Israel, and Tel Aviv in particular, had been on my wish list for a long time. This meant that a city trip to Tel Aviv as a business incentive was a real hit with me! But what to do in Tel Aviv? Tel Aviv offers sun, sea, beach, cultural heritage and an exciting nightlife. Forget Ibiza, this is the new place to be for party animals.
Tel Aviv info
Tel Aviv or Tel Aviv-Yafo is the second-largest city in Israel, after Jerusalem. It lies on the Mediterranean Sea, and original city district has over 400,000 inhabitants. Tel Aviv merged with Jaffa in 1950, and the metropolitan area counts over 3 million inhabitants these days.
Tel Aviv started as a small settlement, but grew further and further after waves of immigration. The first new neighbourhood was Neve Tzedek.
After the First World War, the architects of the University of Technology in Haifa were commissioned to design a new neighbourhood. They built the “White City”, a collection of sleek-lined white houses. Their distinct design means that Tel Aviv is effectively the world’s largest open-air museum, and has gained the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In 1948, the independent state of Israel was declared in Tel Aviv. The city was the designated capital for one year before the title was taken on by Jerusalem.
Israel has a violent past, and there were many attacks in Tel Aviv. One of them killed the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
Tel Aviv is a particularly LGBTQ+ friendly city. It is very liberal. This was also borne out by Dana International, a transsexual singer, who was their two-time entry to the European Song Festival.
Travel to Tel Aviv
Belgian and Dutch people do not need a visa to travel to Israel at the moment (October 2019). However, always check this information well in advance of your departure date.
Transavia flies from Eindhoven to Tel Aviv twice a week. Brussels Airlines flies there every day from Brussels, and there are multiple daily flights from Amsterdam.
Airlines saw the number of passengers increase by 10% in the past year
A flight of about 4.5 hours brings you to Ben Gurion Airport.
The customs controls there are still very strict. So here are some travel tips for Israel:
There was a time when you would get a stamp in your passport upon entering Israel, which would then make your passport invalid for some other destinations. These days you will receive a Stay Permit when you arrive, and an Exit Permit when you leave. Keep your Stay Permit safe, as without that piece of paper you are in the country illegally.
If you recently visited countries that are at war with Israel, you can expect to be questioned.
If there is nothing suspicious, you can expect the following questions:
- Where did you come from?
- How long will you stay?
- What will you be doing?
- Where will you be staying?
Ben Gurion is one of the safest airports in the world. All vehicles are checked before they are allowed anywhere near the airport, and there is a large presence of safety personnel (in uniform and undercover). People often asked what I was thinking! Israel is a dangerous place. Well, I never felt uncomfortable during our trip. Israel is even safe for solo female travel.
When you leave again, you will be asked questions, even before check-in. Questions that are often asked include:
Did you pack your bag yourself?
Did you leave your bag out of sight at all?
Did you bring any packages for someone else?
What did you do while you were in Israel?
Who are your travelling companions?
Traveling to the centre of Tel Aviv from the airport takes less than 30 minutes.
Transport in Tel Aviv
The most popular mode of transport in Tel Aviv is the bus. A journey costs less than one euro. If you are planning to take the bus often, you can buy a day pass or a ten-journey ticket. You can buy your ticket in the bus station or in the bus.
There are also taxis and you can use Uber. Be sure that the taxi driver starts the meter.
The most popular personal mode of transport is the electric scooter. The locals all scoot through the streets on them, and you can rent them everywhere too. Well-known providers are Bird and Lime. The system works the same as with bicycles. You register on the app, unlock the scooter, and off you go. If you lock the scooter at a different (or the same) location, the timer stops. The app will also guide you to the nearest scooter station.
You can use the same system to rent bicycles too, of course, but the scooter is much trendier and above all, electric.
Check out Bird.co for more info.
Holy days in Tel Aviv
The Israeli people have many holy days that are on different dates every year. The most important are:
- Pesach, the Jewish Passover
- Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement
- Sukkot, the 7-day Feast of Tabernacles
- Hanukkah, Festival of Lights
Make sure you keep these in mind when you are planning your trip. People are not allowed to work on a holy day, just like they cannot work during the Sabbath. They are also not allowed to drive cars on those days. It does mean that it is a great day for a relaxed bicycle tour.
