Tel Aviv – I have always thought that this name sounds promising. Get to know this amazing city in my Tel Aviv travel guide for first-time visitors.
Actually, the name “Tel Aviv” characterizes the city perfectly. Inspired by Theodor Herzel’s book “Altneuland” it describes a combination of old and new.
If I, on the other hand, had to describe that place I would call it an artistic salad. *Just kidding* But it’s true that Tel Aviv is a big melting pot of cultures, architectural styles and ideologies. It’s confusing and mesmerizing at the same time. If you are planning a trip to Tel Aviv for the first time you likely have no idea of what awaits you there. No matter what I tell you about the city, you will still end up being surprised. However, I want it to be a positive surprise. That’s why I am sharing with you my personal Tel Aviv travel guide including the following points:
- Places to see
- What you need to know before visiting Tel Aviv
Since my boyfriend is Israeli, I have been spending quite some time in Israel’s coolest city an there is no argument that I can only be talking about Tel Aviv. Jerusalem prays, Haifa works and Tel Aviv dances – that’s what Israelis say. I find that pretty accurate.
I wouldn’t say that Tel Aviv is for everyone. But you might love it if …
- you are a Hipster.
- you are tired of everything being overly organized.
- you are rebellious and freedom-loving.
- you like to be loud and are not afraid of talking to strangers.
- you are looking for a crazy nightlife.
- you are craving adventure.
- you are not broke.
Are you ready for a trip to Tel Aviv? My Tel Aviv travel guide might help you to feel comfortable there. Especially if you have never visited the Middle East and if you are a bit on the sensitive side, like me. Note: I will recommend many places that are located in Jaffa, since Tel Aviv and Jaffa have become basically one city.
1. Places to see in Tel Aviv
I love coffeehouses with character and this is one thing I explore extensively when I am in a new city. Tel Aviv has a lot to offer in this aspect. Let me tell you about my favorite places:
Ha Nasich Ha Katan ( = The Little Prince)
This place is more than a coffee shop. It’s filled with bookshelves, containing second-hand books in Hebrew and English. Relax on one of the comfortable sofas and enjoy some tea or Turkish coffee while watching busy King George Street. Ha Nasich Ha Katan is one of a kind.
(located on Dizingoff Square 1)
In Nahat Café they serve the most delicious coffee and the staff will advise you on which kind of gourmet coffee might suit your taste. I recommend this place for all the people who appreciate quality coffee. Besides, it’s a perfect location, cozy place & they have all the sweetest treats.
(located in Louis Pasteur Str. 5, Tel Aviv – Jaffa)
This place is close to the port and the old city of Jaffa. Take a seat outside, order Turkish coffee, a nargila (water pipe) and some traditional knafe (a desert) – you won’t regret it. I am in love with the oriental vibes, the friendly staff and their amazing food & drinks.
King George Street & The Market
Do you fancy the bohemian style? This street is packed with the coolest bars and coffee shops (like HaNasich HaKatan). You will inevitably pass by the famous ice cream sandwich parlor – don’t hold back. I love the ice cream in Israel, seriously. Follow the street all the way to the Carmel Market (Shuk HaCarmel) to find some bargains, fresh fruit or tea.
Neve Tzedek – The charming & artistic quarter
If you like picturesque houses, artisan stores and generally art you should spend an afternoon in Neve Tzedek. The little decorations on the houses stem from the famous artist Nahum Gutman. See more of the Israeli artists work at his museum, housed in the historical Writer’s House in Neve Tzedek. Additional info for all Instagram addicts: Neve Tzedek features lots of beautiful doors and locations to take the best pictures.
Jaffa and it’s stylish & unique places
Honestly, Jaffa is my favorite spot in the whole country. It has an oriental vibe to it with a big Arab population living here. You can walk from Tel Aviv to Jaffa on the beach boulevard or take a bus, it is really close. Yet, it has a different energy. This cute town is not only famous for oranges. People also love to come here for the famous flea market, the beautiful harbor & old part of the town.
The houses are not as high and modern as in Tel Aviv, there are fewer cars and Jaffa seems generally more laid back.
Walk around the flea market area to find creative and stylish restaurants and coffee shops. Spend some time window-shopping, the gorgeous little boutiques are worth it. Another advantage of Jaffa: Because of the significant Arab population shops and restaurants are also open on Saturdays (Shabbat).
The beach in Tel Aviv is beautiful. The best about it: it’s open to the public & it’s free. Take a swim, learn how to surf or just sit on the beach at night to find some quiet while watching the sunset.
Don’t know where to start?
