Tel Aviv travel guide 2020: recommendations from one year living in the greatest city in the world
I’ve met a lot of Polish people while living in Israel. Based on their stories, they feel so at home in Tel Aviv because the young scene is pretty much the same as Warsaw or Kraków. I’m very sure you will enjoy Tel Aviv as much as I do. I don’t live there anymore but if you need anything, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I will definitely connect you to a lot of cool groups of people!
Why I love Tel Aviv
In 2016, I was invited for a Bloggers’ trip by Vibe Israel, a non-profit organization that transforms global perceptions of Israel through social media influencers. The trip was only for one week but I ended up maxing my 90-day visa. After that, I went to Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan and decided that I will stay more in Israel. I went back!
Arrival in Tel Aviv
Israel is known to be a notorious interviewer to tourists visiting from all over the world. At first, I thought they were only asking a lot of questions to Filipino citizens like me but my friends from Denmark, Germany, Austria, France, and Spain whom I arrived with were also heavily questioned. This is because Israel’s security is on a maximum level. As long as you answer their questions diligently, you will be fine. They just want to know the purpose of your visit. In my case, there were a lot of ridiculous questions but I know it’s only for safety precautions.
If you want to read the story when I first entered Israel, click here.
Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International airport is the main airport in Israel. The national carriers are Israir, El air, Arkia air and they fly to many international destinations. You can take a bus, train, taxi, or Sheirut (shared taxi) from the airport to the city conveniently.
Ben Gurion International Airport’s wifi is pretty strong so you will not have any problems connecting to your loved ones as soon as you arrive. When you reach the city center, you will get the signal of “TLV-FREE,” Tel Aviv’s free city wifi. It’s pretty fast than any other city wifi connection I ever encountered. Seriously, you can connect to it everywhere!
In the next sections of this article, we will discuss how to purchase a sim card in Tel Aviv. During my first visit, I did not purchase an Israeli sim card right away because I have pocket wifi that worked perfectly in Israel. If you are interested in purchasing the same device, you can use the code PSIMONMYWAY for a 10% discount.
Airport taxi to Tel Aviv city center
It is the most comfortable but an expensive way to reach the city center, with a typical ride price of around 140 to 175 NIS. It takes 20-30 minutes if the traffic is normal. There is a list of fixed fares from the airport to anywhere in Israel. Gett and Uber are alternatives you will find. Hadar Taxi company offers the cheapest fares from Tel Aviv to the airport.
Airport shuttle to Tel Aviv city center
Flo Shuttle operates 24/7, in both directions (from Ben Gurion Airport to Tel Aviv, and Tel Aviv to Ben Gurion Airport). The service offers pick up from all hotels in Tel Aviv and costs $17 per person. Sde Dov is primarily a domestic airport, with frequent flights to Eilat and Rosh Pina (Galilee).
Airport bus to Tel Aviv city centre
From the New Central Bus Station in southern Tel Aviv (“Tahana Merkazit”) you can reach most locations in Israel. Several intercities and many metropolitan destinations are also serviced by the more user-friendly 2000 Bus Terminal (AKA Arlozorov terminal), next to Tel Aviv Merkaz/Savidor Train Station.
Getting around Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv has a widespread new-age bus network. Bus services start at 05:00 and stop at midnight, though some lines stop. There are night buses too. Dan, Egged, Metropoline, and Kavim are the suburban line’s operator. Remember, the majority of public transportation in Israel does not run on the Sabbath, beginning on Friday afternoon until Saturday evening. Rather than paying the driver in cash on each bus ride, you can buy a public transit rechargeable smart card called Rav-Kav.
The most popular bus route in the city is bus number 5, which connects the Central Bus Station (departure from the 4th floor, westernmost platform) in the south with the Central Train Station. It goes through Rothschild Boulevards, Dizengoff Street (Including the Dizengoff Center Mall), Nordau Boulevard, Pinkas/Yehuda Maccabi Street and Weizman Street or Namir Road.
