Where Miami meets the Middle East, meets Brooklyn on the Beach, meets Berlin in Manhattan!
So many different influences, similarities, familiarities but yet this place is like no other…
Airport & Transfer
I’m always so excited arriving at a new airport but I was a little nervous for this trip. I had read everywhere that passport control takes ages, is pretty intense and scary. I even read to be prepared for more questions in a side room, especially if you’ve been to an Arab country (which I had). But this wasn’t my experience at all. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen but for me, other than asking more questions than I’m used to, they were professional and polite.
I also read about a lot of concern about the passport stamp from Israel causing problems getting in other countries. But again no need to worry – they don’t stamp it. It’s now done on a piece of paper you just keep safe.
So to the airport – it’s huge and also has free brilliant WiFi so don’t waste your data! In fact all of Tel Aviv was WiFi fantastic and friendly from cafes to shops!
A note for when you are returning to leave the country – you need to get to the airport 3 hrs minimum before leaving whether you have luggage or not! This was not a rumour! It’s one of the safest but most stringent securities I have ever been through but that means it takes time. I had my passport checked 6 times! But the reason it all takes so long is their rigorous explosive searches at the X-ray machines. I was in that queue for an hour and twenty- so don’t throw that bottle of water away as you’ll end up needing it in the queue! They have a brilliantly organised system and will rush anyone through who is late – which also is frustrating when you’ve arrived early. But the stress and panic isn’t worth the risk. Then, rather than shoes and liquids into trays, as I’m familiar with, it’s all your electronics and cables. Bags are then swiped down and x-rayed. Not knowing this meant people were a bit irritated but considering the volume, it was actually a pretty calm experience. It took me just over 2 hrs from arrival to the gate – no shopping, no toilet stop, no time! So I would have missed my flight if I’d done my usual sliding in 1.5 hours before. Talking of shopping, I was at T3, which is big, as I mentioned, with lots of shops but not much in the way of bars or tourist tat so do get that before leaving or you’ll spend a fortune and it’s limited choice.
But back to arriving…
From the airport to Tel Aviv you have 3 options: Taxi, Gett taxi (download before you get there) or train. Train are twice an hour and only 18 mins and cheap – a few quid but you will most likely need an onward bus or cab in Tel Aviv. Except on Shabbat. First thing to note when visiting Israel is that from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown is Shabbat. This is, in simplest terms described to me as ‘the time nothing new should be created’ but think of it like how Sunday’s used to be – many things are closed.
Gett app is like Uber only you often can only pay in cash and due to my data restrictions issues and no wifi directly outside the airport, I opted for a regular taxi from the rank right outside, well left outside! 😂 (Like many international airports make sure you go to the official rank where the marshals will get you a taxi. (If any randoms approach say no!) Expect to pay £25-£40 depending on time of day. I paid 150 shekels cash approx £30 and agree it before you set off.
I was baffled at where to stay as I knew very little about TA, I love staying with sea views but equally this was a winter break. Turns out it didn’t really matter as it’s all so close/ walkable and cabs are cheap. I opted for the Poli House Hotel which is part of the Brown hotels – there are a lot of them in TA. I chose this one for its rooftop pool, obviously! 😜 I had no idea of it’s fun, fashionable, very instagrammable decor – lots of pink! 💖
(If pink isn’t your thing then my second choice was another Brown Hotel, The Lighthouse – also with an insta worthy reception)
And also with an incredible rooftop bar… no pool & the bar wasn’t open in the day (in winter) but insane views. So I opted for the Poli as they had a heated rooftop pool and were open all day.
So back to the Poli… The reception is located on the top floor which is a bit weird as you arrive to a bare basic concierges desk but are soon are wowed by the rooftop.
The basic room was small, super clean with a free bottle of ouzo! 🤷♀️👏 No tea and coffee machine (always annoying) but excellent black out curtains (always dangerous for over sleeping!). The bathroom was equally clean, fabulous shower and amenities though the door was weird as was also the door for the shower. But it worked for us for a few days break.
Arriving in time for sunset with a rooftop pool was the perfect start. The main bar is actually enclosed in the winter but in the summer the roof comes off – this will definitely be a go to drinks destination. (This turned out to be very typical of TA – they love their rooftops and the need for winter warmth!) For all rooftops in Tel Aviv click here!
Exploring the areas of TA
Much like London and NYC Tel Aviv is broken into areas that are very different. Nahalat Benjamin & Neve Tzedek was where we were based and good for everything from shopping to restaurants to rooftops and the famous Carmel market which is full of food and spices..
… fruit and veg – including the persimmon fruit or its nickname the Sharon fruit. Like a cross between a tomato and a apple & a plum – seedless, no core and twice the fibre of an apple!
It also has a huge amount of tourist tat – so get your souviners here for 1/4 if the price at the airport! Also to note these markets are busy and bustling but nothing like the intimidating. souks I’ve been to in Morocco. These are vibrant and fun and I felt totally safe.
In Neve Tzedek there is an area south that is like a little country of its own located in the old train station. The oldest tree in Tel Aviv is the center piece to a Spanish inspired tapas Resturant Vicky Cristina – I usually would want to eat local when abroad but this came highly recommended and it was worth the switch to Spanish for the night though also felt like a Greek tavern! Either way was a fabulous fun place!
