Compared to the ancient city of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv is new on the scene. Founded by the Jewish community in 1909, it was an expansion of the port city of Jaffa. The transformation of Tel Aviv from a housing estate to a world-class city and international destination in a little less than 100 years has been nothing short of miraculous. Tel Aviv, with a population of over four million people in its greater urban area, is also the economic engine and tech center of Israel. Located on the Mediterranean Sea with mostly mild temperatures all year round, Tel Aviv has an appealing combination of 20th-century architecture, a thriving and inventive restaurant and food culture, beautiful beaches, museums, and cultural institutions and experiences.
Pro Tip: Many restaurants, cultural attractions, and businesses in Tel Aviv are closed from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday evening for the Jewish Sabbath holiday, so make your plans accordingly and check websites to see if places are open. Sunday to Thursday is the traditional workweek in Israel, with Friday and Saturday as the weekend days.
1. Bauhaus Architecture
Nicknamed the White City, Tel Aviv has the largest configuration of certified Bauhaus buildings in the world. The over 4,000 structures were constructed in the 1930s by Jewish architects who migrated to Israel because of the Nazi regime in Germany. In 2003, they were certified as a UNESCO Heritage site, and many of the buildings have been restored. You can learn the history of the Bauhaus architectural movement at the Bauhaus Center, which also arranges tours and provides self-guided audio tours.
2. Carmel Market
Even non-foodies will be astonished by the Carmel Market, a must-see attraction in Tel Aviv. The covered market is a terrific introduction to the rich and diverse foods of Israel and the Middle East. Follow your nose walking through the market as you will inhale the scents of exotic spices, freshly pressed pomegranate juice, falafel, dried apricots and dates, and olives. Other recommended foods to sample are baklava and other Mid-East pastries, hummus, halva, and drouze pita, a fresh-made thin pita bread stuffed with labneh cheese, tabbouleh salad, olive oil, za’atar spice, and spicy sauce.
Lehamim Bakery makes classic baked Jewish breads and pastries, including challah bread and rugelach daily and serves sandwiches, pies, cookies, and cakes.
Part of the fun of shopping in the market is bargaining with the merchants, which is part of the culture, and if you go at the end of the day (the market closes at 7p.m.) they practically give away the fresh produce.
Tours of the market and cooking classes are available.
Pro Tip: It’s best to visit the market any day but Friday because the market closes early and is super crowded and hectic with locals purchasing their food for the Sabbath. The market is closed on Saturday.
3. Tel Aviv Museum Of Art
Founded in 1932, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art is the top contemporary museum in Israel, with an extensive collection of painting, sculpture, prints, and drawings by leading Israeli and international artists. The museum has three connecting wings with a sculpture garden and children’s gallery.
Pro Tip: The Tel Aviv Museum is one of the few museums open on Saturday.
4. Design Museum Holon
Israel takes its modern design seriously enough to warrant a museum. Design Museum Holon, opened in 2010, was designed by Israeli-born Ron Arad, one of the most highly regarded architects and industrial designers in the world. The striking exterior has five curved steel bands that graduate from shades of dark red to orange. The museum is divided into four sections, Historical Design: works designed in Israel from the 1930s to 2000, Contemporary Design: contemporary design pieces made in Israel and around the world from 2000 to the present, Commissioned Works: works specifically commissioned by the museum for its exhibitions, and Academic Projects: a selection of projects by students from Israeli design academies.
Tel Aviv is blessed with wide, sandy beaches and the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
Dog lovers will appreciate Alma Beach because dogs are free to roam without leashes.
This is a family-friendly beach with shallow waters and full-time lifeguards. There are also bars and restaurants, showers, shaded areas, and volleyball courts.
Hilton Top Sea Beach
An upscale surf club at Hilton Top Sea Beach features chaise lounges and umbrellas for rent, along with a bar and gourmet restaurant. Food from the restaurant can be delivered directly to the beach. There are also changing rooms, showers, and bathrooms. Part of Hilton Beach is for surfing.
Tel Aviv has been named the top gay-friendly city in the world, and the gay beach, which is actually open to anyone, reflects that with rainbow flag umbrellas.
6. Neve Tzedek Neighborhood
The oldest neighborhood in Tel Aviv, Neve Tzedek may be on the edge of the city, but today it’s Tel Aviv’s trendiest area. Locals flock to the newly reinvigorated Neve Tzedek to dine in the newest restaurants, shop in chic clothing, home design, and accessory boutiques, and spot the latest up-and-coming artists in the modern art galleries. The charming two- and three-story buildings from the early 1900s are painted in Mediterranean colors with bougainvillea and ivy decorating them.
7. Modern Dance
The Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater is dedicated to modern and contemporary dance and hosts Israeli dance companies and international dance troupes. Batsheva Dance Company, Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company, and Orna Porat Children’s Theater are the resident companies that perform regularly in the space. The center houses four performance spaces and an outdoor space for summertime productions.
8. Where To Eat In Tel Aviv
Israeli breakfast is the heartiest meal of the day, usually consisting of baba ghanoush (eggplant and tahini spread), fresh vegetables and salad, cheeses, herring, taboule, bread, and pastries. Shakshuka, baked eggs in spicy tomato sauce, is another breakfast staple.
Benedict, with three locations in Tel Aviv, is a popular favorite with locals and serves Israeli breakfast 24 hours a day.
If you don’t want a full-on Israeli breakfast, Cafe Xoho prepares house-made bagels, cookies, jellies, and jams. They also have vegan and vegetarian options such as kale Cesar salad and a breakfast burrito.
Delicatessen is a gourmet food complex that combines a fresh food market, restaurant bakery, and wine cellar. Open for breakfast, lunch, and snacks, they serve the best bagels in Tel Aviv and authentic chopped liver.
Named one of the most beautiful restaurants in the world by Wallpaper magazine, Messa is consistently listed as one of the best Tel Aviv restaurants for its eclectic world fusion cuisine.
Since Israel has a Mediterranean climate, which is ideal for growing grapes, the local wines are excellent.
Juno is a wine shop, bar, and restaurant that stocks and serves a selection of over 120 wines, including Israeli boutique wines and Italian wine. The restaurant serves Italian food.
9. Where To Stay In Tel Aviv
Close to the centrally located Rothschild Boulevard, which has some of the most important Bauhaus buildings in Tel Aviv, the Montefiore is a boutique hotel with only 12 rooms. Each room is elegantly appointed with hardwood floors, a floor-to-ceiling library filled with books in diverse languages, and a black marble bathroom. Guests receive a basket of fresh-baked breads and pastries from Montefiore’s bakery. The hotel restaurant serves a French- and Vietnamese-style menu for lunch and dinner and has a full bar that has an extensive international wine list plus cocktails and beer.
The Shenkin Hotel, located on a quiet residential street near a main street with shops and restaurants, has 30 stylishly decorated rooms. There’s also a spa, and on the top floor there’s an outdoor lounge and bar with panoramic views of the beach and the city. The desk staff are most helpful and happy to assist you with making tour reservations and arranging other activities.
If you are questioning the safety of visiting Israel because of its political situation, I personally visited Israel, including Tel Aviv, a few years ago and felt safe and secure. I also rarely saw a military presence anywhere except when I was crossing the border to Jordan.
Most people speak English in Israel, and most signs have both English and Hebrew on them.