I find Tel Aviv to be a city with a mix of European and Middle Eastern culture, beaches, healthy and open-minded people, and a nice Mediterranean climate with hot summers. Jerusalem may be Israel’s capital; however, the state’s economic and technological hot-spot is Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is a place for party animals, foodies, techies, and the LGBT community alike because of its many places to go out, world-class restaurants, startup scene and free-spirited people.
Here are the most important things to know before traveling to Tel Aviv:
1. Tel Aviv is pricier than what you probably expect!
Tel Aviv rivals the prices of major American and Western European cities when it comes to rent, food, and drinks.
While you can save on fresh produce, cheese and milk products end up being expensive and so does eating out.
2. Tel Aviv is inclusive & welcoming
Tel Aviv is one helluva gay-friendly city, so if you’re gay/queer/bi/pan, etc. – you’ll find a huge like-minded community with rainbow flags everywhere.
3. Wear whatever you want
One more important thing to know before traveling to Tel Aviv is that it’s one of the most liberal cities in the world, which means you don’t have to pay attention to how you dress at all. Show off your boobs, tattoos, or junk (in the trunk) however you want and with tight clothes – you’ll be in good company.
When going out, I rarely noticed any girls in high heels or short, tight dresses. It’s more of a casual dress code, which goes for guys too. Shorts and flip-flops are o.k. in the vast majority of places.
However, places such as Jerusalem are a bit more conservative and to be respectful, it wouldn’t hurt to cover knees and ankles, especially in churches, but I also noticed plenty of tourists who didn’t.
4. Internet is fast and reliable, but quite expensive
Fast and reliable; however, pretty expensive if you get data on your phone! Paid about 85 shekels (=€21=$23) for a SIM card with unlimited calls and texts plus 1 GB that lasted me a week. In Tanzania and Egypt, I get 2 GB for $1
5. Tel Aviv is Israel’s party capital
Tel Aviv has been voted as one of the top nightlife capitals in the world, deservedly. Even when I went out on a Saturday night (in Israel that equals a Shabbat night, and thus a European/American Sunday), places were popping!
Some places have an age limit of 23, 24, so check before you go or befriend someone who works there and can get you in
Already said it, but the dress code is pretty casual.
Drinks can be fairly expensive in clubs and thus, you can save a lot with pregaming (as in most places).
6. Language: Learn the basics, rely on English
English is widely spoken, especially among younger generations, so you will not have a problem getting around at all; however, if you do want to learn a few words, here are the most important ones:
Shalom: Literally means peace, is used as Hello and Goodbye as well as for other things
Toda (Raba): Thanks (a lot)
Slicha: Excuse me
Chen [Ken] and Lo: Yes and no.
Travels of Adam listed a few more useful words here.
Supermarket products and other things may only be labeled in Hebrew – so – have fun figuring out whether you’re buying yogurt, sour cream, or cream cheese
I mixed a type of Israeli cream cheese with my fruit in the morning, instead of my usual yogurt – yum!
7. No Uber, use GETT or Moovit or public transport
It’s unfortunate, but I and people I’ve talked to experienced a lot of cab drivers who would rip off tourists; therefore, don’t even enter a cab without the driver agreeing to turn on the meter:
For a cab to Florentin from Ben Gurion airport, it cost me about 130 shekels late at night. On my way from Florentin back to the airport, I paid 110 shekels during mid-day.
Both times, I didn’t ride during Shabbat.
If you arrive at the airport, go to the third floor and let the official’s guy give you a receipt with the price for your cab and the driver’s name and number.
Even on GETT, the taxi app, you find scammers, but you can use it and pay with either credit card or cash.
An alternative is shared taxis, so-called Sheruts. The Moovit app has the Sherut schedule on it. They are one shekel more expensive than buses, which are 6 shekels in Tel Aviv.
There is no tram/subway in Tel Aviv yet. It’s being built but will take a long time to be established.
Because Israel is so small, there are buses to a lot of places around and lots of day tours; therefore, it’s easy to see a lot of the country.
Tap water: my stomach didn’t take it well, and neither did my German friends’ stomach. Drink at your own risk.
Usable for brushing teeth though.
8. Shabbat is when life stops
This is one of the most important things to know before traveling to Tel Aviv, so you can plan your travels and experiences accordingly: In Israel, weekends are Fridays and Saturdays. That means Thursday night is a Friday night for Americans and Europeans, for example.
Officially, Shabbat (Saturday) is seen as a day to spend with family, not traveling, and not engaging in many activities. You’re supposed to rest. That’s why public transportation comes to a halt on Shabbat and life, in general, does too. The streets are empty, but the beaches are full. Most shops are closed.
During Shabbat, you can only count on the am/pm supermarket to be open for sure.
9. Food: Tahini, hummus & falafel for the win
Tahini, hummus, and falafel, 3 types of kosher, fresh produce year-round – these are only a few reasons why Tel Aviv has great food. And for all my vegans, vegetarians, and fellow pescatarians, Tel Aviv has a lot to offer for you as well! Tel Aviv has one of the very few (at the time of this article about 5) vegan food tours in the world and is the only one in Israel. Check out my review here.
10. Tel Aviv is where artists don’t run from the police
“Tel Aviv is the only place in the world where artists don’t run from the police,” a tour guide told me. Especially in Florentin! In this slowly becoming gentrified area, there’s even a graffiti alley. Street art is plenty and definitely a part of the city’s character.
11. Beaches for everyone and everything
Tel Avivers love their frisbees, beach ball, soccer, and dogs. And they’re fit as Fuuuuuh. Plus, the ocean is nicely warm and clear and the sand is pretty clean. You can watch sunsets here any day.
- Take your dog to Jaffa beach.
- Play beach tennis and people watch at Jerusalem beach.
12. Get some Shekels
Get shekels with your credit at an ATM when you arrive. Most places accept cards, but you’ll still need cash for some.
13. Tel Aviv airport is one of the worst
Don’t let people at the most unfriendly, unwelcoming airport (I’ve ever experienced) take away from your journey: I was asked why I travel here as a woman by myself if I didn’t know that there was a war going on – all kinds of bs when I just wanted to see the city. So make sure you have your documentation of when you’re flying back out and everything else.
And once you’re ready to fly back out, plan in 3 hours at the airport because they will triple check your luggage and be unfriendly while doing it. They even asked me why I have duck tape on my carry-on.
“Because I packed too much.” Four countries, temperatures ranging from 0 – 25 degrees Celsius and being a cheap a$$ will do that to your luggage. After I said this, the lady shot me a quick smile – the only one at this airport.
14. Take a day tour
The last thing I want you to know before traveling to Tel Aviv is that Israel is pretty small, which allows you to see a lot of places in a short time, which makes the country perfect for day trips to the Dead Sea, Beit Shean, Masala, and more. Check out this article for 5 Tel Aviv tours you should consider. And because Israel is close to Jordan, you should absolutely consider a tour to Petra, Wadi Rum, and everything else Jordan has to offer. Read more about a 3 day Jordan tour here.