Tel Aviv Travel Guide

Tel Aviv Travel Guide

Curation by Yasmina Rodríguez, words by Laura Tucker

Perched on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, within an otherwise conservative Middle Eastern region and at the heart of a tiny yet highly religious nation, is the desert mirage known as Tel Aviv – an unexpected gay haven and the capital city of Israel. Arguably gayer than San Francisco, with an estimated 25% of the population identifying, Tel Aviv is a city where beliefs and cultures collide, where Jews, Christians and Arabs sit elbow-to-elbow in family-style restaurants to share shakshuka with artists, scientists, atheists and even street cats. As well as generating a fusion of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and North African tastes, the nation’s unique range of influence has also helped develop a sense of openness, tolerance and, of course, a thriving gay scene. If you can, hold out until June for the annual Tel Aviv Gay Pride Festival, one of the largest events held in the capital and one now embraced citywide. For more of where to go in Tel Aviv for the sophisticated traveller, read Mr Hudson’s Tel Aviv gay guide.

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The best hotels in Tel Aviv

Let’s start this gay Tel Aviv travel guide with a roundup of the best places to stay in Tel Aviv. With interior design handcrafted by Tel Avivians spotlighting locally sourced artisanal accents, The Vera is a luxury hotel that heralds fine local craftsmanship, from its soap to its liquor. Ideally located between the historic, boutique-lined neighbourhood of Neve Tzedek and the equally bustling Allenby Street, The Vera is a cultural and commercial hotspot celebrating upscale design and creativity. Down the street, offering views redolent of centuries past is the Nordoy Hotel where guests can experience Tel Aviv’s magical past – it’s domed architecture and Beija Flor patterns – in the comfort of modern, elegantly designed opulence.

In a cultural hub and historic district Yafo (also known as Jaffa), situated on Beit Eshel street next to the historical Yafo Clock Tower is Market House Hotel.  Taking inspiration from the ancient history surrounding it, this hotel offers a glimpse of archaeological Byzantine Chapel ruins on its lobby floor along with impressive bohemian art displays. In the American Colony neighbourhood close to the beach is The Drisco, an intimate boutique hotel dating back to the Ottoman Era of the late 19th Century. Restored yet maintaining old-world charm, The Drisco showcases original architecture alongside a fusion of Turkish and European décor. For a perfect hideaway with luxury perks, head to White Villa Tel Aviv Hotel in White City, an old school hotel blending urban sophistication with the intimacy of a private residence.

Nordoy Hotel | Photo: Sandra Wattad

Nordoy Hotel | Photo: Sandra Wattad

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Recommended hotels in Tel Aviv
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Dead Sea | Photo: Chris Gallimore

Dead Sea | Photo: Chris Gallimore

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At the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea’s salty situation will lift you up, allowing you to float while benefitting from the healing properties of its mud

Things to do in Tel Aviv

Of the many fascinating cultural things to do in Tel Aviv, a visit to the artistic jungle of the Ilana Goor Museum is among the top, where quirky contemporary artist Ilana Goor displays a distinct art collection inside her residence, an 18th Century former hostel near Yafo port. The collection is comprised of over 500 works of art gathered from her travels within Israel and across the world, including African and South American art, sculptures, antiques and even furniture.

The Design Museum Holon, considered one of Israel’s best museums, is the ultimate place for design lovers. Featuring curated displays of esteemed contemporary works, within an impressive modern space, this museum is a stand-out venue just a short drive from downtown Tel Aviv. Back towards the city centre, where Yehuda Halevi meets Allenby Road, the Kuli Alma bridges the gap between art and music, providing trendy locals and travellers with the perfect hangout for chilling, chatting and slurping Mojito slushies. A charming labyrinth of rooms complete with subterranean courtyard, misshapen dancefloor and vintage clothing store, Kuli Alma is a joy to explore.

Those looking to spice up their lives or that of their loved ones should make a bee-line to Levinsky Market, the place to go for exotic spices as well as dried nuts, fruits, traditional pastries, boutique pickles and cheeses and exotic meats. Climaxing on Friday mornings as residents file through to visit their favourite delicatessen or roasted nut stall, a visit to Levinsky Market can be topped off with a wander through Florentin neighbourhood – Tel Aviv’s über cool, rough around the edges version of SoHo.

