Last updated on June 14th, 2021
Creating New Memories of Tel Aviv
By Evelyn Hannon, Founder, JourneyWoman
Updated March 23, 2020
I’d been to Israel several times before but that was many, many years ago. The memory I carried of Tel Aviv was of a busy, crowded, noisy, Middle Eastern city. I remember cars honking, people shouting, lots and lots of falafel, and swimming in the absolute bluest of blue seas. Yet, lately, I’d sensed a media ‘buzz’; Tel Aviv was enjoying a renaissance and was being lauded in travel sections of top newspapers and on the covers of popular travel magazines. There were big changes. I had to go and see for myself.
Luckily I have a life-long pal living in Tel Aviv. Sunny Holtzman welcomed me with her own sweet brand of Middle Eastern warmth and hospitality. She acted as my guide and interpreter. For four days we had one mission — to check out the shopping areas and the quirky restaurants of Tel Aviv that women travellers would enjoy. Oh my goodness, it was fun.
Shenkin Street is in the center of Tel Aviv…
This area used to be the bohemian quarter of the city — a jumble of independent cafes, coffee houses and fashion-forward workshops. Alas, all of those oldies are just about gone. Yet, what has sprung up in its place is truly fun in its own more modern way.
On the opposite side of the street is a shop in the ‘newbie’ category. Erez Bread at 44 Shenkin is part of a well-known chain of bakery shops. It’s a tiny place with old-fashioned tiles on the floor and the sweetest aromas in the air. Crammed into their space are delicious baked bread, rolls and muffins all started from a healthy whole wheat base. Think mouth-watering loaves like cheese, olive, black plum, sesame seeds and pumpkin. Their hefty sandwiches have a distinct Middle Eastern flair. Imagine tehina, avocado and pickled lemon layered in a sesame seed bun. Oh my goodness! They sell olives by the weight and spreads of almonds and honey from the Golan Heights. If you’re lucky a seat will become available on the one bench outside. Jackpot! It’s a great people-watching perch.
The shops in this area consist of a mixture of well-known brands easily found in North American (Diesal, Billabong, Addidas) mixed with a smattering of European chains and a few upstart clothing boutiques that were fun to browse. However, I was looking for places that were truly Israeli. My guide laughed when I insisted on popping into an AM PM which is just a grocery chain found all over the city. I liked it because I could buy sunflower seeds (Garinim) by weight (a favourite Israeli snack) and Israeli bubble gum called Must which is the Hebrew version of Bazooka Bubble Gum. A perfect gift to bring home for the little ones (26 Shenkin).
Finally, Journeywoman’s favourite shop on Shenken Street is the international brand, Michal Negren. Their corporate mandate is ‘Live the fantasy’ in an 1820 Romanic Era sort of way and every piece in their collection of furniture, clothing and jewelry lives up to the promise. Each nook and cranny of the shop is filled with items covered in bright-coloured stones and sparkles. You can buy anything from earrings, to picture frames, clothes, necklaces and religious items that are attention grabbers. Be sure to take note of the pink chandelier and the pink roses in their floor tile. Website: http://www.michalnegrin.com/. It is kitsch with a capital ‘K’ (33 Shenkin). STILL OPEN OR NOT?
Within easy walking distance along Shenkin Street is Tel Aviv’s famous Carmel Market where you can buy anything and everything from eggs, toys and t-shirts to fruit, veggies and bath towels. Vendors hawk their wares and you needn’t be afraid to bargain. This place is the perfect spot to pick up reasonably priced gifts for the folks at home. Ther’s the Middle Eastern sweet call Halvah that’s sold in tins for export, $5.00 pyjamas for toddlers, Israeli wines for the guy in your life, tea towels for granny and $8 personalized funky t-shirts for teenagers (Ask for Arie at the Cool Gunja Stuff stall, 41 Hacarmel at the entrance to the market). Guaranteed you will fill your shopping bags in this place.
