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The Essential Guide to Israel

Rachel Singh
Essential Guide to Israel

Right about now we know you’re starting to think big about travel plans whether for the holidays or for next year. If there’s a destination that’s considered “It,” we’d like to nominate Israel. Take away the fact that it’s the birthplace of Western religion, as well as all the politics and economics in the region, and what do you have? You have a place where the Israeli wine flows, the nightlife extends to the wee hours, and the culinary scene is tough to beat. To add to the trifecta, you have top hotels, from the Six Senses to the Jaffa, that are as essential to the experience as Israel itself. So here’s a pocket guide for that lifetime trip to Israel. 

When going on a trip to Israel, Tel Aviv is central to your visit. The city is busiest from May to October, when the days are best spent at the beach and the nights sipping cocktails. That said, it is also very pleasant during the rest of the year, with the weather rarely dropping below 50 degrees. We made planning your trip to Israel simple with this ultimate guide to your home base, Tel Aviv.

Your Trip to Israel: A Strong Start in Tel Aviv

Wake up and smell the coffee! To say that Tel Aviv has a strong java culture is an understatement. The city is beautifully sprinkled with coffee kiosks and shops, each more charming than the next. Don’t miss institutions like Nahat Café, Cafelix, Yom Tov café, and Kiosk Est 1920. You’ll find most along Rothschild and Ben Gurion Boulevards.

The Boulevard

Rothschild boulevard is one of the busiest streets in Tel Aviv. No matter if it’s day or night, it’s teeming with people at cafés, kiosks, and local boutiques. Cycling along the middle street bike path is the best way to explore the avenue. Also, you can start from the beautiful garden of Habima Square and stroll along the long boulevard up to Neve Tzedek.

The Neighborhood

Lingering in Neve Tzedek is another great way to discover the city. It’s one of Tel Aviv’s oldest neighborhoods, with a bohemian feel. And it’s just steps from the beach. Come hungry and ready to indulge at some of the best bakeries and restaurants in the city. Dallal offers appealing lunch options, and classic French pastries to go (with an Israeli twist). Looking for a beautiful outdoor dinner option? Don’t miss Vicky Christina for tapas-style plates served with local wines.

The Beaches

If weather allows, take a moment and soak up the sun. Rent shared scooters or bicycles and tour along the fabulous Tel Aviv-Jaffa promenade, a 14-kilometer (almost nine-mile) path along the beach. This is the perfect way to discover the different sections of Tel Aviv’s beaches and their unique personalities. Don’t miss Hilton beach (the popular LGBT beach) for its fun, flirty vibe; Nordau beach (the religious beach), which is separated by a high wall and has separate days for men and women to bathe; or head to Drummers beach for surf lessons. Whatever your desire, Tel Aviv celebrates diversity and welcomes all. By exploring different sections of the beach, you can experience Tel Aviv’s commitment to diversity and acceptance.

The Architecture

UNESCO-protected since 2003, the White City is the world’s largest collection of Bauhaus-style buildings. This group of 4,000 white buildings scattered throughout Tel Aviv traces back to European immigration in the 1930s. It is one of the best representations of the Modern Movement in architecture, which emphasizes form rather than ornamentation. Each building is identified by a sign that includes details on cultural and historical aspects of Tel Aviv.

The Market

The shuk HaCarmel, opened in the 1920s, is one of the oldest and largest markets in Tel Aviv. Go on Thursdays or Fridays when locals are preparing for Shabbat for the most authentic (as well as bustling) experience. Sarona Market, opened in 2015, is Tel Aviv’s newest open-air-retail addition and resembles New York City’s Chelsea Market. Jaffa’s extensive flea market is the place to go for antiques and souvenirs, while the Levinsky Market in Florentin is home to a succession of small local shops offering spices, nuts, and local produce.

Where to Stay in Tel Aviv

The Six Senses coming to Israel this year is big, bringing visitors to the country from all over the world. We must say, the hotel game has definitely stepped up. Here are some of the best places to stay while exploring Tel Aviv. And they are as key to the experience as immersing yourself in the culture and sites.

The Hotel: The Norman

The Norman still remains the benchmark for Israeli luxury. There’s something to be said for independent boutique hotels, and its location can’t be beat. The Norman is located in one of the best neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, steps away from all the action of Rothschild Boulevard. Also, no matter how many cool new hotels in Tel Aviv open, the Norman will always have style. The rooms are beautifully design-focused, with touches unique to only The Norman. Lamps made of feathers, terraces that overlook the picturesque streets, and it has one of the best hotel bar scenes in town. The coolness continues at the Norman’s rooftop infinity pool. There’s also a full-service spa, private yoga and detox sessions.

The Hotel: The Jaffa

Just outside Tel Aviv, The Jaffa offers its guests one of the coolest experiences. It’s in this old, 19th-Century historic building that once housed Jaffa’s French Hospital – it’s truly the first luxury hotel of its kind. Architect John Pawson, when collaborating with Ramy Gill in the creation of this heritage hotel, intended to keep that rich historic feeling—but with some contemporary updates. The rooms are everything you could want and more, the fitness center is top of the line, and the 4,500-square-foot L. Raphael Beauty Spa is the perfect place to decompress after a long day of visiting the city.

