Tel Aviv, Israel

10 Must Do Things in Tel Aviv by a Local

Tel Aviv is often billed as a “young” holiday destination, both for the Jewish population and international travelers and it’s easy to see why. Home to a long stretch of picturesque sandy beaches, a legendary nightlife scene, famously delicious food, and the Middle East’s biggest Pride parade, this is not a city that uses its history as a major selling point.

While there’s plenty of history to go around for those who seek it, let’s face it – this is not what most people come here. The vibe, the people, and the experiences to be had are what draw people here, be it for a dedicated visit or a quick stop on the way to a more scenic place. But what are the places and experiences that make Tel Aviv so unique? As both a local and the author of Tel Aviv’s alternative city guide, these are my top 10.

1. Doing Tel Aviv Beach life like a local

Tel Aviv Beach

Tel Aviv’s beaches are probably one of the main reasons most people visit the city and one of the best outdoor activities in Israel, but discerning locals know that not all beaches are alike. Tel Aviv’s long sandy stretch is divided into separate beaches, each with its vibe, offerings, and regulars.

The northern Mezizim beach is known for its fun summer beach parties on Friday afternoons, while the adjacent Hilton beach is the city’s “official” gay beach. Gordon Beach is good if you’re feeling active, as it offers volleyball courts, the city’s only saltwater swimming pool, and a gym. The beaches south of Charles Clore Park are more peaceful and are popular for surfing and dog owners (as dogs can roam freely here). They draw a cool crowd from Tel Aviv’s southern neighborhoods.

As you get closer to Jaffa, things get more diverse. Muslim families join young Tel Avivians and tourists, and the ubiquitous wandering ice cream sellers are joined by more interesting vendors, selling everything from strong Arabic coffee to pastries and other local delicacies (including bags of delicious and healthy lupin beans, in season). If you dig the Jaffa vibe, the southern Givat Haaliya beach has it all, with a bonus being crystal clear water.

2. Spending a day (or night) in Jaffa

Both locals and tourists agree on the undeniable attraction of Jaffa. Though Tel Aviv’s official name is Tel Aviv-Jaffa, the two cities are distinctly different in terms of population, history, architecture, and vibe. While Tel Aviv has only been around since 1909, Jaffa was founded in the bronze age and has been here ever since, acting as both an agricultural center (yup, the oranges) and a major port for centuries.

Though full of obvious tourist traps, Old Jaffa and its adjacent port are therefore well worth a visit. The ancient buildings and winding alleyways are pretty magical even if you’re not into history, and the views of the city from the port are particularly stunning at sunset. The nearby HaPisga Park offers some very Instagrammable views of Tel Aviv’s seafront and is particularly popular as a background for local newlywed photo shoots. Jaffa’s famous flea market is great for shopping, dining, and nightlife, and if you head further south, you’ll be rewarded with amazing hummus, Middle Eastern sweets, and other delicious Palestinian food.

3. Partying on the roof

Tel Aviv is small, urban, and crowded, so when the weather is nice (i.e. 10-11 months out of the year), Tel Aviv’s many flat rooftops come into their own. From swanky rooftop bars like the Haiku Skybar, chilled rooftop spaces like those atop the Abraham and Overstay hostels, and one-off raves in secret penthouse locations, there are countless opportunities to enjoy the city’s notoriously ugly skyline, while eating, drinking, or partying. The atmosphere, like the view, is uniquely local.

4. Doing the Nightlife Hop

Tel Aviv’s small size, and the fact that its locals have a notoriously short attention span, make for some interesting nightlife habits. Locals rarely spend an entire night in one place, opting instead to hit several places in one night. Rather than a pub crawl, this is more of a hop, with people joining friends for a drink or two before heading elsewhere to meet others, grabbing food, hitting a club, and even ending up at the beach post-clubbing.

For locals, the night often starts with drinking with friends at home, as Tel Aviv’s alcohol prices are notoriously high. As a visitor, you may be more interested in the city’s many happy hours, which are perfect for kicking off the night in style. The Florentin neighborhood is a good place to start bar hopping, with Florentin St., Vital St., and Frenkel St. offering countless options.

Fancier bars are available further north. Don’t miss the city’s most famous cocktail bar, The Imperial cocktail bar, serving some of Tel Aviv’s best cocktails. With the city’s most famous techno club, The Block, now sadly gone, head down to the Art Club, or the new Bor club, to get your beats. The Duplex Club is a good alternative if you’re into more mainstream sounds, as well as rock, and reggaeton, and is aimed at younger clubbers.

