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Notable Destination: Tel Aviv, Israel

Last November, I embarked on a whirlwind 7-day tour of the Holy Land. The itinerary was, in a word, ambitious. I saw more than a normal human could possibly process. And while I could have spent the entire time in Tel Aviv, or Jerusalem for that matter, I’ll offer up the hits and what you don’t want to miss in these two fascinating cities

HOMEBASE OPTIONS
After a week of delays due to Hurricane Sandy, I was finally touching down in Tel Aviv – thankfully welcomed by sunny skies. And also incredibly thankful that, at 8:30am, my room at Herods Hotel was ready. Ideally located on a brilliant stretch of beach, the property offers modern rooms and one of the most opulent breakfast spreads I’ve ever seen.

If you’ve got friends who are familiar with Tel Aviv, then no doubt they’ve waxed poetic about Hotel Montefiore. If you don’t choose to stay, definitely drop in for brunch, lunch or dinner.

A slew of boutique hotels have opened their doors in Tel Aviv. Choose from Eden House, BrownThe RothschildTownhouse TLV  and Berdichevsky Hotel.

DO
I recommend dividing a conquering. On day one, why not begin where it all began? The ancient port of Jaffa is the perfect starting point. The best views are from the roof of Ilana Goor‘s gorgeously eclectic museum, located in a beautifully restored bazaar. From there, you can’t miss Ben Zion’s workshop and showroom. The artist’s family has been making traditional Yemenite jewellery for generations. If you are curious about the archeology in the area, it’s a short walk over to the new Visitor’s Centre, which shows off the findings to date. After a trip back in time, follow the narrow path down to see Jaffa’s old port, peeking into little artist nooks along the way.

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A short taxi ride will take you to HaTachana. Originally built in 1892 as a terminal for the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway, the area has been transformed into a lovely shopping complex that includes cafes, restaurants and, for nostalgia, refurbished rail cars, freight terminals and the original train tracks. Go on a Thursday evening when Israeli designers and other artists converge for a (roofless) trade show. Listen to live music while perusing the rings and delicate bracelets at Hagar Satat‘s studio store and checking out the unique souvenir shop Made in TLV.

Day two… Given the fact that Tel Aviv was founded in 1909, it’s quite something that, in 2012, Condé Nast Traveler magazine ranked it as one of the “World’s 10 Best Cities for Architecture Lovers.” That said, any visitor should check out the reason why and head over to the Bauhaus district, or “White City” – now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Start at the Bauhaus Centre and end on Rothschild, where many of the buildings have been restored. Pop into Rothschild 12 for a deliciously casual lunch on their patio.

Next stop for art lovers is the Noga Gallery for its beautiful collection of contemporary art. Die-hard shoppers should spend the afternoon on Shenkin Street where small designer shops are peppered in amongst international brands. It really is a pedestrian paradise with no end of eye candy.

Speaking of candy, though, you can get oodles of the real stuff at Shuk Carmel. This brilliant food market scene includes everything one can think of, plus flowers and the requisite fresh pressed pomegranate juice. On Tuesdays and Fridays independent artists and vendors add to the mix with unique crafts, art, and jewellery along Nahalat Binyamin Street.

EAT + DRINK
At the southern end of Jaffa’s old port, Hangar 1 is a fairly recent development that offers options for a lunch or dinner. Settle in at The Old Man and The Sea, or grab a freshly squeezed juice before you check out a contemporary art exhibit. A little further by foot and you will find shops and quirky cafes in and around Rabbi Yohanan Street. Pop in to Puaa Cafe where they actually sell the cutlery and plates you eat off of. Another essential snack stop is Dr. Shakshuka (3 Beit Eshel Street) for variations on a pan-fried casserole of poached eggs and spicy tomato sauce. 

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In the new port area, Boya is a worthy Italian-inspired choice. We ran into Tel Aviv’s mayor, Ron Huldai, while having dinner there.

Venturing back into the White City, Hotel Montefiore is a refined choice for dinner. Well known in jetsetter circles, the hotel’s stylish eatery boasts a Southeast Asian-inspired brasserie menu. Asian menus seem to be a thing here, and you can indulge in more of the city’s best at Zepra, where Chef Avi Conforti is winning loyal customers with his imaginative dishes. 

A few other places that come highly recommended (thanks Georgia!) are Coffeebar, Raffael, Vicky Cristina in HaTachana for tapas and sangria. Or try Wine Bar (36 Nachlat Binyamin Street) for the calamari on tahini, and more dishes with an Israeli twist.

Craving a crowd post-dinner? There’s no shortage of places to get your groove on, and in and around Neve Tsedek is the place to be. Bistro bars like Nanutchka (2 Lilienblum) and Port Said (2 Har Sinai) are worthy watering holes, while The Block books international DJs to keep the club crowd dancing all night long.

Both the dance and music scene are prolific in Tel Aviv. Take in everything from a performance by the world renowned Batsheva Dance Company (check here for schedules) to Depeche Mode, who will be kicking back to the 80s in Hayarkon Park on May 7th.

TRAVEL TIP The Israeli week starts on our Sunday and they don’t use Monday, Tuesday, etc, instead referring to days as numbers. Sunday is Day 1, and so forth. The only day that has a name is Shabbat – our Saturday, which is equivalent to our Sunday or ‘day of rest’.

Stay tuned for JERUSALEM! In the meantime, visit TheTravelPresse.com for more of my week in Israel.

Sara Graham

Sara Graham is an entrepreneur, yoga teacher and travel writer. While she has spent time in over 30 countries to date, Sara has lived in Bermuda, Canada, the Czech Republic, and is currently based in Sweden. She is also the author of How To Make Big Moves: Relocate Without Losing Your Mind (Amazon Kindle, iTunes, Kobo). The guidebook is a masterclass in relocation and essential prep for the digital nomad lifestyle.Sara Graham is an entrepreneur, yoga teacher and travel writer. While she has spent time in over 30 countries to date, Sara has lived in Bermuda, Canada, the Czech Republic, and is currently based in Sweden. She is also the author of How To Make Big Moves: Relocate Without Losing Your Mind (Amazon Kindle, iTunes, Kobo). The guidebook is a masterclass in relocation and essential prep for the digital nomad lifestyle.