The young city of Tel Aviv
This vibrant beach city is a modern, liberal haven amid a conservative, contentious region. Yet it manages to effortlessly combine its easy-going lifestyle with a fast-paced high-tech industry, attracting both young Israelis and internationals looking to spend their afternoons in the sun while participating in ambitious start-ups. Regardless of how you spend your days, everyone in the city convenes at the countless cafés, bars and, clubs at night to enjoy the city’s youthful spirit.
As the economic hub of Israel, a country with a higher concentration of tech start-ups than anywhere else in the world outside of Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv (and Herzliya, its close neighbor to the north) is home to many entrepreneurs and techies.
Always up and comingWith an abundance of students and a plethora of both young and established companies, the so-called “Silicon Wadi” is a hotbed for innovation. That’s not to say people in Tel Aviv don’t know how to have fun. In recent years, much attention has been given to the city’s nightlife. In fact, there are more bars than synagogues, God is a DJ, and everyone’s body is a temple. The city is less than an hour’s drive from both Jerusalem and Haifa and located in the center of Israel’s coastal region. With beautiful beaches, great nightlife, and some of the country’s best universities nearby, it is no surprise that one-third of the city’s residents are between the ages of 18-35.
While the press creates a perception that Israel is all about conflict, there is so much more to Tel Aviv.
The coffee break
The first thing to note about Israelis, especially in Tel Aviv, is their love of breakfast, lunch, and coffee breaks. You’ll find that before work, Israelis will frequent cafés for breakfast, leave work for lunch, and then take another break for coffee in the afternoon. Old friends and new friends will spend their free time meeting up for coffee or a daytime meal at an outdoor café or coffee house. So, when you’re at a loss of what to do, do as the Israelis do and grab a coffee!
From April until October, the most obvious destination for Tel Aviv fun is the beach. The main beaches are all located in Merkaz Hair (the central district). Gordon, Frischman, and Bugrashov beaches are the most popular—and Tel Aviv is a very LGBT-friendly city—just north of Gordon Beach, you’ll find beaches favored by that community.
When you’re at the beach in Israel, expect everyone to be laid back, but not polite. A famous and common Israeli paddle tennis game, called Matkot, is a serious beach activity played by the water’s edge. The players are often oblivious to swimmers, sunbathers, and others walking by. At night, the beach is the perfect place to bring a few friends, a few beers and just relax. Don’t be surprised if most of the other nighttime beachgoers are Americans.
Unfortunately, wildlife in Tel Aviv is sparse, although you should be aware of the jellyfish season in late July. Still, it’s a good idea to get scuba certified in Tel Aviv so you can be ready for a sensational scuba experience in the southern beach city of Eilat.
Bars & clubs
The main difference between the nightlife of Tel Aviv and many Western cities is timing! In Tel Aviv, things don’t tend to get going, especially in clubs, until late! Usually, Israelis don’t leave the house before 10 PM, with bars getting busy from midnight, and some clubs filling up around 2 AM. Most bars in Tel Aviv stay open often until dawn, while some clubs continue into the morning daylight hours. While the drinking age in Israel is 18, many clubs and bars in Tel Aviv won’t serve or allow entry to people this young—with minimum ages varying a lot, sometimes as high as 25 (although in reality for tourists’ things are often more relaxed).
Just like any other Middle Eastern city, a great place to waste an afternoon away is the “shuk” (market). Check out Shuk HaCarmel, Shuk Hapishpashim, Shuk Levinsky, or the more upscale Shuk HaNamal for great farmers’ markets.
Want to fit in with the locals? Well, hit the gym! With bikinis and swim shorts a daily fashion fixture, people in Tel Aviv always prioritize fitness. The “tayelet” (the path next to the beach) is a popular place to run early in the morning or before sundown, and there’s a free outdoor gym with pull-up bars and other basic machines next to Gordon Beach. Check out CrossFit Tel Aviv, a popular gym for young ex-pats living in the city, or Holmes Place, a more traditional gym.
Tel Aviv has a great music scene, with big name artists and DJs frequently passing through. You’ll see advertisements for these DJs around beaches and bars, but most commonly you’ll find out about them through word of mouth. Check out the Barby Club, Tel Aviv’s oldest music venue, for lesser-known bands.
Also check out the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Design Museum in Holon and the Palmach Museum. Nearby, the recently renovated Israel Museum in Jerusalem attracts over a million visitors a year and is a must-see.
Tel Aviv is Israel’s hot spot for the freshest plays, musicals, movie screenings and stand-up comedy. A word of warning to expats, though, it’s all in Hebrew (unless it’s an American/UK film)! To get the most out of these typical Israeli events, you’ll have to pick up the local language.
With a beautiful beach and great nightlife, it’s easy to get stuck in the city and not venture off to see the rest of the country. However, transportation is both accessible and cheap, and Israel is such a small country that you can see almost anything as a day trip. Try a weekend hike on Yam-le-Yam, hiking from the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean, or a trip down to Jerusalem for Shabbat. It’ll make coming back to Tel Aviv that much more special!
Good to know
- Wi-Fi: Almost every café in Tel Aviv has free Wi-Fi. Tel Aviv also provides 80 free public Wi-Fi hot spots throughout the city, with more on the way.
- Israeli Attitude: Israeli people are known to swing between harsh and abrasive and warm and touchy. Don’t be turned off! If someone in the market yells at you or you hear a taxi driver honking excessively, don’t take it personally. Similarly, don’t be weirded out by an older man winking at women or an older woman calling some boys cuties—they’re mostly harmless. The city is very safe, and most people turn out to be very warm and friendly. And don’t be surprised if someone who was kicking sand on your blanket at the beach ends up inviting you over for Friday night dinner!
- LGBT Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv is very LGBT friendly. The annual gay parade in June brings thousands of visitors a year and the city lines the streets with colorful gay flags.
- Israeli Street Food: Falafel, shawarma, sambousek, schnitzel and hummus eateries comprise the bulk of Israeli street food. Unlike many other countries’ street food, Israel’s street food is arguably its best cuisine. You cannot leave Tel Aviv without trying each of these foods at least once.
For the yummiest hummus in town, check out the world-famous Abu Hassan hummus in Jaffa or Hummus Abu Dabi on King George. For some great late night spots, check out the 24-hour upscale brasserie on Ibn Gvirol and have one of the best burgers in town or drop by Tony Vespa's place near the Namal for some of the best pizza.