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The new crown jewel: Reviewing the David Kempinski hotel in Tel Aviv

Nov. 13, 2022
21 min read
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Tel Aviv is my happy place.

Though I’ve been around the world, I have a soft spot in my heart for this city. Perhaps it’s because Tel Aviv was the destination of my first international trip as a child, or maybe it’s my familial and religious connections to the state of Israel.

But either way, the city’s vibrant culture, bustling oceanside promenade and delectable Middle Eastern dining scene keep me coming back to this cosmopolitan city.

And now, after my most recent trip, I can add another reason to return to Tel Aviv: the brand-new David Kempinski hotel.

The hotel has been years in the making — quite literally, as the groundbreaking was eight years ago — and the opening has been hotly anticipated by travelers ever since.

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Fast forward to today, and the new 34-story tower fits perfectly into the city’s skyline. But it’s what’s inside that makes the hotel the city’s new crown jewel.

Booking

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: There’s no easy way to redeem points at the David Kempinski, and cash rates can be quite steep.

As a Kempinski property, the hotel is affiliated with the brand’s Discovery rewards program, which awards between 4% and 7% of your eligible spending as what it calls Discovery Dollars. These credits can be used toward future stays at most Kempinski properties.

Most people will end up paying cash for their stays at the Kempinski. Rates vary throughout the year according to seasonal demand trends, but expect them to start at around $500 and climb to over $1,000 a night during some of the busiest weeks.

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Typically, when paying for a luxury hotel, I’d make my booking through the American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts portal to get a bit more bang for my buck.

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Booking through Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts unlocks a suite of additional benefits, such as a $100 resort credit, breakfast for two, guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout and more. The rates available through Amex typically match the best available rate when booking directly with the hotel.

Since the hotel is so new, it hasn’t yet had a chance to join the Fine Hotels + Resorts program, though it is currently working to join the FHR collection according to Alexandra Mathiot, from Xhibition PR, which represents the hotel. In the meantime, I would recommend booking through a travel agent affiliated with Virtuoso since the hotel is already part of that network.

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By booking that way, you can enjoy similar benefits as with the Amex bundle as part of your paid booking — but note that late checkout isn’t guaranteed.

In my case, I booked a grand deluxe room (the least expensive category available on my dates) for two nights via a Virtuoso-affiliated travel agent (Live Luxe Travel Co.) at an average daily rate of $895. A grand deluxe room sits two categories above the entry-level superior room.

In Israel, tourists are exempt from paying taxes at hotels, so the rate I was charged — $920 for the first night and $870 for the second — does not include taxes. Locals and those staying on long-term visas would be on the hook for an additional 17% in taxes. The Kempinski does not charge any resort or amenity fees.

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Of course, you can soften the blow to your wallet by booking your stay using a flexible rewards currency, such as booking through the Chase travel portal and redeeming Ultimate Rewards points toward the stay. But there are no two ways about it: Staying here is expensive.

Location

While I’ve stayed at many of Tel Aviv’s top hotels throughout the years, the Kempinski’s location is perhaps the best of them all.

Its oceanfront location in the heart of the city can’t be beaten, and you’ll wake up within steps of the famous Shlomo Lahat promenade, fantastic restaurants and tourist attractions, such as the Carmel Market and Dizengoff Square.

The Kempinski is located about 25 minutes from Ben Gurion Airport (TLV) and cab fares should run around $40 each way. There's no easy way to get from the airport to the hotel using public transportation.

In my experience, the Kempinski’s location beats staying in nearby Jaffa (home to Marriott’s The Jaffa hotel and The Setai hotel) or staying all the way in north Tel Aviv at the Hilton. Plus, the hotel's beachfront location is far prettier than that of the Hyatt-affiliated Norman hotel, which is set on a quiet side street deeper into the city itself.

The town of Jaffa is a bit secluded from the rest of Tel Aviv and requires a 30-minute walk or 10-minute cab ride each way to get to the beach or downtown attractions in Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile, the Hilton in north Tel Aviv is out of the way from some of the city's most popular dining and entertainment venues, such as the Florentin and Nachalat Binyamin neighborhoods.

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In terms of getting around, I’d recommend walking or using taxis. Much like in New York, parking in the city can be a nightmare, and the Kempinski charges roughly $50 for an overnight in the underground garage.

Check-in

My time at the Kempinski began on a Saturday evening during the busy Sukkot holiday period in Israel.

