Tel-Aviv usually is the city you land in when you fly to Israel, and you don’t want to miss out on it when you come for the first time. As I explained in a previous post about Jerusalem, the country is very easy to navigate, and so is the city of Tel-Aviv itself. It is the economic capital of the country, and with this title comes the promise of a glorious dynamism. Isn’t Tel-Aviv one of the world’s top-ranking cities for parties and entertainment on the beach ? Isn’t the city attracting more and more talents, be it high-tech engineers, scientists, web-developers, international and local chefs, musicians, comedians, artists (paintors, sculptors…) and fashion designers?! Tel-Aviv probably is the most modern city of all the Middle-East, super-rich states from the Emirates aside. It’s bright and shiny, but simple and laid-back at the same time, and it’s got all the sweetness of life that you actually can’t expect from the outside (if you just stick to what the media tell you to think), until you go there and figure it out by yourself – Surprise!!! Given the vast panel of activities you can enjoy in Tel-Aviv, we had to make a choice as we only stayed 4 days, so here is my personal selection of the first 10 Cool Things to do in Tel-Aviv.
- Neve Tzedek. This district is the oldest area of modern Tel-Aviv. This is from this little enclave that the city was born in the year 1887, when Jewish families decided to get out of the overcrowded ancient city of Jaffa, and started constructing in the southern part of what is Tel-Aviv today. It is also one of the prettiest areas in town, as vertical urbanism hasn’t taken over Neve Tzedek’s village-like atmosphere and unique character. Its low-rise houses and narrow streets now host artists, nice restaurants, fancy cafés, wine bars on Shabazi Road, and high-end shops in which handmade goods are sold to tourists and wealthy Israelis alike. This preserved architecture combined to the chic and fashionable ambiance, turned Neve Tzedek into an upmarket residence for Tel-Avivians.
- Go and have lunch at HaTachana, litterally “the Train Station”. It’s the ancient end of the line of what was the historical railway that linked Tel-Aviv-Yafo to Jerusalem. It had been long abandoned before it got converted into a touristic center composed of 22 buildings hosting restaurants, cafés, a bookstore, a gallery, and chic boutiques of arts and crafts. At the entrance of HaTachana, several ancient wagons – that have been restored – are nowadays used to host art exhibitions and a tourist information center.
- Get all your senses awaken in the Shuk HaCarmel. In my opinion, this is literally the greatest market in Tel-Aviv to shop for fresh foods, produces, pickled olives, spices and condiments. Get a taste of the Middle-East at any corner of the market where you fancy something you see. For my husband and myself, I’d state the obvious if I’d tell you we went (of course) for Hummus and Falafel in a Pita bread. Well, just check it out on the picture! An amazing time, and Shuk HaCarmel really made a strong impression on us.
- Visit the Old Town of Tel-Aviv – Yaffo (Jaffa). This district will offer the tourists a glimpse of Arabic architecture and a dive into the concept of a Middle-Eastern Flea Market. Entirely built of ancient stones, the houses of Jaffa obviously carry a long and complex history, and although new businesses have risen in the area, people enjoy their time in a very laid-back atmosphere, hanging out in coffee shops, or admiring the views over the Mediterranean sea or the Tel-Aviv bay.
- Make a stop at the Bridge of Wishes, and then have lunch on top of the hill before walking down to the Old Port of Jaffa. On the Bridge of Wishes, there’s a zodiacal diagram; stand on your own sign, and make a wish while facing the sea. There are just a few restaurants in this area, but of pretty nice quality.
- Yitzhak Rabin Square and the Residential Neighborhood. I have so many regrets about the fact that I wasn’t able to take pictures, the battery of my camera was dead after a full day out playing tourist, but it would have really been worth gathering images of what we’ve seen. First of all, we got caught in the riot that took place at night in May 2015 involving thousands of clandestine Africans. We were walking randomly to find our way back to Neve Tzedek in the South of the city, but as we were wandering about totally up North of the city, and unexpectedly found ourselves on one of the avenues that led to the Yitzhak Rabin Square. It’s only when we reached the square that we figured out a riot was going on. We made a turn, trying to reach as fast as possible a more quiet street before anything bad could happen to us. Once we safely reached a quiet residential district, we felt relieved and tried to enjoy our time again. No need to say I couldn’t have taken pictures of the Rabin Square even if my camera still had some juice. The residential area of the center of Tel-Aviv showed us all apartments have their own terraces with plants, a pretty vast array of trees surrounding every buildings over a few kilometers, and all kinds of green stuffs that can grow in a very hot and arid climate. People there live the simple life and always try to enjoy life as there would be no tomorrow. A nice feeling somewhat, I think.
