Ranked the best city in the Middle East for young people last year by the Youthful Cities Index, it’s no secret that Tel Avivians know how to enjoy life. From miles of white sand beaches filled with sunbathers to bustling cafes, visitors often joke that residents here don’t seem to work. But Tel Aviv’s seemingly laid-back attitude belies its deeply innovative spirit.
Tel Aviv-Yafo, a city of just 400,000 residents, has invested much to ensure its regional importance and expand its international reputation in recent decades. From reinvigorating the 900-acre Yarkon Park, seaside walkway and Tel Aviv Port, to restoring a 19th century German Templar colony, and hosting countless cultural festivals and international conferences, the Municipality of Tel Aviv seems determined to catch up to Jerusalem as Israel’s top must-see destination.
1. Hunt for Antiques in Jaffa
Just around the corner from the Old City of Jaffa is Shuk Hapishpushim, Jaffa’s famous flea market. But treasures can be found in the small streets surrounding the market too, which are filled with dozens of antique shops. Located on Rabbi Yohonan, the Mochico Workshop is one of the best, and specializes in restoring vintage antiques to perfect working condition. Visitors can expect to find items like 19th century scales and weights, early 20th century spotlights, and working lamps from all over the world.
2. Go on a Florentin Graffiti Tour
Named after David Florentin, who purchased the land in the 1920s, Southern Tel Aviv’s bohemian neighborhood of Florentin is as hip as it is friendly. Filled with young residents, cafes, bars and galleries featuring up-and-coming artists, the area is considered by many to be Tel Aviv’s answer to New York’s Soho. The neighborhood is also one of the best places to see street art by some of Israel’s best known street artists like Know Hope, Klone, and Zero Cents. Guy Sharett was the first to combine street art tours with linguistics lessons. His Florentin Graffiti tour introduces visitors to Hebrew by studying messages in the street art, which illuminates the emotional, social and political nature of their messages.
3. Learn about Tel Aviv’s darker side
For the last several years, Buki Nae, a well-known crime reporter, has hosted a popular night crime tour of Tel Aviv, exposing the seedy underbelly of crime. Starting at the old central bus station—famous for its homelessness, drugs and prostitution—the eight hour tour is not for the timid or faint of heart. Guests will learn all manner of mysteries and horrific crimes, many of which Nae has reported on personally, while exploring the locations in which they occurred.
4. Get fit with SUP Yoga
For the most unique workout in Tel Aviv, try SUP Yoga inside the calm waters of Hilton Beach. Protected by two jetties, this is one of the best places to practice the sport during the summer months. A combination of standup paddle boarding and yoga, instructors guide guests through modified Vinyasa poses on paddle boards that are stabilized via underwater weights. The slight movement of the board on the water means practitioners will have to use their core to stay balanced more than they do on land. But the meditative trickling of the water, warm sun and cool sea breeze more than makes up for the extra effort—and no one will fault you for falling in. Try the early morning or sunset sessions.
5. Catch a local show at the Barby
Israeli’s have a passion for live music and the Barby Club, one of Tel Aviv’s longest-running music clubs, is considered by many to be the best venue for catching a local show. Located in south Tel Aviv with capacity for about 600, both established bands and up-and-comers play here almost nightly. The standing space up front is the best way to get up close and personal with bands like Cafe Shachor Chazak, which translates to “Strong Black Coffee,” the Ethiopian-Israeli band whose fusion of hip hop and reggae have taken over Israeli airwaves.
6. Picnic in Sarona
Sarona is a 19th century German Templar Colony that has recently been restored and transformed into a thriving commercial center where visitors can explore some of the best shops and restaurants in Tel Aviv in stunning historic settings. But on a nice day, there’s nothing like a little al fresco dining. Head to Little Italy and have a picnic on the grassy knoll. The restaurant serves up take away picnic baskets, filled with favorites like sandwiches, salads, pasta and pizza—and of course, wine and alcohol. It comes with all the accouterments, including a classic picnic blanket. Occasional special events add a little extra to your picnic, like outdoor screenings of movies and sporting events.
7. Get your thrills at Luna Park
Open throughout the year, weather permitting, Luna Park is a family-friendly fairground turned amusement park located in the northern part of the city. Originally built in 1970, the park has classic rides like a Ferris wheel, carousal and bumper cars. In more recent years, the park has been updated with more extreme rides, like the Black Mamba, which drops straight down from 65 meters, and the Sky Loop, which spins riders’ wagons 360 degrees.
8. Take a helium balloon ride in the Yarkon Park
With nearly 900 acres of lawn, dedicated bike paths, sporting facilities, two lakes and plenty of botanical gardens, the Yarkon Park is the largest urban park in Israel. Located along the Yarkon River, there’s always something to see, from annual dragon boat races, to daily rowers. For the best bird’s eye views of the park and Tel Aviv though, head to the British High Flyer. Located in the Yarkon Park, the aircraft, which works via helium balloon, takes up to 30 visitors at a time to a height of 120 meters. Knowledgeable guides highlight points of interest, from the sea airport to the city of Hadera 50 kilometers away.
9. Dine in the Dark
For a totally unique ambiance with dinner, head to the Black Out restaurant in Jaffa’s port. Part of the Nalaga’at Center, which includes a theater with performances by deaf, blind and deaf-blind artists, the restaurant, like other dark concepts, serves delicious food to patrons who eat in complete darkness. The experience is meant to bridge the understanding between sighted and blind people by letting diners experience what it feels like to be blind and interact with blind waiters and staff. In Jaffa, the restaurant is also a kosher chef concept that uses high quality ingredients. Diners can choose their dish from a menu beforehand or can eat “blind,” meaning that they will be surprised by their dishes, and have the added challenge of guessing what they are eating in the dark. Waiters are incredibly friendly and small groups sit at larger tables with strangers, meaning that you are almost guaranteed to come out of the experience with new insights as well as a few new friends.