On a day like Yom Kippur, you cannot get food anywhere for 24 hours. Your hotel will serve you a meagre breakfast (with cold things only, as electricity cannot be used), and there is no provision for the rest of the day. Ensure you go to the supermarket the day before, or join the locals in their fast.
The Sabbath is observed from Friday evening to Saturday evening. It is the seventh day of the Jewish week, and no work is permitted. This “no work” rule is far-reaching:
- There is no cooking, and no fire can be lit. People ensure that any food is cooked beforehand.
- You cannot use the light switch. Jewish people often have timers on their lights. Non-Jewish people are allowed to use the light switch for you.
- You cannot use a car. In the Orthodox neighbourhoods, the roads are closed to cars, and no traffic is allowed.
- You are not allowed to write, or carry anything (so not a good time to plan a move).
- You cannot play a musical instrument.
- You cannot use any electronic equipment.
Things that are allowed: Praying, visiting family and friends (as long as it does not involve a car ride), singing, reading the Torah, and yes, sex is allowed.
The rules are so strict that you are not even allowed to ring the fire brigade if your house is on fire, unless there is a real danger to life.
Violating the Sabbath used to be punishable by death. Fortunately, this is no longer the case.
Orthodox Jews strictly uphold these rules. However, most Jews are more liberal and are often not too strict.
What to do in Tel Aviv?
Tel Aviv highlights
Walking through Old Jaffa
Jaffa is the old part of the city, and is somewhat separated from the rest. The walled city looks out over the Mediterranean Sea, and was very important to the Crusaders. The city calls itself the oldest port in the world.
Jaffa has lots of legends too:
- It is said that Jaffa was founded by Yafet, one of the sons of Noah.
- The Greeks claim that the city was built by Iopa, the daughter of Aeolos.
- Jonas left the port of Jaffa before he was swallowed by the whale.
Wander through the narrow streets with it many stairs, and discover the churches, mosques, and the 5000-year old port. Something interesting awaits around every corner. You are transported back hundreds of years.
We started our city trip in Tel Aviv with a two-hour walk through Old Jaffa, the first place where Jews settled in the 19th century when they were looking for the Promised Land. Jaffa only became part of Tel Aviv in 1950. Since that time, the city is called Tel Aviv-Yafo.
Old Jaffa lies on an outcrop on the sea. From the coast you have a beautiful view of the old city.
Photo credits: Inma Gregorio
Highlights in Tel Aviv-Jaffa:
It is the location of the Saint Peter’s Church. The first church was built here back in the 11th century, but it has been destroyed several times since. The current church is from 1894. .
Legend has it that the apostle Peter revived one of Jesus’ followers here.
Photo credits: Claudia Tavani
A little further down stands the Al-Bahr mosque from the 18th century. At the time, fishermen’s wives would come here to pray for the safe return of their husbands.
St. Archangel Michael Monastery: when you walk down the steps towards the port from Kedumim Square, you will arrive at this 17th-century monastery. The area on the left, once past the monastery, is full of great bars, art galleries, and shops in narrow alleyways.
You will enjoy a great view over the new Jaffa from here. You can also visit the archaeological site of an old amphitheatre. Stop at the Wishing Bridge during sunset. Legend says that your desire will come true if you wish it while putting your hands on the astrological signs here. You can not imagine that this place was once the landfill site of Tel Aviv.
Photo credits: Melissa Conn
Photo credits: Ivan
Just at the entrance of the port lies Andromeda’s Rock.
According to the legend, Andromeda was chained to this rock by her father, King Cepheus, as a sacrifice to Poseidon. Andromeda’s mother, queen Cassiopeia, had claimed that her daughter was more beautiful than the most beautiful goddesses, which caused the wrath of the gods. Poseidon sent a sea monster to kill Andromeda, but fortunately, Perseus, the son of Zeus, saved the day. He freed Andromeda and married her.
Jaffa Old Port
Take a stroll along the old harbour, and see how fishermen bring their catch ashore. There are many restaurants and cafes here, so the perfect place for a rest.
Tip: Abu Hassan serves the best hummus around.