While there are plenty of things to do in Tel Aviv worthy of a day trip, the Dead Sea and Masada day trip is one of our top choices, combining tours of two key Tel Aviv points of interest. At the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea’s salty situation will lift you up, allowing you to float while benefitting from the healing properties of its mud. From there, you can explore Masada, an ancient fortification site located atop a rock plateau above the sea. Here you’ll find views for days foregrounded by an amazing fortress and Herodian palaces complete with epic tales of heroism.

The Design Museum Holon | Photo: Vitaliy Paykov

The Design Museum Holon | Photo: Vitaliy Paykov

Photo: Justin Schuler

Photo: Justin Schuler

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Recommended experiences in Tel Aviv
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Photo: Toa Heftiba

Photo: Toa Heftiba

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What to see in Tel Aviv

With the large population of gays in the city, it’s unsurprising that a number of Tel Aviv’s beaches have gained notoriety as a lively place for gays to socialize and party. The Hilton Beach is a famed spot for single men, couples and friends to relax in Speedos while sipping on cocktails and paddling in azure shores, while, alternatively, Gordon Beach offers action, in the form of beach sports, a pool and a gym. Ga’ash Beach may also be of interest, a gay nude beach just 35-minutes North of the city, relatively untouched by commercialism yet home to gay, straight and clothed people all enjoying the Israeli sunshine.

You’ll have to put your clothes back on to fully enjoy Tel Aviv’s stunning architecture, however. The Bauhaus Center, in particular, is where you’ll find one of the world’s best-preserved collections of Bauhaus and International architecture styles within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of White City. And, even if you’ve never heard of Israel’s beloved Hebrew national poet, Haim Nachman Bialik, a visit to Bialik House offers the best of what to see in Tel Aviv for its timeless, Islamic-influenced architectural styles. Inside the building, along with archives of Bialik’s original poetry written in Hebrew, there is also a selection of ceramic art depicting biblical scenes.

The aforementioned Old City and Port of Yafo is not only the answer of where to go in Tel Aviv for great accommodation, it’s also a must-visit for those looking to be blown away by the city’s history and culture. One of the world’s oldest port towns and from which the whole city spawned, Yafo is a sensual maze of stores and cafés which entangle with the huge flea market where vendors flog fresh fish, antiques, olive oil and everything in between. A luscious green patch in the heart of the city, near the Dizengoff Center and King George street, is Gain Meir, a park where visitors can sit, relax or run in the dog park. As well as a café, the park is also home to the Gay Centre, an important resource for the LGBT community.

Photo: Anders Jacobsen

Photo: Anders Jacobsen

Photo: Adam Jang

Photo: Adam Jang

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While fresh fish and grilled meats are plentiful, vegan menus proliferate across Tel Aviv

Where to eat in Tel Aviv

Flaunting a mélange of influences from North Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean, Israeli cuisine is heavy on fresh vegetables, intensely flavoured with lemon and olives and subtly spiced, including sides of delicious spreads to be lavished on freshly grilled bread. While we could tell you to eat everything, we’ve tried to whittle down a few top choices for this Tel Aviv guide. Celebrity chef Ottolenghi reckons Abraxas North is the best restaurant in Tel Aviv. Featuring a menu that changes twice daily and a plate-less concept, dining here is an eclectic experience; bold, flavoursome and very messy. Discover the meaning of Haute cuisine at Messa, an upscale Israeli fusion restaurant run by chef Aviv Moshe. Recently redesigned in award-winning contemporary style with striking décor dividing the bar and dining areas, Messa may require a reservation.

While fresh local fish and grilled meats are plentiful, vegan menus proliferate across Tel Aviv. Anastasia is the perfect example of such a place, a stylish vegan café serving up nutritious breakfasts along with tangy dips, fresh salads and desserts to bow down to. Not exclusively vegan but boasting the best backyard in Tel Aviv, as well as a quality seasonal menu, is Bicicletta, a gastropub and bar set between the lively Bezalel market and impressive Great Synagogue. Relax and enjoy the adorable garden vibes here or get cosy in the jazzy upstairs bar area while gorging on their celebrated eggplant fries, blissful desserts and funky happy hour cocktails.

Photo: Eiliv Sonas Aceron

Photo: Eiliv Sonas Aceron

Brunch options abound, Tel Aviv can always satiate your mid-morning cravings. For the hippest brunch you’ll ever have, head to Benedict, an ever-crowded institution in the city for its 24-hour brunch menu and refreshing mimosa accompaniments. The Kitchen Market meanwhile is a contemporary gourmet restaurant above Shuk HaNamal farmer’s market inside Tel Aviv port, providing refined high-quality food with the bonus of sparkling sea views. A meeting of East meets West is happening at Dalida, where Arab, Italian and French cultures and flavours blend to create an imaginative food and cocktail menu in a unique setting with a cool soundtrack.