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After arriving at the hotel’s semicircular driveway, a friendly bellhop (wearing a top hat) greeted my wife and me and offered to help with our bags. (We declined since we were only traveling with carry-ons.)

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He escorted us into the bright and airy yet sophisticated lobby, which was the first indication that this hotel was like no other in Tel Aviv.

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The lobby’s eye-catching design continued as we made our way to the granite-lined check-in desks, which flank a cornucopia of fresh purple flowers that gave the stylish reception area a dramatic pop of color.

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A friendly receptionist quickly processed our check-in. She confirmed that we would receive our Virtuoso benefits, and she apologized for not being able to offer an upgrade. (She cited that the hotel was operating at above 90% occupancy.)

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With keys in hand, it was time to make our way up to the 16th floor.

While it took us just seconds to catch a ride up, it’s worth noting that we waited more than five minutes for the elevator multiple times during our stay.

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The hotel places two elevators on a Sabbath mode (that stops on every floor for 15 seconds) during the Sabbath and Jewish holidays, but we experienced long waits even during “regular” days.

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It wasn’t exactly clear what was going on, but we overheard multiple guests complaining about the wait.

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At least when the elevator did come, it offered perhaps the best views of downtown Tel Aviv that I’ve ever seen from an elevator in the city.

Room

The 34-story Kempinski hotel houses 250 rooms, of which 56 are suites. Most floors hold just about 10 rooms each, making the walk to the elevator quite convenient.

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The theoretical downside of this layout is that you’re closer to the elevator. While our room was adjacent to the elevator bank, we weren’t bothered by any noise from the elevator or waiting guests, though.

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Within seconds of walking into Room 1600, I could tell that the accommodations at the Kempinski were unlike most others I've experienced Tel Aviv, which tend to be on the smaller side with outdated furnishings and cramped bathrooms.

From the luxurious design of the marble-clad bathroom to the supremely comfortable king-size bed, you may not feel the need to get up in the morning.

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Our grand deluxe room measured 452 square feet, roughly 15% larger than a standard entry-level superior room at the Kempinski.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

The entrance hallway was lined on one side by a closet, chest of drawers, the minibar and a Nespresso machine, and on the other side by a floor-to-ceiling mirror that gave the room an even more spacious feel.

Though the closets weren’t especially large, there was a luggage rack with two deep drawers just inside the bedroom.

The wood-grain desk, comfortable armchair and large lamp made it easy to catch up on some work during the day and at night. Meanwhile, the reclining chair in the corner of the room was quite comfortable when cozying up with a book.

The king bed was flanked on each side by a nightstand and stylish sconces, while the geometric pattern on the headboard (with embedded reading lights) gave the room a decidedly modern feel.

What wasn’t modern, especially for a newly built hotel, was the lack of universal power outlets. I travel with adapters, but I was surprised that the outlets only accepted European-shaped plugs.

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Each nightstand featured a USB-A charging port, but I would’ve preferred a USB-C port as this standard is quickly becoming the new norm.

There are two grand deluxe rooms on each floor, and they’re situated in the northeast and southeast corners of the floor plan.

Ours was located in the southeast corner, and it offered expansive views of downtown Tel Aviv and the beach from two floor-to-ceiling windows.

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The highlight of the room was hands-down the bathroom. Opening the wooden double doors revealed a marble-tiled bathroom that felt especially luxurious.

The wood-trim finishes contrasted beautifully with the white marble walls and floors, and the thick and oversized towels and bathrobes were among the plushest I’ve used in all my travels.

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I also appreciated the attention to detail on the bath mat, which was embroidered with the Kempinski logo.

A frosted-glass door separated the toilet from the rest of the bathroom.

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The walk-in shower featured both handheld and rainfall water heads, and the water pressure was excellent.

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Individual-size Molton Brown amenities were waiting in the bathroom, but I was disappointed to see that the brand’s signature orange-and-bergamot fragrance was nowhere to be found.

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All in all, the room was one of the nicest I’ve seen in Tel Aviv. It felt decidedly luxurious and on par with what I’d expect from a brand-new luxury hotel.

Amenities

The Kempinski shines in the wide array of amenities it offers.

Perhaps the most popular of them is the pool, which sits in the center of a large outdoor terrace on the fifth floor. Open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., the rectangular pool is heated year-round, and the temperature felt comfortable both when the pool was shaded and when it was drenched in the afternoon sunlight.

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There’s also a small children’s pool, which was popular with families traveling with young kids.

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I noticed just a few guests swimming laps in the mornings, but the pool area got much busier in the afternoons.

