Tel Aviv, Israel – the city of surprises and the best beach we have ever seen

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תל אביב

Tel Aviv and Jaffa charmed us with the mix of stories, cultures and religions

Tel Aviv welcomed me with shakshuka – the Arab-style eggs with tomato sauce. There are many ways to cook it but you usually need onions, garlic and olive oil and fry for a while. Then add peppers, tomatoes, cumin, some paprika, chilly pepper and sugar. At the top you add 4-5 eggs and cook for 10-15 minutes until ready. So you have a ready serving of shakshuka, which is widely consumed for breakfast but you could also eat it for lunch or dinner. I’m stopping here with the cooking lessons because my wife will notice that I can cook and this will be the end of the paradise at home.

Sakshuka dish, Tel Aviv, Israel

Shakshuka

How I went to Tel Aviv?

In 2016 I was extremely lucky to visit Israel twice. When you are not making any huge plans, the luck comes by itself. So without any planning I was offered a trip there – first in January and later in May. So I could experience the country both in the winter (which is more like spring there) and in May, when in Israel is already summer. In this article I will tell you about both trips so please excuse me if I am sometimes mixing the information and the seasons. I will also try to give some tips about what to see in Tel Aviv and what to do in Tel Aviv, but most of all I will be telling you my story with the city.

First encounter with Tel Aviv

The first thing I noticed in Tel Aviv was the extreme level of security. Passing through the airport is easy and there feels no tension, but I was stopped for random checks several times. It is very important to know whether exactly you are going in Israel – the name and contacts of your hotel or the people you are staying with. If a friend has invited you, you should better bring a letter of invitation written by him, explaining where is he living, what is he doing there and how are you related to each other. Do not underestimate the security details if you want your trip to pass smoothly.

Dizengoff street, Tel Aviv, Israel

Dizengoff

My first breakfast in Tel Aviv was also my first shock when I realised how expensive everything was. I have been to many expensive cities including London and Paris but Tel Aviv was something different.

The White City

The first time we stayed in a hotel on Dizengoff street – one of the main streets in Tel Aviv, home to many popular bars and restaurants. It was named after the first mayor of Tel Aviv – Meir Dizengoff. The area around Dizengoff street is known as the White City of Tel Aviv and since 2003 is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site.

The White City of Tel Aviv, Israel

The White City

Tel Aviv is a very new city. Its construction started in the early 20th century and the central part known as the White City was built mostly in the 1920 and 1930. The construction was influenced by the Bauhaus school in Germany. In the 1930s many Jewish architects from the Bauhaus school fled to the then British mandate of Palestine and together with local colleagues took part in the construction of the new city. Today the White City is one of the most prestigious and expensive areas in Tel Aviv, which has in the meanwhile turned into a megalopolis.

Dizengoff street in Tel Aviv, Israel

Dizengoff street

But Tel Aviv is a city of contrasts. Just a few blocks from the neat White City you can meet the typical Oriental way of life. Israel is a state where many different peoples are living together, mostly Jews and Arabs, and the mix between their cultures is inevitable. So just metres away from the White City, you find yourself on the market.

Carmel Market in Tel Aviv (Shuk Ha’Carmel)

The Carmel Market is located in the immediate vicinity of the promenade and amazes with the contrast to the white and neat city. There you can find anything – herbs, spices, sweets, candy, fruits and vegetables, juices and whatever else you could need. Because of this extreme diversity of products, the smells that could be felt there are not less impressive.

Shuk Ha'Carmel, Carmel Market, Tel Aviv, Israel

Carmel Market in Tel Aviv (Shuk Ha’Carmel)

Shuk Ha'Carmel Tel Aviv, Israel

Carmel Market in Tel Aviv (Shuk Ha’Carmel)

In January the mix of odours could be found exotic to some extent, especially when the smell of spices is dominant. But in May, in the 40-degree heat, it could be a real challenge to survive it. If you are not a friend of the strong smells and you easily get sick of the heat and the lack of fresh air, the Carmel Market is not the place for you.

