Before I moved to Tel Aviv from the Midwest last year, I had visited Israel twice before, so I had initial expectations of what to expect. Little did I know, however, that I would fall in love with this Mediterranean coastal city and all the wonderful things it has to offer. Tel Aviv is a place where history meets art and culture, Middle Eastern cuisine and global food delicacies converge, and hot sun beats down on sandy beaches.
Although Tel Aviv is generally on the pricier side, there are lots of inexpensive and free things to do. I’ve compiled a list of my tips, suggestions, and favorite things to keep you busy during your time in this wonderful Middle Eastern city.
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Getting To & Around Tel Aviv
Ben Gurion Airport is Israel’s main airport and is located just outside of Tel Aviv. It is a large airport that accommodates both major as well as budget airlines and is very easy to navigate. There are a few different ways of getting to and from Tel Aviv from Ben Gurion, but I would recommend either train or taxi. There are four train stations located along the Ayalon freeway that bisects Tel Aviv, and there are further transportation options you can use once you get off at a station. While taking a taxi is a more expensive option, it is easy and doesn’t completely break the bank. From where I live in the Old North (the farthest Tel Aviv neighborhood from the airport) it costs me anywhere between 120NIS and 140NIS.
Related: Tel Aviv Neighborhood Guide
Once you get to Tel Aviv, you can use the bus system to go everywhere. It is easy to use, runs on time, and covers the entire city. Bus numbers 5, 24, 25 and 125 are the lines I use most often since they go to most of the popular neighborhoods and attractions. One ride costs 5.90NIS, and you can give the fare straight to the driver. Don’t throw away your ticket, because occasionally conductors come around and ask to see it to ensure you didn’t slip onboard without paying!
Other things to note are that the city has public bikes, but unfortunately, they’re just for Tel Aviv residents. As mentioned above, there’s also a train system, but it stops at only a few stations and isn’t always the closest, most efficient option for getting around (take the bus or walk instead!). Tel Aviv is an incredibly walkable city and isn’t that big, so when in doubt, I recommend walking.
Listen to Maddy’s story on The Budget-Minded Traveler podcast: Part 1 before her big move and Part 2 after she moved to Israel.
Tips for Visiting Tel Aviv
Shabbat is Judaism’s day of rest, and it begins Friday night and goes until Saturday at sundown. Shops close and public transportation stops all throughout Israel starting Friday afternoon, and everything is closed until Saturday night. In Tel Aviv, there will still be some restaurants and grocery stores open, but know that most things will be closed. Because Jaffa is the Arab neighborhood of Tel Aviv, Saturdays are a good day to visit that area because everything will remain open there.
2. When to visit
The best time to visit Tel Aviv, in my opinion, is in the fall or the spring. October and November are particularly pleasant because the weather is sunny and warm without being too hot. Between May and September, the sun can be absolutely sweltering, and it’s hard to even be outside for too long.
3. Food tips
Tel Aviv is a foodie’s heaven since every possible cuisine is readily available. There’s an abundance of cheap hummus cafes and falafel stands, which are authentic and filling, inexpensive, fresh and delicious. Also, Tel Aviv has many fresh juice and coffee stands, so make sure to visit those if that’s something you would enjoy.
Related: What Living in the Middle East Taught Me About Food
Things to do in Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is famous for its beaches. Because it’s sunny and hot almost the entire year, this makes for fantastic beach days. In the summer, early fall or late spring, it can be too hot to go. However, if you’re visiting Tel Aviv, you absolutely must see the beach. Take a stroll along the boardwalk, sip a fresh juice, or stop at a beachside restaurant for a cold drink.
A visit to Tel Aviv would not be complete without visiting the markets. The Levinsky Market is located in the Florentin neighborhood and specializes in dried fruit, nuts, and spices. Carmel Market is the main market in Tel Aviv, and it’s almost always bustling with people doing their shopping. It exhibits true Israeli culture and is a really fun (and sometimes hectic) place to visit. They have a little of everything, from trinket stands to vegetable stalls, cheese shops, bakeries, and food stands.
3. Tel Aviv Port & Park HaYarkon
The Tel Aviv Port and Park HaYarkon are located in North Tel Aviv. Park HaYarkon is beautiful, and offers great walking, running, and biking paths. You will always find people picnicking, celebrating birthdays, boating on the river, or simply taking a stroll with family in the park. Also, the sunrises and sunsets from its grassy areas are gorgeous as well. The walking paths in the park lead to the Tel Aviv Port, which has an abundance of shops, cafes, restaurants, and is nearly always busy. It’s a fun, scenic place to spend an afternoon with friends, and is definitely worth a visit.
4. Tel Aviv Museum of Art
Tel Aviv has lots of museums, but my favorite is the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. It’s quite big and has really great exhibitions with a large variety of art ranging from contemporary pieces to impressionist paintings. It’s one of my favorite places to spend a Saturday afternoon when many things are closed due to Shabbat. The indoor Sarona Market is only a block away, so after indulging in some art, hop over there to grab a delicious lunch!
Related: Why I left the U.S. to Live in the Middle East
If you come to Tel Aviv, definitely make sure to spend an afternoon in Jaffa. Wander around the famous Jaffa Flea Market, visit the plethora of antique shops, eat delicious Middle Eastern street food, poke around Old Jaffa, and climb to the top of Jaffa hill. There are also a few famous mythological and Biblical stories whose locations take place in Jaffa, so you can also visit those spots and read up on the stories.
6. Day trips
Israel is a tiny country, so the entirety of it could be covered through various day trips. If you’re coming to Tel Aviv for the first time, however, you must see Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. Jerusalem is about 45 minutes away from Tel Aviv and warrants a visit of days (or weeks!) on its own. It’s one of the oldest cities in the world and cannot be missed if you’re visiting Tel Aviv.
The Dead Sea is a salt lake and earth’s lowest elevation on land. The water is so salty that if you try and swim it in, you float. A word of caution: don’t shave your legs or any other areas of your body within a couple days before visiting the Dead Sea, otherwise your skin will burn horribly from the salt! The Dead Sea mud is also known as being luxurious and ultra-moisturizing, so it’s fun to smear it on yourself and then wash it off to leave your skin soft and smooth.
Lastly, the city of Haifa is an easy day trip from Tel Aviv. It’s the third largest city in Israel and is home to the beautiful Baha’i Gardens.
When in doubt, my advice to people traveling to Tel Aviv is simply to wander its streets. The area around Rothschild Boulevard and Habima Square is a particularly beautiful area, as is the nearby neighborhood of Neve Tzedek. The city is extremely walkable, so if you have an afternoon with no plans, get lost in Tel Aviv’s winding, busy streets.
Where to Stay in Tel Aviv
Budget – Abraham Hostel & Bnei Dan Hostel
Because I live in Tel Aviv, I’ve never stayed in these two hostels specifically, but I’ve had friends who have visited and said great things about their stays there. I included both because they are each in very different parts of the city. The Bnei Dan Hostel is located right on the edge of Park HaYarkon in the Old North. The Abraham Hostel is a block from the iconic Rothschild Boulevard in South-Central Tel Aviv. Both hostels offer free breakfast and wifi services.
Mid-range – Artplus Hotel
This hotel is tucked away on busy Ben Yehuda Street, located just blocks from the beach in Central Tel Aviv. When I went to meet up with friends who were staying there, I was struck by the friendliness of the staff and the cleanliness and quiet of the hotel (given its location on a busy road). There is also free parking, which is notable because parking in Tel Aviv can be somewhat of a nightmare.
by Maddy Wolfe