We Just Spent A Weekend In The Most Liberal City Of The Middle East – Travel Off Path

Posted By on October 10, 2022

Share The Article

Last Updated 1 day ago

We just spent a weekend in whats arguably the most liberal and free city in the Middle East, and the things we found and saw there were far more surprising and dare we say, exciting than we were expecting.

Writing for Travel Off Path, I like to think of myself as a lover of freedom and advocate for an open world. After all, we have been covering the different levels of restrictions imposed on citizens over the course of the last two years and strongly supporting the resumption of normal tourism. As a traveler myself, I tend to favor destinations where individual liberties are upheld.

Not only when it comes to freedom of movement, but where people are not persecuted or criminalized based on their gender, sexuality, or political views, and that is safe in general for outsiders who dont speak the language and/or are unfamiliar with the local customs.

Health crisis aside, I mostly avoided the Middle East in my years of traveling, not because it didnt appeal to me Iraq, for instance, is one of my bucket list destinations but because it has developed a reputation for being a hotbed of religious quagmires and strict laws governing social life Right?

As it turns out, thats not always true, especially when it comes to this one compact metropolitan gem tucked away on the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean:

Ill take a guess here, and please, do let me know if Im wrong in the comment section. When you think Israel, the first image that pops to mind is probably that of ancient cities carved out of limestone, where both History and religion walk hand in hand, and the droves of pilgrims flock into every corner looking for some sort of religious awakening.

Am I wrong? Well, thats not too far from the truth, as Israel is, indeed, the Land of the Bible, as well as home to places held as holy in all three major religions Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. We all know it can be an incredible destination for believers, irrespective of the Abrahamic branch they belong to, but what about others?

Others like me, who are thrill-seeking young digital nomads who do not feel strongly about any particular religion and who wouldnt necessarily mind the occasional infusion of History, but are simply hoping to have a cracking time for once. Luckily for both demographics, Israel has the best of both worlds: sites of huge historical importance and unparalleled city breaks.

Of course, it is the birthplace of Jesus, John the Baptist, King Herod, and all other Bible icons that have long been in our social imagery, whether we were born into a Christian household or simply hail from the Christianized Western World. But then again, it is home to Tel Aviv, which is the most overlooked city Ive ever set foot in and perhaps one of the most vibrant.

In a country as packed with millennia-old monuments and wild nature as Israel is, Tel Aviv is a city that looks almost out of place. Its monumental skyscrapers cannot be found anywhere else, and the unblemished white of its signature Bauhaus architecture looks strikingly alien in a country where the ocher-tinged tone of its historical buildings is the commanding color.

Tel Aviv is an aberration, and although some of the Orthodox Jews of Israel would certainly like to keep it in line with the more-conservative Jerusalem and Nazareth, I mean it as a compliment of the highest order. This is the Land of Creations younger, rebellious child, who owes its charming looks to a century of innovation and openness to the outside world.

It couldnt have been any different: it was established on the shores of Israels central Mediterranean Coast in the early 20th century, and throughout the decades that followed, it hosted an influx of migration from the Americas, Europe, and other Middle Eastern neighbors, as far southwest as the continent of Africa.

This amalgamation of cultures, customs, languages, and ethnicity is still very much present in Tel Aviv. It is indisputably a city belonging to the Jewish State at its core, but if youre looking for Israels equivalent to a multi-faith international community and/or more permissive branches of Judaism, then here is where youll find them.

Being a gay man holding what I would like to consider a progressive worldview, I felt at ease in Tel Aviv as I would normally in Amsterdam, Stockholm, or Lisbon. Granted, I cant speak for other groups, and certainly not for women, but even then, I was under the impression tourists from all walks of life would feel just as embraced and welcome as I was.

In fact, finding the odd rainbow flag proudly displayed on a private balcony or a shops front door isnt a strange sight in Tel Aviv. In the wider Middle East, where numerous countries still criminalize same-sex relationships or even expect women to live under certain constraints, this is certainly a testament to its status as a young, free city.

Tel Aviv may look imposing in pictures when it excels at mimicking New York Citys skyscraper-dotted skyline, but in reality, it is a small town with big city aspirations. By that, I mean it is incredibly compact, in spite of its metropolitan feel, and getting from one end to the other will not take you longer than 35-40 minutes of driving (if theres traffic).

This is why it is such a perfect weekend getaway: most of the attractions are all clumped together and can be seen in a single day. Below, I have listed six of my favorite things to do while on a weekend in Tel Aviv:

Youre free to be yourself in Israel.

Many Americans may not be entirely aware of this, but Israel straddles Western Asias Mediterranean shore. In other words, the worlds most sought-after beach destination, where Ibiza, Santorini, Cyprus, and the like are located, incorporates Israel on an extent and like any Mediterranean hub, Tel Avivs access to the sea makes it a popular swimming hotspot.

Im not even one for beach hopping myself, but I certainly couldnt resist relaxing at a Hilton Beach lounge on a scorching mid-September afternoon, fresh-squeezed lemonade and Kindle at hand, hearing the sound of waves crashing and the faint hint of pop music coming from the nearest beach bar. Absolute heaven.

