Fascinating Tel Aviv

Vibrant nightlife, incredible food, UNESCO recognised architecture, sandy Mediterranean beaches and some of the most friendly people in the world – you can find it all and much more in Tel Aviv. Though a bit sceptic at first, as I’ve never travelled outside of Europe and as there were some bombings in the Gaza area just a few days before my trip, I overcame my fear and boarded my flight to Tel Aviv. Admittedly, I mostly did it for the promise of the 26 degrees there as opposed to the -3 at home. I got so much more than that though, I discovered a fantastic country and culture and had one of the best trips of my life. The country is so diverse, there are so many things to see and do, it feels like you’d need a life time to go through it all. The people are so laid-back and friendly, it felt like everyone I met was an old friend.

Is it safe?

Yes! Yes, yes and yes. I wanted to address this particular issue because there’s so much bad rap in the media about it and it’s completely untrue. Ok, so there are often bombings and conflicts in the Gaza area, but none of it affects Tel Aviv or any other of the major tourist sites. Israelis really trust the Iron Dome and apparently so should everyone else.

I also felt safe walking alone after dark or leaving my things unattended at the beach (supervised, of course, but from a distance). When travelling alone, you get approached by all sorts of people and sometimes it can become a bit scary, but here all the people that came to talk to me were just really friendly and I didn’t feel harassed at any moment.

How to get to Tel Aviv from the airport

Getting to the city from the airport is pretty easy if you arrive anywhere from Sunday to Friday evening. There are trains that take you straight from the airport to the city, the journey is about 15-20 minutes and costs 13 shekels, so pretty cheap. (That’s the only cheap thing in Israel, for anything else be prepared to spend a shit load of money). Now, if your flight arrives during Shabbat (Friday evening to Saturday evening), your only option to get to the city is by taxi, which costs around 150-180 shekels. If you’re travelling in a group, it’s not that bad, but if you’re travelling alone, I suggest you make yourself some friends on the plane.

How to get around in Tel Aviv

The city has good public transportation from what I’ve seen, buses are quite frequent and a ticket, which you can buy from the driver, is about 6 shekels. I only used the bus service when I went to the train station to go to the airport as all other points of interest seemed pretty close and I always prefer walking as you can feel the vibe of the place a lot better.

When to go to Tel Aviv

I’d say the best period is September to November, as well as March to May probably, though the water might be a lot colder in early spring. I went mid-November and the weather was great, I needed a light jacket in the evening, but during the day it was perfect for the beach and the water was still bearable. One thing I’d mention here is that during late fall and winter months, the sun sets quite early, around 5:30 pm, so you need to have that in mind when planning your itinerary.

What to do in Tel Aviv

I honestly don’t think there’s anything you can’t do in Tel Aviv. This city literally has it all: there’s the beach where you can just relax in the sun or play water sports, the city center with its vibrant nightlife and loads of chill cafes and Jaffa, the old city, for those with a passion for history. Apart from that, Tel Aviv also serves as the perfect starting point for many day trips all around Israel.

The beachfront

The city boasts 14 kilometres of white sandy beaches, each one with its own character. From ‘doggie’ beaches to gay-friendly, or even religious beaches, you can find them all in Tel Aviv. The beach is also a great place to meet people – the Israelis are super friendly and there’s always someone who’s going to want to talk to you. Also, you usually score extra points if you’re Romanian – they all know ‘Ce faci? Bine.’ and they all have a really cool colleague or neighbour who’s Romanian.:)

Funnily enough, most people who approached me started talking to me in Hebrew and were very surprised to find out I was a tourist. Apparently I fit right in and I looked like one of the locals. I was actually happy to hear this, as that’s one of the things I strive for: being able to feel like home no matter where I am in the world.

The Promenade runs along the whole length of the beach all the way down to Jaffa and is always very lively and animated. You can see people jogging, walking, biking, skating, working out in the outdoor gyms or simply admiring the panorama from one of the viewpoints.

The sunset in Tel Aviv is truly spectacular and there’s no better place to see it than from the beach. It was one of the highlights of my trip and it definitely made its way into the top 3 best sunsets I’ve ever seen.

The city center

Coming from Europe, I generally associate the idea of city centre with a big square, old buildings and pedestrian streets. However, I discovered that is not the case in Tel Aviv, the city centre being this huge area with cafes, bars, restaurants, synagogues, markets, shops and an eclectic mix of old and new architecture. I actually liked this mix, though I usually hate seeing modern, glass and steel buildings next to old ones, but here it somehow looked good.

The Great Synagogue
Hassan Bek Mosque

One of the main attractions here is Carmel market, the largest one in Tel Aviv, located on the street with the same name. Here you can find anything from spices to fruits to electronics or clothes. If you love pomegranates, this is the place for you. There’s bright colours everywhere, textures, smells, it’s a trues feast of the sense that’s not to be missed!

Tel Aviv’s food scene

Speaking of feasting your senses, the food scene is very diverse in Tel Aviv thanks to the mix of cultures all living together. There’s a lot of vegan and vegetarian options, but I found the food quite ‘heavy’ due to all the legumes and spices. If you’re used to this kind of food, you should be fine, but for the more sensitive ones I’d recommend taking it easy, no more than one Israeli dish a day.

There’s so many places where you can eat in Tel Aviv, but from the ones I tried I’d definitely recommend The Little Prince Restaurant – interesting menu and very cool design and Zuppa – great mix of soups, stews, salads and the guy at the counter was an absolute character. I also heard good things about Cafe Puaa, but I haven’t managed to get there myself.

The Little Prince Restaurant

Jaffa – the old city

Towards the Northern end of the city, you can find Jaffa – the old city out of which Tel Aviv has grown and one of the oldest ports in the world. The city has a long history, but one of the crucial points in its development was in the late 19th century when the Jews returned to Israel form all over the world. Tensions between Jews and Arabs increased because of the overcrowding, so the Jews started moving out of Jaffa and building what is now the city of Tel Aviv.

At that time, Jaffa started to decay as Tel Aviv grew, but in recent years it has been regenerated and it now looks great. The area is not that big, so a few hours spent here are more than enough. The viewpoint at the top offers an amazing panorama of Tel Aviv and the cobbled streets and stone houses have plenty of charm.

Saint Peter’s Church
The Clock Tower
Saint Peter’s Church

One of the places I loved in Jaffa was Vista Coffee, a cute little coffee shop down by the port with great views of the city’s skyline.

Day trips from Tel Aviv

Apart from all that the city itself has to offer, there are many day trips that you can take from Tel Aviv. I didn’t have much time on my hands, I preferred being a beach bum most of the time as in Romania it was -3 degrees when I left, so the 26 in Israel were an absolute blessing. I did manage to squeeze in one day trip though, the Dead Sea and Masada one as floating in the Dead Sea was one of my bucketlist items. I’ll write about that one in a separate article as it’s quite a lot of info. There are many other trips, the most popular being probably Jerusalem, Haifa and Petra. While it is possible to do all these trips by yourself on public transportation, it can get quite complicated so I suggest just booking a tour through an agency. I chose Abraham Tours and was super happy with their prices and services.

I had such a good time in Israel, I met such nice people and saw beautiful places. It did burn a massive hole in my pocket, I must admit , so I would recommend visiting only if you’re ready to spend a lot of money, but I regret nothing and would totally do it all over again!

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