Florentine and JAffa areas were more Bondi meets Berlin student hip vibe with amazing vegan restaurants – in fact the whole city was catered for vegan which my friend is and I’m allergic to gluten – also catered for well. Though the weirdest thing was, they don’t do gluten free bread. Most dishes were easily or they had specific GF options but not one single place had gluten free bread. 🤷♀️
Fun fact: Jaffa is actually the place Jaffa oranges come from and therefore JAffa cakes are named from! 😂
Some fabulous finds for food:
The first thing to say about TA is their food was the best I’ve ever had anywhere in the world. From little cafes in JAffa to fancy restaurants in White City – you can’t go wrong.
Breakfast over brunch is a thing here – often running most of the day so basically brunch! 🤣Shakshuka is incredibly popular and delicious – eggs cooked in tomato sauce with bread and tahini! Also almost everything always comes with a small super fresh salad and tahini! You will eat more tahini than you know you needed! Hummus is also a huge here – famous for it in fact – you can find it everywhere!
Not my usual go to but this trip was a big birthday for my friend and she loved this place. She’s a Dalston girl and this was so east London – shared benches, little table huddles, heaters in the winter with great food and fabulous service including free shots! Turned out free shots is a thing here – don’t think tacky bars though – think kind and fun like an aperitif or digestive! Some places like here even offer you any shot you fancy! (Which is helpful as we all have that one shot we can’t even have again!)
This is where I had the second best lamb I’ve ever had. (Number one spot goes to Morocco weirdly with the friend I was with on this trip!). They are super friendly and fun – and the free shots were following! This was a great vibe – after work, date night, bday vibe. Also some tables were sharing, sat at the bar or outside. Was packed every night!
Perfect for breakfast & coffees and drinks – the cutest little cafe, best enjoyed inside for its library quirky vibe though as it was winter and we could sit outside we obviously did! At then night it transforms to a trendy bar and restaurant using the fresh food from the Carmel market next door!
There are cafes and bars and restaurants at every corner so you really can’t go far wrong anywhere! For your rooftops: click here!
There are a lot of beaches that all run into each other – one is called banana 🍌 beach and yes I had to eat a banana on banana beach!! 🤪 There are beach gyms and lifeguarding huts that brings to life the Miami meeting the Middle East description. The one thing missing was great restaurants on the beach – partly due to being winter but partly there aren’t as many as I expected.
Though one place with a beach bar was the Carlton Hotel. Not only did it have that but it also had one of the best rooftops I’ve been to – wow of wow rooftops! It has everything: the views of the sea, harbour, city, beach and sunset. A bar, restaurant, pool and a jacuzzi! What more do you need! Well the lottery win to move in there!! 😜 (More info on my rooftop page)
The hotel itself was full of glamour and the big hotel vibe you’d expect but what I didn’t expect was the concierge to be so kind and helpful when we weren’t even staying there! 🥰 Though the only downside is it’s a bit far up the beach – a good 30-45 min walk from the centre but it’s a lovely walk either on the beach or cafe hopping in the streets behind.
Some top TA travel tips:
1. It’s one of the safest places to visit. I had a few people worrying me after I’d booked asking this. And yes – I felt SO safe.* Yes there are armed police at shopping malls and wandering the streets but that’s only a bit unnerving you aren’t used to it. They are unobtrusive and helpful! *Obviously, like anywhere in the world, things can change so always check the government website before travel.
2. They say it as it is. Even in their signage! Their directness is refreshing but for a Brit could be a little confronting.
3. I’ve heard the weather in the summer is HOT. We went in Jan and it was 16-18 in the day and right down to 7-10 at night. Actually perfect for city exploring but less so for sunning ourselves. Still out hotel rooftop did get hot enough for us to swim and sunbathe!
4. Tipping is a thing and it’s around 10- 12%. With their directness they will ask too: ‘service isn’t included how much do you want to add?’ If you feel it’s been good then say the percentage rather than an amount. If it’s been dreadful be direct back!
5. It’s expensive! Think London/ NYC prices
6. Water is safe to drink from the tap (except at the Dead Sea) and as I have a very sensitive stomach but was totally fine.
7. Carry ID for bars
8. If you are a woman, men are very direct – they will tell you if they find you attractive but it’s not sleezy or creepy but it can get boring if you aren’t interested (first world problems right there)
9. It’s the gay capital of the world so many rainbow flags, so warm and welcoming to all – including all regions. It’s a hugely religious place, as you’d imagine. If you have time you need to visit Jerusalem. You can get a train really easily in 40 minutes or there are lots of tours. My advise would for the first time to do a tour (and I’m not a tour fan) click here for more information on visiting Jerusalem. *coming soon*
Now lastly the rooftops…
I obviously love hunting out new rooftops on my trips but I also love learning different cities ways – TA, unlike most places, don’t close their rooftops in winter so much as they cover them up. So the bars can keep functioning and people can keep partying! However most don’t open in the day during Winter. This was my one negative of TA is that it has an amazing rooftop culture but not really to be enjoyed in the winter. Which is such a shame. We struggled to find one for sunset and see those views in the daylight. (Carlton and Poli hotels were our saviour) 🙌 🌆
Having said that considering the warm winter weather, the fantastic food, warm people it’s a small negative … I guess I’ll just have to go back in summer… 😜
Click here for a day trip to the Dead Sea *to be added soon*