Take a look at the produce aisles. Israelis manage to grow the largest and tastiest fruits and veggies Journeywoman has ever seen. Pick some up for your picnic lunch. Friday morning in the market is a perfect time for people watching. This is when housewives across the city pop in to buy the ingredients they’ll need for cooking their traditional Sabbath dinner.
Looking for an authentic restaurant within the market for a casual lunch? Journeywoman recommends HaShuka (The Market) on Rabbi Meir Street. This no-nonsense eatery has good, solid food served on plain wooden tables and chairs. There’s no address outside; their sign is in Hebrew only so you’ll need to ask a local for directions. My pal and I ordered a smorgasbord of small plates — specialties like falafel, stuffed vine leaves, fried cauliflower along with the traditional chopped liver and pita bread. It was so good and priced perfectly for our budget.
On our way out of the market, we stopped into a second restaurant, Bat Artzi (Daughter of our Land), a female inspired basic co-op eatery that had been recommended to us as well. Here all the food preparation is done by three women who cook their own traditional family recipes. They say that the menu changes every day and depends solely on what they find in their fridge. When we were there they were serving from large pots brimming with rice and lentils, roast chicken, goulash, and a fish dish enlivened with pesto sauce. There is absolutely no decor to speak of at Bat Artzi. It’s really like eating lunch at your Aunt Tilley’s kitchen table. Address: 7 Hashomer Street (off Nechlat Binyamin)
Nechlat Binyamin and the Crafts Fair…
Don’t miss this – it’s great fun. Nechlat Binyamin is a pedestrian-only space that runs alongside the Carmel Market. Each Tuesday and Friday from 10:00 AM to the late afternoon this street is magically transformed into a wonderful street fair. Tables and booths laden with Israeli crafts stretch for two city blocks, performing artists show off their skills, and cafes and coffee shops around the perimeter do a booming business.
This is a perfect spot to simply browse, chat with the artisans and perhaps pick up goodies for yourself and the folks at home. You’ll find everything from whimsical toys to silver bracelets, earrings, paintings and candles. Halfway through our shopping spree Sunny and I stopped at the ‘Twice Coffee Shop’ on the corner of Rambam and Nechlat Binyamin to rest our weary legs and enjoy the best glass of fresh mint tea I’ve ever had. Honestly!
The Port Area is fabulous…
Tel Aviv’s port area dates way back to 1936. In 1965 it was decommissioned as a working port and just left to crumble and decline. Today this area is a booming recreational center that attracts both Israelis as well as tourists from all over the world. We saw young mothers pushing strollers on the boardwalk, joggers, dog walkers, children playing in the port’s huge sandbox, men fishing, people in patio cafes overlooking the sea and lots of visiting photographers capturing the lively scene. Each Saturday there is an enormously popular antique market held here; on Fridays, it’s the organic farmers who come to sell their wares.
JourneyWomen will especially enjoy the Port’s Comme il Faut Complex #26 which highlights women’s issues with ever-changing, thought-provoking installations. Their very large, modern cafe offers delicious, healthy menu choices like Lamb kebobs, Swiss Chard Fettuccini and Finely Chopped Vegetable Salad (with sunflowers seeds and tehina) all served with a smile. Travelling solo? Try and snag a seat on their spacious patio — time will fly as you enjoy your latte and the passing parade.
Next door is the Comme il Faut fashion-forward clothing boutique and across the hall is Coola (meaning All of Her), a small day spa especially for women. We loved their mellow white walls, white wooden floors, their friendliness and the windows overlooking the sea. Not only does Coola list the usual treatments like Swedish, Hot Stone and aromatherapy massages they also offer therapeutic sessions for breast cancer survivors, menopause relief and ‘Safe Touch’ for survivors of sexual abuse. Impressive! Website: www.coola.co.il
Down the hall is a Sisters, a sex shop for both men and women and Le’Ela is a wonderful gift shop featuring items designed in Israel.
