Tel Aviv is a very popular tourist destination in Israel, with its long beaches and great shopping opportunities. The city is often said to be Middle East’s New York, and after spending some days in the city I absolutely agree. It is a very modern city with all the facilities you can wish for. But, it is also a city of contrasts; in-between the skyscrapers and shopping malls, you can find street vendors selling amazing falafel and hummus, old men fishing and historical neighborhoods like Jaffa.
Tel Aviv is a quite big city with its 400.000 inhabitants, and the city consists of several neighborhoods which each are interesting and beautiful in their own ways. As they are quite spread out, you might want to take a taxi or rent a bike to get around. We on the other hand decided to walk all around the city, as I think that you explore so much more of the city by walking – if you have time enough. There are not many big attractions in Tel Aviv – it is more about the city’s atmosphere.
The heart of Tel Aviv is the beach. I can imagine that these beaches are very crowded in the summer, but in January it was too cold to lie on the beach. Despite the weather, the cafes and bars along the beach were crowded. There is a beautiful promenade from Tel Aviv Port to Jaffa. Walking this promenade takes about one hour, but it is a nice walk if the weathers allows it and you can collect more energy by stopping at one of the many cafes or bars along the promenade.
In the centre of the city, you will mostly find tall buildings and skyscrapers, and the New York feeling is very present. Neve Tzedek is a trendy neighborhood you should not miss. Visit the trendy restaurants, galleries and boutiques!
Tel Aviv is a great place for shopping. There are several markets worth a visit in Tel Aviv, but not all markets are open every day. My favorite was Carmel market, where we went on a Friday (Sabbath). The market was very crowded and I loved to see the locals in this way – bargaining over fresh food and other local items. There is also a big flea market in Jaffa. If you are not up for the markets, you can go shopping at one of Tel Aviv’s many malls. My favorite mall was Azrieli mall. This is a typical western mall with stores like Forever 21, H&M, Zara etc. There is an observatory on the top of the building which are supposed to offer an amazing view of the city (it was closed when we went there). Dizengoff Center is another mall that offers more Israeli brands, but I did not really like this mall. Along one of Tel Aviv’s main shopping streets, like Dizengoff or Allenby, you will find both local and international brands.
The food in Tel Aviv (and Israel in general I guess) is AMAZING. The local pitas filled with falafels, hummus, kebabs and other delicious stuff are also quite cheap compared to eating international food – and this fast food is healthy as well! Tel Aviv must be paradise for vegans, as very many restaurants only offer vegetarian (and vegan) food because of the Kosher rules. I cannot imagine how hard it must be to follow the Kosher rules strictly – I am not going into the rules in details here, but after talking to locals about them I realized how complex it must be just grabbing a quick meal.
Jaffa’s Old City was the only place in Tel Aviv that actually reminded me that we were in the Middle East, and not in Europe or the US. The neighborhood is the oldest part of Tel Aviv (though it is newly renovated), and appeared several biblical stories.
Many people reacted with a shock when I told them that I was going to Israel. “Are you crazy?”, “What the hell are you thinking when going to Israel in these times?”. Yes, it might seem dangerous to go to Israel today – the Palestine/Israel conflict has been going on for ages, and now the problems in the neighbor countries has made the situation even worse. I felt completely safe all the time. On the other hand, it is quite worrying to constantly see military carrying weapons. Because everything felt so quiet, we became quite shocked when a terror attack happened in Jerusalem the day after we had been at the exact same spot (we also went to Jerusalem and Betlehem – which I will tell you more about later). But can we avoid places because we fear terror or other bad things to happen? If we think like that, can we even travel anywhere these days? I would recommend you to go to Israel despite of the safety concerns – just be a bit cautious wherever you go.
Some practical advices on traveling to Israel:
– Tel Aviv is EXPENSIVE. The prices are almost as high as in Norway. It is possible to eat at a local restaurant (or more like a fast food place) for around 20 shekel, but regular restaurants are much more expensive. Some price examples; pizza for 50, pasta for 60-70 and meat/fish is more than 100 shekel. For a coke, you can expect to pay around 15, and 30 for a beer.
– It is very easy to walk around Tel Aviv if you stay in the city center, so I recommend to stay in the center or near the beach (we stayed at Dizengoff Avenue Hotel, which was great).
– Day trips from Tel Aviv to other places in Israel/Palestine are expensive. We paid around 1000 NOK for a day trip to Betlehem and Jerusalem, but the trip was really good though. I guess you can arrange a trip yourself and pay less.
– The airport security is a real HASSLE. Getting into the country is one thing – but I had not imagined that they would be even more careful when we left Israel. The official recommended time for being at the airport is three hours (!!!) before your flight departures. I never been to the airport that early, but as everyone told us, it showed to be a necessity. You have to go through a security where they will ask you loads of question before you even check in and deliver your luggage. So, keep this in mind when you are leaving Israel!