Tel Aviv: The Israeli City Where Life Revolves Around the Beach

Karen Burshtein
7 min read
Karen Burshtein
May 29, 2023
7 min read
Table of Contents
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With a metro population of 4.3 million, Tel Aviv is Israel's second-largest city, and is known for its intense, live-for-the-moment energy. Its Mediterranean geography, start-up mentality, and mix of European and Oriental Jewish cultures, and Arab influences have made Tel Aviv a place unlike any other. Miami Beach fun, Mitteleuropa cafe society, Levantine sophistication, marketplace intrigue, high-tech hub, and New York brashness all come together in a richly layered strudel of a city.

A secular city

Israel is the Jewish state and, while the vast majority of Tel Avivians are Jewish, it’s a largely secular city. In fact, Tel Avivians tend to suspiciously eye Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jews (and vice-versa). Most restaurants—aside from those in big hotels—aren’t kosher, and on Shabbat (Saturday), while many other parts of the country shut down, non-stop Tel Aviv just shifts gears a little.

Many restaurants and cafes remain open. Public services do close down at the start of the Shabbat (sunset Friday), including reduced public transportation. This includes the airport shuttle train; if your flight lands on a Friday afternoon you’ll likely have to cab it or rideshare. Likewise, grocery stores (except convenience stores) and some malls are closed. These closures remain in effect till the end of Shabbat at sundown on Saturday night. In Israel, the workweek starts on Sunday.

The White City

Bauhaus architecture in Tel Aviv.

Central Tel Aviv is known as the White City for its prominent Bauhaus architecture—more than 4,000 buildings—which has earned it UNESCO World Heritage status in 2003. The clean-cut modern design, originating in Germany in the 1920s, became the default style of European architects fleeing Nazis, though much of the Bauhaus style has been adapted to Tel Aviv’s hot Mediterranean climate (look for diagonal, slatted “thermometer” windows and rooftop gardens).  

The municipality offers free White City walking tours every Saturday or get a map (and pick up a few cool souvenirs) at the Bauhaus Centre and do a self-guided tour of key Bauhaus buildings. If you’re a fan of the style, consider staying at the iconic Cinema Hotel—one of Tel Aviv’s first movie theaters—and check out the new Liebling Haus Museum which covers the history of the White City.

Twin cities on the sea


The ancient Mediterranean port city of Jaffa has passed through the hands of seemingly every civilization from the Pharaohs on. Today, Jaffa is conjoined with the municipality of Tel Aviv (the city’s official name is Tel Aviv-Yafo) with Jews and Arabs living as neighbors.

Tel Aviv’s creative energy seems to be in overdrive in this quarter. Initially, cheaper rent drew the artists to Jaffa. Today, the high-tech crowd has driven prices up, but you can still wander down the ancient narrow stone streets and check out galleries and artisan shops.

A highlight of Jaffa is the sprawling flea market offering unique finds spanning the decades and cultures of the city. Cafes and restaurants spill out onto the markets’ streets, and, evenings, DJs spin music. Jaffa is also home to some extraordinary hotels including the ultra-luxe Jaffa and the more affordable but charming Market House Hotel.

Forget pastrami on rye, how about eggplant schnitzel?

Don't expect to see many Jewish delis in Tel Aviv. Each wave of Jewish immigrants—from Azerbaijan to Yemen—brought their dishes to Israel. These were combined with local spices and flavors and Arab culinary influences to create a sophisticated culinary scene. The country’s superior produce has also spawned the one-ingredient-star dish; you have to try celebrity chef Eyal Shani's famous roasted cauliflower at his restaurant North Abraxas to get an idea.

From the ubiquitous street food vendors selling falafels, hummus, and tahini to schnitzel joints serving eggplant schnitzel, and upscale vegan restaurants like Meshek Barzilay to fresh fruit juice stands that squeeze every fruit and vegetable imaginable, Tel Aviv is also a magnet for vegans. The niche tour organizer Eager Tourist offers great veggie-friendly tours.

