Why Tel Aviv Is So Exciting Right Now

With a crop of new hotels, a food scene that spans street carts to minimalist dining rooms, lively arts, and endless Mediterranean beaches, Israel’s second city beckons.

Why Tel Aviv Is So Exciting Right Now

Beaches that rival Southern California’s unfurl along the coast of this vibrant, ancient city.

Photo by Yang Jing/ Unsplash

When you think of the Holy Land, chances are the first thing you picture is Jerusalem, with its ancient stone gates, Wailing Wall, and gilded Dome of the Rock. But there’s something about Tel Aviv—its sister city by the sea—that is irrefutably divine in its own right: The red hibiscus flowers blooming among olive trees on Shenkin Street. The sounds of crickets layered over the jackhammering coming from yet another new high-rise on Dizengoff. Bikes and scooters lined up along the promenade where locals and visitors alike come for a prime spot on the sand. And the food, oh, the food! The shakshuka and sabich burst with flavor and there’s innovation and creativity among a host of global-minded chefs, too. All of which is to say: Get thee to Tel Aviv.

Lighthouse by Brown Hotels is one of the brand’s six properties in Tel Aviv.

Lighthouse by Brown Hotels is one of the brand’s six properties in Tel Aviv.

Photo by Assaf Pinchuk, courtesy of Brown Hotels

Choose from a pack of new hotels

Whether you want to wake to the sound of gulls by the beach, be nestled near the cobblestoned streets of Old Jaffa, or play house in a loft whose edifice is dotted with street art in up-and-coming Florentin, Tel Aviv has new options to suit you. And since the city is very walkable (and bikeable), from wherever you lay your head at night, nothing is far.

Over in the “White City”—a neighborhood named for its numerous white Bauhaus buildings—Hotel Montefiore sets the standard for boutique accommodations. The 12 guest rooms, each with its own library, truly give you the feeling of staying in someone’s home. At the lobby restaurant, the toasted challah bread sandwich with Gouda, roasted tomato, and ham—yes, they eat ham in Israel—is life. Or, as they say in Israel, chaim.

For something more intimate, head straight for Yehuda Halevi Street, on the outskirts of the Neve Tzedek neighborhood, to check in at the Levee. This 1913 villa, which took nine years to renovate, offers eight apartments that are the ultimate in modern (and spacious) city living—complete with velvet sofas, hardwood floors, Molton Brown toiletries, and soon, a rooftop Jacuzzi.

If you want a place with personality plus the round-the-clock service provided by a bigger hotel, the six Brown Hotel properties in Tel Aviv each offer a little something different—everything from self-proclaimed “urban soul” to “beachside glam.” We like the Lighthouse, which occupies several floors of an office tower off Allenby and offers sea-facing and sleek guest rooms.

Finally, if you want to splurge, the Setai in Old Jaffa (a neighborhood that’s lately buzzing with arty youthful energy) is indulgence times 10. More a self-contained resort than an urban hotel, the beautifully renovated 900-year-old fortress building now boasts floor-to-vaulted-ceiling windows that look onto the Mediterranean across an infinity pool that seems to cascade into it.

Abu Hassan may not have a website or menu, but it has wildly popular and fresh food.

Abu Hassan may not have a website or menu, but it has wildly popular and fresh food.

Photo by Delicious Israel

Venture beyond hummus (but also try lots of hummus)

Breakfast is Israel’s challah and butter, so chances are your hotel offers the morning meal with your room. Buffet-style breakfast is generally how hotels roll, with a host of fresh salatim or small salads from tabouleh to baba ghanoush, not to mention shakshuka and a date-syrup tahini so good you could drink it. But if you want table service, head to Yom Tov, which means “holiday” in Hebrew, at the edge of the Carmel Market. It’s a little hipster-heavy, but the vibe is friendly. The food—from a bowl of mashed sweet potatoes, sautéed mushrooms, and fresh herbs topped with a fried egg to a sandwich of smoked salmon and avocado—is picture-pretty but too tasty to Instagram before digging in.

Abu Hassan in Old Jaffa has no menu, closes daily around 3 p.m., and almost always has a line (or really, a cluster of people waiting in the street). But these small obstacles are worth enduring to experience smashed chickpea heaven. If you can handle the “frito lay scoop"—eating a mouthful of hummus served on a slice of raw onion—you’re a real champ. (Those who want something less sinus-cleansing can opt for pita.) Your best bet is to order the meshulash—a combo of three different preparations of hummus.

While there are loads of casual street eats in Tel Aviv—from the famous whole roasted cauliflower at the original Miznon, to the fried eggplant served at hole-in-the-wall Sabih Frishman—there’s no shortage of upscale places, too. International-minded chefs are mixing it up with seasonal ingredients—and the newly opened Bar 51 (from the chefs behind the popular Mona in Jerusalem) is no exception. Book ahead, take a seat at the bar, and expect to be dazzled by excellent service, lively Israeli wines, and dishes such as tuna crudo topped with crème fraîche or zucchini pappardelle with crab and lemon butter.

A stroll along Rothschild Boulevard will reveal some of the city’s finest Bauhaus architecture.

A stroll along Rothschild Boulevard will reveal some of the city’s finest Bauhaus architecture.

Photo by Sivan Askayo

Tour, sunbathe, eat, and enjoy the city’s bustle

If you want a full-day private tour that delves deep into the alleys of the ancient city and also touches on the modern city’s considerable arts and cultural scene, AFAR’s partner Context Travel offers a Tel Aviv in a Day tour, led by a local historian or expert.

If you don’t have all day and seeking the city’s best eats on your own feels like work, participate in a top-notch, food-focused walking tour from Delicious Israel. The itineraries were designed by an American who moved to Israel for love 10 years ago, and no matter which route you choose—the Carmel Market, the Levinsky Market, a combo of the two, or a jaunt to Jaffa—you’ll finish full of culinary-focused information and, well, just full.

To ward off a food coma, hop on a rentable scooter or bike for a ride along the seafront promenade. (Start at the Jaffa port and head north to the marina or vice versa.) You’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to finding the perfect stretch to spread out your sarong (or splurge on a lounge chair and umbrella). But don’t forget your sunscreen—the Mediteranean sun is no joke.

No visit to Tel Aviv is complete without a stroll along Rothschild’s bougainvillea-lined boulevard to marvel at the Bauhaus architecture—from the tip at Habima Square to Shabazi Street, popping in and out of quirky clothing boutiques, many of which, oddly enough, feature French brands. (Though counterintuitively, a shop called Comme Il Fautthat’s not Hebrew, mon ami—offers a handful of independent Israeli labels.)

If the Batsheva Dance Company is in residence when you’re in town, buy a ticket. Originally founded by Martha Graham and the Baroness Bethsabée de Rothschild, Batsheva has long been under the direction of Ohad Naharim whose “movement language” known as Gaga has won him recognition around the world and a documentary streaming on Netflix.

Finally, Tel Aviv is a late-night town, and while there’s a number of nightclubs to choose from, those who prefer socializing in more hushed surroundings should head for the Teder, a bar hidden in the courtyard of a shopping center. The Goldstar beer is cold and the thin-crust pizza (from superstar chef, Eyal Shani) is cheesy, delicious, and easily shared among friends.

>>Next: 6 Adventures in the Middle East That Just Got Easier

Sara Lieberman is a New York–born, Paris-based journalist whose writing also appears in Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Hemispheres, and the Infatuation.
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