We arrived from the cool temperatures of Copenhagen to a heat wave making its way through the Middle East. There was a mild breeze in Tel Aviv, but a hot, sticky one that made you feel as if you were standing in front of a furnace. I was warned that it would be hot in the desert (surprise, surprise!) but the dry heat of our upcoming desert adventure wasn’t a bother, in fact it was nothing compared to our sticky, Tel Aviv experience. Our cab driver dropped us off a block from our apartment. From there we seemed to almost swim through the thick air, suitcases in hand, the rest of the way to our apartment.
My first impression was not a good one. Horrible in fact. The streets cluttered with trash and graffiti – there was no artistic architecture to be seen, only decrepit buildings left to crumble since their completion, circa 1975. This is not the vision I had when daydreaming about Tel Aviv. I pictured cobblestone streets with character, as it was described in multiple reviews I read prior to our visit. I saw so much positive feedback from fellow travelers, and wondered if we were doing something terribly wrong.
“They can’t all be winners” Bryan said to me, as he shared my disappointment in our new home. We shuffled to our small apartment, right beside the Carmel Market, cranked up the AC and decided to spend our hot, sticky days working indoors, despite the constant, loud activity just outside of our window….
Looks can be deceiving…
Don’t judge a book by it’s cover…
These are the common sayings going through my head on our first day. I became determined to see a different side of the city – to explore beyond our neighborhood and discover the vibrancy I had read about, though I wondered if anything could be enjoyable in 90% humidity. I learned a lot during our week in Tel Aviv. First and foremost, I found the quotes I was rambling on our first day to be true.
I will be brutally honest with all of you because I refuse to sugar coat any experience – Tel Aviv is not aesthetically pleasing or architecturally appealing, and August is the absolute worst time to visit. My mismanaged expectations and our poor timing did make it difficult to discover the good side of our first Middle Eastern home, but with each passing day, and each new discovery, I learned to love the city for what it is – a young, vibrant, active city with incredible food, an incomparable nightlife and badass beaches. I owe my love of this city to the guidance of one special, local family, who took the time to lead us in the right direction.
Let me share with you some of our rookie mistakes, and how we found our way to a fabulous Tel Aviv experience…
Rookie Mistake #1: Exploring the beach on a sunny day. What a horrible idea – trying to walk along the scorching sand (sandals are an absolute necessity unless you’re in the water), hopping from one shady area to another for just a bit of relief. Fancy a refreshing swim? Well, the Mediterranean Sea here is more like a warm bath, so your best bet is to find one of the outdoor showers for a refreshing rinse.
Lesson Learned: It’s best to enjoy the beach at sunset! Our new-found friends invited us to a lovely beach picnic one evening, when the sand was cool and the water was actually refreshing! Trust me on this, the beaches of Tel Aviv are active and beautiful at all times during the summer, but it’s best to be comfortable so you can take it all in.
Rookie Mistake #2: Cycling as a means of transportation. I’m always making fun of people on electric bikes, wondering why they don’t just get a motorcycle if they prefer not to peddle. While in Copenhagen, using an electric bike made you stick out like a touristy sore thumb. In Tel Aviv, however, they are everywhere! My initial judgment of this ‘lazy’ means of transportation was shot straight to hell when I realized the reason for this popular means of transportation – it’s too damn hot to cycle during the Tel Aviv Summer!
Lesson Learned: Go electric! Rent an electric bike to get around. Trust me, you don’t want to be pumping your legs in extreme humidity. Join the rest of the locals and bet on a bike with a battery.
Rookie Mistake #3: Exploring the city on a Saturday. We felt really silly after this mistake. We are aware of Shabbat, the Jewish ‘Sabbath’ when most things close for the day, especially in more conservative cities like Jerusalem (where you can hear a pin drop on Shabbat) but we figured ‘most’ did not mean ‘all’, and opted to take a stroll to some of the popular shopping districts one Saturday morning.
Lesson Learned: (Almost) everything is closed on Shabbat, even in Tel Aviv. So spend your Saturday keeping cool indoors. Restaurants will open after sundown, and the famous Tel Aviv nightlife will commence as well, but it’s definitely not worth wandering around during daylight hours, unless you want to have the streets all to yourself!
Now that I’ve shared with you our honest mistakes, and revealed that even seasoned travelers can be total rookies when exploring a new country (lesson learned – we will always have lessons to learn!), I’d like to share the things we actually did right! Here’s a list of our BEST Tel Aviv experiences, and why we can’t wait to return one day!
Eat the food. Stuff as much falafel, shawarma and hummus that you can possible fit in your belly. From all of our travels, my favorite food in all the world is found here!
