Step aside, Barcelona.
“You’re going to Tel Aviv?! Why there?” Asked my girlfriend incredulously before I flew out of Asia for a three-week romp through Israel and Jordan. “That’s such an unconventional destination! And isn’t it dangerous?” She raised her eyebrows at me as if to say, ‘think about THAT’.
I’ve only ever heard of Tel Aviv through three other sources, two of whom I know personally (surfers – why are they always the first to sniff out these great spots?!). The photos and feedback appealed to me, and so when my cousin and I were choosing ‘somewhere in the middle’ to meet (between LA and Hong Kong), I suggested Tel Aviv.
We did not regret.
I used to wish I lived in Madrid or Berlin. But that was before I found a place that offers the best of both worlds and more: techno and reggaeton in one city, plus miles and miles of pure white shoreline. How could you ask for more?!
1. Not one but SIXTEEN sparkling beaches on the Mediterranean
Forget silicone, people watching along Tel Aviv’s fourteen kilometers of beach consists of incredibly beautiful people dancing, jogging, skating, cycling, playing beach volley, surfing, sailing, paddle boarding, and swimming. The water is crystal clear even up north in the Port area, now a stylish hub with a host of upscale boutiques and restaurants lining the promenade. A sight that never fails to entertain is that of locals biking around with one hand, the other occupied with a meter-long shisha pipe, headed for the beach. And as the whole coast is west-facing, the sunsets are phenomenal. Every. Single. Day.
Did you know that Tel Aviv was ranked as the “top beach party spot on the planet” by USAToday.com and Matador Travel Network?
2. Desert nights: Stars like you’ve never seen before
Exotic sand dunes home to Bedouin tribes and their beloved camels are just a couple of hours south or east of Tel Aviv. If you want to deep dive into that endlessness, you can follow the UNESCO World Heritage Incense Route through the Negev’s Desert Cities.
3. A friendly visa policy
More than half the world can travel to Israel visa-free as tourists for three months. Even passport holders of the Philippines, Colombia, and Russia – notorious for their travel inhibitions – are free to enter!
4. Mediterranean weather = sunshine all year long
At the height of winter, you get an average of six hours of sunlight per day in Tel Aviv – and at best, as much as twelve in the summer! Israel’s subtropical climate makes it a pleasant holiday almost all throughout the year. While spring and autumn are the best times to go, you are sure to get sun in Israel at any point, especially in the south by the Red Sea. They even have ski resorts up in the Golan Heights near the border of Syria and Lebanon, if winter sports is you’re thing.
5. Where people party like it’s their last
Tel Aviv’s deep house and techno DJs are some of the best in the world, so I was expecting something of a Berlin by the beach when I went. But to my delight, it was all that and more. I not only danced to hip-hop and electronic music at Kuli Alma and Jimmy Who, but also salsa, bachata, and reggaeton at Alma de Cuba and Havana Club! And then there’s that little cherry on top that none of the other international cities will have: Arabic and Middle Eastern beats at the ancient port city of Jaffa. My only regret is having left just as summer was starting, so I missed the full-blown beach parties! One of the many reasons to return…
6. Jaw-droppingly beautiful people
Tel Aviv is an incredibly diverse, young, and good-looking city. But what’s really unfair is, these Natalie-Portmanesque people have also got the brains to match. Tel Avivians are all multilingual – Hebrew and English are the staples, casually followed by Spanish, French, Russian, German, and Arabic. And then you have that whole sexy startup scene, dubbed ‘Silicon Wadi’ to describe the concentration of high-tech industries in Israel’s coastal plain. Software engineer swagger is something you’re bound to bump into at some point. Blonde and dark-eyed is just as common as brunette and light-eyed. Eastern European looks combined with North African beauty and everything else in between. I guess it doesn’t hurt that they all train with the army at some point in their lives, making them fit AF…
7. 10,000 years of history
If Rome, the Eternal City, was founded 3,000 years ago, Jaffa – the oldest part of Tel Aviv – has been around for almost 10,000 years. Walking through the old quarters felt like being inside Game of Thrones’ Pentos, across the Narrow Sea. (Literally if you look at a map it bears an uncanny resemblance to the Mediterranean). If you remember your Greek Mythology, Perseus rescued Andromeda from the cliffs of Jaffa. The Biblical Jonah embarked at the very same port to escape his mission only to get swallowed by a whale. Today, Jaffa is a vibrant and colourful neighbourhood where you can find the best hummus you’ve ever tried (Hummus Abu Hassan), incredible street parties, couples dancing tango on the square, Egyptian ruins… the list goes on.
8. Gastronomic melting pot
If I tried a new restaurant everyday for the next half year in Tel Aviv, I bet I would never be disappointed. That’s what I attempted for three weeks in Israel’s capital of cool and I couldn’t even scratch the surface of the city’s amazing dining scene. I thought I was spoiled in Hong Kong, a city with over eighty Michelin-starred restaurants, but Tel Aviv is able hold its own and more in comparison. It’s an amalgamation of several factors: bread-baking expertise from the dawn of civilization, the freshest ingredients (think dates, figs, sesame, olives…), exotic spices and top-notch vineyards (did you know wine was born in neighbouring Lebanon?). From kosher fine dining with the sea as your backdrop to halva and falafel in Sarona Market, the quality is consistently first class. My personal favourite is Saloof & Sons, the no-frills Yemeni eatery in the hipster part of town, but Carmel Market and Port Said are quintessential Tel Aviv experiences not to be missed.
9. Engaging Israelis
If you’re a traveller who likes to interact with locals, look no further. Some destinations have language or cultural barriers that get in the way of proper conversations, but Tel Avivians will have none of that. Being a young Asian traveller in the city, I got a lot of questions from locals young and old, male and female. In the beginning my cousin and I were offended and intimidated by how straightforward Israelis were. They had absolutely zero qualms about staring, saying exactly what they thought, or asking incredibly direct questions. As we got used to it, we realized more often than not underneath the brusqueness was a well meaning yet curious person who just really, really wanted to know. Or help. We walked out of our hotel once and were followed by an old man in a kippah, yelling at us to come back. He kept shouting and insisting, waving his hands in the air. “Hey you!” He screamed, pointing, gesturing violently for us to come to him. “Why?” I shouted back, irritated and a little scared. He finally walked over and said roughly, “you’re going the wrong way! There’s nothing there but industrial zone. The main street is in the opposite direction!”
10.Surfing the freshest of waves
I know I’ve mentioned the great beach and surf already, but how often do you find a cosmopolitan city that has swells pounding in fresh and clean, right on its doorstep? “Well, if it’s good enough for God, Jesus and Natalie Portman, it’s good enough for you,” jokes Paul Evans of Slabmag, which ranked Tel Aviv as the world’s sixth best city for surf. “The surf is pretty consistent. Okay, Cortes Bank it ain’t, but it’s fun. With a surprising amount of Eastern Med fetch, jazzed Jews regularly rip pretty much anything that moves.”
Where to Stay
My girlfriends and I lucked out when we went – The Beachfront Hostel had a three-bed private room available for us. I have a feeling they get full in the summer, but if you’re able to spot an availability, grab it immediately. They have a fantastic social rooftop where you can watch the sunset over the beach, cook your own food, pre-game, play your own music, and meet other travelers. Unlike some other hostels that are sometimes too big and intimidating, the vibe at Beachfront was cozy enough and just right. It’s located right on Tel-Aviv Promenade on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. Guests enjoyed free use of their watersports equipment as well – I took advantage of the stand-up paddle board!
A later version of this blog post was published on Lifestyle Asia as 10 reasons why Tel Aviv should be your next holiday destination