Tel Aviv: A travel guide for the nonstop city

Shakshuka, a traditional Middle Eastern dish of eggs baked in tomato, served with hommus, bread and fresh garnish

It only took four nights for Tel Aviv and I to fall in love.

A buzzing city soaked in history and politics, Tel Aviv boasts some of the best shopping experiences in the world and is tailored to keep even the fussiest foodie well-fed. And don’t even get me started on the beaches.

Tel Aviv doorway, travel review by Jose Walsh
Tel Aviv is a colourful and vibrant city with a surprise at every turn

A little disclaimer that contrary to my usual travel habit of hitting up as many historical sites as possible, I didn’t visit any in Tel Aviv. I’d just finished an eight-day trek of Jordan packed to the hilt with history and politics, and I also spent two full days in Jerusalem exploring the Old City and venturing out to Masada, Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea. So, this is ‘just’ a snapshot into my highlights of Tel Aviv from a food, shopping and relaxation perspective.

I travelled alone and planned my trip based on friend’s recommendations and guidance from Tourist Israel, Lonely Planet, Intrepid Travel and DFAT Smart Traveller. I also love the beautiful images of fellow blogger Arden Rubens on Instagram.

 

EAT

Miznon – Cheap and delicious street food with a heavy dollop of Israeli enthusiasm

On my first day in Tel Aviv, I found my way to Miznon on recommendation from Lonely Planet. After telling the friendly barman that this was my first meal in Israel, the entire kitchen completely lost their shit with excitement and started pouring arak shots (arak is a rocket-fuel spirit like sambucca, and each country in the Middle East has their own variation. Probably not ideal to have on an empty stomach, but hey, when in Tel Aviv). Miznon serves fabulous pita bread stuffed with delicious combinations like lima beans, hummus and roasted cauliflower, and this cranking little spot is a great place to start your culinary journey of Israel. Miznon have also just opened in Hardware Lane, Melbourne.

Miznon pita bread
Miznon’s delicious soft pita stuffed with tasty goodness. Photo is blurred due to the empty shotglass!

What: Miznon Israeli Street Food

Where: King George Street 30, Tel Aviv-Yafo

 

Shuk Ha’Carmel (Carmel Markets) – A sensory overload

The largest and most famous shuk (market) in Tel Aviv, Ha’Carmel offers an endless variety of souvenirs and an enticing variety of fresh food. Navigating the hustle and bustle is part of the experience, and the fresh spices, nuts and fresh produce are a feast for the senses. Grab a bag of black apricots to nibble on and a fresh pomegranate juice.

What: Shuk Ha’Carmel (Carmel Market)

Where: Junction of King George, Allenby and Shenkin Streets, Tel Aviv-Yafo

 

Urbano Viejo – Israeli and Italian food = a match made in heaven

I went back for dinner here twice, it was that good. Urbano Viejo is an Israeli-Italian restaurant in Old Jaffa where you can enjoy a local beer and soak up the atmosphere of the area. The menu offers plenty of chances to try local Israeli cuisine plus plenty of traditional Italian dishes if you’re after something familiar.

Urbano viejo dessert
Perfection on a plate – dessert at Urbano viejo

My faves were the Israeli Market Salad, which was packed full of flavour and fresh vegetables, and the basket of kaddaif (finely shredded, sugary-sweet filo pastry) served with vanilla cream and fresh fruits was hands-down the best dessert I’ve eaten in the Middle East.

What: Urbano Viejo Kitchen and Bar

Where: Olei Zion St 2, Old Jaffa district, Tel Aviv-Yafo

 

SWIM

Banana Beach & Jerusalem Beach – Soak up the sun

Tel Aviv’s beaches are glorious. Although they attract a lot of tourists, locals often head to the beaches to play beach tennis, enjoy the sun and socialise. All beaches are free and most offer public lockers and bathrooms to, as well as the ability to hire umbrellas, lounge and deck chairs at reasonable prices. You can also buy food, snacks and alcohol from beach bar to take down onto the sand.

Tel Aviv Beaches
Tel Aviv’s beaches are absolutely glorious

My experience of Jerusalem Beach was that it was a bit more low-key and family friendly. The swimming here was great, but keep in mind there aren’t any water sports allowed here. Banana Beach is a bit more of a tourist hotspot but felt better equipped in terms of rentals and the bar offering.

What: Banana Beach, Jerusalem Beach

Where: Tel Aviv-Yafo Beachfront

 

SHOP

King George Street is one of the main arterial roads in Tel Aviv. Nestled amongst tiny walls covered in edgy street-art you’ll find a vast number of clothing  and homewares boutiques, as well a range of cute jewellery stores offering anything from dime-a-dozen trinkets to divine custom pieces.

Nachlat Binyamin is a fabric-lover’s paradise, and is home to a fantastic arts and craft market every Tuesday and Friday. It’s also very close to the Shuk Ha’Carmel which is an amazing market for souvenirs.

Pompoms outside one of the fab fabric stores in the Nachlat Binyamin district
Pompoms outside one of the fab fabric stores in the Nachlat Binyamin district

Sadly, I didn’t get to experience Shuk Hapishpishim, the Jaffa Flea Market, as everything was closed for the Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) holiday. From my extensive window-shopping and hearing recommendations from friends, I’ll be heading back here on my next stay in Tel Aviv.

 

STAY

Ness Hotel – affordable, compact and convenient

I stayed in Ness Hotel for the first two nights of my trip before heading to Jerusalem. I was a bit hesitant after reading some of the reviews, but found the hotel to be very comfortable, safe and clean. It’s close to the Carmel Markets, is 200m from the beachfront and has a plethora of restaurants and bars nearby. This is a simple and quiet hotel that’s close to the action, and after extensive research I got the lowest price (approx. $144 AUD per night) with Agoda.

What: Ness Hotel Tel Aviv

Where: Ness Ziona Street 10, Beach Area, Tel Aviv-Yafo

 

Margosa Hotel – a little bit of luxe

I stayed in the boutique Margosa Hotel for the last two nights of my time in Israel as a bit of a treat. Located south of the city in the ancient port region of Jaffa, it’s a stone’s throw from the Jaffa Flea Market and many restaurants, bars and shops.

Colourful juice bar around the corner from Margosa Hotel, Old Jaffa
Colourful juice bar around the corner from Margosa Hotel, Old Jaffa

I had a large room with a private balcony which was comfortable and quiet. The hotel boasts an insanely good Israeli breakfast which won’t leave you needing lunch.

What: Margosa Hotel

Where: Avraham Even Shoshan St 1, Old Jaffa, Tel Aviv-Yafo

Fantastic street art is not difficult to find anywhere in Tel Aviv!
Fantastic street art is not difficult to find anywhere in Tel Aviv!

 

Have you visited Tel Aviv before? What were your favourite experiences?