It is also known for being the gay beach of Tel Aviv, though judging by its diverse crowd of young bathers, it is popular among all groups. However, if youre coming with your family and would prefer a more child-friendly spot, I can suggest Gorden Beach instead, located directly opposite the Sheraton Hotel, or even Geula Beach.

Around 50 66 NIS ( $14 $19 USD) for a one-course meal

Im not the biggest fan of street markets myself. I have little use for the trinkets and souvenirs shouting vendors try to sell you at any cost, nor do I particularly enjoy being hurried along amid the current of tourists and other curious onlookers exercising their bargaining skills. For that reason, I wasnt truly looking forward to visiting the open-air Carmel Market.

It was, however, part of my Tel Aviv Weekend Tour itinerary, and as soon as we approached the first row of shops stacked with Persian rugs, art pieces looking meticulously made, and the smell of kebab grilling on skewers, I knew I was in for a treat, and couldnt have been more grateful to my guide, Michael Skir, for insisting we came here.

Carmel Market couldnt be farther from your usual tourist trap, with all its colorful flowers irises, gladiolas, and roses that owe their blood-red vibrancy to a prosperous Mediterranean climate dried fruits, dates, and other Western Asia classics, as well as a plethora of unique condiments I would have loved to take home myself, were I not a dreadful cook.

Moreover, it is one of the best lunch spots in all of Tel Aviv: its corridors are home to various restaurants and street food stalls, and I certainly felt spoiled for choice in picking a favorite. If your heart is set on traditional Middle Eastern cuisine especially if youre hoping to sample some humus then this is the place to be.

Pro tip? You dont want to miss the Hummus Shlomo & Doron Restaurant*.

*Nakhalilel St, 24, Tel Aviv-Yafo

52 NIS or roughly $15 USD

Perhaps the farthest out of the six that is, if youre staying central Tel Aviv Universitys ANU Museum was bound to become one of my highlights for a very simple reason: my favorite pastime is cuddling up to my cat, burying my nose in a book, and spending hours on end ruffling through the pages, lost in thought.

A museum chronicling the trajectory of Israel as one of Ben Gurions most ambitious projects, and then a nation over time, ANU felt very much like a giant-sized book full of textures and vibrant imagery I could just walk into. Similarly to the Museum of Contemporary History in Bonn, Germany, still my all-time favorite, each floor of ANU is dedicated to a particular period of Jewish History.

Slowly working your way down from the top floor, you will learn how ethnically diverse and surprisingly multicultural the Jewish peoples are, what has been their collective angst and goal across centuries, who are some of the brightest minds to have been born in Israel, and how far this relatively new country has come in as little as seven decades.

My only regret? Not having planned longer than an hour here.

Catch the vibes.

Tel Aviv may not be the ideal destination for those fixated on deep cultural expeditions, but it does shine through with its extensive list of world-renowned restaurants, some of which I will detail further down, bohemian districts where youngsters pour into the streets for a much-needed weekend relief, and a cafe culture rivaling that of Europe.

The best place to feel the atmosphere and mingle with locals and visitors alike is the Downtown Area, close to the iconic Rothschild Avenue and any of the smaller streets feeding into it, such as Allenby, Florentin, and Levontin. Here, you will find alfresco dining options, quirky themed cafes waiting to go viral on TikTok, the countrys top-rated nightclubs, and even co-working spaces perfect for digital nomads.

Being completely unaware of Tel Avivs hidden wonders until I landed, I could have easily skipped the 20th-century city altogether and headed straight to the nearest Roman-era citadel. Sky-high apartment blocks, busy city life, and shopping centers are not exactly my cuppa, but now, Im so glad that I didnt.

Its precisely this eccentricity and the citys unique status as a modernized financial center in the heart of the primeval nation, whose existence has been enshrined on the pages of the worlds best-selling book, that make it worthwhile, even if only for a long weekend.

Youll want to take your time here.

Besides being home to Israels liveliest social scene, Tel Aviv is a guidebook for minimalist aesthetics. An experimental ground for Bauhaus, a 1919 creation of German architect Walter Gropius, Tel Avivs historical center is home to a vast collection of whitewashed, UNESCO-listed monuments comprising the so-called White City.

Strolling the area, tourists are graced with views of rectangular-like or round structures without intricate decorations or the ornate, romantic forms youll find in Europes Belle epoque buildings. Tel Avivs oldest neighborhood, which defies other contemporary developments, is both a lesson in architectural practicality and a sight to behold.

These geometric shapes are spread across the city center, and theyre surely not hard to find, but for some of the most iconic sights, I strongly suggest you visit Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Avivs pulsating vena cava, adorned with some of Gropius finest feats, and Dizengoff Square, the setting for a futuristic water fountain display flanked by Bauhaus landmarks.

Tel Avivs equivalent to an Old Town.

My favorite district in all of Tel Aviv, Jaffa is an ancient port dating back thousands of years that was slowly absorbed by the city as it grew larger, rising from a mere 34,000 inhabitants in 1920 to over 400,000 today. Luckily, its strong identity as a distinct entity hasnt entirely vanished, in spite of the contrasting 21st-century skyline surrounding it.