Shuk Ha'Carmel

Carmel Market in Tel Aviv (Shuk Ha’Carmel)

Shuk Ha'Carmel Tel Aviv, Israel 2

So many people on the market

At the end of the working day, passing by the market is even a bigger challenge and I would not recommend it if you are heading to your dinner meal.

The end of the working day at Carmel Market in Tel Aviv (Shuk Ha'Carmel)

The end of the working day at Carmel Market in Tel Aviv (Shuk Ha’Carmel)

In case you are really willing to visit Carmel, please notice that it is not working on Saturday.

The best beach ever

The new city of Tel Aviv is built by a beautiful and well-maintained seaside area with many beaches and places for rest. First time I saw it there was a sandstorm and the weather was not very good for sunbathing, but in May the season was perfect and we enjoyed a wonderful day on one of the best beaches we have ever seen.

The storm

What if this storm lasts through my whole stay? This question I was asking myself when I arrived in Tel Aviv for the fist time and saw the sandstorm. Almost the whole beach was underwater and the only people who were happy about this were the local surfers. However, in the evening the weather improved and we spent a nice evening in the bars of Dizengoff street.

Storm at Turkish delight at Carmel Market Tel Aviv, Israel

The storm

Sunbathing in Tel Aviv

In the summer the beach of Tel Aviv is a wonderful place to spend a relaxing day, lying under the palm trees. The beach of Tel Aviv is several kilometres long and really wide, offering space for anyone. What we loved the most was the fine sand which got so hard when wet that is felt like walking on the asphalt. The beach of Tel Aviv was clean and really nice, as well as the sea.

The beach in Tel Aviv in the summer

Sunbathing in Tel Aviv

The good news here is that you can enjoy it for free with all the basic facilities needed for your stay. There are many trees where you can place your towel and enjoy the shadow, if you are nor carrying your own umbrella. On regular distance there are also dressing rooms, showers and toilets that are free to use so you have all you need to enjoy a good day on the beach. There are also many cafes and restaurants, if you are not bringing your water or need to drink or eat something else. But note that the foods and drinks on the beach may be really expensive – I have heard of a burger costing around 40 EUR.

Morning on the beach

When it is January and the temperature outside is around 15 degrees, the best idea you could have is to go to the beach, especially if it is -15 in your home country. The main promenade in Tel Aviv is named after mayor Shlomo Lahat, who was on power during its reconstruction on the 1980s. It is clean, wide and extremely nice, with many benches and places for rest, overlooking the sea. I took he long walk north to Jaffa – the ancient city and port, now a quarter of Tel Aviv.

Shlomo Lahat

Shlomo Lahat

Shlomo Lahat

Shlomo Lahat

Jaffa (or Yafo)

Walking by the promenade of Tel Aviv you can reach Jaffa – the famous ancient port city, today a part of the megalopolis Tel Aviv – Yafo. Jaffa (Yafo) is doubtlessly one of the main and most interesting places to see in Tel Aviv, one of the main attractions in Tel Aviv.  Depending on where you start and how fast you walk, it will take between 40 minutes and several hours to reach from Tel Aviv centre to Jaffa. If walking a few kilometres is not your thing, you can hire a bike from the city centre or take the public transportation.

You can hire a bike from one of the many bike stations around Tel Aviv. The public network Tel-O-Fun allows visitors to hire a bicycle for a whole day and the first 30 minutes are free of charge.

Jaffa has been existing since 7500 BCE, according to archaeological evidence. The city is mentioned in the Bible, as well as the Greek mythology.

Exploring the city with the Free tour of Jaffa

A good way to explore any unknown city is looking for a free walking tour. Such tours are available in many big cities I have visited and Jaffa was not an exception. In general, I like these tip-based tours because the guides are usually very friendly and you can learn useful things about the city for “free”. However, the word “free” does not always mean that and they are trying to make you feel uncomfortable unless you leave a tip. The standard tip for Free Jaffa Tour was 50 shekel (13 Eur), as mentioned by our guide.

All tours start at the clock tower which was closed for renovation during my visit. It was built in the early 20th century in honour of the Ottoman ruler Sultan Abdul Hamid II.