Still want more shopping? The entire Port boardwalk is lined with shops though most are international brands we see everywhere. However, Journeywoman did enjoy browsing through the Israeli clothing chain called Castro, and Shilav (pronounced She Love) that offers everything a mom needs from maternity clothes to baby clothes and strollers, to a children’s books store (Steimatzky) with a section devoted just to English titles.
Levinsky Street Market area…
This district is reminiscent of the Israel I visited thirty years ago. A shopping spree on Levinsky and surrounding streets mean busy, crowded, noisy, Middle Eastern horn honking, wonderful aromas, great photo opportunities and even better bargains. My guide and I wandered up one street and down the next. Each offered up a different specialty and we made sure to investigate any that looked intriguing.
A personal favourite was Matalon Street for its group of toy stores. Each shop offered up a jumble of dolls, trains, the latest Hannah Montana fads and loads of handicraft kits. The great fun here is wading through the disorder in order to come up with treasures and Journeywoman and her pal were ready for the challenge.
By far, the most colourful and chaotic street was Levinsky with its exotic spices and food specialties. All the stores are open to the street and brimming sacks of spices, nuts and seeds line the storefronts like fat soldiers. Pereg Spices, a narrow shop owned by a brother and sister team was crowded when we went by. Perhaps it’s because they grind their own spices and then package a melange designed for busy housewives. Making meatballs? Just pick up their requisite mix, add to your meat and you’re done. We thought those packets would make great gifts for pals back home. Website: http://www.pereg-spices.com/
We would have stopped at Panaso’s bakery for a snack of yummy burekas (filo dough filled with cheese, spinach or potato) but we already had our lunch spot picked out. The decision was a good one. We made our way to Niso (47 Levinsky) especially for the exotic flavors of Turkish cuisine. We loved the idea that Niso says he owes his success to his mom who taught him everything he knows about slow cooking. Whether you’re a carnivore or vegetarian you won’t be disappointed by an interesting menu that changes daily. The day we were there we enjoyed a large crepe bursting with spinach and mushrooms topped with an aromatic tomato sauce. Every daily special comes with at least two sides which are almost impossible to finish. This place fills up fast. Get there before noon so you don’t have to wait.
Authentic Arab Israeli food…
Hummus Abu Adham is located at 151 Iben Giverol Street corner of Pincas Street. Haaretz newspaper called this little spot ‘one of the five best hummus places in Tel Aviv’. While Journeywoman didn’t try the other four we can attest to how much we enjoyed the food at this place. For most folks, this is a bit off the tourist trail but we think it’s worth the effort if you’re interested in basic Arab Israeli food. This is a very small, simple, clean space with large picture windows overlooking a Tel Aviv residential neighbourhood. It was so pleasant for us to hear discussions from other diners in three languages — Arabic, Hebrew and English.
We thoroughly enjoyed our huge plate (big enough to share) of Arabic Salad (veggies very finely chopped) with techina dressing. Next came our plate of freshly made falafel (spiced round chickpea fritters) served with a huge helping of hummus accompanied by as much pita bread you need or want. We washed down everything with a pitcher of house-made lemonade that was perfect (just sweet enough not to spoil the lemon tanginess). Dessert was Baklawa and if I remember correctly our bill for the two of us was under $20.00. (Source: Gila A, Tel Aviv, Israel)
Woman-owned bookstore in Tel Aviv …
If I lived in Tel Aviv I’d be in this indie bookstore and cafe all the time. Bookworm is owned and operated by two women (Eliana Ydov and Fanny Hershinzon) who’ve been business partners for the last twenty-five years. They specialize in contemporary fiction, psychoanalysis, design and architecture. It’s a treat to browse their well-stocked shelves which include a good basic selection of English titles alongside their main Hebrew collection. The shop is modern, beautifully lit and boasts an active bulletin board of events around town.
