Israel’s cultural and commercial center has come a long way in recent decades. Though surrounded by conflict, Tel Aviv maintains an effortlessly cool, safe vibe. It may not look as pretty or feel as busy as other major international cities (the population is less than half a million), but it’s still an exciting place to explore. High-end restaurants, boutique hotels, and shopping centers are opening up throughout the city, all strewn against a backdrop of ancient ports, iconic markets, and millennia of history. Plus thanks to year-round sunshine and a geographical blessing along the country’s Mediterranean coast, Tel Aviv’s 10 miles of sandy beachfront are welcoming no matter when you go. It’s like a Middle Eastern Miami or Barcelona.
Visitors often use Tel Aviv as a portal to the rest of Israel’s sites since the farthest highlight is less than three hours away. Be sure to leave plenty of time to experience the city itself. To live like a local, you’ll sun on the beach in the morning and party until the wee hours, wandering colorful streets and eating amazing food along the way. Tel Aviv truly provides the perfect mix of old and new, relaxation and stimulation.
1. Take in the iconic architecture.
Make time to look up while you’re in Tel Aviv. The unique architectural style that dominates the low skyline was introduced to Israel by German and Austrian Jews. Characterized by clean lines and basic geometric shapes, Bauhaus is best viewed on a walk down the tree-lined Rothschild Boulevard or Blalik, Sheinkin, and Dizengoff Streets. The 4,000-plus Bauhaus buildings, known as The White City, have even earned UNESCO World Heritage status. To learn more about the look, head to the one-room Bauhaus Foundation Museum on Bialik Street. Be sure to see the Habima Theater while in the area, too. The national theater was among the first modern Hebrew language theaters when it opened in Moscow in 1913. It relocated to Tel Aviv in 1928, moved to its current location in 1945, and was rebuilt and reopened in 2009.
2. Hit the markets.
Get ready to get your haggling hat on. The best shopping spots in Tel Aviv are not found in the malls or even boutique stores. Known locally as “shuks,” there are markets in every part of the city. Carmel Market is definitely the most famous and most varied, but the Jaffa Flea Market of more permanent vendors shouldn’t be missed. If you’re in town on a Tuesday or Friday, the Nahalat Binyamin Crafts Market is a great spot for unique souvenirs like paintings, ornaments, jewelry, and other handmade crafts. Foodies wouldn’t miss a visit to Levinsky and Sarona Markets where fresh produce and food stalls await.
3. Sample shakshuka.
Breakfast is a big deal in Tel Aviv. While the classic Israeli breakfast of eggs, chopped cucumber salad, and spreads is delicious, the city’s range of shakshuka offers something a little more special. Made of baked eggs in a spicy tomato sauce, the dish is usually served in individual skillets alongside pita. A Middle Eastern speciality, it’s available at a ton of restaurants and provides all the energy you’ll need for exploring the city. Bucke is a personal favorite, but Shakshukia, Shlomo and Doron Hummus, and Saluf & Sons all offer delicious eggy goodness in a hip atmosphere. Just be warned: Once you treat your tastebuds to one pan of Israeli shakshuka, you’ll want another.
4. Lounge on the beach.
A warm climate and plentiful sunshine mean almost any day in Tel Aviv can be spent at a fine, sandy beach. The beaches are due west of the city center, and you’ll feel lightyears away from the metropolis as you relax on the shore. Tel Aviv has eight incredible beaching options, so you’ll just need to pick your favorite one. Each one attracts its own crowd and vibe. Gordon and Bograshov Beaches are the most popular with tourists (and thus the most crowded), Metzitzim Beach’s shallow waters make it great for families, and Gay and Banana Beaches offer regular seaside parties. If you’re headed here, it’s worth forking over a few extra shekels for a beachside bungalow and bed from a beach club. If you want something more chill and isolated, try Alma or Jaffa Beach.