Cycling through the White City and Sarona Templars
The White City in Tel Aviv
.If Tel Aviv is known for anything, it must be the “White City”, a part of the city that consists of over 4000 buildings from the 1930s. At the time, the city was bursting at the seams, and needed to be expanded. A group of Jewish architects who had studied in Europe designed a full neighbourhood in Bauhaus-style. Nowhere else in the world will you find as many houses in this style. The White City was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.
Most houses are white, and are characterised by sleek lines, asymmetry, and simplicity. The most important characteristics are balconies and flat roofs. Many of these buildings are built up on pillars that are surrounded by gardens to provide some green for the city.
They took the wind was into consideration in its design. During the summer, the wind blows from the sea over all the houses which means that it is lovely to sit out on the roof.
Many buildings are in a state of disrepair, but work is done to restore the whole area.
Your citytrip is not complete without a visit to this Tel Aviv highlight.
The city is perfect for cycling. We joined Daniel Weitzmann to discover all the secrets of Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv has many museums, such as the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Yitzhak Rabin Centre, and many others, but the whole city is an open-air museum, really.
The cycling tour starts at the Rothschild Boulevard, one of the most important roads in Tel Aviv. This expensive and (one of the) oldest street(s) of Tel Aviv runs from Neve Tzedek to the Habima Theatre. A wide path for pedestrians and cyclists runs in the middle of the road among the trees. You will regularly pass by busy kiosks where the locals enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of pomegranate juice. There are plenty of examples of the Bauhaus style along the avenue, which runs through the White City.
The rich people of Tel Aviv still wanted to distinguish themselves at the time, and they did this by applying an eclectic style. They combined elements from different architectural styles, and added more decorations to their house, such as frescos, columns, round corners…
The most famous example of this eclectic style is located on King Albert Square, named after the Belgian King Albert I; he was a fanatic supporter of Zionism. The Pagoda House was designed in 1925 and is characterised by a Japanese pagoda roof. The building was one of the first to have a lift.
On the way there you pass by Gutman’s mosaic fountain from 1971, located near Rothschild Boulevard no. 3. The mosaic depicts scenes from daily life, and a few important events from the history of Tel Aviv.
After a cycling tour of the city we went back to the coast to cycle along the boulevard. Cycling here is wonderful, with a wide cycling lane, the beach on one side and the city on the other. There are playgrounds as well as cosy beach bars at regular intervals, and the atmosphere is very relaxed. The people of Tel Aviv are very sporty and love their dogs. There are lots of joggers and walkers with dogs here.
The beaches are also beautiful, and there is something for everyone. There is a gay beach, but there is also a beach with separate parts for men and women. You can recognise it immediately as it is completely hidden from view by wooden panels.
The first part of the cycling tour ends at HaTachana, the old train station. The organisers collect the bikes and take us to the start of the second part of the cycling tour by bus.
The second part brings us through Sarona Templers, a quiet, green area surrounded by skyscrapers. Sarona is in fact not much more than a large park in the middle of the German protestant templer colony from 1871. A group of German Templers bought 60 hectare in Tel Aviv (then Jaffa) to start the first Christian agricultural colony in Palestine. Houses were built in European style (read: German style), and oranges, grapes, and olives were cultivated. The first wine from Palestine came from Sarona. After the First World War, life here was turned upside down, and the inhabitants were deported to Germany and Australia. The land came in the hands of the army and was returned to Tel Aviv.
The city started the renovation of 33 templers houses in 1933. The neighbourhood received a commercial and cultural boost, and it is now a wonderful, quiet area to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The rich inhabitants from Tel Aviv like to live here.
Be sure to visit Sarona Market. This food market has numerous stalls with delicious dishes. Claro restaurant is also an absolute must-do. Visiting restaurants is one of the things to do in Tel Aviv.
After this relaxing cycling tour, it was time to freshen up and enjoy the fabulous sunset from the Hiku Sky Bar. After that we enjoyed a wonderful dinner in Messa, one of the best restaurants in Tel Aviv.
We had to get up early the next day to visit 2 other highlights besides Tel Aviv: the Dead Sea and Jerusalem.
Tip: Make sure you taste pomegranate juice. This fruit is extremely popular in Tel Aviv. The souvenir shops even sell little jars in the shape of the fruit.
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