Tel Aviv has a growing number of bicycle paths throughout the city – bicycle travel in Tel Aviv is an ideal way to get around because of its flat, coastal topography. The city offers a bike-share program called Tel-O-Fun which offers thousands of bikes for rent from stations all across the city. There are other bicycle rentals as well.
Taxis are available in plenty. Taxis are obliged to give you a metered ride unless you settle for a price, so insist that the driver uses the meter. I rarely used the taxi, not unless it’s an emergency like going home late. Tel Aviv taxis are very expensive I don’t really recommend you to take this option. Even if you’re a group, it’s still quite expensive compared to the comfortable bus and bike rentals!
Get to know the Tel Aviv neighborhoods
Tel Aviv has everything you need, beaches, shopping, art, culture, heritage, and many unique dining and nightlife options.
Neve Tzedek – if I could afford it, I would’ve lived here
Neve Tzedek is one of Tel Aviv’s oldest neighborhoods but has developed itself as one of its trendiest districts. It has an oriental style conserved buildings and narrow vehicle-free roads. It is charming and one of the most expensive neighborhoods. The serenity of walking down these narrow winding roads, with a scoop of Neve Tzedek’s best ice cream from Anita in hand, makes for a great time.
Florentin – if it was easy to find an apartment here, I would’ve lived here
With everything from vegan delights, tattoo parlors, to indie art galleries and independent cafés, Florentin is Israel’s hipster haven. Over the past few years, Florentin has emerged been an important place for artists, musicians. It has a grungy charm.
Lev Ha’ir – if I didn’t have a stalker here, I would’ve lived here
Lev Ha’ir literally means ‘heart of the city’ in Hebrew. The area is bordered by Neve Tzedek, Florentin, Kerem Hateimanim, Sarona, and the old north. This area is the most vibrant part of the city and includes a lot of restaurants and Rothschild Boulevard, Habima (the national theatre), and ‘The White City’ UNESCO World Heritage Site, a collection of over 4,000 buildings constructed in the Bauhaus style and countless bars and cafés.
HaZafon HaYashan (The Old North) – because I want to be sober sometimes, I didn’t live here
It is one of the prominent areas in Tel Aviv and includes Ben Yehuda, Ben Gurion, and Dizengoff avenues. Here, you will find an incredible variety of shops, restaurants, bars, and cafés in close proximity to some of the city’s best beaches. It is the favorite choice for youngsters to reside in.
Kerem Hateimanim – if I beat one of my couple friends to a gorgeous apartment in this area, I would’ve lived here
The area was founded by the Yemenite in the 1880s. It was once considered a neglected neighborhood, but today it is a historic and cultural attraction, with winding alleys and small, modest homes. This area includes the famous Carmel Market (Shuk HaCarmel), Tel Aviv’s largest fresh produce market, and Nachalat Binyamin pedestrian mall, known for its arts and crafts fair and street performers.
Shapira – if I did a corporate job in Tel Aviv, I would’ve lived here
This is in southern Tel Aviv and is ethnically diverse, working-class of people live here, and in parts it is gritty; here you can find culinary gems such as authentic Bukharian food, charming cafés and an array of galleries. The appearance and atmosphere of Shapira are completely different from central or north Tel Aviv, but it is worth a visit.
Jaffa – this is the best so I lived here
Jaffa, or Yafo, is an ancient port city and its history traces back to biblical times. It is officially part of Tel Aviv since 1950, and a large Arab population call is home. You must visit its flea market, on the cobblestone streets of the Old City, check out its vibrant nightlife and sample its culinary gems – from some of the best hummus in Israel to trendy Asian restaurants.
Where to stay in Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv’s cost of living is very high it might be hard for you to find a hotel that will fit your budget. Airbnb is super popular in fact, I used to rent my apartment whenever I am going out of Tel Aviv. My friends also do the same so short-term sublets in Tel Aviv, as we can see, is a thing. Click here to get a $40 USD discount on Airbnb when you sign up using my link.
In this post, I ranked the best hotels in Tel Aviv for budget travelers, mid-range and luxury travelers.
