Like most dickhead millennials, we knew almost nothing about Tel Aviv before we landed there. We’d heard that it was a bustling cosmopolitan hub in the Middle East, there were rumours of a killer live music scene, I’d discovered through work that there were a lot of hot technology start-ups flourishing there… but, on the whole, we were pretty bloody clueless. On the one hand, this was great, because it meant that we were pleasantly surprised at every turn. On the other, I think it’s a bit of a bummer that kids like us with a taste for adventure might not know the rewards they’ll reap for making the sojourn to Israel’s second largest city.
I’m not going to give you a list of historical sites and tourists attractions – you can find those lists all over the Internet. These are the little things, the wonderful and unexpected details that make Tel Aviv well worth a visit.
(1) Everyone has a dog.
Literally, everyone! Dogs of all shapes, sizes, colours, and ages. There are dogs on leashes going for walks, dogs snoozing at their owners’ feet in cafes, dogs running rampant in off-leash dog parks… just dogs galore! If you’re a dog lover, like me, this is excellent news. Dog watching > people watching, in my opinion.
Cat lovers: things might be a little trickier for you. There are just as many – if not, more – cats in Tel Aviv, but most of them appear to be strays. They pop out of every corner, they stalk the top of every fence, and snooze in every patch of sun. It’s no wonder that we didn’t see a single rodent for the entire trip! Still, you never know with strays, so we kept a wide berth.
This one really took us by surprise: the LGBTIQ community is very, very openly celebrated in Tel Aviv. There were pride flags everywhere, they covered every surface not already plastered with Israeli flags. It’s certainly not what you’d expect from a country so steeped in conservative religion that the busses don’t run on saturdays.
We can’t speak to other areas of Israel (I don’t recall spotting a pride flag in Jerusalem at all, or in the small towns we blew through on our road trip), but Tel Aviv definitely made a show of acceptance and pride for the community, which was awesome!
(3) The secondhand bookstores are amazing!
This might not be a draw-card for everyone, but my new husband and I are renowned book-rats. We can sniff out a secondhand bookstore at a distance of 100 yards, and happily spend hours trawling through dusty shelves looking for discarded gold. We hit pay dirt on our very first day in Tel Aviv, stumbling across an amazing bookseller in our quest for a public bathroom. Our favourite was definitely the Little Prince Bookstore/Cafe/Bar: we find our God in an establishment where we can read, caffeinate and booze on all at once.
(4) The Israelis are generous pourers.
Now, let’s be clear: I’m a Queenslander by birth, my husband is a bartender, and we’re both tortured artists. Our “standard” drink at home tends towards the heavy side. And, yet, the Israelis still managed to blow us away! We didn’t see a single nip pourer the entire time we were there, and no one serving us really seemed to give a shit if we stumbled home. The drinks might seem expensive (probably comparable to Australia, really, but if you’re used to travelling in South East Asia or similar, you might be taken aback) – but damn, you won’t need many of them. Keep your wits about you, people!
You can read my complete guide to drinking in Israel here, by the way.
(5) Everything comes with many, many condiments.
The Israelis have their condiments and sides on fucking lockdown, folks: they know how to do it right! Everything, even breakfast, will come with at least one side salad, and at least three condiments. Hummus, variations on hummus, tuna-mayonnaise, tahini, crème fraîche, cream cheese, you name it! I am a condiment whore from long ago, and I’ve managed to lure my new husband into the lifestyle, so we were in absolute heaven. The tables get pretty crowded when a meal for two comes on six plates, but it’s worth it.
Bonus points: basically everywhere is very accommodating for dietary requirements, vegetarians and vegans in particular. You can read my ultimate guide to eating in Israel starting here.
(6) The graffiti and street signs are hilarious!
I actually have a bit of a knack for finding graffiti that makes me laugh and think and cry and rage, in every city I visit. Tel Aviv was no exception, and in fact it was more forthcoming than most! My personal favourite was the very poignant “God Is Homeless”, spray painted onto the side of a synagogue. There were also many instances of hilarious Hebrew-to-English translation (such as the “DANGER OF DEATH!” signs on every electricity pole). If you dig this shit, like me, Tel Aviv is the ever-giving tree, and your Instagram feed will flood with the content you can find on every street.
(7) We felt right at home.
It didn’t take long. Neither of us are early-birds, and we found ourselves in this amazing city that doesn’t really wake up until around 10AM. There were artists, queer couples, dogs, drunks, musicians, vegans and hippies everywhere we went – exactly the crowd that we would run with back home. Sure, there were cultural differences and language barriers and learning curves to work through, but we loved every one of them. We found ourselves in bars with makeshift ashtrays made out of coasters, regulars who may as well have been staff, music – familiar and unfamiliar – that we loved, and we felt immediately at home. Israel is a lot of work in many regards, but we settled into Tel Aviv like a pig in shit.