There are few places I travel to and say to myself, “Wow, I could live here.” Tel Aviv, Israel, is one of those places.
Perfectly situated on the Mediterranean coastline, this Middle Eastern urban playground quickly became my new favorite international city.
Brimming with an extremely attractive and young international population, nightlife that rivals Manhattan, a brilliant and burgeoning fashion scene, an incredibly relaxed vibe and a great variety of outstanding restaurants, Tel Aviv is my kind of city, and I think it may be yours, too.
To characterize Tel Aviv in a word, it’s laid-back; so much so, you may get the impression that there aren’t any actual rules by which to conduct your behavior. Perhaps it’s the sense of “carpe diem” that comes with the territory, the prolific, frenetic energy or the feeling of complete freedom. Wherever it comes from, this hedonistic, sexy city is primed for all kinds of travelers, beach bums and party animals. Tel Aviv is for the young and the young at heart.
A mix of grunge and luxury, Tel Aviv is the essence of a cool, 21st century city. It’s not a “beautiful” city per se, but what it lacks in aesthetics it makes up for in just about everything else. While there are plenty of typical or classic sites to see in Tel Aviv, the following suggestions are my top picks.
suggestions are my top picks.
Neve Tzedek is a dream-like version of Manhattan’s SoHo. This historic gem is full of colorful galleries and shops. Fashionable, expensive and eccentric, in every step you take you see some kind of remarkable surprise in a building’s architecture, facade, or even on the pavement itself. Alleyways and walls are all artfully covered in a very unique form, be it graffiti, tile or some other medium – a neighborhood couldn’t be more charming. The fashion and jewelry selections are simply amazing, and Israel’s distinct creative edge can keep you browsing and shopping for hours.
Old Jaffa (Yafo)
A 4,000 year old ancient seaport, Jaffa is the oldest part of Tel Aviv. The port was once a place where Jewish immigrants passed through to resettle in the homeland. Now full of stores, museums and galleries, Jaffa is an integral part of the Tel Aviv experience. I must have walked to Jaffa from my hotel six or seven times.
Ilana Goor Museum: Home and gallery of Israeli artist and sculptor Ilana Goor, this museum is a jewel on the water. Take a tour of her sizable property full of bizarre trinkets and peruse her world famous rooftop sculpture garden. For a visual, think of film director Tim Burton and what his home may resemble.
Old Jaffa Port: Jaffa port is newly retrofitted and full of restaurants and shops. The Old Man and the Sea is a local hangout and a delicious option for lunch or dinner.
Artists’ Quarter: The artists’ quarter is a cavernous, ancient (yet newly renovated) and striking maze of galleries and jewelry shops, and each storefront is more creative and enticing than the last.
Jaffa Flea Market: An array of antiques, vintage clothing and toys, the Flea Market is known for its bargains and is considered to be one of Jaffa’s main attractions.
Take a tour of the “White City,” Tel Aviv’s collection of over 4,000 Bauhaus-style buildings and homes. Bauhaus architecture is a modern, off-white, smooth and rounded style found all over the city, an artistic movement for design that began in the 1930′s. The White City is formally recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Shopping around the city:
I broke the bank at Gusta, a small clothing boutique steps away from the Jaffa Flea Market featuring niche Israeli designers (Yael Admoni is quite a talent), chic street-wear and edgy accessories. Stop by Sivan Kohen’s jewelry boutique for modern, brightly-colored glass blown pieces and head to HaTachana, a former railway station (located between Jaffa and Neve Tzedek) for Israeli jewelry stores and high-end clothing collections. Hagar Satat, found at HaTachana, is another jewelry and accessories boutique also worth visiting.
Dizengoff, Sheinkin and Kikar Hamedina are the top streets in the city for eclectic, awesome boutiques. Allenby Street is known for its rare vintage finds and second-hand bookstores. The city has several malls worth visiting too, such as the Dizengoff Center or the Ramat Aviv Mall.
Tel Aviv’s markets are hectic, loud and full of knickknacks. The large, open-air Carmel Market sells an assortment of goods, from food and candy to footwear. Nachalat Binyamin Pedestrian Mall is a creative “Arts & Crafts” market to browse through, and it’s perfect for gifts.
Dine, imbibe and party:
Boya Restaurant: Try this seafood and tapas restaurant located in Tel Aviv Port, a newly transformed, gastronomic, entertainment center. Boya is popular with locals (when I dined there, I met Ron Huldai, the friendly mayor of Tel Aviv) and it exudes a wonderful, warm, elegant ambiance with boardwalk views of the sea.
Raphael: At The Dan Tel Aviv, Raphael offers a Moroccan-inspired menu. I loved Raphael so much I had dinner there twice. The menu is an amalgamation of classic (incredible seared tuna) and more offbeat (lamb shoulder couscous) alternatives.
Abu Hassan: Don’t leave Israel without trying the “best hummus in the world.” Hands-down, Abu Hassan’s hummus is in a league of its own. A travel writer said I couldn’t miss it – he was right. Just ask for hummus, regular or spicy. Go with an empty stomach and consume this phenomenal and “life changing” plate.
Benedict: This late night, early morning or anytime of day diner-style restaurant is, in a word, fantastic. I stopped in there in the early hours of the morning (think 4 AM) and enjoyed a feast.