A Weekend in... Tel Aviv
RESIDENT TRAVEL BLOGGER, ANNA PARKER CONTINUES WITH HER SERIES OF 'A WEEKEND IN...' WITH TEL AVIV AS THE LATEST INSTALMENT.
Diverse, vibrant, laid back, cultural, beachfront, sunny, tasty, buzzing, friendly… Tel Aviv, and all of what we saw of Israel, was a delight in so many ways. It’s the perfect mix of vibrant seaboard city with incredible culture and the food of the Levant. And it is perfect for a long weekend. I say long, because the Sabbath is on the Saturday and so the weekend starts on Thursday night. Flying out overnight on a Wednesday is essential to soak up the vibrancy of the city.
On arrival, spend the day on the beach and mooching around the city. The beach runs the length of the city. We had a lovely doze and walk on the beach in the morning sun before heading to one of the many roadside coffee stalls for a leisurely breakfast. The first thing you notice pottering around is that there is a real ‘but first coffee’ culture. Thankfully for jet lag (its less than 5 hours night-time flying to TLV) there are coffee kiosks every which way and plenty of people enjoying themselves. Head for Rothschild to find some of the best. There is plenty of history in the city, whether you want to marvel at the stunning Bauhaus architecture, take a moment at Rabin’s memorial or in Habima square or hit the shops in Shenkin… It’s a flat city so would be easy to explore by bike.
For lunch, there is only one option – falafel… Queuing is an English thing. But at Hakosem (The Magician) there is an orderly queue because it is some of the best falafel, pitta and all the salads that you will find. Spurred on with food, keep exploring. It’s a quick drive to the old town of Jaffa which really is like stepping into a different time. In fact it is one of the oldest ports in the world. There’s little alley ways to explore, ornate old buildings, flea markets and lovely smells of food wafting around. From the top of the town there’s a spectacular view of the modern city.
Come evening it is time to party. We stayed at the Savoy Hotel for our first couple of nights and there were sundowners on the roof terrace with a lovely view of the beach. Take a stroll along the beach too as there’s countless beach bars to enjoy the golden hour at. The beach will be buzzing with people relaxing and playing a padel ball game – matkot. Friends recommended we eat at Orna and Ella which offers delicious food, free of tourists. Then it is only a short walk to Silvia Bumper where we met friends. I really noticed how safe the city felt – we walked home in the wee hours without issue.
On Friday I would suggest heading to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. Don’t stay up too late on Friday, because to get to the lowest place on earth and avoid the traffic, you need to get on the road early! We were staying at our second hotel by this point, the lush Norman Hotel. They sent us with a cute little breakfast care package as well as fresh coffee for all of our group. There’s a plethora of places to bathe at the Dead Sea but I would recommend choosing a spa and buying a day ticket. Not cheap, but this means you can use their towels as well as have a hot shower afterwards. The salt is very sticky and can damage your clothes if you don’t wash it off properly.
Floating, and I mean really floating, is surreal. And the texture of the water is like syrup. It’s quite incredible really – I didn’t think it would be as impressive as it was, but it’s something that should be on all bucketlists. The surrounding scenery is also beautifully rugged. We visited Jerusalem on our way back to Tel Aviv. It was just a short visit to see the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock, I’d love to return and spend a day exploring the little streets and markets. The main purpose of our visit though was Machneyuda where we ate like royalty! This tiny restaurant is well renowned and rightly, dish after dish of tasty morsels on the 8 course tasting menu. Excellent food and a great immersion into modern Israeli cooking. As well as a pumping sound track while you dine, surprisingly enjoyable! They’ve got sister restaurants in London if you need a more local option!
On Saturday, the Sabbath, I would recommend relaxing and making the most of the warm sunny days. The Norman hotel and its roof pool is quite something, it is worthy of investing some time lounging around at. Having started the day in their restaurant with the best shakshuka, orange juice and coffee we headed straight up there. It was above the city hum drum and an excellent place to wind down and relax with a pretty little infinity pool. The hotel itself is incredibly elegant and a very special place to stay. I’d also recommend fitting in a little bit of yachting? Head up to Herzliya where there are plenty of charter companies. We had a very pleasant sail along the coast and in the heat of the day the sea breeze was very refreshing! As was the chilled beer!
If you are there for a little longer then head to Akko and the border with Lebanon (Rosh Hanikra) fortified. And nearby Akko is dripping with ‘old stuff’ as we called it, there was just too much to name and remember. There’s also an exquisite little fish restaurant on the waterfront that you absolutely must enjoy lunch at – Uri Buri. If we’d had longer then I would have liked to have climbed Mount Masada at dawn. Other places to visit are the Baha’i gardens in Haifa. And on my list for next time is the Golan Heights on the border with Syria (!!), the Sea of Galilee and the Beresheet hotel in Mitzpe Ramon remains at the top of my wishlist.
There’s so much to enjoy in Tel Aviv. The unique mix of the food and weather of the Middle East with a European culture really makes it a very pleasant place to visit. There are of course places that will be tenser but all we saw was pride and friendliness as we explored this buzzing city. I can’t wait to go back!