In Middle East

Tel Aviv, Israel | A Two-Day Travel Guide

Welcome to Israel – Palestine! A historically peaceful region that’s never in the news nor generating polarizing opinions or Internet commentators aggressively posting flag emojis.

If only.

In reality, few things are as divisive as Israel and Palestine. So let’s start with something we can all agree on. And that is, nothing that I post over the course of the upcoming videos or blogs will completely satisfy any particular perspective… except my own –– a 30-something-year-old guy with the privileged power of an American passport.

First up, we’ll head to Tel Aviv for a tour through the Carmel Market with Peninah Myerson at Delicious Israel. Then it’s over to Jerusalem where culinary historian, Joel Haber, shares some Jewish flavors at the Machanep Yehudah Market I’ve never before tasted. From there, we head to Checkpoint 300 to cross into Bethlehem, Palestine for a walk along the wall and to stay at Banky’s Walled Off Hotel.

Where is Tel Aviv?

Tel Aviv sits right on the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, more or less in the middle between the northern Lebanese border and the southern border with Gaza and Egypt. I cannot be overstated just how small Israel is. The country is roughly 22,000 square kilometers or 8,630 square miles. Tsavo National Park in Kenya is about the same size. That means nothing in Israel is far.

How to get to Tel Aviv

Border crossings between Israel and its neighbors is rare. So almost anyone traveling to Tel Aviv or Israel is flying into Ben Gurion Airport (an airport controversially built on the ruins of Lydda, a Palestinian village that was forcibly destroyed by Israeli forces in 1948).

The airport is just a 21-minute train ride into Tel Aviv or a little less than an hour if you’re heading southeast into Jerusalem. Before we move on, a little word to the wise on riding the train in Israel.

The train is great! Easy to use and it’s a train, so it beats driving. But it’s frequently used by young soldiers in the IDF or the Israel Defense Forces. That means you might hop off your plane and see a good number of uniformed soldiers who look like children, hoisting a massive weapon over their shoulders while they casually scroll on their phones.

I don’t share this to frighten anyone. Because it’s frighteningly normal in this part of the world. Immigrants to Israel admitted to being caught off guard at first by it but getting used to it over time. I can’t say I got used to it, but it is the reality. So don’t be surprised or panicked when you see it.

Best time of year to visit Tel Aviv

Generally, you want to avoid the heart of a northern hemisphere summer and visit around March and May or September through November. I visited in May and have no complaints about the weather, though I did hear that the southern desert would be too hot to enjoy hiking during the day that time of year. The rest of the country was perfectly pleasant. So maybe just consider that if you plan to extend your trip to Tel Aviv into the desert.

Things to do in Tel Aviv

Eat, go to the beach, and eat again. There, I just planned your whole trip to Tel Aviv. But let’s get into the specifics.

Carmel Market

The Carmel Market (Shuk Hacarmel) is the largest market, or shuk, in Tel Aviv. If you’re shopping, you’ll find all kinds of spices, fruits, and vegetables. But I came with Delicious Israel on a food tour, prepared to graze throughout the tour –– and that I did, meeting some wonderful folks along the way, like the incredibly energetic Irit who makes lachuch (a kind of Yemenite pancake) in her small shop. Watch the video at the top of the article to see what I’m talking about and take get more of a taste of this market.

Tel Aviv Beaches

If you look on Google Maps, you’ll see a ton of different names for beaches along the coast of Tel Aviv, stretching from Charles Clore-Park and the Hassan Bek Mosque up to Independence Park. The map will tell you that there’s Aviv Beach, Geula Beach, Jerusalem Beach, Tel Aviv Beach, Trumpeldor Beach, Bugrashov Beach, Frishman Beach, Gordon Beach, Hilton Beach, and Metzitzim Beach. Except, on the ground, I didn’t see any of these names. It’s just, you know, beach! Gorgeous, enthralling beach (with tons of Israeli flags in case you forgot where you were).

Running in Tel Aviv

I’m not much of a beach guy, so my favorite way to enjoy it was to go for a run along the boardwalk, connecting with the paths along the Yarkon River and heading east to Ganei Yehoshua Park Hayarkon and back to the beach to cool off with a quick dip. If you want to try and recreate my run, you can check it out on my Strava here.

