Tel Aviv in Israel is a city I have always wanted to visit. You might be wondering how can I be writing about the best things to do in Tel Aviv if I haven’t actually been there myself? I am starting a series of “travel like a local” interviews, where other bloggers share advice on the cities they were born or have lived in. This very first edition is brought to you by Annette from Minute by Minute Traveller, and is all about her hometown Tel Aviv. Discover the top tips of a local for the best things to do, where to eat, the off the beaten track places to visit and best activities in Tel Aviv.
How long did you live in Tel Aviv for?
I was born in Tel Aviv and although my family moved to Toronto, Canada when I was a toddler, I spent many childhood summers visiting family in Israel. After university I decided to live abroad for a few years. I always loved Tel Aviv so it was a no-brainer when it came to deciding on a destination. Tel Aviv has it all – a beautiful beach and promenade, the most lively city atmosphere and delicious restaurants. There’s a reason that Tel Aviv is known as “the city that never sleeps.”
What are your favourite places to eat in Tel Aviv?
I’ve never had a bad meal anywhere in Israel!
In Tel Aviv, for brunch one of my favourite spots is Café Puaa. It’s by the flea market in Old Jaffa. It offers delicious breakfast meals, including a Turkish Breakfast with a cheese borek in crispy filo pastry; Sabich Breakfast (uniquely Israeli!) consisting of fried eggplant in a pita with hummous, hard-boiled egg and chopped Israeli salad; and the best eggs cooked with tomatoes and peppers known as Shakshuka. Jaffa is an old Arab neighbourhood in Tel Aviv and has a beautiful historic centre, as well as the flea market, galleries and boutiques.
If you want a lively place for an evening meal, I recommend Café Europa. This bar and restaurant on the elegant Rothschild Blvd. serves contemporary Tel Aviv cuisine. It has a front veranda facing the street so you can people-watch and is packed day and night. It would be wise to make a reservation if you want to have dinner there.
For lunch, I have two favourites – Orna and Ella located on the popular Sheinkin Street, which is filled with nice shops and restaurants. Orna and Ella is a casual and contemporary restaurant. It has been around since 1992 and prepares its food with fresh, seasonal ingredients. It is vegetarian and vegan friendly.
My other favourite spot is Manta Ray. It is a high-end fish restaurant with an ideal location right on the beach. It is great for lunch, or drinks and snacks in late afternoon to watch the gorgeous sunset.
Do you have a favourite place to study or work?
If you are thinking of studying in Israel, Tel Aviv University has a beautiful campus just north-east of the centre of the city. If you live in the centre, you can easily get there by public transit. Aside from the regular university courses in Hebrew, they offer an American Overseas Program and an American medical school program.
What about when you want to relax? Do you have a favourite relaxing spot?
Of course there’s nothing like the beach in Tel Aviv. It stretches the entire length of the city – from north to south. The sand is soft, there are lifeguards all long, so it’s safe to swim, and it is lined with cafes. There’s a gorgeous promenade that allows you to walk from the lively port in the north end, all the way to Jaffa on the south end.
Is there a typical activity locals do in their free time?
There are so many great neighbourhoods in Tel Aviv. The city is hopping day and night. Whenever I’m there I’m stunned at how much great energy there is. The old neighborhood of Neve Tzedek is fun to walk around and enjoy the shops and restaurants. Neve Tzedek was the first Jewish neighbourhood in Tel Aviv. There’s an amazing dance theatre called the Suzanne Dallal Centre that hosts the Bat Sheva Dance Company. They are a world-renowned contemporary dance troup. If you are there when they’re performing I highly recommend getting tickets.
There’s a new area called Sarona, made up old Templar cottages that have been renovated. This area was architecturally redesigned in a beautiful way with walking paths, restaurants, beautiful landscaping and shops. Lots of Israeli’s go there on weekends, as well as the port in the north of the beach.
And of course with the beautiful sunny weather, locals head to the beach.
What is your favourite activity or thing to do in your city?
I always love walking along the boulevards and soaking in the city life, people-watching and sitting at one of the many cafes.
Do you have a favourite photo spot?
Sunset at the beach is the best spot for a photo.
When is the best time to visit your city?
The summer is too hot for me. Spring and fall are ideal.
What’s one “touristy” thing in your city everyone should actually do?
Go to the Carmel Market. It is an old market with produce and other Tchatchkas. The sounds, smells and colours make it so much fun.
What’s one “off the beaten track” place people don’t normally know about but should know about?
There’s a market called the Levinsky Market. It is less known but it has the best Halva shop in the city (maybe the country). Kesem HaHalva, is run by a sweet, elderly lady who makes the Halva herself in an assortment of flavours.
Any tips or tricks on how to navigate your city?
Don’t rent a car in Tel Aviv. The traffic is horrendous and there are traffic jams everywhere. Cabs aren’t very expensive and there are lots of bus routes. But the truth is, Tel Aviv is a very walkable city. You can walk to most places.
Any tips on how to visit your city like a local so that travellers reading this can blend in?
I guess I’d recommend staying away from the tourist restaurants and going to some more local places such as the flea market in Jaffa, Rothschild Boulevard, etc.
What is the best area in your city to stay in? Any specific hotels you can recommend?
Many people like staying right on the beach. I actually prefer places that are a little farther from the beach (10 minute walk). I stayed at the Center Chic Hotel at Dizengoff Square last time I was there and found it to be a perfect location.
What do you love most about your city?
I love how lively it is and the energy. I love how raw the atmosphere is. Israelis are loud and fun. People born in Israel are referred to as Sabras (prickly pear) because they can be hard and prickly on the outside but they are soft and sweet on the inside.
Anything else you want to share about your city?
I highly recommend that you visit Israel. It’s a small country. Jerusalem is unique as well, with all its historic sites and they are only an hour away from each other.
Have you been to Tel Aviv before? How did you find it? Let us know in the comments below! Check out Annette’s blog to find out more about her adventures in Tel Aviv and Israel. I hope you will find this advice from a local useful in planning your future trips to Tel Aviv, what better source of information than someone who has actually lived and experienced the city? You are now ready to explore Tel Aviv like a local! If you’re looking for further local advice, check out this insider guide to Tel Aviv.