beach volleyball or just sunbathe under the sun. Walking along the beautiful promenade is a great way to capture the non-replicable vibrations of the city. According to the National Geographic Tel Aviv is in fact one of the 10 most evocative seaside cities in the world. Between golden sand and crystal clear water you will find 16 different types of beaches, from the paid and super equipped ones like Hof Hatzuk or Tel Baruch, to the free beaches like Frishman Beach or Bograshov Beach. But Tel Aviv is much more! According to the Gaycities website, it is the most gay-friendly city in the world, in fact it is very frequented by this community whose main hangout is the Hilton Beach. Finally, there is also a beach for the ultraorthodox, the Nordau Beach, open every other day to both women and men.
#6 WALK ALONG ROTHSCHILD BOULEVARD
One of the main and most important streets in Tel Aviv is Rothschild Avenue. Here you will find the main institutions and cultural buildings, as well as many cafes and restaurants. Despite being a large avenue of the city, in it there is a designated lane for pedestrians, which makes the experience even more enjoyable. Walking along this tree-lined boulevard is a great way to enjoy the atmosphere and architecture of Tel Aviv. The approximately 4000 clear cube-shaped structures that flow along the road were made by German Jews in the 1930s and because of their presence, Tel Aviv took the name of “white city” and since 2004 this avenue is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
#7 DISCOVER THE TZEDEK NEVE DISTRICT
At the end of Rothschild Avenue you will find yourself in the Neve Tzedek district – one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. It is impossible not to include this area a tourist route of Tel Aviv. It was built in 1887 as the first Jewish quarter outside the Old City of Jaffa. Over the past few decades, its dilapidated facades have been beautifully restored, with the result that walking through its streets is now a separate pastime. Its narrow streets are full of great cafes and restaurants, not to mention a collection very worthy of galleries and boutiques. The restored railway station deserves special attention.
#8 EATING AT THE CARMEL MARKET
The Shuk Hacarmel was created in the early 1920s and has since evolved extensively maintaining its local roots. It is one of the most important historical monuments concerning the development of the city of Tel Aviv. The Carmel Market (otherwise known as Shuk Hacarmel) is not only the most popular outdoor market in Tel Aviv, but also the largest, diversified and colorful one. Here you can find dozens and dozens of stalls selling fresh products, wrapped in a scent of spices and fruit to make your mouth water! It’s the place to find great clothing, souvenirs, jewelry and other items. Don’t forget to bargain! The market is open from Sunday to Thursday, from the early hours of the morning until about 18, while on Friday, Shabbat day, the market closes a couple of hours earlier. Arriving at the market at the end of the day can give you the opportunity to access some great deals, as merchants try to sell all their daily load of fresh produce.
#9 VISIT THE ART MUSEUM OF TEL AVIV
The Tel Aviv Art Museum was founded in 1932. Inside the museum consists of five thematic sections:
- Modern and contemporary art that includes some works by Monet, Van Goh and Klimt, just to name a few.
- Israeli art that presents works of local artists, from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day.
- Prints and drawings and photography: in this section you can find the works of Robert Capa and other artists.
- Architecture and design
- Ancient masters: in this last section you can also find Italian works.
The entrance fee is 50 NIS.
#10 DELIGHT WITH HUMMUS
Last but not least, one of the best things to do in Tel Aviv, if you have a decent budget, is to eat as much hummus as possible! Tel Aviv is literally the world mecca of hummus; here there is even a bar that serves only products based on the delicious Middle Eastern cream! There are so many hummus dishes in Tel Aviv that it is almost unlikely to list them all. Just order your favorite variety with some bread (or pita) and a salad and you will have had a nice lunch (but also a good breakfast or dinner). In most Israeli restaurants that stay open early to late, hummus is served lukewarm, unlike most Europeans who eat it cold.
WHERE TO SLEEP
The city offers various types of accommodation for all budgets and good quality. I chose to stay at the Overstay Hostel, right in front of the Jaffa stadium. There are some very clean female dorms and the price includes breakfast. I also recommend the Abraham Hostel, also present in Jerusalem, which many digital nomads choose as it has 350 beds, a large roof terrace, and a bar where locals love to relax with a cold beer. You can book a dorm bed (for about 100 NIS) or a private room (for 300 NIS).
WHERE TO EAT
The various markets the city offers are a viable alternative. I tried Abulafia in Jaffa, a paradise for bread lovers that you can find here in any type of version, from pizza to focaccia. In front of the bakery there is the restaurant where you can eat falafel and hummus at will. Also in Jaffa I tried Abu Hassan who says, prepares the best hummus of Tel Aviv! The place is small and noisy but the hummus is exquisite. If you want to taste Jewish food I recommend Guetta always in Jaffa.