Tel Aviv: The City That Never (Ever) Stops – Pt. 1
Aside from eating like it’s the End of Days and braving obnoxious shopkeepers, there’s plenty of leisure to be found in Tel Aviv, now celebrating its centennial and a tourism boost.
Stroll by the sea, lose yourselves in a botanical garden, immerse yourselves in culture, lounge on a sunswept beach, dance until dawn…and lower your hotel expectations.
Alina and Doran make the observation that Tel Aviv seems largely populated by people 25 and younger, as though it’s a real-life version of Logan’s Run. Since the city’s lifestyle of wealth, fashion and fun is guarded by the Israel Defense Forces, it’s not too surprising that Generation Me thrives in insular, self-involved effect; it’s easier to party than contemplate violence every day. But as 100 year-old Tel Aviv enters a period of urban renewal, more mature travelers can find peace amongst the teeny bikinis and thumping unce-unce beat.
For instance, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art focuses on Modernism, both global and Israeli. You can explore the city’s modern architecture together at the Bauhaus Foundation Museum, or by taking the White City guided tour (free admission, corner of Rothschild and Shadal Streets, every Saturday at 11am). Or, if you like your sights a little more dazzling than minimalist, visit the Harry Oppenheimer Diamond Museum.
Dive into the bustle of the Namal, the refurbished port at Jaffa. In addition to a 14,000 foot long boardwalk lined with cafes and restaurants, there’s a Friday Farmer’s Market and several opportunities to hear jazz (hugely popular in Tel Aviv). You can also stroll from Jaffa to the far end of Tel Aviv along theTayelet Promenade, which runs for 2 km beside the Mediterranean.
For greener pastures, one of Tel Aviv‘s top attractions is a huge park, right in the heart of town. Yarkon Park features the Ottoman-era fortress of Tel Afek; the Tropical Garden, a 5-acre rainforest with its own lake; a bird sanctuary; walking/biking paths; daily yoga groups; and paddle-boating (on the sadly polluted Yarkon River).
Crowded on Sabbath Saturdays, the quietest time to visit the park is mid-week. (Bring lots of Israeli cash: It costs money both to enter and rent just about everything here.)
Tel Aviv’s city-side beaches are in a constant battle with dirt and litter, but with turquoise water, gentle surf and white sand, they still manage to be gorgeous.
In the afternoons and early evenings, beach bars provide shade, lounging beds and cocktails for tourists and locals seeking relaxation…or recovering from the club scene. For couples, Gordon and Frishman, Banana, and Alma (with its laid-back beach club, The Kiosk at Manta Ray) are the best bets, and weekdays afford more space and quiet.
Better yet, brave the traffic (or take the train) to the adjacent suburb of Herzliya for beaches Alina and Doran describe simply as calm, clean, and quite simply, “unbelievable.”
Eventually, you’ll need to lie down indoors…and here’s where Tel Aviv becomes a challenge. Alina cautions that if you have expectations when it comes to hotels, it’s unlikely they’ll be fulfilled in Tel Aviv. Despite this recent Travel + Leisure article to the contrary, she cautions that a 5-star hotel in Israel is more like 2 stars in America and Europe.
However, both she and Doran — who generally rent local apartments while they’re in town — can cite a few scattered, debatable exceptions. Their local friends praise the Isrotel Tower Tel Aviv, part of a mid-sized Israeli chain, as “the nicest airport-adjacent Best Western you’ll find.” (This advice should be considered in the following context: The Isrotel is in downtown Tel Aviv, right near the beach.)
Another couple, Americans whom Alina and Doran describe as their super-fancy friends, had “a nice experience” at the InterContinental David, the most expensive hotel in Tel Aviv; their mildly positive review is apparently akin to anyone else celebrating their lodgings with fireworks and a parade.
At the high-rise Park Plaza Orchid, though, right on the beach and presently under renovation, Alina found that all was not as the website promised; as recently as this past August, half the property was still shabby and dirty, with chipping tile and visible mold. Be sure to request the newly remodeled side where rooms were truly gorgeous, or risk getting shuffled to the equivalent of an ocean-view gulag; the newer, fancier rooms are generally (though off the record, of course) reserved for what Israelis see as finicky French tourists. Not sure who really likes a run-down hotel room, but this just goes to show you:
In Tel Aviv, if you stand your ground to get what you want, you’ll automatically have an authentic travel experience. And chances are, you’ll also sleep better at night.