5. Eat at one of Eyal Shani’s restaurants.
Every city has its own celeb chef, and Eyal Shani is the reigning culinary king of Tel Aviv. His specialty is taking incredibly fresh, simple produce and creating an unforgettable blend of texture, smell, and taste. He’s also known for very descriptive, almost poetic menus. It doesn’t hurt that all his restaurants have hip decor, lively atmospheres, and cult followings. With hot spots in Paris, Vienna, and New York, his reign extends beyond Israel, but this is where it all started. Miznon serves up street food specialties centered around pita. North Abraxas is on a mission to wow you with cauliflower. Spoiler: It will work. If you can grab a seat at the bar along the open kitchen, take it. Ha’salon, or the living room, is Shani’s more experimental establishment. It’s only open a few nights a week and the menu changes daily. The famed Port Said across from the old synagogue is the fanciest of his bunch, but the higher prices and long lines are worth it for his innovative sharing dishes. If you like to dance, check out his latest: The incredibly hipster Salon Romano is located on on top of Teder.fm nightclub.
6. Take in some art.
Tel Aviv’s recent cultural revolution is perhaps best seen in the city’s art. The Tel Aviv Museum of Art, housed in the city’s first city hall, has arguably the most comprehensive collection of Israeli art in the world, but it also has works by Van Gogh, Monet, Chagall, Picasso, and Pollack. If you’re only going to one museum, make this it. Hungry for more? Spend some time at Chelouche Gallery, Tempo Rubato, Dvir Gallery, Alon Segev, and Sommer Contemporary Art — all of which highlight Israeli artists. The non-profit Art Space TLV center is another great option if you want to support emerging talent. The Centre for Contemporary Art is perfect if you’re looking for something a bit edgier and more conceptual.
7. Catch a flick.
Opened in 1973, the Cinematheque is a beautiful piece of architecture in city center. It’s the flagship to a chain of theaters throughout Israel. Home to five cinema halls and a movie archive, you can see new releases alongside documentaries, retrospectives, classic, avant garde, experimental, foreign, and independent films. The Cinematheque regularly hosts film festivals and if you head there for a screening, you could hear a talk from the cast and crew before the film rolls.
8. Go for green.
Looking for respite from the city’s blaring heat? Grab a trendy blanket from the Carmel Market and head to the most frequented park, Park HaYarkon (or Ganei Yehoshua Park), for a picnic with the locals. Think of it as Tel Aviv’s Central Park. In addition to the grassy knolls and rushing river, there’s a rock garden, tropical garden, bird safari, and petting zoo. The mini Meir Park between King George and Tchernichovsky streets is hard to miss if you’re walking through town. Be sure to meander its tree-lined walkways. It’s home to a small fountain, basketball court, dog park, and a beautiful memorial to gay Holocaust victims. True plant lovers should spend some time at the University Botanical Garden as well. Last but not least, don’t miss sunset at the seaside Charles Clore Garden just north of Jaffa Port.
9. Take a graffiti tour.
There’s much more to Tel Aviv’s art scene than museums and galleries. In fact, some of its best artists stick to the street. Mostly the streets of the multicultural Florentin neighborhood nestled between The White City and Jaffa. Now home to clothing boutiques, loft apartments, and bohemian cafes, it’s becoming one of the city’s trendiest areas. But a decade ago many of the buildings were marked for demolition, which created a canvas for aspiring creatives. Though drawing on walls is illegal in the city, authorities largely ignore the unofficial artists of Florentin and the streets have blossomed into an outdoor exhibition. Walk along Salma, Elifelet, and Schoken streets for some of the best displays.
10. Party the night away.
It’s Tel Aviv tradition to stay out all night. Thanks to a young, international population, it’s developed a reputation as the 24-hour party capital of the Middle East. The streets get especially busy on Thursday night, which is like Israel’s Friday night since Friday is Shabbat and many offices and business are closed. Whether you want live rock, 90s hip hop, or a quiet evening in a corner cafe, you’ll have your choice of party. There are beach bars, pubs, cocktail lounges, canteens, rooftop taverns, speakeasies, wine bistros, gallery bar and DJ-laden dance clubs. In fact, almost all these options are available just on Rothschild Boulevard and its surrounding streets. Just remember that things don’t really get going until after midnight.
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