With a largely Jewish population, Israel’s working week runs from Sunday to Thursday with Shabbat - the day of rest - observed throughout large parts of the country on Saturdays. So, fly into Tel Aviv early on a Friday where most of the bars, restaurants, shops and public transport stay open all day. It’s a buzzing and energetic city, with an exciting emerging tech and arts crowd.
Arrive in the morning in time to visit Carmel Market – Tel Aviv’s famous Shuk, selling everything from clothes, spices and fruits to antiques and freshly made hummus. Haggling is common practice in Israel, so ensure your negotiation skills aren’t rusty and bag yourself some bargains. Visit on Friday afternoons when the atmosphere reaches its heady peak as locals get ready for the Jewish Sabbath.
Once you’ve filled up on the stickiest baklava, head over to the city’s oldest neighborhood, Neve Tzedek and rifle through the racks of its boutique fashion stores with vintage finds and beautiful jewellery design.
When hunger takes over, head to Dallal for exquisitely plated Mediterranean fare - the city hugs the sea’s eastern edge ,so fresh fish dishes is a great food choice.
From there, make your way for a nightcap at BuXa in White City, where contemporary décor meets hip DJs and an even hipper crowd. After that, you’ll be ready to tumble into bed at The Jaffa – one of the city’s most captivating hotels. Housed in a 19th century French hospital, clean lines, great views and a sorbet colour palette make it anything but sanitary. If you manage to squeeze in one more Negroni, head to the chapel and sip it beneath one of the original stain glass windows.
Though the breakfast at The Jaffa is undeniably good, set yourself an early start and make your way to White City’s Benedict, where you can stock up on everything from pancakes and croissants to a more traditional Israeli breakfast of eggs, labneh and za’atar.
When you’re suitably caffeinated take a stroll around White City itself. A World Cultural Heritage site, it’s a glittering example of Bauhaus architecture that was introduced to Israel by the German Jewish community and embraced by Tel Aviv’s own designers. All white walls (hence the name) and wilting palm trees, think Miami glamour paired with the rustic feel of Tuscany.
Named for the beloved prime minister Yitzhak Rabin who was assassinated, Rabin Square is the largest public space in the city, so is unsurprisingly impressive. Though it’s presided over by the imposing concrete behemoth that is City Hall, the Japanese garden pond filled with lotus flowers and koi carp takes the edge off. Take a stroll around the fountain and sculpture before stopping for a drink or bite to eat in the sun at one of the cafés lining the piazza.
As today is the Jewish Sabbath, most of the city’s folk will be lounging on the beach come Saturday afternoon. It would be a crime to visit Israel without sampling one of its sandiest spots. Gordon Beach boasts plenty of daybeds, courtesy of the upmarket hotels lining its boardwalk, so settle yourself in for an afternoon of reading, sunbathing and toe-dipping.
At dusk, walk along the seafront back towards Jaffa’s Old Port, an ancient city that dates back at least 7,500 years. Book dinner at Cassis – a seafood restaurant with the best sea views in the city – and watch as the sun sets and turns the buildings piled against the shoreline from cream to gold.
Once you’ve wined and dined, download the Gett app – better than Uber in Israel – and order a cab to Jerusalem, which is just an hour’s drive away. Spend the night at the Mamilla Hotel, which offers understated, elegant hospitality at the edge of the Old City with breathtaking views.
Make sure you make the most of your flying visit and book yourself an evening flight back home. This will allow you time to take in a half-day walking tour of the Old City – the crown in Jerusalem’s jewel and a world-famous site that’s home to 4,000-year-old architecture. But before you check out, enjoy a leisurely breakfast in the sunlit Ballroom restaurant at Mamilla.
From Mamilla, it’s just a ten-minute stroll to the Jaffa Gate, where you’ll be able to pick up this highly recommended four-hour walking tour. It may sound lengthy, but it takes in the most sacred sites to the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths, including Temple Mount, the Tomb of King David and the Hall of the Last Supper. You’ll walk the Via Dolorosa – believed to be the path that Jesus walked to his crucifixion – and along the way will share in the expert knowledge of your guide. As it remains a popular pilgrimage destination for visitors from all over the world, the history of the City feels very much alive and has a bustling energy that you wouldn’t expect at a historical site.
After an exhausting tour on foot, it’s now time to collect your bags and make your way back to the airport.
Though Israel is small but perfectly formed, it’s entirely possible to pack plenty of culture, food and sun into a weekend. Be warned, though – it’ll leave you wanting to come back for more.
Planning on spending longer in the city? Here are 7 other top recommendations in Tel Aviv…
- Romana is nestled at the back of an abandoned warehouse space – pick a table overlooking the inner courtyard and absorb the fun, raucous atmosphere.
- Vicki Cristina offers Israeli tapas in a fairy-lit, tree-filled courtyard in the old Neve Tzedek Railway Station. After dinner, explore the cobbled courtyards filled with boutique shops and small wine bars.
- HaSalon is the legendary restaurant owned by celebrity chef Eyal Shani. Unlike the other hot spots in his Miznon chain (including the aforementioned Romana and SL street food favourite Abraxas North) it’s not the food worth visiting for – rather head to the bar, which the team light on fire to get the party started.
- Tel Aviv is an unlikely hero for Japanese food – the city has the most amount of sushi restaurants per capita than any other spot outside of Japan. TYO is akin to London’s Roka or Zuma – one of the coolest sushi spots in the city, sip on white sangria and munch fresh sashimi.
- Another Jaffa jem, the Old Man And The Sea is a cavernous space in the port that offers some of the best Middle Eastern food. You’ll have to Google the restaurant to truly believe the abundance of plates on offer.
- David Ve Yossef. 3 words. Foie Gras Egg. Possibly the best dish we’ve ever tasted. Ask to sit upstairs – downstairs is impossibly cool, but with lax smoking laws in Israel, it gets a little fumy for non-smokers.
- Froyo might be an unexpected recommendation, but Tamara, located in various spots across the city, puts all over yogurt shops to shame. We recommend a mix of passionfruit and white chocolate sauces drizzled over the freshest fruit imaginable.