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36 Hours In Tel Aviv: Party Capital Of The Middle East

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When most people think of Mediterranean city breaks, Tel Aviv doesn’t usually come to mind.  I think this is a mistake.  With a mere 36 hours in Tel Aviv, you can enjoy some of the best food, beaches, arts, culture, and nightlife found anywhere in the world.  

Perfect weather almost all year round, laid-back friendly locals, and an amazingly varied blend of people and cultures – Tel Aviv is a great place to visit at any time.

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Forget any preconceptions you might have about Israel’s second city.  Tel Aviv is the Ying to Jerusalem’s Yang.  It’s young, fun, inclusive, chilled, and open-minded.  

People here love life, and you can see why.  The definitive party capital of the Middle East offers levels of hedonism that easily compare with the likes of Berlin, Bangkok, Ibiza, or Miami.

Whether you’re looking to enjoy exceptional food, check out interesting architecture, soak up some seriously artistic vibes and diverse culture, go wild at an all-night rave, or just chill on the beach, you’ll find it here.

With only 36 hours in Tel Aviv, you’ll have to be selective.  But, in this time, you can definitely experience a lot of what this fantastic city has to offer.  And at the end, you’ll probably want to come back.

36 Hours In Tel Aviv - Day 1

Take a (free) walking tour

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A walking tour is one of the best ways to familiarise yourself with Tel Aviv and its main sights.  There are several different operators to choose from, each with a different focus.

Tel Aviv is famous for its Bauhaus architecture.  The White City district is a UNESCO-listed site, containing over 4,000 Bauhaus buildings.  Some of the best are found on Bialik Street.  Many walking tours will show you the city’s more famous examples of this unique style, and explain its history.  (If you’re interested, the Bauhaus Center on Dizengoff Street is worth a visit, too.). 

Some tours focus on the city’s (extremely varied and vibrant) music scene, others on its food, bars, historical sites, etc.  You name it, there’s probably a tour.

Several walking tours are free (tips are appreciated!), others are paid.  Head over here for a decent selection.

Jaffa (Yafo)

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Entrance to Old Jaffa

The modern city of Tel Aviv is only 100 years old.  However, an easy 30 minute walk south of the central districts takes you to Jaffa (Yafo).  

This ancient seaport was founded at least 4,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest cities in the world.  (Jaffa used to be a separate city, but today is more of a district at the southern end of Tel Aviv.)

In stark contrast with the centre of Tel Aviv, with its modern architecture and shiny skyscrapers, Jaffa feels like the “old” Middle East.  It’s a maze of narrow, winding passageways, courtyards, and beautiful old buildings made from golden Jerusalem stone.

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Be sure to explore the beautiful backstreets of Old Jaffa

Wander along the quayside of Jaffa Port.  This is still a working harbour used by fishermen and merchants, as it has been for thousands of years.  

The Jaffa Lighthouse is a famous landmark.  In the little streets fanning out from here, you’ll find picturesque cafes, art galleries, and clothes shops.  The Jaffa Port Market contains many pop-up stalls selling delicious food.  

If you’re looking to buy souvenirs, artwork, vintage furniture and other items, check out Shuk HaPishpeshim – a quirky blend of bazaar and flea market.

For an iconic view of Tel Aviv and its stunning beaches, head up to Gan HaPisga (Summit Garden).  This is an amazing place to sit in the afternoon sunshine, or to catch the sunset.

Florentin

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Man with book and joint, enjoying life

Florentin is, essentially, Tel Aviv’s answer to Shoreditch in London, or the Lower East Side in New York.  Just more laid back and (slightly) less pretentious.

Once a gritty, grungy, industrial part of the city, it’s now a haven for artistic, hipster types.  Here you’ll find independent art galleries, boutiquey little shops, beautiful street art, and the best coffee in the city (naturally).

Check out the American-German colony, a pleasant little area on the edge of Florentin, full of leafy courtyards and beautiful 19th century European architecture.

For some of the best gelato you will ever eat, look no further than Anita – a local favourite.

Once the sun sets, the area shoots into energetic life.  Trendy bars spill out into the streets, attracting a youthful, bohemian crowd.  Here you’ll find (relatively) cheap beer, falafel, and pizza aplenty.  Some derelict buildings have been converted into clubs and live music venues.

If you only have 36 hours in Tel Aviv, Florentin is a great area to be after dark on your one night in the city.