Life’s a beach

person biking to the beach in Tel Aviv.

More than nine miles (14 kilometers) of fine Mediterranean sand beach stretch from Jaffa to the new port in the north. The beach is the heart and soul of the city, helping to drive and define Tel Aviv's relaxed fun-loving vibe. It's also arguably the reason people in Tel Aviv look so great—as seemingly everyone from kids to tanned seniors are rollerblading on the boardwalk or pumping iron on the public outdoor gym equipment.

The long stretch of sand is unofficially divided into different beaches, each with a different vibe and demographic. They include Banana Beach, great for people watching or trying your hand at matkot (an iconic but sort of annoying beach paddleball game); Hilton Beach, the gay beach; Tel Baruch Beach, a family-friendly beach with wide sandy stretches; Nordau Beach (Hof Hadatiyim), the religious beach which offers separate sections for men and women; and charming Ajami Beach south of Old Jaffa.

Bat caves at the bus station

The Central Bus Station is Tel Aviv’s hulking white elephant. It took decades to build and was outdated even before it officially opened. The city originally announced it would close in 2024, but has extended the date to 2026. Until then, you can tour this oddity which houses, among other things, a Filipino food market, the largest Yiddish library in Israel, a genuine bat cave (a sealed bus tunnel now home to thousands of bats), a graffiti art gallery, an atomic bomb shelter, and a legal office for refugees. The bus station is in a slightly dodgy area of town, though, so pay attention to your surroundings while there.  

The gay capital of the Middle East

gay flag at Tel Aviv Pride.

Thanks to a concerted plan by the municipality to promote Tel Aviv as a beacon of liberalism, Tel Aviv is by miles the most gay-friendly city in the Middle East. In fact, it's one of the most open to LGBTQ+ lifestyles in the world.

It’s estimated that one-quarter of Tel Aviv's population identifies as gay. Some LGBTQ+ people from Palestine and small conservative towns in Israel find refuge in the city to live their life openly. Similarly, Tel Aviv Pride is the biggest Pride event in the region and one of the most exciting in the world. City Hall is lit up in the colors of the rainbow flag and the city’s wild gay nightlife gets even wilder. Gay bars include the ever-popular Shpagat, while the Brown Beach House near Shpagat is a great hotel option.

A city that runs on caffeine

Tel Aviv cafe.

Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai is said to drink dozens of cups of espresso every day; surprisingly not all that unusual in Tel Aviv. Or, at least you could think that by the sheer quantity of cafes in the city.

The early European immigrants to Tel Aviv were encouraged to make a sophisticated cafe society flourish here. Israel is one of the few places in the world where Starbucks failed; no one in Tel Aviv seemed to have the patience to speak the Starbucks lingo and a common refrain was that there was better coffee anywhere else.

From charming Ottoman-era cafes to light and airy modern ones, you’ll easily find a favorite java spot. Some of the best include Café Shneor on the first floor of a Bauhaus apartment building,  Nehama Vahetzi for people watching, and the hipster favorite Cafe Xoho. Drink options include the regular suspects: espresso, latte, and also the local botz (Hebrew for “mud”). It’s made of ground coffee, hot water, and sugar boiled in a special pot called a finjan, then poured into small cups with milk and cinnamon or cardamom added. Almost all cafes have full food menus with typically good quality offerings that are cheaper than restaurants.  


Shakshuka, the trendy brunch dish of eggs cooked in tomato sauce, came to Tel Aviv with the wave of Libyan Jews in the 1950s and was made globally popular in large part thanks to the iconic restaurant Doctor Shakshuka (3 Beit Eshel), hidden within the labyrinthine Jaffa market.


The stylish Drisco Hotel is in Tel Aviv’s unique American-German neighborhood, dating back to 1866 when a group of Christians from New England settled in Palestine bringing prefab houses with them.


The under-the-radar Center for Contemporary Art Tel Aviv-Yafo is a must for its expertly curated, cutting-edge exhibitions often focusing on time-based and site-specific practices by outstanding international artists.

