For those of you who follow my blog, you’ll know that a couple of years ago my trip to Egypt was at the cusp of the revolution (unbeknownst to us of course at the time). So when we found out rockets were being fired into the “land of milk and honey” a month before our scheduled vacation to Israel, we were uneasy to say the least. Though we considered alternate plans, we decided to go forth with our visit to Israel and it didn’t disappoint.
After our ten hour flight, we landed at Ben Gurion airport outside of Tel Aviv. We hopped in a cab and attempted to negotiate a fair rate into the city, but after a day of traveling, the exhaustion won over and we ended up paying around 175 shekels (NIS) for a ride in. If you’re up for negotiating, the fare shouldn’t be more than 150 NIS. (As of this writing, 1 New Israeli Shekel = 3.7 U.S. Dollars).
Tel Aviv doesn’t look like much at first glance. I would say that in all honesty it isn’t actually really a city you’d fall in love with on the surface. There isn’t really any sort of standout landmark to give it any definition – and to me that makes sense. I feel like Tel Aviv is a growing city with a bit of an identity crisis that has yet to really define itself. But while it lacks in any sort of standout cultural staple, it makes up for with several other things.
For one (I can’t fully comment on this because I never really got a chance to go out in the evening) the nightlife is supposedly amazing and from what I did see, there were definitely several streets with clubs and bars side by side that were closed during the day, but had crowds people spilling in and out of them at 4:00 AM (which we did witness on our taxi ride back to the airport at the end of the trip). So, if you’re looking for a club scene in Israel, Tel Aviv is the place to check out.
Another defining part of the city are their extensive beaches. Being there over Christmas we didn’t have the summer weather to fully take advantage of the beach, but the walkway along the beach is still pleasant enough even in the winter time and worth strolling down. Also, if you’re so inclined, you can take advantage of the free exercise machines on the sand and get a little workout in. It’s like Tel Aviv’s own little Venice Beach.
There are also a couple of markets you can take advantage of for souvenirs, produce, goods, anything. One is called the Carmel Market and the other is the flea market at Old Jaffa. Both don’t really compare to the bazaar in Jerusalem (more on that later), but they are worth checking out to see the scene and it makes for a nice afternoon walk to go from one to the other via the beach.
And finally, the people are very friendly and love their dogs – Tel Aviv is a very dog friendly city. Indeed, some of the populous are very straight forward (although not as many as the guidebooks would let you believe), almost to the point where you think they’re pissed at you based on the curtness of their talk. But that’s just the way a lot of them are and you grow to see that their prickly outer demeanor is very thin and underneath is actually a very nice person. Naturally we asked them about the situation with the Palestinians and the recent rocket attacks in November 2012. Their response was this: It’s a fact of life around there that these things happen, but they’re blown out of proportion by the media. They compared it to the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, CT. They understand and live with the fact that violence exists in their society and that they could be victim to it – but they don’t go about their days living in fear.
So if you’re visiting Israel during the winter you only really need to give Tel Aviv a couple of days. If it’s the summer however, you could probably go a few more days to take advantage of the beaches and nightlife. Just make sure that if you’re planning on seeing the whole country, don’t plan too much time around Tel Aviv. Israel, as we soon discovered, has more to offer outside Tel Aviv and in my opinion is worth prioritizing.
Where to Stay
Don’t let the shady exterior fool you. For $150 a night, these are great apartments to stay in. Their location is right in the middle of the action and you’re only about a 10-15 minute walk from the beach. They are also conveniently located across from an AM:PM, which is the Israeli 24 hour supermarket. The apartment themselves are extremely clean, very modern looking and come with a kitchen and patio.
Ben Yehuda 84 Tel Aviv, 63435 Israel
Where to Eat
If you want a fantastic cheap eat in Tel Aviv – Falafel Gabai delivers on of the best falafel sandwiches I’ve ever had. We went a couple times it was so good. You would walk right by it by how modest it looks, except for the fact that there seems to a crowd of locals outside of the place that gives it away. A Falafel with Pita sandwich is very filling, so if you’re not looking for a huge filler of a meal, go with the half pita. And when they ask if you’d like it spicy, use caution – it’s VERY spicy.
Bograshov 25, Tel Aviv, Israel
Literally a few doors down from Falafel Gabai, Kurtosh offers some of the best pastries I’ve ever had. Not at the Paris level, but pretty damn close, the croissants, danishes, and strudels offered at this small bakery provide the perfect amount of sweet, flaky, crispiness that one can enjoy for breakfast or a tasty snack while in Tel Aviv.
Bograshov 39, Tel Aviv, Israel