Considered the Mediterranean capital of cool by the New York Times, Tel Aviv inspires as the best beach city, the best foodie city, the ultimate party city, and the world’s best gay city. Tel Aviv shines with sunny weather almost all year long with stretches of golden sand.
Absorb the atmosphere by walking and exploring the colorful markets and wind your way through the streets of Bauhaus architecture. Fall in love with action-packed Tel Aviv, a city with a major heartbeat.
My trip was hosted by the Israel Ministry of Tourism, but all opinions are my own.
Here are five experiences not to miss on your first trip to Tel Aviv.
1. Ilana Goor Museum
In Jaffa’s ancient port town, artist, designer, and sculptor Ilana Goor founded this seaside museum in her home on a hill in 1995, showcasing her own work and art and treasures she collected on her travels for over 50 years. Originally erected in 1742, the building sits in a stunning oceanfront location once used as an inn for Jewish pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem, an olive oil soap factory, and a synagogue for Libyan Jews.
Today, the popular Ilana Goor Museum boasts interesting rooms filled with curiosities and bold pieces of art everywhere you look. On the top-level floor, stare through the kitchen window where dangling copper pots and ceramic vessels frame your ocean view straight to the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. In the kitchen, witness the original “beehive technique” ceiling constructed in the 18th century, uncovered due to repairs. The entire museum home is an architectural marvel and only enhances the existing displayed artwork.
Pro Tip: Find Ilana’s “celebrity wall” filled with photos of her with presidents and influential people from all over the world.
2. Carmel Market
Known locally as Shuk HaCarmel, Tel Aviv’s largest and busiest market is like an overdose of scents, sounds, colors, and people from all over the world crammed in a few small streets filled with stalls of fresh meat, fruit, fish, and vegetables. Here we also found knockoff goods, clothing and jewelry, and many prepared food options.
Coffee, History, And Burikas
After ducking into the crammed food market, our tour guide Yuma informed us that Arab men brought coffee to the modern world in the 7th century as they found the beans and drank from the same cup for hours. We sipped the strong dark concoction without sugar or milk while learning about the Yemenite Jews who first opened markets here, although they were shunned by the existing Jewish people and considered outsiders. Regardless, the Yemenites continued to play their music daily out on the streets in this Carmel Market area, even though they weren’t embraced by Israeli culture and serious tensions arose over the years.
Weaving out of the packed market crowd, we gobble down burikas in pita stuffed with tomato and egg, sample spinach and cheese Turkish bourekas, sip pomegranate juice, and try raw sweet corn served on a stick. It’s hard not to admire vegetables we have never seen like long tapioca root, Willy Wonka-like cucumbers, and ridiculously long green beans. A happy dancing singing food preparer captures our attention as he makes a phyllo stuffed roll with egg and tomato.
Bauhaus, Bites, And Beer
Looking up from the market, fancy million-dollar apartments now hug this center and are built next to the Bauhaus-style buildings brought by Jewish architects when they were ordered in the 1930s to stop working in Germany. Erasing the pretty and decorative elements after the Great War, the Bauhaus style flourished here from the 1920s to the 1940s, now declared a Heritage Site as the area encompasses the largest concentration of this architectural style.
We sample the chalky Israeli staple halva and popular Arab knafeh, a sweet spun pastry often layered with cheese and made with a sweet sauce and sometimes roses.
Hummus tantalizes our tongues again and we watch as Iraqis sell their famous fried spicy beef cigars similar to meat sticks. At the Beer Bazaar, we sample Israeli craft beer with over 70 different kinds of local brews while we learn Goldstar and Macabe are the most popular. The tour makes us aware of things we wouldn’t have paid attention to like the original market entrance was once the entrance into the fruit market.
Pro Tip: To get to know the history of the Carmel Market area and sample a wide range of foods, book a tour with Yuma at WorldCity Tel Aviv Food Tours.
3. Jaffa Flea Market
Jaffa is a place that integrates new and old, cheap and expensive — where you can catch a whiff of the olden days while witnessing the modern world and day-to-day life. This ancient city standing on a piece of land jutting into the Mediterranean is an intriguing place to visit with unique sites, historical treasures, boutique shops, and cultural centers. Young talents, artists, celebrities, and families from Jewish, Muslim, and Christian backgrounds all call this piece of land home.
