The best way to see any city is to experience it like a local, especially in Tel Aviv. When you visit this vibrant city, you won’t want to sit back and photograph the locals having a good time, you’ll want to jump right in there with them. Locals have the best tips on navigating public transportation or where to score the best falafel and sip on the cheapest and most delicious beer. They will also know where the best parties are happening at all hours – the lights coming on in the bar definitely doesn’t mean that the night is over.
Energy, atmosphere, culture, cuisine, sand, and sea – this is Tel Aviv, with its modern, vibrant, lively streets, big events, and much more, day and night. So, if you want to experience Tel Aviv like a local, read on.
Be a beach bum like a local
Tel Aviv’s Mediterranean coast stretches for kilometers. A clean, supervised beachfront with nice weather almost all year round make it an awesome destination to take a break from work and hang for a week. Kick back with a book on a lounge chair or sit at one of the many restaurants lining the boardwalk to grab a drink or a bite to eat. Water sports are also plentiful. Do you like surfing, kayaking, kite surfing, windsurfing, or snorkeling? Or perhaps you’re more of the stand up paddleboarding, water skiing, and scuba diving kind of person? For experienced divers, the marine life around a sunken Israeli navy boat beneath Jaffa Port is a major attraction. As long as it’s it’s not raining, you can find locals hanging out at the beach at all hours.
Stay up late like a local
Tel Aviv locals aren’t concerned with getting their dinner in early. After all, if they’re going to be staying up all night, they need a good meal to sustain them. Don’t be surprised if you need to reserve a table late into the evening, especially on weekends. Post-work cocktails and funky underground music after midnight is the norm. Some of the hottest nightclubs do not even open until after midnight, are empty until 2 AM, and are still going at sunrise. Tel Aviv is known for having some of the best nightlife in the world, and rightfully so.
Tel Aviv is a loud, in-your-face, stimulating city. Wherever you are, there will be a lively nightspot and more than a few good restaurants open and full. With trendsetting fashion, new concept hotels, and uniquely Israeli fusion cuisine, Tel Aviv attracts visitors from all over the world. Spend an entire week of nights here and you will enjoy a totally different experience every time. You will also need a good strong coffee the following morning.
Hang at a coffee shop
If it’s one thing that Israelis do really well, it’s coffee, and they aren’t afraid to tell you. Ask them how they take their coffee and they’ll likely tell you “strong.” But there are choices for everyone, whether you’re an almond milk cappuccino drinker or want to venture out and try a black Turkish coffee. There are cute trendy coffee shops and kiosks on practically every block and they are full at all hours of the day. Can you really be an authentic Tel Avivian if you don’t have your local coffee shop that you frequent? No, you can’t. There’s no better way to live like a local than by sitting at one of many coffee shops with the locals themselves. Bring a book, people watch, and befriend the baristas. This is one of the the best ways to get to know the city.
Everything goes with Tahina
This Israeli staple – part sauce, part dressing – goes with and is served with everything. When in doubt, cover everything and anything in tahina. Avoid offending your hosts and don’t turn it away. Tahina is made from toasted sesame seeds and is a critical ingredient in many local dishes. It is also served with salads, burgers, and breakfast. Some even covertly spoon it out of the jar when nobody’s looking. Locals eat tahina, period.
Explore the markets
Locals know that the best produce, fresh-squeezed juices, hot off the oven bread, melt-in-your-mouth hummus, and fresh herbs and spices can be found at the shuk (market). Markets, indoors and out, are very much a part of the fabric of Tel Aviv. Each has its own unique charm and character, offering shoppers the chance to explore exotic foods and other staples in authentic locations.
For many items, the price is negotiable. So shop and haggle like a local, and don’t give up until you’ve gotten yourself a deal. You can walk away with some unique items and presents. The most popular shuk in Tel Aviv is the Carmel Market. It is popular with tourists and locals alike and offers souveniers, produce, and endless food stands and small eateries selling local and international cuisine. Friday is the busiest and most chaotic day for this market, but it’s also the most exciting and lively. It’s when you can really get a feel for life in Tel Aviv, so make sure to head there on Friday for a coffee, some brunch, or a drink. Other popular Tel Aviv markets include Hatikva in South Tel Aviv, Levinsky in Florentin, Pishpishim in Jaffa, and Sarona.
