Tel Aviv-Yafo (or just Tel Aviv for short) is a city on the Mediterranean coast of Israel covered in beaches and high-rises. Tel Aviv is the second largest city of Israel and is home to many different religions and ethnicities. The city is full of culture and history, but embraces a modern and hip lifestyle. Although better suited for life than tourism, there is still plenty to see in do in this middle eastern metropolis!
Things to do in Tel Aviv
1. A tour with a local
We had a great time getting to know the city through the Tel Aviv Greeter program. They set you up with a local who is interested in showing you the wonderful things that the city has to offer, and the tour is TOTALLY FREE! (They will actually refuse tips if you offer!)
You can ask all of the ignorant questions digging at you and get a real answer from a real Israeli. Plus, our guide gave us reliable tips on where to eat and grab a good drink (more on that in a bit).
2. Spend time on the beach
Even if it’s winter, like it was in our case, you need to see a Tel Aviv beach (but you don’t have to go swimming). Just walk or rent a bike and take a stroll along the boardwalk.
We rented bikes from Tel-O-Fun. They have automated rental stands all over the city and you can just walk up, put in a credit card, and unlock a bike for the day! As long as you check in your bike at another Tel-O-Fun station every 30 minutes, you will only be charged the base rate of 17 ILS, or roughly $4.50 USD.
Our favorite activity was watching the amazingly talented athletes playing volleyball…with a soccer ball and no hands! Mixing the rules of sand volleyball and the touch rules of soccer/football, these guys would use their feet, chests, and heads to bump the ball back and forth. It was quite entertaining!
3. Visit The biblical port city of Jaffa
Old Jaffa is an important historical city because it was once the only port that led directly to Jerusalem. In the biblical days, this is where Jonah escaped to the sea and was eaten by a whale when he ran away from his heavenly duty.
Nowadays, it is a peaceful mix of Christians, Jews, and Muslims living alongside one another with a strong presence in the arts.
4. The Sarona Market
The Sarona Market is a relatively new indoor market that hosts little shops and stalls selling anything from dried fruits to cookwear. We had an amazing kosher beef burger at Meatbar Burger – a small (and expensive) gourmet burger stand in Sarona. Besides the burger, the best part of the Sarona Market was actually the courtyard outside where you could sit beneath the orange trees and take it all in.
Where to eat in Tel Aviv
1. The best hummus!
Hummus is a staple food of Israel and must be tried if you visit. We loved the hummus at Abu Hassan. We sat down and didn’t know what exactly to order, but it didn’t matter. The host came over and ordered for us saying, “I’ll bring you one hot, one cold.”
It was a crowded restaurant, but for good reason. The food was delicious. Along with the hummus dishes we also got pita bread, fresh onions, and a delightful spicy lemon sauce. Since the place was so busy, we ended up sitting at a table with locals, which made the experience that much more enjoyable and authentic. We had great conversations about travel and what it’s like to live in the beautiful country of Israel.
2. The best kabab
If you want something slightly heartier than hummus, I recommend the AHHH-MAZING lamb kabab at Miznon. I have no pictures to share because I ate it too fast, but it was a pita filled with perfectly seasoned lamb and hummus and other exquisite mystery sauces.
Also recommended to us was the liver kabab (loved by the locals), but if you don’t like liver normally, don’t expect the sandwich to change your feelings about it. ..It tastes like liver – chewy and irony. However, if you DO like liver, give it a try!
For a vegetarian option, you can’t go wrong with falafel!
And don’t forget to fill up on free pita ends and dipping sauces and try their famous roasted cauliflower!
3. The Carmel Market
The Carmel Market is a local (outdoor) food market that runs year-round. There is just so much delicious food there to see and taste! Plus you get the authentic experience of having the salesmen shouting at you to entice you to their food stands. You can’t beat it!
Things that didn’t live up to the hype
- The Neve Tzedek neighborhood. There wasn’t really much to do there. The buildings do look slightly different, or maybe less modern, but it didn’t leave a lasting impression on me.
- The New Sandeman’s tour in Old Jaffa. On my blog I have often raved about New Sandeman’s free tours, but this one in particular left a lot to be desired. We learned a bit about the biblical history of the city (the Jonah and the Whale story) and a story of how Napoleon once conquered Jaffa, but the stories were disjointed and didn’t come together in the end. Perhaps it’s just hard to create a comprehensive story that ties together ~3000 years of history in a 2 hour tour.
- Dizengoff Square Fire and Ice Fountain. Just a fountain that looks like it was made in the 80’s. Nothing special about it.
- The “best” gelato in Israel, Anita. The gelato was goooood, but it wasn’t anything to go out of your way for. Also, it wasn’t authentic Italian-style gelato if you’ve read my post on that.
Planning your trip
Overall, we really enjoyed our time in Tel Aviv. Obviously I’m a big lover of food, and this international city had plenty of culinary treats to offer! I should note, if you are worried about finding food to eat in Tel Aviv on a Friday night or Saturday (the Sabbath), don’t. There are several restaurants and bars that remain open and cater to travelers and non-observers of the weekly holiday.
As far as planning a trip to Tel Aviv, I think 2 days is about the right amount of time to spend wandering the markets, walking along the expansive beaches, and seeing some unique middle eastern architecture along the way.
Here’s a sample itinerary for you:
- Arrive to Ben Gurion Airport (nearly all flights going to Israel will arrive at this airport)
- Taxi to hotel – we stayed at The Renaissance hotel which was right on the beach!
- Take a tour with your Tel Aviv Greeter (pre-reservation is required)
- Get a lamb kabab (or similar) at Miznon
- Reflect at nearby Rabin Square
- Bike around the city – perhaps towards the Old Tel Aviv Port area or HaYarkon Park
- Get dinner at the Sarona Market (open Fridays until 6 pm, all other days until 11 pm)
- Go to the Caramel Market in the morning to pick up some breakfast and get an authentic taste for Israel
- Walk through Neve Tzedek towards Old Jaffa and have a look around the biblical port city, maybe peruse a few shops of Neve Tzedek along the way
- Stop for a hummus break at Abu Hassan (there are multiple locations in the city, but one is conveniently located near Jaffa)
- Walk along the promenade and watch the skillful volleyball players
- Get dinner at Moon Sushi (at least, we enjoyed it)
- Sit on the beach watching the sun set
I hope you enjoyed my guide to visiting Tel Aviv. Stay tuned for more in my series on the Holy Land coming soon!
Have you ever traveled to Tel Aviv-Yafo? What did you enjoy most about the city?