About two years ago, one of my best friends (and now bridesmaid), Maya, moved across the world to Tel Aviv (TLV). Although we keep in touch well, I hate having her so far away. This September, I got on a plane by myself to go visit her. After seeing her life there, I can see why she loves it so much. It's a unique city indeed.
Download this city guide (with GPS maps) on your smartphone here to have it handy for your trip!
The media portrays Israel as a scary place, as it's in the Middle East near tons of wars. I read some scary stories on the news before I visited and was a bit nervous (although I couldn't tell my parents that because they were so freaked out that I'm pretty sure they didn't want me traveling there in the first place!) Once I got there, I felt nothing but safe. As long as you are smart and observant, anyone traveling to Israel will feel safe. You need to act like that in any city in the world -- crimes happen here in San Francisco unfortunately, and in Europe, South America, Australia, etc. You can't be scared to take a leap and go somewhere out of your comfort zone, as danger is everywhere and you shouldn't ever live your life in fear.
I was pretty much in tears of happiness to see Maya when I arrived at her apartment. We hugged and caught up and laughed -- neither of us could believe I was actually in Israel to see her! Our friend Jessica who lives in New York, joined us for the Israel trip too. Maya was the absolute best tour guide. She brought us to the best restaurants, beaches, and markets. She took us to Jerusalem, Jaffa, and the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea was probably one of the coolest things I've ever experienced. Known as the Salt Sea, it's Earth's lowest elevation at 1,388 ft. below sea level. When you get in, you completely float. It's such a weird and cool feeling! Read more about the Dead Sea here.
While I was there, it happened to be Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Maya's family was kind enough to invite Jessica and me to join them in celebrating. They eat specific foods for Rosh Hashanah dinner, like apples (challah) and honey, a kosher animal, a pomegranate, etc. Read more about symbolic foods for Rosh Hashanah Eve dinners here.
Jessica and I touching the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Read more here about the history and why the Jewish culture touches the Western Wall.
Another thing I really liked about TLV and the country of Israel as a whole, is the strong family ties. It's a really rare and admirable thing that family bonds are so strong here. Family is something that's always been very important to me, growing up in a big family too, so it was fun to learn more about the Israeli culture and actually meet Maya's Israeli family. They have Shabbat dinners every Friday with their family. Talking to Maya's friends there, it was just something everybody did, every week. No exceptions. That's really cool! If you're unfamiliar (like I was) with the meaning behind these dinners, check out this Going to Shabbat Dinners for Dummies article! :)
I absolutely loved having Maya show us around, so I asked her to help me write this city guide as well as share with us a little bit about her love of TLV and her Israeli culture:
"Israeli breakfast" is a MUST TRY during your visit. Photo above is of the Israeli breakfast at Bread and Co.
"I'll share with you a few reasons why Tel Aviv stole my heart. Despite the scary image the media may depicts of this tiny country in the middle east, I never feel more at home than when I'm in Tel Aviv," says Maya. "I don't know if it's the people, the culture, the lively vibe this city has to offer or all of it put together, but there is truly something special about Tel Aviv. Of course growing up in an Israeli house-hold and speaking the local language (Hebrew) definitely has something to do with it, but I honestly feel as though there is no city like this one. Tel Aviv is a super international, fun, young, chic, eclectic city, located along the Mediterranean coastline and never seems to sleep. There's always a cool new bar opening or a new delicious restaurant that you must visit. It really never gets old. From the amazing food, to the dynamic mix of old and new architecture, to the bustling global vibe, Tel Aviv is definitely a city you don't want to miss on when traveling in this 'neck of the woods.'"
Maya at the top of Masada
Maya's Tel Aviv To-Do List
download it here!
Hakosem - best Shwarma in TLV
North Abraxus - menu changes daily depending on what’s fresh in the market
Bread and Co. - yummy Israeli breakfast and pastries
Vicky Christina - pretty outdoor atmosphere (tapas)
Hamiznon - quick everything in a pita (similar style to North Abraxus, as they have the same chef: Eyal Shani)
Puaa - cute cafe near Jaffa flea market
The Old Man and the Sea - (a bit touristy but a cool experience) tons of traditional salads served to you as soon as you sit down with great fresh fish
M-25 Restaurant – amazing restaurant tucked away in the market in Tel Aviv
Port Said (Eyal Shani restaurant/bar)
Teder 'Pop-Up' Radio Bar (similar to a food truck, but a DJ Radio Bar! Only open in the summers and each time in a new location)
Kuli Alma - cool underground inside/outside bar
Imperial Cocktail Bar - cool cocktails
Dizzy Frishdon - unlimited wine nights on Sunday. good mix of locals and internationals
Rothchild 12 - chill bar with good food and drinks with live music most nights
Things to do in Tel Aviv:
Stroll along the Tel Aviv Boardwalk/Visit the TLV Beach - Starts from the Tel Aviv Port and continues all the way to the Jaffa port alongside the TLV beach
Visit Sarona Market - indoor marketplace with shop and restaurants
Jaffa Flea Market - 'Shuk Ha Pishpeshim'- cute cafes/restaurants and also cute shop and small market (not open on Saturdays)
Carmel Market & Shenkin Street - 'Shuk Ha Carmel' - outdoor market and shops
Nachlat Binyamin artist market (open on Monday and Fridays). Right by the Carmel market.
Jaffa sunset/Old City Jaffa (i have a pretty pick of this ill send you)
Neve Tzedek - Tel Aviv's Bauhuas district. cute shops and cafes
The Dead Sea
Climb Masada at sunrise
Take a dip and float in the dead sea
Camel ride in the desert
Mitzpe Ramon Crater in the south desert (not too far from the Dead Sea)
Visit the Bahai Gardens in Haifa
Visit the Sea of Galilee
Eilat - Israel's southern most point with nice beaches and sort of seen as a 'vacation spot' in Israel.