In Tel Aviv, I couldn’t turn a corner without encountering the kindness of strangers.

One night, the woman responsible for bringing the farmers market to the Tel Aviv Port dished on her favorite restaurants; on another, a British Embassy staffer steered me toward simply can’t-miss hummus. And when I asked for directions on Rothschild Boulevard, a kindly gentleman walked 15 minutes out of his way to show me.

As a female traveler who regularly flies solo, I have developed a heightened but guarded sense of awareness. But in Tel Aviv, where ubiquitous Israeli flags reveal a pride of country I have yet to see anywhere else, I felt welcome and safe. It’s not the overly warm hospitality of an Italian nonna greeting you with heaps of pasta, but more of a casual invitation to swap stories.

Another lovely morning on Rothschild Boulevard. (Photograph by Or Hiltch, Flickr)

Another lovely morning on Rothschild Boulevard. (Photograph by Or Hiltch, Flickr)

I recently spent a week exploring the different neighborhoods in this innovative city. Tel Aviv’s creative energy and global influence are on display everywhere you look, largely due to its flourishing tech start-up scene. Though Damascus is only 133 miles away, Israel’s second biggest city feels completely sheltered from warring neighbor Syria, and talk of the conflict with Palestine is often attenuated by shoulder shrugs.

The blending of old and new is also striking. In the growing Tel Aviv Port area, I could indulge my imagination by picturing icons of history sailing the crashing waves, then indulge my appetite at Kitchen Market, a wholly modern destination for serious foodies.

My recommendations for what to do and see in the other City That Never Sleeps:

An art dealer at the Jaffa flea market. (Photograph by Lior Patel, Your Shot)

An art dealer at the Jaffa flea market. (Photograph by Lior Patel, Your Shot)

The Neighborhoods

  • City Center: Stroll Dizengoff Street to check out the variety of sophisticated shops and restaurants on offer. Be sure to make it up to the Tel Aviv Port, a recently revitalized commercial and entertainment area with awesome views of the waves. For another side of the city, try walking from the Carmel Market in Kerem HaTeimanim (where you can find a colorful array of fruits, vegetables, and bargain items) to the beach. Don’t forget to get lost in this cobblestoned neighborhood along the way.
  • Old Jaffa and Jaffa Port: I returned to Jaffa, one of the most delightful (and historic) parts of Tel Aviv, four times on my trip. Head to the Jaffa flea market early for the best selections, and then make a midmorning pilgrimage to Abu Hassan Hummus. (Choose the line on the left to sit down and the one on the right to take away.) I also enjoyed dinner at Dr Shakshuka, made famous for its namesake dish.
  • Neve Tzedek: Duck into unique shops, art galleries, and even an organic juice bar on Shabazi, the neighborhood’s relaxed main street. Wander into the courtyard of the Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance to check for upcoming performances, then head to Cafe Suzanna to grab a bite to eat (and some shade!) on the terrace.
  • Florentin: Alternatively gritty and gentrified, Florentin has long been known for its spice market. I ate my favorite meal in Tel Aviv here, at Hahultziym 3. I felt as if I were at Chef Eitan Vanunu’s own home as he served up piled-high bruschetta, lentil salad with parsley, almonds, yogurt, and lemon, and — the best bite of my trip — challah filled with pork and bacon.

The Sights

Neve Tzedek, my favorite neighborhood in Tel Aviv.   (Photograph by Annie Fitzsimmons)

Neve Tzedek, my favorite neighborhood in Tel Aviv. (Photograph by Annie Fitzsimmons)

  • Nature: The combination of strong rays and waves striking the rocky shore brings the potential for epic sunsets in Tel Aviv. Find a perch near Manta Ray restaurant on the beach, with a view of Old Jaffa.
  • Culture: The Tel Aviv Museum of Art houses an impressive collection of Old Masters like Rubens, Van Dyck, and Rigaud. But don’t miss the changing exhibitions, like the jaw-droppingly outlandish art by Douglas Gordon. The building recently added a new wing, effectively doubling its size. For the best insight into the city’s art scene, book a tour with Sarah Peguine of Oh So Arty, who is connected to the best galleries in the city, like Dvir.
  • Shopping: Stroll down Rothschild Boulevard and Sheinken Street to snap up some of Tel Aviv’s local flavor. On Tuesdays and Fridays, a section of Nahalat Binyamin Street becomes an artist’s showcase of jewelry, clothes, and unique craft pieces.