The Hotel: The David Kempinski, Tel Aviv

The David Kempinski hotel is five-star luxury on the beach. It’s location on the Tel Aviv Promenade is in the middle of  the action. But at the same time, it’s got the feel of an urban retreat with views of the Mediterranean Sea that go on forever. After a busy day exploring the city, you return to luxurious suites, a fully equipped gym, and five dining options from sophisticated menus to poolside eats. After it all, relax in the Whiskey & Cigar Bar to top off the night.

The Hotel: Six Senses

The Six Senses Shaharut is the perfect 60-room oasis of biblical proportions (literally). Located in the Negev desert, and nestled into the cliffs, it gives you a whole separate outlook on Israel and its history. Posh suites offer large outdoor spaces and desert, valley, and mountain views. It’s has a full immersion spa and multiple dining options, camel farm, panoramic pools, and homemade ice cream. It’s an hour flight transfer from Tel Aviv.

The Hotel: Mamilla

The Mamilla Hotel, located in Jerusalem, is part of the Set Collection and worth mentioning for when you venture out of Tel Aviv. It’s high-design decor mixes historic Jerusalem stone; sleek, contemporary furniture; and bold colors. Rooms have stone walls, wood floors, and upscale decor. And, always a crowd pleaser, bathrooms have electronic glass walls that go opaque when you touch a button. The Mamilla also has a world-class spa and wellness center. Its Mirror Bar and Cigar Lounge draw trendy crowds late into the night.

The Ultimate Guide to Tel Aviv Restaurants

Israeli food is delicious, lively, and some of the best in the world. Thanks to the team at Pomegranate Travel for sharing some of the best recommendations for where to eat in Tel Aviv anytime of day.

Best for brunch:

The Restaurant: Bucke

Bucke is where I would spend my Sundays. It’s always busy, and for good reason. The coffee is great, the food is healthy and delicious, and the atmosphere is welcoming. The breakfast platter consists of scrambled eggs, roasted veggies, labneh, feta, tuna salad, tahini, and chickpeas. The traditional shakshuka with challah bread is another popular option, and the cookie crumble French toast with Nutella and maple syrup is the definition of decadence.

The Restaurant: Café XOHO

Another great option for breakfast, served all day, is Café XOHO. Everything is homemade with a focus on hand-rolled bagels.

The Restaurant: Café Shneor

It’s hard not to feel on vacation at Café Shneor. The cafe serves some of the best breakfasts in the city, including vegan options. Grab a coffee and spend a lazy morning people-watching as locals pass by the quiet street corner.

Best for Lunch

The Restaurant: Falafel Razon

Try Falafel Razon for the typical and well-executed falafel sandwich. This hole in the wall has lines every day for lunch, and we can see why. Tip: Have your sandwich to go (there is very limited seating) and enjoy it in a park nearby.

The Restaurant: Abu Hassan

Abu is on every “Best hummus in Israel” list we’ve seen, and we agree. It’s a-no-fluff choice of locals looking for authentic hummus, and a pita place that elevates the hummus standard. They only serve a few varieties of hummus, along with eggs, onions, labneh, falafel, and pita bread. That’s all you need to be happy.

Best for Dinner

The Restaurant: Bicicletta

Young and trendy, Bicicletta’s laid-back atmosphere is reminiscent of restaurants in Brooklyn. It has a beautiful garden in the back and a lovely waiting space that also serves as a plant nursery. The food is good, the service friendly. Order the black-eyed peas cream with tahini, chili, and za’atar; warm pita breads; green beans with garlic; and Kadosh cashew cheese.

The Restaurant: Port Said

Port Said is the place to be for a casual, late-night dinner with friends. Masabacha, eggplant, and ratatouille are served on brown paper directly on your sidewalk table. Music plays from the restaurant’s vinyl collection, and it has an intense hipster vibe. No visit to Tel Aviv is complete without a late night at Port Said.

The Restaurant: Claro

Claro is rustic and esthetic, ​both ​in its design and ​its ​​dishes. Sit at the counter and watch the chefs prepare delicious farm-to-table meals. Order the pita bread plate, baked in-house. It is served with labneh, zhug, hummus, and olives. The short-rib ravioli with brown butter sage will melt in your mouth. It’s a must.

The Restaurant: Alena

Alena is one of Tel Aviv’s finest restaurants in the beautiful Bauhaus-style hotel The Norman. During the weekend, it offers an elevated brunch and a beautifully executed, European-influenced dinner menu with dishes like leek Tatin and octopus puttanesca.

The Restaurant: Ha’Achim

Ha’Achim means brothers in Hebrew. This family sure knows how to handle a grill. Kebabs, eggplants, artichokes, avocados, and halloumi: Everything that comes out of the kitchen is a hit. Pair that with some inventive cocktails, and this place is sure to be a good time.

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