As if Yafo didn’t have enough going for it, with its market and history, the area also boasts near limitless food options.  Offering a young, vibrant atmosphere in sophisticated surroundings, Onza is where to go in Tel Aviv for up-to-date takes on traditional Ottoman and Turkish cuisine. Amid a setting of modern design and innovative architecture, Onza hosts a large bar area and tables that spill onto the ancient alleyways of Yafo.

Having quickly won the hearts of Tel Avivians, new restaurant Santa Katarina is already a go-to among locals for modern, Middle-Eastern delights. Small and intimately set behind the Great Synagogue, come to Santa Katarina for doughy clay oven-baked pizzas, seasonal carpaccio and grilled fish. Keeping with the Mediterranean theme is Milgo Milbar, a fine-dining concept serving up unique interpretations of international dishes in an upscale residential setting built in the classic 1930s Bauhaus style with minimalist interiors.

Onza Restaurant

Onza Restaurant

Onza Restaurant

Onza Restaurant

Shopping in Tel Aviv

The Eli-yahu Madar Showroom, brainchild of the coveted Israeli designer of the same name, is both a design showroom and regular fashion boutique in one, home to the latest everyday fashions from jeans to leather jackets as well as more high-end options for both men and women. Housing global brands such as Dr. Denim and Ben Sherman is menswear store Blue Navy, also said to be the best place to find a suit that combines both personality and sophistication. For more menswear of classical and formal styles is David Sassoon, a quaint boutique also selling sportswear, shoes and glam accessories in a setting reminiscent of early 20th Century Europe.

In a city championing creativity, fine home décor is not hard to find. The Sind Studio, in particular, offers amazing interiors to explore and stunning gifts for any budget. Operating as both an art gallery and design store, visit this port-side Yafo-based store for ceramics, functional art souvenirs and a cultural experience thrown in. Tali Sebbag’s store goes a step further in the home accessories stakes, with its detail-focused contemporary showroom containing an amalgamation of furniture, metallic artworks, oil diffusers, candles and even edible goodies, expertly curated by Tali herself.

Photo: Toa Heftiba

Photo: Toa Heftiba

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Enter via elevator to Suramare, formerly known as The Gag, to discover an impressive glass-enclosed interior with stylish furnishings and huge olive-tree centrepiece

Tel Aviv nightlife

Beginning our Tel Aviv gay scene guide on a high note is the Suramare, apparently one of the best rooftop bars in the world and flaunting hella glamorous New York vibes. Enter via elevator to Suramare, formerly known as The Gag, to discover an impressive glass-enclosed interior with stylish furnishings and huge olive-tree centrepiece. If high concept is what you’re after, look no further than ‘cocktail bar pharmacy’ Spicehaus where the bartenders dress as pharmacists and stress-relieving tonics are served in beaker bottles. If you see the sign for “The East Jaffa Perfume Company” you’re in the right place!

Named Drinks International magazine’s ‘Best Bar in Africa and the Middle East’ is the Imperial Cocktail Bar, a hotel-based craft cocktail joint that changes its unique menu seasonally and offers happy hour from 6-8pm. After getting merry for cheap on cocktails, a gay club might be on the cards. If you’re lucky it may even be a night for FFF Shirazi, a themed gay party held fortnightly at various locations across Tel Aviv. Attracting crowds of hot men for go-go dancer and DJ performances, FFF Shirazi is the place where it seems anything can happen.

Making every other gay nightlife option in the city look bad is Shpagat, a vital late-night destination for good times. Unofficial queen of the city’s gay scene, located on bustling Nachalat Binyamin Street, Shpagat is open to all, regardless of shape, size, age or sexual preference. Come for the intimate seating and stay for the funky music, raised stage-like dancefloor and guest DJs. But Tel Aviv can go one bigger with Haoman 17, one of the largest nightclubs in Tel Aviv and arguably the best. Home to a monthly gay dance party named Arisa, as well as frequent themed nights and legendary after parties, Haoman 17 is a place to let loose in style!

Imperial Cocktail Bar | Photo: Ben Yuster

Imperial Cocktail Bar | Photo: Ben Yuster

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