7 Things You Must Do During Your First Trip to Tel Aviv

Jun 17, 2019

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With a burgeoning food and wine scene, miles of golden-sand beaches and a laid-back, hip vibe, Tel Aviv is one of the hottest destinations on Earth right now.

You can come here for fancy, new-age Israeli cuisine or street pitas overstuffed with falafel and hummus; spend a morning discovering Israeli culture at the museum or surfing in the blue waters. Whatever your interests, a vacation to Tel Aviv will leave you refreshed and rejuvenated. And if it’s your first time visiting, these are the seven things you must do and see during your trip.

Use Your Points

As hotel prices in Tel Aviv are typically on the high end, it often makes sense to use points rather than cash. One of the best deals is the Hilton Tel Aviv, located on edge of Hilton Beach, which requires at least 70,000 points per night to book the lowest category room. If you’re staying five nights or more, booking with points gets you the fifth night free, bringing the average cost down to 56,000 points per night. Considering room rates hover around $500 on peak dates, if your stay is four nights or less, you’ll get a value of 0.7 cents per point; and nearly 0.9 cents per points if your stay is five nights, assuming that you can find rooms at the 70,000-point level. Since TPG currently values Hilton points at 0.6 cents per point, using your points proves to be a solid deal.

A sunset from Hilton's outdoor lounge.Photo by Nicky Kelvin.
A sunset from Hilton’s outdoor lounge. Photo by Nicky Kelvin.

A second option is the InterContinental David Tel Aviv, which also has a prime beachfront location and a large swimming pool. Rates usually range between $300 and $500 per night (or 50,000 points per night). Using points is a great value here, because even at the lowest cash rate of $300 per night, 50,000 points gives you a value of 0.6 cents per point, while stays during peak season may get you a value of almost 1 cent per point, almost double TPG’s most recent valuations.

The pool at the Intercontinental Tel Aviv. Photo by Nicky Kelvin.
The pool at the Intercontinental David Tel Aviv. Photo by Nicky Kelvin.

The Jaffa is another seriously stylish hotel located in a restored monastery, now part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection portfolio. The Category 7 property requires 60,000 points for an award stay. Considering room rates usually push $600 per night, you’re getting a value of almost 1 cent per point, which is still slightly higher than TPG’s valuation of 0.8 cents per point.

The bar at the Jaffa. Photo by Isabelle Raphael.
The bar at the Jaffa. Photo by Isabelle Raphael.

Explore Jaffa

Located along Tel Aviv’s southern tip, Jaffa is an ancient port neighborhood. Stroll along the cobblestone alleyways, popping into crumbling churches, design shops and boutique art galleries. Make sure to see some of the area’s key attractions including the port, which is dotted with quaint cafes and restaurants. And you must take a stroll in the Shuk Hapishpeshim, known as the Jaffa Flea Market. One of the best places in the city to shop, you can find almost anything there: trendy clothing and jewelry items; home goods; hardware; art; and all sorts of fabulous junk you can haggle for. Stop in one of the many cafes in the market between purchases for snacks and coffee, but remember, the market closes on Saturday for Shabbat. The clocktower, which dates back to 1901, is another must-see in Jaffa.

A cat naps at the flea market in Jaffa. Photo by Lori Zaino.
A cat naps at the flea market in Jaffa. Photo by Lori Zaino.

Head to the Beach

The busy Tel Aviv beach scene. Photo by Nicky Kelvin.
The busy Tel Aviv beach scene. Photo by Nicky Kelvin.

One of Tel Aviv’s most captivating attractions is the beach — the city boasts several miles of sparkling, sandy shoreline. You’ll be counting the seconds until you can head there to join the families with kids sculpting sandcastles; the salty surfers carrying their boards back to shore; people smiling and laughing, sunbathing and picnicking. The vibe here is seriously infectious. But picking the best beach depends on the ambiance you’re looking for — some are better for families, for singles, for groups of friends or LGBTQ travelers. But generally, all the city’s lengthy coastline is beautiful, so a visit to any of these sandy stretches shouldn’t disappoint.