If you just want to soak in the atmosphere without heading to any particular destination go for a walk on Rothschild Boulevard. It will take you through a nice area of Tel Aviv, giving you a feeling for the city. You will find many bakeries and juice stands on the way, inviting you to take a break and watch what’s going on around you. This is a great way to ease into this vibrant city.
Eating is my favorite thing to do in Tel Aviv. I am not joking. Tel Aviv offers a variety of absolutely delicious food. I am a big sucker for Israeli street food and ice cream.
Sabih, Falafel & Hummus
Those three are the most popular staples of Israeli street food. I am crazy for hummus. The first time I came to Israel I ate almost nothing but hummus. Besides hummus, I can hardly get enough of Sabih. It’s a tasty sandwich stuffed with fried eggplant, tahini an egg and salad. Falafel isn’t my favorite, but Israelis love them. So, give them a try. Another thing I love about Israeli street food: It’s actually quite healthy.
My favorite hummus place:
Mashawsha: On Pinsker 40. They serve warm hummus there and it’s not a side dish. Prepare to feel (bliss)full.
Juices & Shakes
You will find that there are juice stands on almost every corner in Tel Aviv. Chose the fruit & veggies you want and get your own custom-made shake or juice. The best kind of refreshment in the hot and moist climate.
Golda and Anita
This is ice cream made in heaven. They offer healthy options and even sugar-free ice cream. But I never even tried those because I always go for the most decadent varieties. Try Hershey’s or Salted Cashew Caramel. Is your mouth watering? Yes, mine too. Just go in there and don’t feel guilty about eating at least two big scoops.
Shopping Food & Clothes
Explore King George and Dizingoff Street to discover numerous vintage shops and concept stores. Most shops here have a hipster or bohemian vibe. So, if that describes your style you will spend a lot of time (and potentially money) in those two streets.
Wanna go on a shopping spree? Try one of Tel Aviv’s malls or markets!
Azriely Center is hard to miss. The three towers are shaped like a circle, a triangle and a square. The mall is inside the circular tower and holds a big selection of stores and food places. You might want to go all the way to the top to enjoy a great view of the city.
You will find Sorona Market in an area that used to be a German colony. It’s quite funny to see the small European style houses next to the big office towers. But that’s Tel Aviv – a crazy mélange of cultures.
It is located right behind the luxury shops and restaurants of the German colony. Once you enter this indoor street food market you will be positively overwhelmed by all the scents and colors. I like to take a stroll through the big hall and taste as many different foods as I can. You’ll find not only the newest food trends but also international cuisine. The entry is free.
Shuk HaCarmel is a famous, oriental-style market in the center of Tel Aviv. You will find everything from fresh fruit, tea, spices to clothes. However, it’s usually pretty crowded. So, be prepared and watch out for your bag.
3. What you need to know BEFORE visiting Tel Aviv
Survival tips for first-time visitors
If you don’t speak/read Hebrew
If you don’t know the Hebrew alphabet it might look to you like weird drawings with a certain kind of beauty to them. Indeed, it can be overwhelming if you feel like you don’t understand anything. Don’t despair! Most people speak some level of English and you can find English versions of signs.
Remember that English menus are available in most places. Just ask for a „Tafrit be Anglit“. You will pay with Shekels and generally, a 20 % tip is adequate. Service staff in Israel are often only paid with tips and don’t receive a stable salary. So, not giving a tip can be very insulting.
You might be surprised to find that there is no public transport on Saturdays. (From Friday afternoon until Saturday night.) It’s Shabat and you better be in a nice place during that time. Unless you are in an area where you can find the so-called „Monit Sherut“ ( = Shared Route Taxi). There are some lines that connect bigger cities or that run inside of Tel Aviv.
Let explain how it works. If you see a yellow monit sherut with the right number approaching, you start jumping up and down while waving your hands. Or it might just be alright to wave. The driver will stop if there is space in the cab. Once you get in, you hand the money to the people in front of you. They will pass it on to the driver. If you want to get off, you shout „Nahag, po!“ I have found that most drivers don’t speak English. But those two words are enough to make it clear that you want to get off the cab.
This chain of coffee shops is my oasis whenever Tel Aviv is too much for me. Aroma reminds me of the coffeehouses in my hometown, the menu is simple but contains everything I love about Israeli cuisine. I have to admit that I also like their prices. Going out in Tel Aviv can get a bit expensive. Aroma is a great place to sit and read, work or chat and take a break from the busy Tel Avivian street life.
This grocery store is open 24/7 and you might need it when other shops are closed on Saturdays or you want a Ben and Jerry’s in the middle of the night.
There is so much more to experience in Tel Aviv than I could ever cover. But I hope my little Tel Aviv travel guide will give you an idea of this fun city. Let me know if you have visited Tel Aviv and what you enjoyed the most about it.