Visit Jaffa (Yafo)

Ever heard of the Canaanites? You know, from The Bible? Well, they built this port city (now part of southern Tel Aviv), so that gives you an idea of just how old this area is. Most of Tel Aviv’s Arab population lives here, comprising 37 percent of Jaffa. And walking around, it does feel like you’re in an ancient Arab souk. I visited on Saturday, during Shabbat when everything is closed. But still, it was a fun stroll around the old stairways leading into Jaffa and people-watching as Arabs (some presumably international travelers themselves) with other tourists and Israelis. I also had the best chocolate babka of my life here at Silvia Cafe right along the pedestrian and cycling path against the water. (And I’m more of a cinnamon babka guy myself.)

Restaurants in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv is one of my favorite food cities in the world, hands down. You just get such a wonderful diversity of cuisine here –– global Jewish cuisine, Levantine, Palestinian, Mediterranean. And for a vegetarian, these are some of the most welcoming cuisines you can find.

Below, I’ll share some of my favorites. Everything until Ala Rampa is featured in the video at the top of the article and was part of the Delicious Israel food tour.

Shlomo & Doron Hummus

Come here for all of your hummus needs! This spot predates the modern state of Israel. But the latest generation of ownership is, by his own admission, bored with traditional hummus. So he’s created his own spins on hummus, embracing unique flavors of different regions around the globe, like the Balkans. Check it out and get ready to stuff yourself on some smashed chickpeas.

Panda Pita

You can find this pita spot in Carmel Market. It’s not a falafel wrap nor is it a sabich. It’s 100 percent its own thing.

Sabich Tchernikhovski

The sabich just might be my favorite representation of global Jewish cuisine. You’ve got nods to Indian Jews, Iraqi Jews, and other Middle Eastern Jews in this wrap of wildly satisfying deliciousness. It’s also vegetarian-friendly (though the chopped egg might dissuade the vegans).

Hamalabiya

I get Biergarten vibes here with its open courtyard space with rows of picnic tables. We ended our tour with Delicious Israel here to nosh on some, malabi –– a kind of milk pudding made with rice, sugar, and milk that originated in Persia, brought to Israel by Jews who fled Iran throughout the 1950s and especially following the Iranian Revolution of 1979 when the community dropped from 80,000 to less than 20,000.

Irit’s Lachuch

You won’t find Irit’s spot on Google Maps, but she’s been there for just about her entire life, living next door to the shop. Lachuch is essentially a Yemenite pancake, but it’s not the fluffy buttermilk variety you might be thinking of. I’m told it’s the perfect hangover cure and I can see why. Doing the tour with Delicious Israel was worth it even if only for this visit.

Ala Rampa

This is a bit off the tourist trek in Tel Aviv. I got word of it thanks to a friend on Instagram who suggested checking it out. The ambiance clashes with the typical image of Tel Aviv. Here, it feels a bit like Berlin in Tel Aviv thanks to the graffiti and more industrial look. We sat out on the patio and profoundly enjoyed their menu, dishing nods to Jewish cuisine from all over the world. I mean, where else will you find mamaliga with parmesan next to burnt eggplant with labneh?

Bicicletta

This is where we ended up for Shabbat dinner –– and boy am I glad we did. No joke, this was my favorite meal in Israel and one of the best I had in recent memory, period. Again, it’s the culinary diversity that did it for me with touches of Jewish flavors from all over the world. You’ve got Eastern European-style cabbage dishes and the more typical Levantine-esque fare. For me, it was the spinach spätzle with roasted tomatoes and basil that put this place over the top. Sorry, Germany, but you got out-spätzled.

Hotels in Tel Aviv

Loading is one of the more expensive items you’ll spend money on while visiting Tel Aviv. We tried to mitigate that a bit by staying at an apartment I found through Booking.com called 1000Nights Sea-Hut. It was a little tricky to find and I hate sticking out like obvious tourists heading into a residential building. But once we found the place and got used to coming and going, it was fine. Not to mention the location was solid for everything we wanted to do.

Shabbat in Tel Aviv

I’ll leave you with some notes on traveling over Shabbat in Tel Aviv, because this was the biggest unknown for me before arriving. For those who don’t know, Shabbat is a day of rest and literally means “Saturday” in Hebrew. It begins at sundown on Friday and lasts roughly an hour after sunset on Saturday. That means, most businesses and restaurants are closed on Fridays and Saturdays.
This is their weekend.

That said, the city doesn’t come to a complete standstill. Not to mention Tel Aviv is the least religiously observant corner of the country. So you’ll still see throngs of people out at the beach (weather permitting) and some restaurants do stay open. You just might have to do your research and ask around. We spent our Shabbat doing the long run I linked to above, renting bikes to cycle down to Jaffa, and walking around there before heading to dinner at Bicicletta. It may not be how they imagined Shabbat in the Torah, but it worked for me.

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