5. Catching some unique sounds

Tel Aviv East West House

Tel Aviv is all about “East meets West”, with local music and street art being influenced both by Western music, and Middle Eastern / North African sounds. Head to Jaffa’s magical East-West House for a solid program of musical acts blending East and West, old and new. Levontin 7 is another place with a varied lineup of events, specializing in local and international alternative music. You can check some Tel Aviv event listings in English for more information on what’s on.

6. Hitting a market

Tel Aviv Spice Market

The famous Carmel market is where all the tourists go, but it’s also where many of us inhabitants shop. It’s worth a visit, especially if you’re short on time. The side streets offer some great dining options both Kosher and Non-Kosher that stay open after hours. Tel Aviv’s historic spice market, Levinsky Market, is also highly recommended and offers a bigger selection of spice shops. Some of these family businesses have been passed down for generations and predate the state of Israel itself. The now pedestrian market area also offers cafés, bars, and restaurants with chilled (or lively) outdoor seating.

7. Admiring the architecture

Tel Aviv Building

If you’re at all interested in architecture and design, you’ll find Tel Aviv fascinating. The city offers the highest concentration of Bauhaus buildings outside of Germany, and many are well-preserved. Other interesting architectural styles are also present, ranging from brutalist to the decorative “eclectic style”. You can walk around Tel Aviv’s scenic Lev Hair and Neve Tzedek neighborhoods or along Allenby St. and the streets surrounding Levinsky Market if all you want is to take photos of pretty buildings. To make the most out of the experience, you can take a tour, like the ones offered by the Bauhaus Center.

8. Experiencing everyday fusion cuisine

Tel Aviv Schnitzel Pita

Music isn’t the only thing that’s influenced by the ethnic and cultural melting pot that is the Israeli experience. The most fascinating and unique thing about Israeli cuisine is not the dishes and ingredients themselves, most of which are borrowed from other cuisines, both local and international. No, what makes Israeli cuisine special is the fusion element, with added culinary curiosity and adventurous tastes.

Nowhere in the country is better than Tel Aviv for sampling the wonder, with offerings ranging from unique street food to fine dining. Pita is the order of the day when it comes to street food, with popular dishes like schnitzel in a pita being readily available. Level up with chef Eyal Shani’s chain of gourmet fast food places, the Miznon, offering an excellent range of unusual pita-clad dishes, from vegetables to steak and seafood. For a more upmarket dining experience in the same style, you can try the chef’s more “grown up” restaurant, Abraxas North.

Unique local takes on desserts include the famous Hungarian chimney cake, made with fillings no true Hungarian would recognize, such as halva, as well as the popular Middle Eastern mallabi dessert made with added Lotus biscuit crumble.

9. Settling into café culture

To understand the local lifestyle, spending some time in one of the city’s cafés is an absolute must. Most have some sort of outdoor seating, perfect for people-watching while enjoying a cup of strong coffee and various riffs on local café classics. Big salads, interesting sandwiches, good cakes, and a choice of India-inspired hot drinks like chai and ginger-honey-lemon, are common.

For extra credit, opt for an Israeli breakfast or a shakshuka (egg or vegan), which are both pretty much the mark of Israeli cafés worldwide. A stroll along Dizengoff St. or Sheinkin St. offers some decent choices, while Florentin’s streets have plenty of options if you’re more hipster-minded. My personal favorites are Tony & Esther in Levinsky Market and Casbah on Florentin St.

10. Stepping out of your comfort zone

Tel Aviv’s notorious Neve Shaanan neighborhood isn’t a place most locals would recommend or most tourists would consider, but the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in Tel Aviv (and probably Israel) has plenty to offer for adventurous urban explorers. Home to Israel’s largest migrant worker and asylum seeker communities, it offers a cultural and culinary experience like no other. The neighborhood itself has a fascinating history that extends far beyond the latest arrivals. CTLV offers a really good walking tour taking in the neighborhood’s most interesting locations and detailing its unique history. For the brave, they also offer what is arguably the most interesting tour in Tel Aviv, that of the much-maligned but utterly fascinating Central Bus Station building.

A great way to see a lot of these sites is with a local bike tour. Exploring Tel Aviv with a bike tour lets you explore at your own pace while feeling like one of the locals. Embrace the everyday life here and enjoy one of the most popular cities in all of Israel.

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