If you are planning to visit Tel Aviv for the first time, there are a few tips that will make your trip go more smoothly and help you avoid some common mistakes.
As a local Tel Avivian, I’ve hosted many guests and guided many more around the city.
I took note of the most frequently asked questions of first time visitors and made this guide to answer them.
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How long to visit Tel Aviv
You can enjoy Tel Aviv fully in three days or so. If you’re on a very short visit, even two days will suffice.
If you have time, do stay longer so you can experience local life and get to know the people and culture beyond the tourist highlights.
Israel is a small country, so you can use Tel Aviv as a base for day trips. For example, Caesarea is about an hour’s drive north of Tel Aviv and Haifa is less than an hour away on the train.
You can even visit Jerusalem as a day trip from Tel Aviv, as it’s only about 50 minutes by bus. However, there’s a lot to see there so perhaps you’d want to dedicate more than a day to Jerusalem.
When to visit Tel Aviv?
Tel Aviv is a warm city all year round. Spring (March and April) and fall (October-November) are ideal times to visit. You can expect sunshine every day, and the weather is neither too hot nor too cold.
Summer is long in Tel Aviv, it starts around May and ends around October. It’s a very hot and extremely humid summer, so I recommend you visit in summer only if you enjoy sweating a lot!
That said, you can literally spend your entire vacation on the beach 😉
You can also visit Tel Aviv during its very short winter (December-February), as it hardly ever gets very cold. Winter days are usually quite sunny.
Temperatures do drop after sunset, and it does rain sometimes, but not frequently. If you’re from a country that has freezing winters, Tel Aviv can be a very nice escape.
How to get around Tel Aviv?
Walking in Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is a wonderfully walkable city, being quite small and flat. You can walk just about everywhere and take the time to look around.
Cycling in Tel Aviv
If you don’t feel like walking, you can also rent a city bike called Tel-O-Fun. You’ll see the green bike stations all over the city and you can rent them on a daily or weekly basis.
Watch this video for info on how to use the city bikes:
Taxis in Tel Aviv
Gett is a very popular app if you need a taxi. It will allow you to pay by credit card. Uber’s legal situation isn’t clear in Tel Aviv.
You can also find a taxi on the street and ask the driver to turn on the meter (in Hebrew: “Mo-neh”, pronounced like the last name of the artist Claude Monet).
Another option is the new car sharing service called AutoTel. You can get one of these green cars from a designated parking spot and pay by the minute.
One thing to consider is that there’s heavy traffic in the city during the day and the evening, so going by car may not be the best way to get around.
If you visit Tel Aviv on a budget, beware that taxis are expensive, but AutoTel may be more budget-friendly.
Buses in Tel Aviv
The public transport system in Tel Aviv, frankly speaking, isn’t very reliable. While the light rail is still under construction, buses get stuck in traffic and run late way too many times.
From my own experience, it’s often easier and faster to cycle than to take the bus.
A quicker and more frequent alternative to buses are the minivans called “Sheroot”. They operate around the city with similar routes to some buses. Typically, you can stop them anywhere along the route to get on or off.
What languages can you use in Tel Aviv?
The official languages in Israel are Hebrew and Arabic. Street signs are usually in Hebrew, Arabic and English.
English is widely spoken in Tel Aviv. You can easily get by in English when you go shopping, talk to a bus driver or order at cafes and restaurants.
In the rare occasion that the person you speak to can’t communicate in English, there will be someone else nearby who can. This makes things very convenient for visitors.
What’s less convenient though is that the Hebrew alphabet is different from the Latin one and so there will be certain things you won’t be able to read.
For example, if a restaurant doesn’t have a menu in English, you won’t be able to just guess what’s on it (as I often do in many European countries with some basic knowledge of Roman languages…).
One way around it is to use Google translate scanner on your phone. Set the app to translate from Hebrew into English and then press the camera icon and point it at the text. It will scan the text and show you the translation on the screen.
What currency to use in Tel Aviv
The Israeli Shekel is the official currency. Cash and credit cards are the common methods of payment. Payment apps are slowly being introduced, but are not commonly used yet.
You can check the conversion rate simply by Googling the phrase 1 ILS to USD or any other currency you want to convert to.
There are five notes: 20, 50, 100 and 200 shekels. The coins are 1, 2, 5 and 10 shekels, as well as 10 and 50 Agorot (cents).
Tel Aviv is a pretty expensive city and requires some budget planning. You can expect to pay at least Western European prices on anything from restaurants to taxis to alcohol.
What might surprise you when you visit Tel Aviv for the first time
Those electric bicycles!
Of all the cities I’ve been to around the world, I’ve never seen so many electric bicycles in one place.
They are ridiculously popular and under-regulated in Tel Aviv. You will come across them anywhere you go, usually when they’ll be coming at you (or worse, behind you) at great speed.
They ride on pavements too, there’s no escape and nowhere is safe. The only advice I can give is to move out of their way, as they are not going to stop for you.
The Israeli weekend is tricky
The Jewish weekend starts on Friday afternoon and ends on Saturday evening after sunset. Sunday is a normal working day in Tel Aviv.
I’ve seen many visitors get confused by this and you really should take this into account when you plan your trip, so as to avoid some very common mistakes.
The most important thing to remember is that there are no buses and trains during the weekend.
Don’t plan any day trips and if you can, avoid booking a flight to or from Tel Aviv on Friday or Saturday. While there is a very fast and convenient train service to and from the airport, it stops working early on Friday afternoon. You’ll have to pay about 10 times more for a taxi…
Getting around the city is easy though, as you can walk, rent a city bike or use the Sheroot minivans that run 7 days a week. Their service is limited compared to the normal bus service, but they are very helpful at weekends).
Restaurants and shops usually close on Friday afternoon, though some stay open, especially in busy nightlife areas of the city.
The markets and supermarkets are also closed, but there are some smaller shops and kiosks that are open throughout the weekend.
It’s best if you get your groceries early on Friday. At the market you will also get the best prices just before it closes for the weekend.
Some businesses might re-open on Saturday night, but typically they only open again on Sunday morning.
Generally, Friday night is the biggest night for going out to parties and bars, but during the day on Saturday, Tel Aviv is strangely quiet.
Jaffa, on the other hand, which is only partly Jewish, is much more alive on Saturday during the day, with many restaurants and cafes open, so it’s a good idea to spend your day there.
Israelis speak very loudly
One of the first things you’ll see, or rather hear, is Israelis shouting at each other. I’ve had to explain this quite a few times to puzzled visitors: they’re not fighting, they are having a perfectly ordinary conversation.
It’s just part of the Israeli culture, which is pretty informal in many ways. If someone approaches you and seems to be shouting at you, remember that for them talking loudly is a normal thing.
When you enter any public place, like a supermarket, a theatre, a shopping centre, the central bus station etc., you will have to stop for a security check.
The guard will look into your bag and ask you if you’re carrying any weapons.
These checks are usually very quick and not particularly intrusive. However, if you’re in a hurry, remember that at times they can take a bit longer.
Sometimes there might be a line for the security check and in some places your bags may even be x-rayed (for example, at train stations).
This may not be a surprise, considering the political situation in the region, and given that these checks are becoming more common in more parts of the world. Still, it is something that a first time visitor should be prepared for.
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