For luxury travelers
The larger hotels with full amenities in the house are in Tel Aviv’s beach strip. It has the luxury 4 and 5-star international hotel chains (Hilton, Intercontinental, Carlton, Sheraton, Renaissance), and even the 4 and 5-star Israeli chain hotels (Isrotel Royal Beach, Dan, Dan Panorama, and Herods).
I ranked the best hotels in Tel Aviv that I recommend below:
- Fabric Hotel: a private room for 2 pax starts at $258 USD
- Cinema Hotel: a private room for 2 pax starts at $208 USD
- The Poli House: a private room for 2 pax starts at $208 USD
- Melody Hotel: a private room for 2 pax starts at $220 USD
- The Norman Tel Aviv: a private room for 2 pax starts at $630 USD
For mid-range travelers
In recent years Tel Aviv has seen a growth in the number of boutique hotels because it is a popular choice among visitors. Jaffa also has a number of apartment hotels and AirBnBs and it is becoming an increasingly popular place to reside in for both mid-range travelers and locals. Below are the best boutique hotels I stayed in Tel Aviv:
- Cucu Boutique Hotel: a private room for 2 pax starts at $180 USD
- Florentin House: a private room for 2 pax starts at $140 USD. There are also dorms from $28 USD!
- The Diaghilev Live Art Boutique Hotel: a private room for 2 pax starts at $174 USD
- Ultra Tel Aviv Boutique Hotel: a private room for 2 pax starts at $160 USD
- A23 Boutique Hotel Tel Aviv: a private room for 2 pax starts at $130 USD
For budget backpackers
Florentin is a quieter neighborhood of Tel Aviv and it is filled with backpackers who seek affordable accommodation. This part of the city has a lot of budget options. However, when in Tel Aviv, I only stay in Abraham Hostel Tel Aviv because of their very outstanding atmosphere. I can also say that the rooms are way cheaper for its quality! If you are the type of traveler who is not comfortable sleeping in dorm beds, they have private rooms, too!
Abraham Hostel is super big so there is very little chance of interaction with other travelers, not unless you go to the hostel bar. If you want something familiar and more interaction with fellow travelers, you can stay at Florentine Backpackers Hostel. I love Florentine and have stayed in this hostel twice. It’s not in the city center like Abraham but way cheaper.
Other hostels you might be interested in:
Where to eat in Tel Aviv
Out of all my food journeys all over the world, Tel Aviv is the one boasting with the best food selection. I am not sure how this culture of a certain diet makes their food tasty. I only know that through the years that they have been battling for identity, Israel mastered the art of taking a food culture from another (particularly from their neighbors) and making it better.
For over a year living in Tel Aviv, I feel like it’s not enough time to try all the good restaurants but here are the ones I recommend you to visit when you’re in town!
Best breakfast places in Tel Aviv
- For the vegans: Anastasia at Frishman St 54
- For an American breakfast: Nola at Dizengoff St 197
- For a laid-back vibe: Yom Tov Caffe at Yom Tov St 30
- For breakfast 24/7: Benedict at Rothschild 29
- Best breakfast in Tel Aviv: Cafe Xoho at Gordon St 17
Best hummus in Tel Aviv
- Abu Hassan at Ha-Dolfin St 1
- Kaspi (almost everywhere)
- Abu Adham at Carlebach St 7
- Mashawsha at Pinsker St 40
- Shlomo and Doron at Rehov Yishkon 29
Best sabich in Tel Aviv
- HaKosem at Shlomo ha-Melekh St 1
- Sabich Tchernichovsky at Tchernikhovski St 2
- HaSandwich at Nahalat Binyamin 59
- Sabich Frishman at Frishman St 42
- Sabich Komplet at 99 Ibn Gvirol St
Best vegan in Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is a vegan capital of the world with the highest percentage of vegans all over the world. 5-10% of the population is vegan so vegan food is served everywhere! Still, here are the top 5 vegan places in Tel Aviv:
- Fancy vegan: Meshek Barzilay at Ahad Ha’Am St 6
- Vegan pizza: Green Cat at Levontin St 7
- Persian Vegan: Zakaim at Simtat Beit HaSho’eva 20
- Indian Vegan: 24 Rupee at Schocken St 16
- Ethiopian Vegan: Tenat at Chlenov St 27
Best burger in Tel Aviv
- Vitrina at Lilienblum 40