Jaffa and Napoleon

Walking through Jaffa with an organised group is an interesting experience. Our guide explains us that we are passing through one of the gates to the old city and where the fortifications walls stood once. People from a neighbouring barber’s shop are making fun of the group of curious foreigners, me among them. The place where the walls once stood is now a beautiful promenade and we stop for a short lecture. The guide explains how Napoleon conquered the city and killed thousands of prisoners. However, in 1799 he failed to conquer Acre and returned to Jaffa. There his warriors got sick of plague and Napoleon suffered a terrible loss. I am not sure why, but Napoleon is an important figure in the culture of Jaffa. You can see statues of him anywhere in the city, as well as on the tourist boats and the restaurants.

The picture Bonaparte Visits the Plague Stricken in Jaffa by French painter Antoine-Jean Gros.

The picture Bonaparte Visits the Plague Stricken in Jaffa by French painter Antoine-Jean Gros.

Tel Aviv skyline seen from Jaffa beach

The old port

The old port of Jaffa is the only naturally formed port in this part of the Mediterranean sea. It has been in use for over 7000 years and today still serves as a small fishing port. Nowadays the old warehouses are turned into bars and restaurants, offering seafood delicacies.

The old port of Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Israel

The old port of Jaffa

Jaffa - the old port

Jaffa – the old port and the lighthouse

The winter is a wonderful time to explore the old city. It is warm like spring, but far from the unbearable summer heat. I spent my day walking by the small cobblestone streets bearing the names of zodiac signs. They are home to many painters’ ateliers and theatre halls.

Many legends can be heard about Jaffa and the city is even mentioned in the Bible. Here apostle Peter resurrected the local widow Tabitha. The catholic church in Jaffa bears his name. Once Jaffa was a really important port and city and it’s not a coincidence that one of the gates to the holy city of Jerusalem is called Jaffa Gate.

Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Israel 4

Jaffa

Jaffa, Tel Aviv

Jaffa

The sunset was close and I headed to the beach to enjoy the lights of the modern city of Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv skyline seen from Jaffa Yafo Israel

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

What to eat in Israel

Hummus is a traditional and widely respected food in Israel. I personally like it very much so I advice you not to miss it. Another traditional meal is shakshuka, which I mentioned in the beginning. Try also doners and falafel which are a budget meal option. There are also many shops offering frozen yogurt but I still like the Bulgarian yogurt more.

My favourite drink in Israel is the fresh pomegranate juice. You can buy it anywhere – at cafes, restaurants, street fresh bars. I really love the Israeli pomegranates.

Humus

Hummus in Tel Aviv Israel

Security in Israel and Tel Aviv

When I went back from Israel, all my friends asked me whether I was afraid to go to a state that is at war with most of its neighbours. However, I haven’t felt more secure than in Israel. The security was better than most European capitals and there were soldiers and police everywhere. For me, there is nothing to worry about in Tel Aviv.

We were a bit worried when we had to drive through the Palestinian territory on our way from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. But despite our worries, there was nothing unusual except a few checkpoints.

Soldier guarding the promenade in Tel Aviv Israel

More..

The art of Ran Morin

This floating orange tree was placed there in 1993. Our guide remembered the times when it was still a sapling.

Ran Morin

Ran Morin

The signs

Understanding the street signs was a challenge for me even the second time I went to Israel. Luckily, the STOP was not so hard to recognise but I had some trouble reading the opening hours of the shops and restaurants.

STOP sign in Israel

Opening hours strange sign in Israel

Tips:

Your flight to Tel Aviv might not be expensive but if you are considering Israel as your next travel destination, allow a serious budget. The prices are higher than the most cities I have been to, including London and Paris. The cheapest meal is probably a fast food like doner or falafel for around 15-20 shekels, or 4-5 EUR. A cup of pomegranate juice was around 25 shekels. Accommodation is not cheap at all, too.

You should also be familiar with the holidays in Israel. Traditionally, the working week starts on Sunday and finishes on Thursday. Saturday is the most important day of the week – Sabbath. On this day most religious Jews are abstaining from using any transport and electronic devices. So if you are walking near a synagogue or another religious place, please observe the rules. Another thing about Sabbath is that most of the shops and restaurants are closed from Friday evening to Saturday evening.



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