Israel’s cool, modern and most populous city, Tel Aviv is the perfect beach-break, located on the Mediterranean coast. The beaches are narrow but vast, stretching on for miles and miles, making for a lovely stroll if you don’t fancy getting sandy. They’re really easy to access from the city too, so wherever you’re staying, you’ll most likely be able to just walk down to the beach. The beaches are super clean with many enjoying the blue flag status for environmental conservation and security. Tel Aviv is most likely where you’ll fly into regardless of where you want to go beyond this city, so get yourself down to the beach even if you’ve only got a few hours!
We didn’t have much time to spend in Tel Aviv, and in all honesty, we were kind of relieved because at times we found ourselves struggling to find things to do in the day beyond going to the beach and walking about (get yourself a falafel sandwich from Frishman’s on your wanders!). It kind of makes sense, considering it’s a very new city compared to somewhere like Jerusalem. It’s still worth a visit, but just don’t expect to be smacked in the face with culture and history like you are in Jerusalem! I’d recommend just spending a couple days here.
Welcome to Tel Aviv! You’ll find road signs in Hebrew, Arabic AND English
The first beach we stumbled across, one road away from our hotel!
Probably my favourite thing in Tel Aviv city was the former German colony, Sarona. It was strangely difficult to find but absolutely worth checking out! A newly renovated complex, you’ll find little shops and museums along with restaurants and bars. It’s a beautiful area in the summer, a little haven surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the built up city surrounding it. We stopped here for the afternoon to have a beer in the sun.
The city from afar – onlooking from the Old City of Tel Aviv, Jaffa
A modern restaurant in Jaffa, the food was incredible!
Tel Aviv is known globally for it’s nightlife and even more-so for it’s LGBTQ+ friendliness. A Pride parade is hosted annually, attracting over 250,000 guests. Israel is widely regarded as the most tolerant within the Middle East in regards to LGBTQ issues and rights.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to experience of the night life in Tel Aviv, but what we did see was great. Bars are modern and teeming, the area all around HaYarkon street is really popular so it’s a great place to stay if you’re looking to be close to all the buzz. We stayed in the Ultra hotel (right by the beach, on HaYarkon street) on arrival and later an Airbnb in Florentin (known for its bohemian cafes and laid-back bars) at the end of our trip. Restaurants and bars are expensive but a great experience nonetheless and so close to the sea, there’s delicious seafood on offer! Tel Aviv nighttime entertainment has a great reputation, and for good reason!
We didn’t actually make it to the Dead Sea during this trip, which I was really gutted about! It was pretty out of the way from the rest of our plans and unfortunately it was going to take up too much time making our way there and back this time. I have been to the Dead Sea a few times before though, just on the Jordanian side – read all about my experience here. The cool thing about the Israeli side is that this is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, the ancient Jewish manuscripts thousands of years old but only recently discovered (now kept in a museum in Jerusalem)! I highly recommend checking it out – here’s a pic to tempt you:
Check out those salt formations! That’s actually Israel across the water, so, I’ve kind of been there, right..?
We took a day trip from Tel Aviv up north to port city Haifa, which took us just over an hour by train. It was cheap and really straightforward but super busy on the way there so we had to spend the journey standing at the train door, but managed to get a seat on the way back. It was a really lovely route too, as the train tracks run all along the coastline. Haifa is the third-largest city in Israel.
We climbed these steps TWICE trying to find our way to the Baha’i gardens… And there’s more steps behind me!
Undoubtedly, the biggest attraction in the city is the Shrine of the Bab and the Baha’i Gardens which surround it. The gardens are absolutely beautiful and definitely worth a visit but, my goodness, they were hard for us to find. Perhaps it was just a mixture of sunburn and exhaustion but we seemed to find ourselves walking in hopeless circles trying to find our way! Google maps was failing us, signs seemed to mislead us and locals were none the wiser. We pretty much gave up as the day began to draw to a close until we turned a corner and suddenly, the gardens appeared in all their glory before us! It was a huge relief and we probably could have saved ourselves a lot of hassle if we’d hired a tour guide but it was the end of our trip and the pennies were lacking. We didn’t manage to see all the gardens had to offer, but after a long day, this was good enough for us. Ooh, before I forget – make sure you get yourself a falafel sandwich from Falafel Ha’zkenim on your travels, simply delicious!
A view of the Shrine of the Bab from below
So, who or what is the shrine for? It’s the Shrine of the Bab (Mirza Ali Muhammad of Shiraz), Persian founder of the Babism religion in 1844. He taught that a new prophet would follow Muhammad, soon to arrive from God. However, this contradicted central Islamic belief of Muhammad as the final prophet, hence his followers were persecuted and the Bab was eventually executed in 1850 in Iran. The shrine you see above is dedicated to him, containing his remains and is considered a very holy site – so make sure you dress responsibly otherwise you won’t be granted entry!
Babism later developed into the Baha’i faith in 1863 when Baha’ullah, one of the Bab’s persecuted followers, claimed to be the prophet foretold by the Bab. He wrote many of the key texts for Baha’ism including the Kitab-i-Aqdas, spending his life in a series of exiles due to his faith. He died in Acre (also worth a visit, just north of Haifa!), Israel in 1892, where his shrine stands today and is considered the holiest site within the faith.
Today, Baha’ism has continued to expand across the globe and there exist around 6 million followers. Progressive revelation is central to the Baha’i faith. Baha’is believe that God periodically reveals his will through divine messengers, in order to transform humankind. They believe in equality and accept all other faiths as true and valid, as all religions have the same spiritual foundation, despite their differences. In this sense, the religion has borrowed from and can be linked to many other religions. If you’re interested in learning more about this lesser-known faith, you can find out more from the Baha’i website here.
Haifa is built across very steep land – you can almost see straight down to the port and back up again when you’re stood here!
If you’re staying over night, you should check out the bar Kabareet in Haifa with live music, I was recommended this place by both Egyptian DJ Sotusura and Maysa Daw (from Palestinian rap band DAM), so it must be good! Unfortunately, this time, we had to catch the train back to Tel Aviv to be able to catch our flight home so we didn’t have chance to fully scope it out.
Undoubtedly, the main attraction when travelling to this part of the world is Jerusalem. However, the intensity of the city gets pretty hectic and exhausting (especially during Easter!!!) so taking a step back and experiencing other places can be a really welcome breath of fresh air. There are plenty of other places to go and visit, whether for religious, historical purposes or pure intrigue, which didn’t make it to this list, but we had a limited amount of time so we stuck to (what we believed to be) the key areas!
Any questions, get in touch!