Good to Know

Is Tel Aviv expensive?

Tel Aviv is an expensive city to visit, with an average double-occupancy room in a nice hotel costing starting at about $275 per night. There are, however, decent rooms in 2- and 3-star hotels you can find for under $150 per night.

A multi-course dinner for two in a mid-range restaurant might range from about $70-140, but if you stick to local fare rather than international cuisine you can save a great deal of money. Cafes (and there are plenty) have full menus. The food is typically fresh, tasty, and less expensive than more traditional restaurants. Street food, in particular, is an easy way to eat well on a budget. Inexpensive but delicious falafel takeout and fresh fruit juice stands are on almost every corner.

Best time to visit Tel Aviv

The best times to visit Tel Aviv are its shoulder seasons: March–May (spring) and September–October (fall). You’ll enjoy the best mix of pleasant weather and smaller crowds, and you stand a better chance of saving a bit of money in the process. It might not be ideal weather for swimming, but with daytime temperatures in the 60s-70sF in spring and 70s-80sF in fall, the city’s popular beaches can still be lovely places to spend a day.

It’s important to note, though, that several key Jewish holidays occur during Tel Aviv’s shoulder seasons. Passover in April and the High Holidays of Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, typically in September and October, tend to trigger a temporary jump in room prices.

What languages are spoken in Tel Aviv?

Hebrew is the official language throughout Israel, and English is widely spoken and understood in Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv with kids

Tel Aviv is extremely family-friendly. By night, the city might feel like a constant party—but by day, it’s tailor-made for kids of all ages.There are the beaches, of course, which are almost universally adored by children, and there are also plenty of parks and gardens where kids can burn off some energy running around. Some parks have specific playground areas, like Independence Park, and others have fun activities—Yarkon Park has animals in a small farm and aviary, and you can even go on a short hot air balloon ride. Older kids who like an adrenaline rush will likely enjoy a visit to Luna Park, an amusement park with three roller coasters. Surfing (sand and water) at Surf Point, the city’s largest water sport center, is popular for older kids, too. 

Kids like the colorful markets, too, like the food stands of the Carmel Market, and (if your kids aren’t picky eaters) you can grab some tasty street food while you’re there.

Tel Aviv public transportation

By far the best ways to explore Tel Aviv are on foot or on a bike. It’s a big city, so biking is a great option to get from one neighborhood to another—once you’re in the area you want to see, Tel Aviv is very walkable. There’s a bike rental system, Tel-O-Fun, which costs about $5 per day.

There is a bus network in the city which is inexpensive (and varying in efficiency depending on the mood of the driver—sometimes they just drive by a bus stop). It’s not especially easy for visitors to navigate (not least because of Hebrew-only signage).

Another option is the “monit sherut,” which is a mini bus that works like a shared taxi taking 10–12 people, max. The monit sherut run along the same routes as the buses in Tel Aviv (e.g. the number 5 bus and the number 5 sherut run the same route.) Hail one from anywhere along the route, and they will stop if there's a seat available. 

The Rav-Kav, an electronic ticket you can load using cash or credit, has replaced cash fares and can be used on buses, monit sherut, and trains. You can buy them at the airport, bus, or train stations, or in tourist information centers.

Taxis are plentiful throughout the city (just be sure it has a working meter or you’ve agreed upon a rate before you get in), and rideshare app GETT (The Israeli version of Uber) is also available.

Is Tel Aviv safe?

Israel is #134 in the world; Tel Aviv is very safe, though there are occasional politically motivated security issues.

Israel is #32 in the world.

Getting to Tel Aviv

  • Main airport: TLV
  • Average Going deal price: $576 roundtrip

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Last Updated 
July 21, 2023
Karen Burshtein
Freelance Writer

Karen Burshtein is an award-winning travel writer and editor. Her stories have appeared in Atlas Obscura, Condé Nast Traveler, AFAR, Travel + Leisure, and Architecture Digest. She splits her time between Toronto and Tel Aviv, and has a love of Helsinki.

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