10 surprising things you didn’t know about Tel Aviv
Our writer spent a month in the White City, and now he wishes he'd stayed longer.
Thanks to Tel Aviv consistently being named to travel industry "Best of" lists, it's easy to develop an impression of the city without having ever been. Beach parties, beautiful people, a huge tech scene – these are all certainly part of the landscape of this dynamic Israeli city in a very big way, but I can assure you there is so much more to this city by the Mediterranean Sea.
1. It's the perfect point of departure
Tel Aviv is centrally located, making it a convenient home base for any exploration of Israel. Jerusalem is but an hour to the east, Haifa roughly the same amount of time to the north, and it's the gateway to all that southern Israel has to offer – which is a lot.
2. The food is healthy AND delicious
I'm one of those Americans who feels at home with a hamburger. While I try to eat healthy, I'm not always successful. I like food that tastes good, and it often seems as if healthy food and flavorful food are mutually exclusive. In Tel Aviv, that's not the case.
The Mediterranean cuisine enjoyed in Israel is tasty and wholesome. In Tel Aviv in particular, a vibrant, globally recognized restaurant scene and creative approaches to classics such as shakshouka and falafel have produced a culinary landscape full of healthy and tremendously delicious dishes.
3. Nightlife here is even better than advertised
I'd heard the stories about Tel Aviv being a party city, but even coming from New York, "The City that Never Sleeps," where nightlife trends are made and bars are open until 4 in the morning, I was impressed. It doesn't matter what day of the week it is, people are always out enjoying life. In fact, many residents of the city even prefer going out on weeknights, using the weekends to rest up.
Part of the attraction is that in Tel Aviv, last call is, well, sort of vague. Bars and clubs close when they feel like it, which is usually when the last customer leaves (often in the wee hours of the morning). Heck, some don't even close. Among those that definitely deserve a visit are Kuli Alma, Anna Loulou and Port Said, all of which blend together disparate crowds to create unique party atmospheres.
4. The boutique hotels are really (I mean really) cool.
Tel Aviv is bursting with boutique hotels. One recent addition, The Norman, rivals any on the planet (you don't have to take my word for it), and is one of the first places VIPs head to when in town. Kanye West recently spent the night following a concert in the city.
Other new spots such as Brown Beach House, Lily and Bloom and The Poli aren't far behind, offering stylish bedroom interiors and sharp atmospheres that are as popular among the locals as they are the guests.
5. The coffee craze is real.
Cafe hafuch is a popular coffee in Israel. Known as upside-down coffee, it's similar to a latte, but the ingredients are poured into the mug in reverse order. The milk, and lots of it, goes in first, then the coffee. (Photo: Elena Elisseeva)
People here love – LOVE – their coffee. Whether you're looking for hot or iced, you're never too far from a proprietor who sells the stuff. Many take a cup while relaxing at a cafe, but there's no stigma around getting it to go either. In fact, homegrown chains specializing in takeout cups of coffee have become enormously popular in recent years, so much so that chains like Starbucks have been pushed out, having never quite gotten a foothold in the country to begin with.
6. The Mediterranean Sea isn't the only popular body of water
Tel Aviv's relationship with the sea is well documented, but it's not the only body of water near and dear to the hearts of Tel Avivians. The Yarkon River runs west through the city's northern tip before entering into the Mediterranean Sea. Along much of that route runs its namesake, Yarkon Park, which has become the city's most popular green space.
Stretching for hundreds of acres, Yarkon Park includes the 10-acre Rock Garden, with some 3,500 species of plants, and the five-acre Tropical Garden, where a huge variety of orchids and vines can be found taking advantage of the rainforest-like micro-climate. Of course there are many patches of green space, good for everything from a picnic to camping.
Boasting more than 100 sushi restaurants, Tel Aviv is home to the third most per capita in the world, trailing only New York City and Tokyo. Such is its venerable place in the dining scene that a simple Google search turns up a contentious debate about which exactly is the best of the bunch. I say why not try them all? If you have to pick one, though, Dinings Japanese Tapas, at the Norman Hotel, wouldn't be a bad way to go. The food is great. Just ask David Bryan, the keyboardist for Bon Jovi, who I spotted there the night I visited.
Tel Avivians love their runs. There are three big ones — the Samsung Tel Aviv Marathon, a February festival that includes a trifecta of smaller runs leading up to the main marathon; the Sea to Jerusalem Race, a biennial event that starts in Jaffa; and the Tel Aviv Night Run, which draws thousands to the city's streets one night each October. In between, there are several smaller events that get the city's running denizens ready for the main events.
9. It's street art nirvana
Graffiti in Tel Aviv is not frowned upon. That's the first thing you notice here. It's celebrated and very much a part of the fabric of the city. In fact, it's not even referred to as graffiti, but rather more respectfully as street art. Florentin is most synonymous with it, and tours are given through its streets and alleyways. During my visit, the city enjoyed the grand opening of a street art gallery, meant to place a spotlight on the neighborhood's storied street art culture. Street art is not, however, relegated to this one neighborhood. In Jaffa, you can find large city-commissioned pieces, but it's really about keeping your eyes open no matter where you are in Tel Aviv, because there's something to see on almost every block.
10. They love their juice and smoothies.
In Tel Aviv there's a juice stand around every corner. (Photo: Olga Pepe/Flickr)
If you were to go on a juice diet, you couldn't find a much better place to do it than Tel Aviv. It's pretty much the most readily available thing in the city. And even if you aren't on some diet and you just like things that are delicious and healthy, you can't go wrong with a fresh juice made from, among other fruits, pomegranate, orange or watermelon. If juice isn't your speed, there's always the option of ordering the thicker, more dynamic smoothie. You've got choices aplenty when it comes to this drink, but my personal favorite was bananas, dates and pecans.
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