Can I start by saying how much I loved Israel? Tel Aviv in particular captivated me, usurping the top spot on my favourite places list. For the first time in my extensively stamped passport’s existence, I wondered how I'd be able to pack up my life in Toronto – white bedroom and all – and transplant it directly in to this thriving, cosmopolitan city.
The easiest route would’ve been to marry the potentially homeless man who proposed to me one night during my trip. At least from what I could understand from his garbled English, I think he was proposing to me. Either way, I haven’t quite reached that level of desperation. Not quite.
I knew even before visiting that I was going to love this city for an endless number of reasons – culture, cuisine, hot men, spirituality, history, hot men, beach, nightlife, hot men….did I mention hot men? Actually experiencing Tel Aviv was the difference between hearing a love song and falling in love for the first time – transformational.
From my first taste of REAL hummus to an impromptu, barefoot dance party at a drum session to getting lost in maze-like shuks (markets), here is my 10-Day Curated Itinerary of Israel, detailing all of my favourite picks that I will elaborate on in future posts:
SCHEDULE AT A GLANCE
Duration: 10 Days
Days 1–3: Tel Aviv
Day 4: Tour Northern Cities in Israel
Day 5–7: Jerusalem
Day 8: Masada, Ein Gedi, + The Dead Sea
Days 9–10: Tel Aviv
Days 1–3: Tel Aviv
WHERE I STAYED…
+ Abraham Hostel Tel Aviv: Positioned at the centre of all the action off of the infamous Rothschild Boulevard, Abraham TLV is more like a very social and affordable hotel than a cramped, youth hostel. The rooms are clean, spacious, air-conditioned (so key, especially during a 47 degree heatwave!), have storage lockers for valuables, and surprisingly quiet. Chill in a hammock the common area and make new friends at one of the weekly events like the hummus workshop or pub crawl.
WHERE I ATE…
+ Benedict: Breakfast lovers rejoice because you can indulge in pancakes for dinner (like a real adult) at Benedict. Serving the BEST meal of the day 24/7, drool over a menu that offers a variety of eggs benny, local staples as well as exotic dishes from around the globe like Mexican chilaquiles. Don't forget a side of fluffy mini buttermilk pancakes!
+ Café 65: Hit up this sleek hotel café for brunch on the patio and sip a glass of shockingly pink beet juice while noshing on a green shakshuka worthy of a Dr. Seuss rhyme. Raid the buffet spread at Café 65 for lox and couscous (not necessarily together) and don't forget the indulgent, chocolate-y babka to satisfy your sweet tooth.
+ Hamalabiya: A very cute outdoor hangout near the Carmel Market, you can enjoy a game of backgammon and malabi at Hamalabiya. A refreshing Arabic milk-based pudding dessert, we topped ours with a rose-coloured cinnamon syrup and chopped peanuts.
+ Bar Ochel: You can’t miss this open-air spot in the middle of Carmel Market if only from the heavenly scent of meat and veggies emanating from the grill. Ideal for people-watching and while pretty much anything you order on the modest menu at Bar Ochel is a win, my fav was the flavourful Jerusalem Mixed Grill – chicken breast, liver and onions with market-fresh grilled veggies, drizzled in tahini.
+ Port Said: A hub for the hip and attractive locals, snag prime spots at the bar of Port Said to witness all the culinary action. Get pumped for the night with shots of the Israeli anisette, arak, before you tuck in to paper-thin slices of minute steak and/or the gorgeous roast beef carpaccio topped with juicy tomato seeds, olive oil and pepper.
+ Cremerie De L’Éclair: I think what was most notable for me about Cremerie De L’Éclair were, what can only be describe as “sauce udders” that were hanging from the ceiling. Second most notable was the overwhelmingly delightful scent of fresh pastries and sugary sweet ice creams. They offered an impressive selection of gelato, ice cream sandwiches, and obscenely large éclairs (as well as other, less obscene, French pastries).
+ Miznon: I really wanted to drop by Miznon for their infamous pitas and baked cauliflower but when we attempted, it was Sabbath so I guess it closed early. Luckily Cremerie De L’Éclair was up the street so we drowned our disappointment in ice cream.