- Enjoy a nice promenade on the Tayelet, the path that runs along Tel-Aviv’s coastline. During the shabbath (on Saturdays), some parts of the Tayelet are pretty quiet, you can see people resting on the grass near the seaside, or playing with their pets on the beach. Families and friends will gather together and lit individual BBQ (if they don’t keep Shabbath), or simply bring a picnic. Further up on the Tayelet, the afternoons of the long Middle-Eastern summertime welcome the youth of Tel-Aviv on beaches where they enjoy swimming, sunbathing, and playing beach sports, before they eventually go out to grab dinner and party for a crazy night after a relaxing day!
- Spend 1/2 day in Natanya and shop for the Dead Sea natural products sold by the many Russians based there. The main reason we spent time in Natanya was to meet friends of ours who live in this medium-size city by the sea. Natanya is also known as “the French city in Israel” as most of inhabitants originate from France (or if not most of them, then A LOT of them). It has to do that the climate is very similar to the one you’d find on the French Riviera, if not better, and community interaction and help towards the new arrivants is a great advantage, not to mention the language comfort (it’s always easier to arrive in a new country and be able to speak your own language to get you started with a smooth integration). But a new community is rising and has been taking over some businesses in Natanya, especially the business of Dead Sea related items. Natanya is full of shops where you can buy Dead Sea salts and minerals in the form of lotions, scrub, shampoo, beauty creams, and even mud for the body! Definitely a good place to purchase souvenirs to bring back home.
- Party in Tel-Aviv or participate to an Escape Game to bond with Israeli friends. The night life in Tel-Aviv has been growing huge these last few years, and is now recognized worldwide for its potential of extravaganza. For those who wouldn’t enjoy partying in a bar or a club, Tel-Aviv got it all covered. Just on the borderline that separates Tel-Aviv from Jaffa (Yaffo), there’s an outdoor concert arena called HaPisgah Gardens, where people can sit (or stand) in order to listen to music with an amazing view over the Tel-Aviv bay. With the weather being nice and warm most times of the year, the concert stage is widely used especially during July and August. If you’re looking for a different kind of fun, you could subscribe to an “escape game”, this new concept that is currently spreading worldwide, mainly under the franchise name of Escape Room. This is the perfect way to bond with locals or Israeli friends if you’re joining a group. We had tried this concept in New-York City and in Nice as well, but Tel-Aviv’s Escape Room definitely is our favorite, you can reach their website here for more info.
- Have a walk on Rothschild Boulevard. This is one of the main long distance lane in Southern Tel-Aviv. What’s nice about its configuration is that cars can drive both ways, but there’s a center alley in between the car lanes that is fully dedicated to the pedestrians. All along the way from Neve Tzedek up to the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art on Habima Square, beautiful trees are planted, coffee shops and falafel carts relentlessly feed the crowds, and even if people do not lean on grass they actually sometimes bring foldable sunbathing chairs to enjoy the sun with a book in hand or so. There’s even a place where a book cart (or Street Library as it is called) settled in the middle of Rothschild boulevard, and people can freely discover books and enjoy them for a few hours or so. The way along the Rothschild boulevard is full of touristic options to follow, among which I will recommend the Hall of Independance, or an incursion in the famous district known for its White Bauhaus style of architecture (no picture here, sorry, but you can easily find Bauhaus on the Web).
On Boulevard Rothschild, stop at one of the many kiosks for iced coffee or a carrot juice. Tel-Avivians are crazy about carrot juice, and seen the abundance of carrots, do they actually have the option of not liking it?! lol. Besides, they love taking the time to relax and sit back, while enjoying a fresh juice or a good coffee – either an espresso or an iced latte, these are the only two options available right about everywhere! One of the other fruit cocktail they love drinking is orange and carrot juice together. This is actually a reflexion of their very healthy way of living. Israelis in TLV are very fond of sports, they like to stay fit and look good on the beach, that’s why exercising and drinking carrot juice is a winning combination there (and it’s great for their tan all year long)! You’ll find great food all over town, and even if eating hummus on a daily basis is the norm, eating clean and healthy food the rest of the day is what people in TLV like most.
Created and Written by Sophie Rebibo-Halimi, © 2016 All Rights Reserved.