- America Burgers at Allenby 112
- Susu and Sons at Dizengoff St 166
- The Little Burger Shop at Dizengoff St 125
- 26 Gourmet Burger at Mikveh Israel 26
Best pizza in Tel Aviv
- Teder.fm at Derech Jaffa 9
- Brooklyn Pizza at Dizengoff St 276
- Tony Vespa at Allenby St 118
- Philippe at Carlebach 20
- HaPizza at Bograshov St 51
Best International cuisines in Tel Aviv
- Best Thai food: Thai House at Bograshov St 8
- Best Mexican food: Taqueria at Levontin St 28
- Best Indian food: Bunny Chow at Rothschild 36
- Best Chinese food: Xing Long at Shalma Road 134
Things to do in Tel Aviv
1. Go to the beach every day
Tel Aviv is one of those cities blessed with beaches and I can’t believe this daily beach activity became my thing. For many people, going to the beach means swimming, but for Tel Aviv, it could mean a lot of things. Dog and gay beaches are also a thing in Israel. My hangout beach is Jaffa because I live close to it and most of my dog’s friends like it. When I am with my visiting girlfriends, I bring them to Banana Beach where all the foreigner action happens.
2. Experience the Tel Aviv nightlife
I’ve been to Berlin and Warsaw but Tel Aviv nightlife tops the best in nightlife list. I never experienced going out short because everything is open 24/7! I would normally start my night at The Prince because all the people I know hang out and work here. However, when they opened their sister bar in Jaffa called Cuckoo’s Nest, I frequented there because it’s a 5-min bicycle ride from my apartment!
Some bars in the residential areas like The Prince has to be closed by 23:00. This is a city mandate for all the bars operating in Tel Aviv but there are a lot of places that are not in the housing area. If you’re not familiar with the cost of living in Israel, you will find the drinks very expensive. A pint of beer starts at 35 NIS ($9.70 USD) but you will be able to find places with cheaper prices like Salon Berlin. It’s always happy hour here!
3. Eat, eat, and eat.
It could get a little expensive but you can NOT eat in Tel Aviv. This city is the capital of Israeli and Middle Eastern food. Israel has the highest percentage of vegans all over the world. 5-10% of the population is vegan so vegan food is served everywhere!
Tel Aviv is really a food capital – I think this is the only city I’ve been to where there are many places open till late. Israelis are voracious eaters. The culture here is eating out after a long day at work. I don’t have a lot of friends who cook a lot in their homes!
4. Visit Art museums and galleries
Tel Aviv is home to artists and has a lot of new galleries and museums popping out all over the city. Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the primary museum of the city, you will see a lot of paintings by Van Gogh, Chagall, Picasso, and Jackson Pollack.
5. Go around the city on a bicycle
Biking is part of the Tel Avivian lifestyle. When I moved here, I had to get a bike myself! Everyone uses it as a mode of transport but tourists can experience the city through a bike with Tel-o-fun. If you are walking around Tel Aviv, you will see a lot of green bikes on every corner – they are for rent so try them out!
Currency, budget, cash, etc
The currency in Israel is called New Israeli shekel (NIS). $1 USD = 3.63 NIS. To understand this conversion, I’m going to give you an idea about some basic prices:
- Basic lunchtime menu (including a drink) in the business district: $11 USD
- Combo meal in fast food restaurant: $16 USD
- 1 cocktail drink in a downtown club: $10 – $25 USD
- 1 beer in neighborhood pub (500ml or 1pt.): $8 – $10 USD
- Cappuccino in a specialty coffee shop: $4 USD
- 1 package of Marlboro cigarettes: $12 USD
Money exchange in Tel Aviv
The shekel is quite a strong currency but I am not sure if you can exchange it outside of Israel. I remember Jordan and the UAE do not change this currency. They said it does not benefit them in any way. Money exchange counters are available in Ben Gurion International Airport. There are also some kiosks in the city. When I moved to Tel Aviv, I started exchanging dollars to the bank as it’s the most efficient way for me.