Get lost in the Jaffa Flea Market’s surrounding area where streets explode with colorful kilim rugs, Middle Eastern antiques, and stores stuffed with art, furniture, and every eclectic find one could dream up. Eateries and local designer boutiques abound. It’s fun just to wander around to poke in the clothes stalls, take home second-hand finds, or grab some street food.
Pro Tip: Grab lunch at nearby Shawarma Abouelafia, around since 1879. Order the $15 shawarma and load up on extra fixings like eggplant. Across the street, drool over products like Jerusalem bagels in the window at Abouelafia Bakery.
4. Tel Aviv Promenade
Besides walking around the old Jaffa port and major arteries like trendy Rothschild Boulevard, spend a day cruising down the beach promenade that runs along the sand for almost 9 miles. Go for a jog, bike ride, or just chill on a bench or beach bed as white sails bob on the waves, windsurfers fly across the sea, and surfers catch the ultimate ride. There are an endless array of beach bars, clubs, and cafes to stop for a drink or bite.
Pro Tip: Traffic can be rough at certain hours, so walking is the best way to experience the city — but rideshares work well when you are too tired to walk.
My Favorite Restaurants
Find top-tier chefs in this culinary capital with the city’s dining map expanding around the globe. Many chefs return from travels to combine tastes, flavors, and ingredients from the Middle East, often refining them with French and Italian cooking methods. Restaurants dot Tel Aviv’s streets from north to south but are heavily concentrated around Rothschild Blvd. Many restaurants offer a fixed lunch menu.
The Old Man And The Sea
Dine at legendary The Old Man and the Sea in the Jaffa Port, where an onslaught of pita and various salads and dips arrive complimentary with a main course and homemade lemonade. Order the fish and sit outdoors overlooking the marina.
For a fine dining experience, book reservations at ARIA, housed in a historic two-story building. Chef Guy Gamzu prepares eclectic modern dishes with a focus on seasonal and raw ingredients like fresh fish, ceviche, handmade pastas, and an ever-evolving menu. Sample some of our favorite dishes like thin raw fish, Iranian kofta, fattoush salad, cauliflower steak, and Uzbek steamed dumplings filled with lamb, cumin seeds, onion, sheep’s yogurt, and aromatic oils. For more of a nightlife experience, head downstairs to the bar.
A step into Messa and you might think you are in New York City, with its uber-chic white-on-white décor, long fancy tables, and projected moving lips on the curtains. Here, famed Chef Aviv Moshe brings haute cuisine and inventive dishes created from memories of his childhood, alongside Provençal cooking. Every dish arrives like a piece of art — from tuna sashimi and beef carpaccio to porcini, mascarpone tortellini, and gnocchi with pumpkin.
Pro Tip: Since Tel Aviv is a major city, book reservations in advance to secure a table.
Where To Stay
Carlton Tel Aviv
Beachside Carlton Tel Aviv (“Where the City meets the Sea”) is a stay you surely won’t forget as modern rooms come with expansive ocean views above the sea, a rooftop pool perfect for sunset cocktails, and a beach bungalow bar restaurant where a grand breakfast beachside is the best way to try many new foods. An extraordinary setup boasts cheese spreads, fruit galore, a halva bar, knafeh, raw fish, shakshouka, eggplant, and more.
Atlas Center Chic Hotel
For a boutique hotel experience, the Atlas Hotel brand offers many properties in Tel Aviv and Israel. Atlas’s Center Chic Hotel sits off of the busy fun Dizengoff Circle. Rooms are adorably designed and come with wine and chocolates, complimentary bikes, complimentary happy hour, and a rooftop garden.
Atlas Cinema Hotel
The Atlas Cinema Hotel across the way is like a mini museum filled with old film memorabilia and an old Charlie Chaplin film rolling in the lobby, preserving the location’s history as a movie theater that was built in 1939 in the Bauhaus architectural style.