The Food

  • Breakfast: The Dan Panorama boasts a massive spread of Israeli specialties and Western favorites, while boutique Hotel Montefiore has a beautiful dining room and delicious breakfast. At Orna and Ella, the sweet potato pancakes are the most celebrated item on the menu.
  • Lunch: I loved the second-floor outdoor terrace at Delicatessen (which is also a gourmet grocery shop) and the alfresco dining experience at Lulu Kitchen and Bar on Shabazi Street.
  • Dinner: Trendy Tapas 1 has diners spilling out the front door at dinner, while Mizlala attracts a beautiful crowd to chow down on Chef Meir Adoni’s creations. In Jaffa, Kalamata serves fresh seafood with a view of the Mediterranean.
The Tel Aviv Museum of Art. (Photograph by Tmesis, Flickr)

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art. (Photograph by Tmesis, Flickr)

The Practical

  • Planning: Arm yourself with hyper-local tips from Eager Tourist, and map out your itinerary for each day (I went neighborhood by neighborhood). Walk as much as you can to see the city up close and personal.
  • Transportation: A car rental helped me get around quickly, but if you follow suit, rent the smallest car you can. Tel Aviv has a huge parking shortage, and my Mini made the difference more than once.
  • Navigation: Triple-check addresses, and use Waze! (Full disclosure, my longtime beau works for the social GPS company.) But, with over 70 percent of Israel signed up for the service, if there’s a faster way to get from place to place, Waze will tell you.

Annie Fitzsimmons is Intelligent Travel’s Urban Insider, giving you the dish on the best things to see and do in cities all over the world. Follow her on Twitter @anniefitz.

Comments

  1. Martin
    Tel Aviv is one of the Best Of
    May 2, 2013, 6:27 pm

    Tel Aviv is amazing. It’s got the best city beach in the world, it’s full of great Bauhaus architecture, it’s THE party city, it’s THE gay city, there’s great street art… the list is endless!
    Here’s a few photos that say more than words: http://www.fm1721.net/#!tel-aviv/c1tm0

  2. Kim @ AnecdotalGoat
    Los Angeles
    May 2, 2013, 8:47 pm

    You have totally inspired me to put Tel Aviv on my bucket list. I must go there sometime!

  3. anna
    Old Jaffa
    May 3, 2013, 1:35 am

    Always like to read an article that gives publicity to the same places all the time, in fact Old Jaffa and flee market are different things, Old Jaffa is a tourist quartier full of hand made jewelery, art… and flee market is in Jaffa (not Old Jaffa)
    Dr Shakshuka is in fact not that good, Abu Hassan better getting worse due to all the publicity. I would look for other restaurants near by, not that famous and far from touristic zone.

  4. Elize
    May 3, 2013, 2:06 am

    I loved Tel Aviv as well. I travel solo, and this is such a safe and gorgeous city to go to as a woman. I can’t wait to go back

  5. Inbal
    Tel Aviv
    May 3, 2013, 4:44 pm

    I particularly agree about the great food choices! For anyone interested in culinary walking tours in Israel check out http://www.deliciousisrael.com !

  6. Marilyn & Josephine
    Tel Aviv
    May 4, 2013, 11:31 am

    lovely report!
    check out our blog about tel Aviv http://marilynjosephine.wordpress.com/

  7. Marilyn & Josephine
    Tel Aviv
    May 4, 2013, 11:37 am
  8. Adrian Estebon
    Hawai'i
    May 4, 2013, 4:17 pm

    useful tips for a great beachside community

  9. Danny
    Israel
    May 4, 2013, 7:36 pm

    Ms. Fitzsimmons probably visited Tel Aviv around Independence Day which would explains all the flags she saw. During the rest of the year Israeli patriotism is not so widely on display.
    Regarding transportation, it’s worth mentioning the very successful and reasonably priced Tel-Ofan bicycle rental service with sites throughout the city.

  10. philippe
    May 5, 2013, 5:40 pm

    And Tel Aviv is so much more yet…

    I don’t know of any other city as laid back and real, where it’s exceedingly easy to meet locals, and fun too, as the locals are invariably intelligent, interesting and so often, sexy.

    Where else do you have dreadlocks, surfboards, high tech, high art and crazy nightlife mingle so unpretentiously and naturally amid massive diversity?

    Tel Aviv is a city of gorgeous people, who, unlike in most Western cities, are treated like adults by the system so that they can act like kids.

    Parking and cost aside, it’s the perfect city. I got back two days ago and I miss it endlessly.

  11. Adam
    Stockholm
    May 6, 2013, 8:09 am

    I love Tel Aviv! Even though I am based in Stockholm for the moment, I am reading Telavivian almost daily to get updated about what’s going on in the city.

  12. Michal
    May 6, 2013, 8:15 am

    When you arrive TLV and the amazing Neve Tsedek, be sure to step by ULPAN NEVE TSEDEK where you can study Hebrew.
    This is a small Internationale place, the best in Tel Aviv to study the language.