When withdrawing cash in Tel Aviv, please note that Bank Leumi is the bank for International cardholders. You can also try other banks but Leumi has the most success rate. There is always a huge line at Leumi ATM machines, most especially on Fridays where a lot of foreigners will need to take cash for the weekend. Your bank may charge a separate rate from the $5 USD per withdrawal that Israeli banks charge.
All establishments in Israel accept credit cards including the wet markets! You don’t have to worry about bringing cash in Israel if you have a Mastercard or Visa credit card. In fact, you don’t need to worry about bringing cash at all!
Tipping in Tel Aviv
It is mandatory to tip in Israel as this is the salary/source of income of most restaurant staff. The ideal tip is 10% of the total bill but if you like the server (which I guarantee you will), then you can add some more.
When to visit Tel Aviv
December – February (Winter)
Winter in Tel Aviv can go down to 11 degrees Celsius. This is not usually that cold but take note that being a desert country, winter in Israel can be a little drier and colder than the forecast. There is also a possibility of rain during this season.
March – April (Spring)
This is the best time to visit Tel Aviv because the temperature is perfect! During this season, there will be a lot of random rooftop parties you can crash. Tel Avivian homes are usually with rooftops so feel free to crash whenever you hear music. They will surely welcome you. It is a little cold for the beach but people go anyway!
During this season, you will get to witness Purim, the Jewish Halloween. Make sure to bring your Halloween costume as March is that time of the year for Israel! Israel’s Independence Day falls inpu April, which is kind of big, too.
Summer in Israel is too hot but perfectly fits the profile of this beach city. This is the time to be on the beach every day! This is Tel Aviv’s driest season so make sure to hydrate and put sunblock on your skin. It can get really hot! If you go in June, you will witness Tel Aviv Pride Parade, the biggest pride parade in the world flocked by millions of tourists every year.
This is also a good season to visit Tel Aviv as the crowd is not that big. The temperatures are not annoying, too! I think this is the best time to visit Israel in general as the one-month Jewish holidays take place in September/October, depending on the Jewish calendar. If you choose to visit at this time, you will get to know Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism where most Jewish people will spend 24 hours of fasting, repentance, and atonement. They are pretty religious activities but you will get the chance to participate!
The Tel Avivian Culture
Tel Aviv is a very lively city composed of 90% young people. Expect that the city is active 24/7 – bars, restaurants, etc, they basically run all the time! Unlike Jerusalem, there is no dress code in Tel Aviv. You can even wear pajamas going out and nobody will care!
As you’ve read above, Tel Aviv holds the biggest pride parade in the world every June so that makes them the only Middle Eastern country who is quite open to LGBTQ. Solo female travel in Tel Aviv is pretty safe as it’s very easy to meet friends – the Israelis are 200% friendly! Traveling with kids and families are also very common in Tel Aviv.
What's next after Tel Aviv?
Israel is a small country so you can easily visit the following places after Tel Aviv:
- Jerusalem. I actually experienced the best parties in Jerusalem and I was quite surprised about the nightlife culture here – something I didn’t really expect. Shabbat is highly practiced here so all restaurants and establishments are closed from Friday – Saturday (sundown).
- Golan Heights. Israel’s pride when it comes to wine. In here, you can discover the great outdoors and explore Israel’s Assyrian land.
- Akko. Akko is one of the smallest towns in Israel but has the most diverse selection of things to do. You would ideally spend a night or two in this town. Markets, tunnels and a lot of history can be discovered in Akko.
- Nazareth and Galilee. Expect a load of familiar places in the bible coming your way! Churches, popular monuments and religious sites.
- Cross the border to Egypt or Jordan. If you’re already in Israel, why not include Egpyt and Jordan in your itinerary? It’s super easy to cross both countries by land!