+ Jasmino: Word on the street (and by “street” I mean a trusted Tel Avivan), is Jasmino where they serve up pitas stuffed with kebabs, chicken, housemade sausage, and spicy veal heart. It’s my fav kind of place to check out – off the radar, but filled with locals because the food is insanely good. If you can’t snag a table at the popular Port Said, this is a fantastic alternative, right up the street.
WHAT I DID…
+ Carmel Market: Stroll the open air market, or shuk, and grab a fresh watermelon juice while you inspect wares from various stall vendors – from fresh produce to unique crafts and art. Taste local delicacies like crumbly halva, splurge on a bag full of candies, or just people-watch with a cool Israeli beer at Bar Ochel.
+ White City: Tel Aviv is home to an impressive collection of Bauhaus architecture that earned it a UNESCO Heritage status due to a wave of Europeans immigrating to the city. Grab a quick snack for fuel before ooh-ing and ahh-ing at historical buildings. Bauhaus Centre has a notable paid tour or there’s a free one funded by the municipality that meets on Rothschild Boulevard.
+ Tel-O-Fun Bikes: With more than 200 Tel-O-Fun bike sharing stations, it was a breeze to cycle around and take in the charms of the city. I felt so accomplished that I didn’t crash into any trees or traffic, especially considering how distractingly attractive the local men were! For an especially scenic route, head down Rothschild Boulevard towards the beach and bike along the coast at sunset.
+ Beach: The best bit of advice I can impart about visiting this magical city is to visit the beach. Any beach. Every. Damn. Day. It doesn’t have to be ALL day, but EVERY day because Tel Aviv is known for having the most glorious stretch of Mediterranean coast line you’ll ever enjoy. And you can’t beat the view. And by view I mean tanned, fit, and muscular Israelis (Are you sensing a theme yet?).
Day 4: Tour Northern Cities in Israel
Israel is actually surprisingly small so there are a abundance of day trip options available to you. Many tours have pick ups from both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem so if you’re planning on going from one city to the other, for maximum efficiency points book a tour in between with a pick up in Tel Aviv and arrange to be dropped off in Jerusalem (or vice versa).
I arranged a tour of Caesarea, Haifa, Rosh Hanikra, and Acre with Tourist Israel for a full day PACKED with historical sites
+ Caesarea: History buffs will get a kick out of roaming the National Park in this ancient port city that was originally built by King Herod and restored. It is regarded as Israel’s most impressive archaeological site and includes an expansive amphitheater that had been preserved under a sand dune that hosts modern-day concerts in the summer months.
+ Haifa: The vantage point from the top of Mount Carmel not only offers a breathtaking view of the city and the expansive coast, but is the perfect spot to admire the diligently manicured Bahai Gardens. The Bahai faith believes that beauty is a form of worship and that all monotheistic religions are essentially the same thing, just from a different perspective.
+ Rosh Hanikra: Try not to panic during a steep cable car ride down a white, geologic formation that borders Israel and Lebanon on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Rosh Hanikra. Investigate the moody grottoes at the bottom – cavernous tunnels that were formed by the sea hitting the soft chalk rock to frame the deep turquoise waters.
+ Acre: Also known as Akko, is a UNESCO Heritage Site and one of the oldest ports in the world! Wander the remains of what was a Crusader town – both above and below street level – including the renovated Knights’ Halls of the Hospitaller Fortress that was the primary defence of the city in the 11th century. Also make your way through the Templars Tunnel that acted as an underground pathway between the fortress and the western part of the city during war times.
WHERE I ATE…
+ Mualem: As part of the tour, we were ushered to a restaurant patio in Acre that also looked like a local shop. Apparently it was called “Mualem” (Salad ad Din 21) but I can’t for the life of me find it on Google BUT it had a shockingly good chicken shawarma! Dishes of fillings were delivered to the blue-checkered table – baba ghanoush, creamy hummus, crisp pickles and pink turnips, olives, and fresh, chopped tomato and onion – like the mezze before the shawarma (ahahhahaa) while we waited for our pitas brimming with either falafel or shredded chicken.