As soon as you cross the former municipalitys symbolic threshold, which proudly reads Welcome to Old Jaffa, you will feel like stepping back in time and into an alternate reality where Tel Avivs modern sea promenade and a cluster of skyscrapers give way to narrow alleyways, lined with little craft shops, museums, and centuries-old churches.

Doubtless, Jaffa is the most Instagrammable district in Tel Aviv, and in short walking distance of the White City, it makes for an incredible day trip away from all the hustle and bustle. Once in Jaffa, make sure you check out:

Out of the 40 countries I have visited so far, and more than 200 cities globally, I must confess Tel Aviv would rank somewhere in my top 5 for foodie destinations. Whether its sizzling shoarmas straight from the market, or fine dining overlooking the Mediterranean coast, travelers are for sure in for a treat, irrespective of budget.

Compiling the list below was a tough pick, but I did try my very best:

As a devoted foodie myself, and an enthusiast of off-path travel, I couldnt help but verge off the main route and explore a side of Tel Aviv most tourists are completely unaware exists. Luckily, my guide Michael knew just where to go to quench my thirst for authentic experiences, and thanks to him, I met one of Israels most renowned cooks, Myassar Seri.

Mrs. Seri is an Israeli citizen of Palestinian origin who leads cooking workshops from her own home, nestled in Jaffa, and who has done an awe-inspiring job at bridging gaps between Israelis, regardless of their religion or political inclinations, and sharing her culture with other men and women who are willing to learn it.

Amid the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, witnessing this womans willingness to heal old wounds, and express her own family history through a rich, flavorful Arab cuisine thats been passed along generations upon generations, is an experience I will cherish forever, and one I can only encourage other visitors to undertake.

As youve been made aware already, I may be a terrible cook myself, and I am sure I wasnt of much help in my group, but in spite of my clumsiness and ceaseless efforts to spoil the tahini one of my main tasks that day it still turned out to be one of tastiest entresIve had in my life.

Either Im not nearly as bad in the kitchen as I thought I was, or Mrs. Seris miracle-working hands somehow saved the day.

Im banking on the latter.

If youre flying all the way from America to Israel and youre planning on spending a weekend in Tel Aviv, like me, I would first advise you to steer clear of shady AirBnB owners and stay in the White City area, a prime location for short-term visitors, within walking distance to all the major shopping centers, street markets and the Port of Jaffa.

I will go even further and personally recommend Esther Cinema, my own hotel. A true Bauhaus jewel towering over Dizengoff Square, one of the main landmarks I mentioned earlier, this hotel has a life of its own. Not only was it once one of Tel Avivs first cinemas, it boasts incredible views of the White City below and a sumptuous breakfast spread.

Today, other than the vintage film posters hanging from the walls and the enviable display of movie projectors dating back to the 1950s, there is little left of Esther Cinema on site to indicate that this hotel, part of Atlas Boutique portfolio, was ever designed to welcome passionate moviegoers, but you will still find:

*The price for a Twin Room is an estimated USD 188.00 per night on Booking.com

Direct flights to Ben Gurion International, Israels main entry hub serving both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, are available from:

Id advise you to check airfares with each airline for more competitive prices as we have seen this year, they might have been hiked as a result of the soaring inflation. On the bright side, those looking for a last-minute deal for their fall vacays will be thrilled to learn this off-season has been the best time to book international flights globally.

Earlier this year, Israel removed all health entry requirements for foreign visitors, including U.S. citizens arriving from the United States. Heading into the fall, all of the following apply:

Despite the relaxation of measures, tourists must still complete a Passenger Locator Form up to 48 hours prior to departure.

So yes, Tel Aviv and, to an extent, the astoundingly beautiful country of Israel is open for tourism and looking forward to having you back. For unique experiences and a customized itinerary based on your own profile as a traveler, get in touch with the knowledgeable Michael Skir, who was my own contact on the ground while in Israel.

Without Mr. Skirs expertise, insightful comments, and love for Israel, it would have been much more challenging to peel off all these layers of Tel Aviv I didnt even know existed.

Read More:

Travel Insurance That Covers Covid-19 For 2022

3 Mediterranean Destinations Without Crowds Youll Actually Want To Visit

6 Reasons Why Cyprus Will Become The Next Trendy Destination For Travelers

This Off Path Tour In Rome Is One Of The Top Things To Do In The City This Fall

We Just Hiked The Inca Trail To Machu Picchu: So Was It Worth It?

This article originally appeared on Travel Off Path. For the latest breaking news that will affect your next trip, please visit: Traveloffpath.com

Join the community

TheTravel Off Path Community FB grouphas all the latest reopening news, conversations, and Q&As happening daily!

Enter your email address to subscribe to Travel Off Paths latest breaking travel news, straight to your inbox

Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictionscan change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationalitys entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling. Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories

Follow this link:

We Just Spent A Weekend In The Most Liberal City Of The Middle East - Travel Off Path

Related Post


Comments are closed.