Things to do in Tel Aviv
Israel is tiny: Just 8,000 square kilometres, which means you can drive up or down it around four hours and across it in a fraction of that. Ask most any Israeli person you meet where he’s from and the answer will be the same. “Near Tel Aviv,” he’ll laugh, without further explanation.
Tel Aviv, to be sure, is not only the geographical heart of Israel, but its cultural, commercial and, indeed, gay nucleus. Spend a couple of days here soaking up the sun, sophistication and shakshuka, then take advantage of Israel’s modest footprint and explore the rest of what this pint-sized country has to offer.
Wander through the White City
Although it’s nicknamed “The White City” due to the sun-bleached Bauhaus-style buildings that comprise its core, Tel Aviv is as prismatic as a city can be. After just a short walk along the Mediterranean, for example, you go from the futuristic skyscrapers along Rothschild Boulevard to the port of Jaffa, which has been inhabited for 10,000 years.
Spend a sunny morning at Hilton Beach, enrich your afternoon at the eclectic Ilana Goor Museum or dine in bohemian Neve Tzedek after watching the sun set behind the skyline from Tel Jafo—but don’t waste a single night in a gay bar. While Tel Aviv is home to dozens of them, the city’s population is so disproportionately queer that you needn’t limit your nightlife experience.
Travel up the coast—and back in time
Like Jaffa, Acre (known locally as “Akko”) is an ancient seaport with a history as colourful as the boats in its harbour. Acre is much better preserved, however, from the pristine al-Jazzar Mosque, to the lively stalls of Market Street, to Bahjí, a sacred garden and pilgrimage site for adherents to the Bahá’í faith. Enjoy traditional Arabic baklava dessert from Ouda Brothers Restaurant before heading back to Tel Aviv.
GET THERE: Trains to Acre depart every 20-30 minutes from Tel Aviv’s HaHagana station and take approximately 100 minutes. From Acre station, the old city is 15 minutes by foot or a 15 shekel taxi ride.
Get both sides of the story
Liberal Tel Aviv is far to the left of the rest of Israel, especially when it comes to views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but to get a fully balanced picture you need to visit the West Bank yourself.
GET THERE: Tamer will arrange a spot for you to meet him in East Jerusalem (and if you wish, transport for the day), so you can either take a train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and then a taxi to your meeting point, or a taxi the whole way.
The best hump day ever
Even if you can’t make the trip to Negev Camel Ranch on a Wednesday, your trek into Israel’s desert will have you feeling like it’s hump day. One of the leading camel traders in the Middle East—he’s done business with everyone including, perhaps controversially, the Saudis—owner Ariel Ullman will introduce you to his to brood and even take you on a ride into the desert, at sunset if you have the time.
GET THERE: While it’s possible to make the journey by train, doing so limits the length of your day at the camel ranch—namely, the sunset ride through the desert. Have the concierge at your Tel Aviv hotel arrange a taxi for the day.
Where to stay in Tel Aviv
The five-star Norman Hotel not only offers panoramic city views, a rooftop pool and easy access to Rothschild Boulevard, but a 24-hour concierge who can arrange any of the excursions featured in this article—and then some. Book an opulent Balcony Suite and enjoy your welcome cocktail amid Tel Aviv’s glittering skyline.
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The Norman Hotel | Photo: Sivan Askayo
Photo: Robert Schrader