Stroll the Carmel Market. The market is open daily (except on Saturday, of course) and you’ll find fresh veggies, local treats and creative souvenirs.
Visit old Jaffa. You’ll have this ‘tourist’ attraction all to yourself in the summertime! Explore the winding, cobblestone paths, unique architecture, and make sure to check out the old port while you’re there!
Dine at the Sarona Market. This neighborhood was once a German Templar community, but today is filled with fabulous restaurants, and a new market filled with fresh foodie treats!
Spend an evening at the Beach. With restaurants, bars and clubs lighting your way, the beach party scene really gets going after dark!
There you have it – how I learned to love Tel Aviv in August, the worst time of year to be there. Don’t you dare miss a visit to this vibrant city – learn from our mistakes and do it right. If I can learn to fall in love in the heat and humidity, you’ll be swept away!
How We Learned To Love Tel Aviv In August (the worst time to visit!): http://t.co/aHuwRvR2UA
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Thanks for sharing a truthful review of Tel Aviv. I have never visited but a friend came back from there a few days ago and said that he had the best food in the world there and the people were very friendly.
By far the best food I’ve had in the world! Friendly people as well. We really did fall more in love with each passing day. Glad you enjoyed the post!
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so glad for you that you had the time to explore more and find out the GOOD parts. Sometimes we just pass through places far too quickly I think!
I totally agree, Fiona! I was so glad to have enough time to fall in love, and likely would have much faster if we visited at a different time of year 😉
90% humidity is tough! I really liked your approach to the negatives you found. As travellers we want to love every single place we visit but sometimes it’s not the reality. You were refreshingly honest yet turned the negatives into positives and great tips for others that want to visit without putting them off exploring the city 🙂
Thanks, Mel! That means a lot. I like to keep it real as I prefer honest reviews myself, but I do like to find the positives in every situation. Tel Aviv turned into a place that I love – it just took me a while to come around 😉
This place looks awesome…… Tel Aviv is a great place to explore modern life with old world charm.
I’m glad you were able to find a silver lining. It’s such a weird feeling when you don’t love someplace everyone tells you is going to be amazing. I felt the same way about Reykjavik at first.
Exactly!! I kept thinking I was making mistakes.. turns out I was 😉 Hope you found your way to loving Reykjavik after all the hype!
I hear to many good things about Tel Aviv, and its beautiful beaches and delicious food… so many people fall in love with it, and I am glad you did as well. I can’t wait to go there
It’s such an incredible city! Hope you are able to visit soon, Kimberly!
Your honesty is very refreshing. And I agree that sometimes you need to look a little closer at a place in order to discover its appeal. Nicely done!
Thanks, Jen! You’re right – sometimes you have to dig deeper to discover how you connect with a certain place.
Well, my first impression was pretty good, maybe because we arrived in the evening and started with a very good dinner 🙂
The food is the best in the world!
Thanks for the honest perspective. Israel – has been on my list for a while for many reasons and I cannot wait to explore it…but yes, it is so true that not every city or place can appeal to everyone.
Agree! Hope you make it to Israel soon – Tel Aviv was the start of a month long journey I took through the country, and I can honestly say it’s the most incredible experience I’ve had to date. Such an amazing country!
Having lived in Dubai & travelled around the region before, I knew that August & Sept are the months to be out of the Middle East 🙂 Glad that you however managed to enjoy yourself whilst in Tel Aviv at that time of the year. I guess, sometimes we just need to not concentrate on the negatives but rather concentrate on how we can make the experience better.
Certainly a good idea. I often read people saying how Barcelona (my home town) disappointed them and then I actually feel sorry for them for having gone in the peak of the heat and the tourist season. In August in bcn there are only tourists, the locals are ALL on leave. But glad you found ways around this, it would have been unfair otherwise to the city 🙂
Wow.. I’ve spent time in Barcelona in August, and months living there as well. I can honestly say that I don’t think there’s a bad time to be there, but we did trend away from the old town and spend most of our time in Gracia, away from the tourists. I am in love with your home town, Mar Pages!
haha I am glad to hear! 🙂
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I really appreciate blog posts like this – honesty is so important! I also love how you highlight what we can learn from your mistakes. Cool post, I didn’t even know Tel Aviv had beaches!
The beaches are amazing too!
I think a first impression also depends on where you end up staying at. The areas close to the Carmel market (except Maybe Neve Zedek) are indeed on the shabby Side. Maybe staying around Rothchild Blvd would have created a better first impression. Anyway, while Tel Aviv is not big on sights it totaly makes up for it with vibe and coolness (not weather wise)
Exactly! We ended up loving the city. It’s so young and vibrant, and the food is (in my opinion) the best in the world!