36 Hours In Tel Aviv - Day 2

Carmel Market (Shuk HaCarmel)

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Deliciously fresh fruit on sale at Carmel Market

Carmel Market is Tel Aviv’s largest Middle Eastern-style bazaar (“shuk” in Hebrew, “souk” in Arabic).  You can buy most things here, from food and drink, to clothing, electronics, and homeware.

There are so many things to see, hear, smell and taste.  It’s an assault on your senses – loud, intense, and super fun.

The best part is the food section, which has a fantastic selection of freshly prepared food, ingredients, and spices.  Stock up on pistachios, dates, baklava, slabs of halva (delicious sweets made from sesame), and rugelach (traditional sweet pastries).

The Beach

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Tel Aviv has some awesome beaches

Once you’re finished being bombarded by Carmel Market, you’ll probably be exhausted and want to sit/lie on a beach to relax.

Well, you’re in luck.  Tel Aviv has some of the best urban beaches in the Mediterranean.  In fact, the entire western edge of the city is one long beach.  Golden sand stretches over 14 kilometres along the clear, warm waters of the Eastern Med.

There are several distinct sections, each with its own name and character.  You’ll probably see groups of friends playing matkot (a kind of beach tennis) on the central stretches (Banana, Jerusalem, and Frishman Beaches), while surfers flock to Jaffa Beach for the best waves.  

Hilton Beach is a huge focal point for Tel Aviv’s famous Pride celebrations.  The city is one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly destinations in the world – and by far the most gay-friendly city in the Middle East.

Neve Tzedek

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Neve Tzedek is full of quirky galleries and cafes

Neve Tzedek is an artsy, gentrified area just north of Florentin.  This used to be another run-down part of the city.  Today, Neve Tzedek is full of fashion boutiques, galleries, design stores, stylish restaurants, bistros, trendy cafes and bars.

It’s a great place to explore on foot, getting lost in the maze of tiny alleyways.  You’ll discover beautifully restored old buildings, secret courtyards, and amazingly detailed murals and other outdoor artwork.

As you wander through Neve Tzedek, be sure to check out HaTachana.  This former railway station has been converted into an amazing space that hosts exhibitions, concerts, and even a weekly farmers’ market.  There are also numerous cafes, restaurants and bars dotted around the complex.

If you’re looking for more things to see and do, check out this excellent guide to Tel Aviv.

Where To Eat In Tel Aviv

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Mind-blowing shawarma...

It’s almost impossible to find bad food in Tel Aviv.  In fact, the food alone is more than enough reason to come here.

Israeli cuisine typically blends Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and North African flavours.  The result is mouth-watering and utterly delicious.  Food always tastes so fresh here.  Most ingredients are locally produced and very high quality.

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... made from wild mushrooms!

Tel Aviv is often described as the “vegan capital of the world“.  A large percentage of the city’s residents are vegans (or vegan-ish), and some of the city’s best culinary highlights are entirely plant-based.  

With only 36 hours in Tel Aviv, my advice would be:  eat as much as you can!  You could spend a year here and eat something new and delicious each day.

AWESOME casual eateries

Make sure you check out Sultana, a tiny hole-in-the-wall vegan shawarma joint on Ibn Gavirol Street.  “Vegan shawarma?! No way!“, you say.  Honestly, this was hands-down one of the best things I have ever eaten.  I don’t know what they do to their wild oyster mushrooms… but, whatever it is, that stuff is life-changing.

Other great places include Sabich Frishman (which serves traditional sabich, a delicious Iraqi/Israeli street food snack), and Frishman Falafel (an awesome falafel place next door), both on Frishman Street.

For some of the best hummus and pita, head to Hummus Abu Hassan in Jaffa, or Shlomo & Doron near Carmel market.  (Or just go to both places – they’re more than worth the long queues.)

Restaurants

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Fig carpaccio
More-delicious-Israeli-food
and the best salad I think I've ever had

There are countless amazing restaurants in Tel Aviv – far too many to include in this post.  I’ve included here a few of my personal favourites.

Meshek Barzilay in Neve Tzedek serves delicious meat-free Israeli dishes, in pleasant, leafy surroundings.  Try the fig carpaccio!  There’s also a deli attached to the restaurant, where you can buy a range of fresh local produce.

For something entirely different, the Japanese-inspired Disco Tokyo offers unique and creative dishes that manage to blend pan-Asian fusion with Middle Eastern and European flavours.  They also do great cocktails.  This place is really popular, so advance bookings are strongly recommended.

If you’re really looking to push the boat out, try the incredible tasting menu at Opa.  The ever-changing dishes are experimental, varying with the season, and feature many organic ingredients grown on the roof of the restaurant.