Their quiet cafe at the back of the shop is a real find. I counted 12 tables where 50% of the folks were working at their computers. The rest were reading and enjoying their coffee, sandwiches (like goat cheese with red pepper) and homemade cakes and muffins that were so incredibly tasty especially when compared to the mass-produced, standard fare most coffee shops serve. A real find! Address: 9 Rabin Square (Source: Evelyn Hannon, Toronto, Canada)
The Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv…
Journeywoman was invited to spend one night at the Dan Panorama Hotel while I was in Tel Aviv. What a treat! My room was well appointed, the bed comfortable and I cannot say enough about the warm, welcoming service. For a large hotel to achieve that type of ambiance is a rare treat.
And the location? Imagine the soft, sandy beaches of the Mediterranean just across the street. The view from my window was breathtaking as the sun went down over the sea.
However, I warn you. Don’t go down to breakfast if you’re on a diet. Their buffet is spectacular. There is never just one type of fish, cheese, bread, eggs or baked goods to choose from. I counted at least ten choices for each on a buffet table that runs the length of the huge dining room. The Dan Panorama even has a specialty coffee bar. Expresso, Americano, latte, decaf — you name it, they serve it. P.S. to moms: the Dan Panorama has a Kids Club, too. Darn! I wish I could have stayed longer. Website: http://www.danhotels.com/Hotel-Tel-Aviv
Airport taxi service…
Here’s a local’s tip. When I fly out of Tel Aviv I always use a company called Hadar Lod as they offer a reduced rate of 90 shekels to Ben Gurion International Airport. They do this because the airport is their home base and when they bring passengers into the city they don’t want to go back without a fare. Their telephone number is 972-2-9711103 however if you’re in Tel Aviv just dial 9711103. (Source: Sunny H. Tel Aviv, Israel)
EDITOR’S NOTE: Just a tweeny tidbit of airport information. Terminal Three, the international terminal at Ben Gurion International Airport has free wi-fi. Hurray!
Birdwatching in Israel…
As Israel is uniquely situated at a strategic point on the migration route of millions of birds of several hundred species and is also the wintering site for thousands of birds, the birdwatching opportunities are endless, all year round. The Israel Ornithological Center of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel offers a variety of birdwatching tours. The tours are day tours and half-day tours and usually depart on Fridays from central Tel Aviv. Transport is either by bus or in private cars.
And, although the tours are guided in Hebrew, the guides and the participants would be very happy to welcome visitors and translate the information for them. We can also organize birdwatching tours, tailor-made to your requirements, with English-speaking guides. We send out an (almost) monthly email newsletter with birding news from various centers in Israel. JourneyWomen who would like to receive this (free) newsletter and additional information about birdwatching in Israel should contact Laya Labi: firstname.lastname@example.org
Small neighbourhood hotel in Tel Aviv…
I just spent two nights at the small (ish) family-owned, 3-star Hotel Gilgal in Tel Aviv. It’s located on a small, interesting street just five minutes from the Mediterranean Sea. The rooms are well-appointed and spotless. Bathrooms are modern and efficient. Guests enjoy free WIFI and special beach towels are handed out at reception should you plan a day at the shore. Full and filling Israeli breakfasts are served in their rooftop restaurant and best of all there is a lovely, welcoming casual ambiance about this whole place. I loved their complimentary tea and coffee station situated in the ground floor lounge. Home-baked cookies were always available. Bonus: It is a 10-minute walk to the Carmel Market and two minutes from a sweet cafe at the corner. Highly recommended. Tell them Journeywoman sent you:) Website: HotelGilgal.com
Our Journeywoman Tel Aviv Photo Gallery…
There was so much to see as I walked the streets of Tel Aviv, I never put my camera away. Instead, I held it in my hand, ready to capture the next colourful, interesting thing I came across. My pal and guide, Sunny acted as my model in many of the photos — sometimes posed but more often candid. Click here to see many of the things I talked about in this article. Enjoy!
Know before you go…
Tel Aviv Tourist Information Office — 46 Herbert Samuel St.
Emergency Phone Numbers:
Magen David Adom First Aid 101
Fire Department 102
More on Tel Aviv and Israel please visit Israel Ministry of Tourism.