+ Uri Buri: If I had had more time in Acre, I definitely would’ve tried to fit in a seafood feast at Uri Buri. The restaurant of acclaimed chef, Uri Jeremias, his name is synonymous with fantastic seafood in Israel. Do me a favour – go there, get the chef’s tasting menu, then tell me about it. Slowly.
Days 5–7: Jerusalem
WHERE I STAYED…
+ Abraham Hostel Jerusalem: The absolute best thing about Abraham hostels is location, location, location! A straight 20-minute walk to The Old City and a mere 5 minutes from Machane Yehuda market and some of the best restaurants in the city, we were in a prime location. Obviously as the city is older, the amenities at Abraham Jerusalem aren’t as modern as the Tel Aviv location but it was still clean and the staff were very friendly. Also, the bartenders were not hard on the eyes ;) ProTip: If you stayed at Abraham Tel Aviv and you book online, you can save 10% at other locations.
WHERE I ATE…
+ Menza: A light-filled space with teal leather booths along the wall, Menza maintains a local atmosphere while serving world class, contemporary cuisine. The crab risotto was full of umami, the seafood pappardelle was brimming with juicy mussels and shrimp, while the couscous salad was light and refreshing. ProTip: Capitalize on the 2-for-1 cocktails in the afternoon, especially the summer sangria!
+ Machneyuda: The music is blasting, the bartenders are dancing on tables, and if you’re doing the fixed price menu at the bar, you get a front row seat to witness the theatrical culinary display by the chefs. Everything I ate at Machneyuda was a party in my mouth, from the cured sea bream drizzled with rich olive oil, sweet watermelon topped with ceviche and creamy feta, to the flavourful truffle risotto with generous shavings of parmesan.
+ Azura: While deeply ensconced in the Iraqi part of the shuk, we stumbled into this open-air, family-run gem. Turkish-inspired delicacies are slow-cooked to perfection in the kitchen of Azura so make the best decision of your trip and order the oxtail with peppers and garlic in a spicy sauce as the serving was HUGE and the meat was so tender it was practically falling off the bone.
WHAT I DID…
+ Western Wall: Built by King Herod in 20BCE, it’s also known as the “Wailing Wall,” and is the most religious site for Jewish people, located in the Old City of Jerusalem. It’s separated into two sections based on gender and visited by thousands of people every year. Take a private moment, up close and personal, at the wall or slide a written prayer into the cracks.
+ Old City: Get lost in the chaos of the four quarters of the Old City – Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Armenian – or avoid the anxiety of getting lose and take a free walking tour. Wander Dolorosa Street where Jesus famously carried his cross, marvel at the holiest of sites (Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Temple Mount, etc…), and witness people of all faiths as they go about their daily routines.
+ Machane Yehuda Market: What is a routine trip for weekly groceries for locals is a vibrant, bustling hub of action to visitors. It’s a feast for the senses so take your time as you wander from stall to stall – from more than 250 vendors – sampling sticky tarts and savoury bourekas while you observe all the activity.
Day 8: Sunrise Masada, Ein Gedi, + The Dead Sea
Trekking to the Masada Fortress is considered an unforgettable experience but it’s at the top of an isolated rock plateau in the middle of the Judean Desert and we were there during a heat wave that hit the high 40s. After hearing fellow travellers describing a day visit as “broiling in the depths of hell,” we decided that the sunrise excursion was the only way we might make it out alive. PLUS we could get picked in Jerusalem and dropped off in Tel Aviv. High five for maximum efficiency!
+ Masada Fortress: Prepare yourself to ascend the 700-steps (in the dark!) winding up the Snake Path to where the Masada Fortress towers over the Negev desert. It’s a experience you won’t soon forget because you’ll experience mild PTSD every time you climb stairs afterward. But I guess the uninterrupted view was worth it…Ok, it was pretty impressive!
+ Ein Gedi Nature Reserve: Literally translating to “spring of the kid (goat)” visit this oasis to witness a variety of species of wildlife like the ibex in their natural habitat. Take a time out by one of the many waterfalls to cool off and wash the dust off from the treacherous hike up Masada.