Want to know what all those interesting looking spices are in the market? Join our Levinsky Market & Cooking Workshop Tour to find out! On the tour, you’ll learn how to use local herbs and spices, try some of the best foods in Israel, and learn how to cook Israeli dishes.
Visit the Yemenite Quarter
Tel Aviv’s Yemenite Quarter is arguably the most charming neighborhood in the city, full of narrow streets that are as run down as they are picturesque. The array of authentic and unassuming eateries serving up Yemenite soul food and lively nightspots make it a hidden treasure that simply must be explored. Grab a beer with some friends and sit around a table located among many of the small quaint streets in the neighborhood.
Don’t Wait in Lines
As fast-paced and restless as Tel Aviv is, service is not always so. Locals may have accepted this as a part of life but it still gets their blood pressure rising on a daily basis. Locals navigate questionable service, delays, and changing schedules as just another part of life, and you should too. Things may not go according to your plan, but eventually your food will come, the bus will arrive, and the waiter will bring you water.
Standing patiently in a neat line is not the local way, and it’s not going to get you anywhere. This is especially the case at the shuk, takeout joints, or when waiting for public transport. Leave your good manners behind and if you can’t beat them, join them.
Eat hummus like a local
Hummus is central to Israeli cuisine and to your social life. If you want to be social, you eat hummus. Children grow up on the dish and it can be found on every lunch table. It is delicious, nutritious, and filling to the point of crashing for a nap right after eating it. Be wary of asking locals where the best hummus can be found, you may spark up a heated debate. To really eat hummus in Tel Aviv like a local, plop down at a hummus joint and scoop out large wads of hummus with warm pita. Scraping your plate clean is most definitely a necessity. Arguably the greatest hummus in Tel Aviv, and one of the best in Israel, is Abu Hassan in Jaffa. Hummus is a must-try when visiting Tel Aviv; just make sure not to have plans afterwards.
Be seen at Sarona
Sarona market is the city’s newest markets and culture complexes. Like the Tel Aviv Port and the Hatachana complex, Sarona is a modern urban space based on a historic site. The mix of commercial and recreational space, public squares, and landscaped grounds highlight the painstakingly restored original Templar buildings. Shop or browse in the boutiques and art galleries, or sit at a café, bar, or restaurant. One of Sarona’s newest attractions is Israel’s first whiskey bar – one of the world’s largest, with a small whiskey museum.
Shop the malls
Tel Aviv’s malls are constantly busy, which might lead you to wonder when anyone works. The more popular ones are Dizengoff Center and Azrieli Mall. At Dizengoff Center, on Thursday afternoons and Friday mornings, home cooks and entrepreneurs market their cuisine and specialized food products. It is a great way to sample some of the finest local foods and ethnic home cooking. You can find everything from cakes, cheeses, olives, and pickles to stuffed vegetables, cholent, and home-baked bread, and even more exotic specialties like Persian gondi and sushi. Order take away or eat your food there among the local diners.
Shop the Streets
For shopping the old-fashioned way, Dizengoff Street is still the quintessential spot in the heart of Tel Aviv. Kikar Hamedina in northern Tel Aviv is one of the city’s most exclusive shopping areas. For those in search of more exclusive Israeli mementos, the art and antique galleries situated in Jaffa are just the ticket, and the area is wonderful to just stroll around as well. Neve Tzedek, one of Tel Aviv’s most gentrified areas, is the place to be for many young and talented artists and fashion designers. Sheinkin Street is a hub for fashion and interesting finds. Ben Yehuda Street’s leather shops sell top quality items, and there are some interesting souvenir and antique shops as well. The area near Tel Aviv’s Great Synagogue on Allenby Street has a concentration of specialist shops for Jewish ceremonial objects like tefillin, mezuzzot and bar mitzvah gifts.
For those looking to experience Tel Aviv like a local, with a local, take one of our fun and informative Tel Aviv Urban Tours.