There’s plenty of seating arranged in long rows surrounding the pool. Most have umbrellas and the friendly pool attendants were happy to help set up chairs for us during our stay.

While the pool area got crowded, it was never busy enough to necessitate arriving when it opened to reserve seats.

There is one row of cabanas near the entrance to the pool deck, and it appeared that they are available on a complimentary first-come, first-served basis.

Because of the pool deck’s arrangement, the area is shaded until around 2 p.m. each day. That’s great if you’re looking to avoid the sun, and it means you’ll have a front-row view of sunset if you stick around until the end of the day.

The views from the pool deck are unparalleled both during the day and during golden hour. You’re just steps from the beach with sweeping views of the Mediterranean Sea, so I’d recommend allotting some time to relax here if you stay at the Kempinski.

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Speaking of the beach, the Kempinski doesn’t have a private area there despite being located just steps away. However, you can easily rent an umbrella and chairs at the beach on your own. Just note that you won’t get any preferential access to seating on account of being a Kempinski guest.

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The hotel’s spa and gym are located on the level just below the lobby.

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The Okoa spa is open to all hotel guests and the gender-specific locker rooms each feature a sauna and steam room. The relaxation room is also available whether or not you’re getting a treatment.

Spa treatments range in price, with a standard 70-minute massage starting at roughly $200.

Meanwhile, the 24/7 gym is equipped with Precor cardio machines as well as a good assortment of free weights and weight machines.

Based on my experience, there are too many treadmills and not enough ellipticals. The ellipticals were all taken when I used the gym both mornings, but there were plenty of treadmills available.

Unfortunately, there’s no view from the gym, but the mirrors lining the wall do change background colors.

While that covers the amenities for most hotel guests, some visitors are in for a special treat. Leading up to my stay at the Kempinski, I had heard rave reviews for the hotel’s 22nd-floor executive lounge. While our room didn’t include access, I visited the lounge to grab some photos and inquire about the experience.

Adding on lounge access would’ve run us a steep $200 a day, but I didn’t have to pay anything for my 10-minute tour. (Lounge access is included with select rooms and suites.)

It didn’t take long for me to realize why so many guests effuse about this lounge. The soaring ceilings and glass windows drenched the entire space with an incredible amount of natural light.

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The furnishings and seating areas in the lounge were beautiful, and the outdoor deck facing the Mediterranean Sea was divine. I couldn’t imagine a better place to relax.

Lounge access includes a variety of light bites that rotate throughout the day, as well as both alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks.

The premium experience will get even better next year with the opening of Cloud51, located on the hotel's roof. During the day, this space will be reserved for guests staying in signature suites, and it'll feature a private pool, lounge restaurant and bar. At night, it'll transform into a dining bar open to all guests and visitors.

While the hotel will certainly appeal to tourists looking for a top-tier place to stay in Tel Aviv, the Kempinski is also hoping to position itself as the ideal spot to hold meetings and conferences.

The hotel has two floors (both located below the lobby) of conference spaces, and the rooms themselves looked quite functional. During my stay, a group of Jefferies employees was attending a conference hosted in the hotel with Israeli startup companies.

Food and beverage

Israel is known for its bounty of delicious restaurants, and the Kempinski’s food and beverage offerings were no exception.

Hotel guests staying on a bed-and-breakfast rate, as well as those booking through Virtuoso, are invited to the Sereia restaurant each morning for a signature Israeli buffet.

There are no a la carte breakfast options in the restaurant, and those staying on room-only rates or looking to visit the hotel for breakfast will be charged roughly $50 per person.

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While Israeli breakfasts are always decadent, the Kempinski’s is one of the best I’ve seen in the entire country.

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As you walk into the restaurant, there’s a table filled with freshly baked breads and sweets. Other stations serve fruits, eggs, waffles, cheeses, salads, fish, dried fruits, cereals and so much more.

Pictures alone can’t describe how good the food was, but at least they’ll give you a sense of the breakfast offerings. Everything I tried was of the highest quality, but some specific highlights included delectable Middle Eastern salads, freshly prepared smoked salmon and vanilla babka bread.

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The buffet is open daily from 6:30 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. during weekdays and until 11 a.m. on weekends. There are plenty of seating options in the restaurant, as well as on the far-more-popular shaded outdoor deck.

The Sereia restaurant also serves dinner during the week and on the Sabbath, but we didn’t have a chance to dine there. The seafood-heavy menu features items such as tuna sashimi ($25) and grouper souvlaki ($31).