+ The Dead Sea: This body of water is more accurately a salt lake and is the Earth’s lowest elevation on land and one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water which is why no plants or animals can flourish in it – hence the name. The water is so dense that you can float in it with the greatest of ease and has an almost silky/oily texture. Slather the clay-like mud on your body to reap the health benefits it’s famed to have, just avoid contact with your eyes!
Days 9–10: Tel Aviv
We returned to Tel Aviv around 2pm with a couple days as a buffer, to rest before catching our flight to Istanbul for two days before heading home. We had missed the vibrant city and there was still a ton of things to cross off of the to-do list!
WHERE I ATE…
+ Abu Hassan: For the love of chickpeas, you canNOT go to Israel without tasting authentic, creamy AF hummus. Apparently it’s considered a breakfast dish so many establishments close in the early afternoon so hit up Abu Hassan – widely considered to serve up the best hummus (but it depends on who you ask) – before 3pm. Served with fluffy pita and chunks of onion to dip in the luscious bowl of hummus, adding a welcome, acidic zip to the dish.
+ Doctor Shakshuka: Another morning staple, I could eat this Mediterranean dish of eggs poached in a skillet of spicy tomato, onion and peppers at any hour of the day. A couple steps from the Clock Tower – where the free walking tour of Jaffa meets every day at 11am and 2pm – enjoy the various mezze that comes with the meal at Doctor Shakshuka before dipping warm pita into the perfectly cooked yolk.
+ Café Puaa: This iconic café is located in the heart of the Jaffa neighbourhood looks like a cozy living room with it’s quirky vintage décor. For a respite from the midday heat, we bypassed the sun-drenched patio at Café Puaa in favour of a homey floral couch and AC inside. After agonizing over the menu we feasted on a savoury chestnut gnocchi, roasted cauliflower with aioli, and grilled eggplant.
WHAT I DID…
+ Jaffa Neighbourhood: A single day is not enough to soak up over 4,000 years worth of history of this ancient port, the oldest part of city. Join a free walking tour, traipse along the coast, or dig up one-of-a-kind treasures at the flea market. End the day watching the sunset from the beach or on the patio of The Container, a bar with live music by the port that’s been refurbished from an old shipping container.
+ Drum Festival: After a long day of exploring, we heard the distant sound of drums as we were walking along the coast and followed it to Charles Clore Park. We had accidentally wandered into a communal drum session where the city’s most talented drummers convene weekly! We had a blast shaking our booties (bootys?) to the beat with abandon.
+ Sarona Market: Israel's largest indoor culinary market is a great option if you're looking for good food and blissful air-conditioning. Put down a 5 shekel (under $2 CAD) deposit at the Meet Wine kiosk and browse the tasty treats from various shops with a glass of wine in hand
WHERE I PARTIED…
+ Abraham Tours Pub Crawl: Tel Aviv is like New York in the sense that it’s the city that never sleeps, with a nightlife so alive that I was dead by the time I dragged myself to bed at 4am most nights. Abraham Hostel has a tour company that puts on pub crawls that is not only a great way to make friends in a new city but it’s a stress-free intro to the party scene hot spots. We hit Radio EPGB where they were blasting Drake, then ended the night at The Breakfast Club that is apparently open until 9am. I say “apparently” because I really enjoy sleep so I was definitely not out that late/early.
+ Kuli Alma: Wonder and awe hit you the minute you make your way down the stairs of Kuli Alma – part art gallery, part dance club – with towering palm fronds waving from above. Every inch of the space is covered in elaborate murals, neon lights, and friendly (and jacked) locals.
+ Romano: Walk through an unassuming doorway into the historic Romano House, the older brother of the Port Said, into an open courtyard that is a restaurant until 11pm. The after-hours vibe at Romano is like a huge summer party in someone’s backyard but framed by several floors of closed shops and personal apartments.
So, there you have my pretty comprehensive itinerary of how I divided my schedule and my favourite activities, hot spots, and meals! I hope you enjoy and find this helpful because I nearly went blind writing it (took me forever!). Let me know if there is anything I’m missing that I should do next time I’m in Israel! Fingers crossed that I’m there again as soon as possible!