Tel Aviv is Israel’s most dynamic city. Offering a rich cultural heritage, a surprisingly long history, vibrant nightlife and a beautiful stretch of beaches, it’s a city with far more on offer than you might expect. Make the most of a weekend in the city with our exclusive guide to Tel Aviv….
International travellers are most likely to enter the country via Ben Gurion International Airport, located about 15km southwest of Tel Aviv. From here, the city centre is easily reached by train, shuttle bus or taxi from the airport.
The best way to get around the city is by Tel Aviv’s inexpensive, modern bus system, which runs six days a week between 5:00 am and midnight. However, the service takes a break on the Sabbath – Saturday. You can by a public transport day pass for around 13.50 shekels (₪, ILS). Tel Aviv also operates an extensive system of cycle lanes, and a fairly new bike rental system, Tel-O-Fun.
We’ll begin with some history. Tel Aviv itself is a new city, founded in 1909, but the ancient port of Jaffa, to the south of the city centre, is far older – it was first mentioned in 1440 BC. It feels old, too, especially the winding maze of restored alleys – the so-called Zodiac alleys – that snake their way to the old harbour. You’ll find landmarks that span all of history, from the restored 3,500-year old Egyptian gates in Jaffa Hill, to the fascinating Franciscan Church, Saint Peter’s, built in the 19th century and allegedly once visited by Napoleon. Elsewhere, there is the Jaffa Museum of Antiquities in an 18th century Ottoman building, the flea market and bazaar, and the Wishing Bridge. Jaffa sometimes has a problem with pickpockets, so stay vigilant here.
Head north towards the city centre, and take a stroll down tree-lined Rothschild Boulevard, one of Tel Aviv’s prettiest streets, and home to some of the city’s iconic Bauhaus architecture. It’s these buildings, built in a minimalist, white style, that have earned Tel Aviv the nickname ‘White City’, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s usually bustling and lively, and you can find some excellent bars, cafés and restaurants here, making it the ideal place to take it easy over lunch and a coffee after a busy morning in Old Jaffa.
Bialik Square and Rabin Square
If you’re interested in Tel Aviv’s unique Bauhaus architecture, you’ll find some of the finest in Bialik Square, a little way to the northwest of Rothschild Boulevard. Here you’ll find the former town hall – now a cultural centre – and the Rubin Museum, dedicated to 1920’s painter Reuven Rubin. Both buildings take on the striking Bauhaus look for which the city is famous. Nearby, in Rabin Square, you’ll find a striking monument to the Holocaust (or Shoah, as it is known to Jewish people), as well as one commemorating the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, a former prime minister who was killed on that spot by an Israeli ultranationalist in 1995.
A good way to end your day is with some local music. Tel Aviv is known as something of a party city, and there is an enormous range of clubs, bars and venues hosting live acts every day. Levontin 7, named for its street address in the city centre, is the best place in Tel Aviv for alternative and indie music, as well as the occasional jazz or electronic act. It offers a good bar, and an excellent venue for a variety of live performances. There are, however, plenty of venues in Tel Aviv, so choose the one that suits you best; you’ll find everything from local rock bands to international classical music.
Start your day in the north of the city, where you’ll find some of Tel Aviv’s finest museums. The Eretz-Israel Museum is a fairly standard history museum charting thousands of years of history from the Bronze Age to the 20th century. The Museum of the Jewish People, meanwhile, features a series of exhibitions charting the cultural history of the Jewish people. Among these are the Synagogue Hall, showcasing Jewish communities and rituals, and ‘Heroes’, which documents Jewish heroes throughout history. There are also temporary exhibitions such as a history of the Ethiopian Jews and a retrospective on Bob Dylan. Most are very family friendly and perfect for younger tourists.
As you head back towards the city centre, you’ll probably pass through Yarkon Park, which is actually one of the most visited tourist attractions in Israel, with about 16 million visits annually. It contains lawns, memorials, botanical gardens, an aviary, a water park and outdoor concert venues; it’s an excellent place for a stroll and to relax. It is also host to one of the largest rock gardens in the world, with as many as 3,500 species of plants making their home there, as well as an enormous variety of birds and insects.
Art Gallery District
We’re on a cultural kick today, so we’ll continue our tour of Tel Aviv’s cultural heritage in the Art Gallery District in the city centre. The best independent art galleries in the city tend to be found on Ben Yehuda Street. The finest are Jojo Gallery, Gordon Gallery and Engel Gallery, which are all good for high-quality Israeli works, often specialising in 20th-century modern art. For something more substantial, Tel Aviv Museum of Art is an excellent choice, hosting a large exhibition of international modern and contemporary art.
A visit to the beach is a must. There are quite a few in Tel Aviv, each one with its own individual character. Hilton Beach is popular with the LGBT+ scene, Gordon Beach offers excellent after-hours parties, while Jerusalem Beach is where you can find one of Israel’s national pastimes, matkot. This racquet game is the country’s version of beach tennis, and is hugely popular in the summer. Just watch out for the swarms of jellyfish that sometimes make their appearance in the shallow waters in summer. Every beach is flanked by excellent restaurants and bars, so they’re ideal for relaxation and indulgence, day and night.
Food and Drink
Israeli cusine is incredibly diverse, taking influences from the various Jewish communities that have migrated to the country over the last century. Religious considerations are still fairly important, with Jewish Kashrut laws prohibiting the consumption of, bacon, pork, and ham; meat and dairy ingredients are also never served together.
Israeli cooking shares a lot of Levantine and Mediterranean elements and ingredients, including falafel, houmous, and couscous, among others. There is also a strong Eastern and Central European influence, with schnitzel, strudel, and borscht all forming part of the national cuisine.
An Israeli breakfast is a distinctive Israeli tradition. It typically consists of fried eggs, an Israeli salad, and a variety of accompaniments such as cheese, herring, sardines, and egg dishes like shakshouka, eggs poached in a tomato and vegetable sauce.
Where to stay
Hotel Gilgal is located in the heart of Tel Aviv, not too far from the city’s beaches. Offering bright, contemporary accommodation, a rooftop terrace overlooking the Mediterranean, a lobby, coffee shop and a library, all decorated with Israeli artworks. A pleasant and modern place to stay. From £144/677 ILS including Wi-Fi.
St. Peter’s Church, Jaffa – image by hjl via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Rothschild Boulevard – image by Ron Shoshani via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Sculpture in Rabin Square – image by Pierre Marshall via Flick (CC BY- 2.0
IMG_5848 – image by Naama Hadasso via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Beit Hatfutsot, the diaspora museum – image by Angela via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Rose-Chafer beetle 2 – image by orientalizing via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Dale Chihuly, Drawings – image by Avital Pinnick via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Israel 04773 – Long Walk – image by Dennis Jarvis via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The 7 Breakfasts – Café Café – image by Or Hiltch via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)