Where To Drink In Tel Aviv

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The unassuming entrance to Teder.fm

As mentioned above, Florentin is the place to be after dark if you’re looking for a good time.  Here you can drink and dance until the early hours in the area’s many bohemian bars and clubs.  Tel Aviv is a party city, and places tend to stay open late.

Teder.fm is one of the most popular nightlife spots in the city, and has become something of a Tel Aviv institution in recent years.  Hidden away behind a scruffy, graffitied door on Derech Jaffa road, this former pop-up venue sprawls across several floors of a run-down commercial building.  

Teder is a meeting place that combines a bar with an online radio station, live music venue, and a super-chilled social space.  It’s a cool place, and a great way to experience the Tel Aviv vibe.  For those with the munchies (i.e. everybody there), the adjoining Romano restaurant offers excellent pizzas and other bites, late into the night.  

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Israelis smoke a lot of weed

If you’re looking for something a little more upmarket and chic, head to Neve Tzedek, where you’ll find sophisticated (yet still cool) cocktail and wine bars.

Where To Stay In Tel Aviv

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Accommodation in Tel Aviv is pretty expensive – easily comparable to cities like London, Hong Kong, New York, and Sydney.

For those on a tight budgetAbraham Hostel Tel Aviv is a great option.  This fantastic hostel is located just east of Neve Tzedek, and has private rooms, dorms, and an awesome roof terrace offering panoramic views out over the city.

Airbnb can also be a good bet, though standards can be a bit mixed in my experience.  Be sure to check the reviews (and whether the place has air-conditioning!).

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Awesome rooftop terrace at The Lighthouse

If you’re looking to spend a little more, The Lighthouse is excellent, and only a two minute walk from Jerusalem Beach.  This newly-renovated hotel has beautiful interiors and a stunning rooftop garden/terrace/bar.  

(Not to be confused with the Lighthouse Tel Aviv club, which is near Tel Aviv port, north of the city centre.)

36 Hours In Tel Aviv - How To Get Around

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Israelis often have a relaxed attitude to road safety

Tel Aviv is a fairly compact city, with under half a million inhabitants.  It’s flat, well laid-out, and easily navigable by foot.

To travel between the city’s various neighbourhoods quickly, do what the locals do and grab one of the ever-present Lime e-scooters.  Alternatively, you can pick-up and drop-off a city bicycle from one of the many green Tel-O-Fun bike stations.  Both are super cheap and easy to use.

If you’d rather take a cab, Uber works well in Tel Aviv.  With the exception of rides to and from the airport (see below), fares are pretty reasonable, and you avoid having to haggle with unscrupulous taxi drivers.

Best Time To Visit Tel Aviv

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It's almost always sunny in Tel Aviv

With over 300 days of sunshine a year, Tel Aviv is a truly year-round destination.

Temperatures in the summer (June-September) usually hover around 25-30°C.  Even in the wintertime (December-February), it’s rarely cooler than 15°C – although you’re more likely to see rain during these months.

April, May and October are great times to visit if you’re looking to avoid the peak summer crowds.  (Though, in fairness, Tel Aviv is never anywhere near as crowded as cities like Rome, Barcelona, Paris, etc.)

If you’re only planning to spend 36 hours in Tel Aviv, and you’ll be there over the weekend, I’d recommend checking opening hours in advance.  Some things are closed between sunset on Friday and sunset on Saturday, for Shabbat – the Jewish day of rest.  

As a general rule, public transport shuts down, and some museums and galleries (especially smaller ones) are closed for Shabbat.  However, being by far the most secular city in Israel, most bars, cafes, restaurants, and 24/7 mini-markets remain open throughout this period.

How To Get To Tel Aviv

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The ancient port of Jaffa

Most major international airlines fly to Tel Aviv.  Flights are usually cheapest outside of the main summer holiday months.

In recent years, a few low cost carriers (including Wizz Air and easyJet) have also started to fly routes to Israel from various European cities.  These flights are never quite as cheap as those to destinations in Europe (it is quite a bit further, after all).  That said, there are definitely still deals to be found.  Check out Skyscanner for the best options.

The best way to get into Tel Aviv from Ben Gurion airport is to use the train, which is about 10 times cheaper than the taxi fare.  However, if you arrive between sundown on Friday and Saturday (when the city’s trains and buses all stop for Shabbat), you’ll probably need to take a taxi.  

See here for further info on taking the train from the airport into central Tel Aviv.

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Sunset over the Eastern Mediterranean

** If you’re looking for other alternative city break destinations, check out some of my other posts, including:

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