The Hilton Beach. Photo by Nicky Kelvin.
The Hilton Beach. Photo by Nicky Kelvin.

Ride Along Rothschild Boulevard

One of the best ways to experience Tel Aviv’s beach culture without actually setting foot on the sand is to walk, bike, scoot or Segway along the promenade. You can do this all the way from the Jaffa port in the south to the Tel Aviv port on the city’s north end: a cool hub of restaurants, bars and wide-open space overlooking the sea. Stop on the way and cut over to Rothschild, one of Tel Aviv’s most iconic streets, admiring the Bauhaus architecture and Independence Hall, the location where the State of Israel was declared. Renting a bike or scooter is a fun and relaxing way to sightsee.

Rent a scooter and ride around. Photo by Lori Zaino.
Rent a scooter and ride around. Photo by Lori Zaino.

Sample the Cuisine

Israeli cuisine attracts international recognition from around the world — in Tel Aviv you’ll see that front and center. Dinners at Romano, Miznon and HaSalon will give you a taste of the fancier, gourmet iterations of traditional plates featuring farm-to-table ingredients and creations from star chef Eyal Shani. And don’t forget to sample some of the Israeli wines, which are gaining popularity by the minute. But you don’t have to eat high-end to enjoy Israeli cuisine.

Sliced meat at Hasalon. Photo by Nicky Kelvin.
Sliced meat at Hasalon. Photo by Nicky Kelvin.

Head to Dr. Shakshuka to enjoy the famous baked tomato sauce-and-egg specialty beneath a ceiling covered in dangling frying pans, while at Shakshukia, customers can add spice to the shakshuka to increase the heat on a sliding scale of one to five. For a no-frills and truly exceptional hummus and falafel experience, head to Abu Hassan in Jaffa — but be prepared to wait in line. If you’re hoping for a more intimate culinary adventure, look no farther than Kenan Basel’s Society Salon dinners, which he offers for groups in his home.

Shakshuka. Photo by Lori Zaino.
Shakshuka. Photo by Lori Zaino.

Hang in Neve Tzedek

Jewish people began settling in Neve Tzedek in the late 1880s, making it one of Tel Aviv’s oldest neighborhoods beyond Jaffa. The area retains much of its original charm, but is a fully modern neighborhood with cozy cafes, trendy restaurants and one-of-a-kind boutiques, galleries and design shops.

A beautiful home in Neve Tzedek. Photo by Nicky Kelvin.
A beautiful home in Neve Tzedek. Photo by Nicky Kelvin.

It’s not uncommon to see old homes, some renovated, some not, alongside new, contemporary outposts like the Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance, and centuries-old artisan workshops alongside stylish new bars. The eclectic mix is what makes this place a special one, so spend an afternoon strolling around, stopping for coffee, stocking up on souvenirs and appreciating the blend of old and new.

Bikes line the streets of Neve Tzedek. Photo by Lori Zaino.
Bikes line the streets of Neve Tzedek. Photo by Lori Zaino.

Admire the Art and Architecture

Visiting some of Tel Aviv’s museums is the perfect way to learn more about Israel’s history and culture. It’s hard to narrow it down, and you may not be able to see them all, so start at the Bauhaus Museum. Sure, you’ll see many examples of this iconic form of architecture along the city streets, especially on Rothschild (look for four-story white buildings), but the museum provides much more insight and context about the architectural style. Next, head to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, which boasts an ample collection of art by both international and emerging Israeli artists. Finally, make sure to visit the Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, which tells the story of Jewish history and culture, and has exhibits about Jewish heroes and synagogues.

Enjoy the art, architecture and cultural offerings in Tel Aviv. Photo by Lori Zaino.
Enjoy the art, architecture and cultural offerings in Tel Aviv. Photo by Lori Zaino.
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