  13. Lior Patel
    Tel aviv
    May 6, 2013, 12:24 pm

    Yay !!!!! My art dealer shot is part of the story :)

  14. Christine
    Washington, DC
    May 6, 2013, 3:24 pm

    Thanks for featuring one of my favorite cities in the world! The fact that your favorite dish was challah stuffed with pork clearly shows the many differences between TLV and the more Kosher Jerusalem. Also, the many flags you saw waving around town probably were up for Independence/Memorial Day.

  15. aleksey sundukovskiy
    United States
    May 6, 2013, 11:56 pm

    A woman, a good looking woman at that will have men be “nice” to her practically anywhere in the world.
    But I am a guy and people were nice to me everywhere I went not just Tel Aviv.

  16. ronsho
    Tel Aviv
    May 7, 2013, 12:43 am

    If you are an ambitious photographer, when you’re visiting TLV, you’re welcome to join the photography walks.

    The most beautiful photos of Tel Aviv are at
    http://ron-shoshani.fineartamerica.com

  17. nadav Peretz
    Tel Aviv
    May 7, 2013, 10:22 am

    Traveling to Israel?
    check out this amazing website!
    http://www.fabulousisr.com

  18. Herzl Melmed
    Denver, Colorado
    May 7, 2013, 1:20 pm

    Tel Aviv is not only a party city. It is packed with culture-museums, theatre, opera, dance, art exhibitions, history. There are many beach front restaurants where breakfasts are wonderful- try the shakshuka, my favorite. Also the best coffee shops anywhere (that is why Starbucks coudln’t make it in Israel!).

  19. Roland
    Florida
    June 4, 2013, 7:14 pm

    There is a chain of diner bistros called Mikes Place. If you speak english and are under 90, you will recognize a home away from home eating good food and listening to live blues, soul, r&b, and rock. Its worth it.

  20. Gaelic Neilson (@Gaelic_Neilson)
    United States
    June 7, 2013, 6:50 am

    This article attempts to completely erase the fact of Israeli illegal land theft, from the indigenous Palestinian people, to create Tel Aviv and makes no mention of the illegal occupation, the MILLIONS of people under Israeli siege in Gaza, as well as burdened by the apartheid wall in the West Bank. I wasn’t aware that such a whitewash could occur via “National Geographic.” Visiting Tel Aviv is like visiting “Sun City” South Africa during apartheid there. Simply shameful!

  21. J.
    Israel
    August 10, 2013, 6:13 am

    How wonderful to hear that you had such a great experience in Tel Aviv. And a lovely article too :)
    http://www.telavivtips.com/

  22. INSPIRE
    Tel Aviv / Jerusalem
    August 20, 2013, 10:08 am

    Tel Aviv is a positive challenge to most, even the locals around in near-by cities…its different than most cities for many different reasons…the graffiti and street art are exceptional…the city is boundless; its filthy and yet beautiful, encouraging, and disturbingly amazing…we should know, we’ve been putting art in Tel Aviv pubic space for the last 5 yrs, originally began in Jerusalem (2002) check out the INSPIRE Collective in Tel Aviv-Yafo:
    http://www.inspirecollective.com
    http://www.inspirationartfestival.tk

  23. Reesa Rosenthal
    USA
    February 22, 3:39 pm

    First & foremost, we are looking for an adorable store in Tel Aviv that we visited last year that is independently owned and has really cool housewares, gifts etc. It was a very new store when we visited last May. Can anyone help us find it again ( name of the store).? We are going back in a few months and would love to stop in again. Loved Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, the stores, beaches, etc!!!

  24. Joel Rosenthal
    United States
    February 22, 4:28 pm

    Mr. Neilson, it’s obvious that you get your information from extremely biased sources. The Jews have had an uninterrupted presence in Israel for thousands of years; who you think built the Old City in Jerusalem? When early Zionist Jews started buying land in Israel in the late 1890s, many of the local Arabs exhibited their longstanding hostility to the Jews, rioting and killing them. It is this hostility that caused the local Arabs to turn down every attempt made to share the land, except for the million-plus Arab citizens of Israel.

    Gaza residents used the Israeli withdrawal as an opening to continue attacking the Jews, and there can be no reasoning with Hamas, who wants only the removal of all Jews from the entire country. The separation barrier by the West Bank was planned when Arabs were blowing themselves up in crowded buses and in public places and restaurants on a near-daily basis. The separation barrier has not only protected the Israelis from daily attacks, it has obviated the need for Israeli reprisals, and the economy of the West Bank has been much improved ever since. That leads me to the fact that EVERY action Israel has ever taken against the Palestinians has been because of Palestinian attacks against Israel; if there were no attacks against Israel there would be no measures taken by Israel against them.

    Finally, I see that you are in the United States. Do you make similar complaints against National Geographic articles about cities in the United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries who have taken over land from indigenous people?

  25. Oded
    Tel-Aviv
    May 4, 3:05 pm

    Maybe this guy can help you out: http://www.localyoo.com/experts/kristof-steiner