You can also grab light bites from the restaurant or drinks from the restaurant’s bar while seated in the lobby.

However, we went to the trendy Common bar located on the lobby level which opens each night at 6. The dimly lit bar has a variety of seating options (both inside and outside) that’ll suit all moods. The terrace would be best for families and those looking to catch up on conversation, while the indoor seats seemed better for those who prefer a more lively atmosphere with louder music playing in the background.

There’s even a separate cigar bar if that’s your thing.

We tried the Juarez Kick ($15) with tequila, rum and jalapeno, and the Daffodil martini ($14) with gin, oleo and sherry, to drink and sampled some popcorn chicken ($15) and burger sliders ($24) for dinner. The drinks were refreshing and delicately prepared, while the food was delicious and hit the spot as fancy bar food.

During the day, you can order lunch while seated at the pool or from the bar located on the pool terrace. Because of the size of our brunches, we never had room for lunch, though other guests seemed to enjoy the poolside service, especially the Mediterranean mezze platter ($24) that featured a sampling of dips with pita bread and the classic burger ($28).

Finally, room service is available 24/7, but we wanted to eat our meals at popular spots nearby instead of sitting in the room. While room service is always convenient, Tel Aviv’s culinary scene is too good to pass up.

Even if you’re looking for a relaxed night in, I’d recommend downloading Wolt and ordering delivery via the app. I promise you’ll find something for every cuisine and craving.

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Note that the hotel’s kitchens are kosher and abide by Jewish dietary laws. Because of that, you won’t find bacon on the breakfast buffet, nor will you be offered a cheeseburger or shellfish for dinner. There are plenty of spots in Tel Aviv to find these items, but the Kempinski isn’t one of them.

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That said, even if you’re not staying at the Kempinski, you’ll likely want to check out some of the hotel’s top-notch food and beverage outlets.

While Tel Aviv’s culinary scene has always been one of my favorites, the Kempinksi’s dining options combine tasty food with an upscale setting. What more could you ask for?

Service

Generally speaking, I was impressed by the service offered at the Kempinski.

Everyone I interacted with at the reception and concierge desks was friendly and helpful, and our waiters at breakfast couldn’t have been nicer about preparing us specialty drinks or clearing our plates.

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I’d also highlight the impressive housekeeping team, which did a great job refreshing our room twice a day and resetting it back to the way we found it when we checked in.

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But Israeli service can be rough around the edges, and despite offering luxurious physical spaces (such as the rooms, lobby, pool, gym and spa), even the Kempinski had some service pitfalls.

When we sat for dinner at the Common bar, we first ordered drinks, which were delivered shortly after placing our order. We then decided to get some food, and 20 minutes after ordering chicken poppers and beef sliders, we inquired as to where they were.

While the waitress apologized and said she’d check on it, she came back with an interesting answer. “I checked the iPad and you ordered exactly 21 minutes ago. That’s not so long for appetizers,” she said.

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Everyone can have their own perspective on how long it should take to prepare two appetizers, but it was the way in which the waitress came back to us in what felt like an accusatory tone that left a bad taste in my mouth.

I couldn’t help but imagine what the response would have been at a similarly priced Four Seasons or Mandarin Oriental resort.

On our checkout day, my wife and I left separately. I was headed to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates to attend an Etihad event, while my wife was going straight back to New York.

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I left in the wee hours of the morning, and I told the receptionist at 2:30 a.m. that my wife would be checking out for me later in the day. As such, I was shocked when my wife texted me at 3 a.m. saying that the hotel had called the room three times to say that I didn’t pay the bill.

Perhaps it was an isolated misunderstanding, but the overall picture is clear: The Kempinski still has some work to do to iron out its service.

Bottom line

Tel Aviv’s hottest new hotel is well on its way to becoming one of the city’s finest, service snafus aside. From the rooms to the amenities to the dining offerings, you’re sure to leave impressed with the David Kempinski.

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The hotel welcomes you with a stylish, contemporary design and the guest rooms are among the nicest in the entire city.

When it’s time to relax, the pool and large outdoor terrace are among the best spots to take in the fresh Mediterranean air.

From the scrumptious breakfast buffets to the evening bar, the Kempinski’s dining options are some of the best in town.

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Yes, the service could still use a little work, but the David Kempinski is in a league of its own in Tel Aviv — and the prices reflect that.

If you’re willing to splurge on your next Israel vacation, though, the David Kempinski should make an appearance on your itinerary.

Featured image by ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
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  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
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  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023