This summer we’re taking you on a tour of Israel’s finest two cities in a bid to decide once and for all which is the better – it’s Tel Aviv vs. Jerusalem baby!!!
After 2016’s crazy 32 day tour from Metulla to Eilat, and last year’s 15 day caravan tour, you’ll be pleased to hear that we’re only heading out for 10 days this time! However, we’ll still be squeezing in some true Tel Aviv and Jerusalem delights, while also highlighting the very different nature of these two amazing cities. Which one will come out on top…who the heck knows!?!
As always, our tour is primarily to give you some great ideas on sites that might not typically make it to your bucket list of Israel destinations. The entire iGoogledIsrael crew will be in the house (2 adults, 3 kids) – and excuse us if we have a cracking time enjoying ourselves while we find out which city kills it, Jerusalem or Tel Aviv!
Among the highlights already lined up:
- The best of Tel Aviv beaches
- The best escape room in Israel
- The best of Jerusalem’s Old City
- Some amazing “hidden” restaurant gems – in both cities
- A behind-the-scenes look at one of Israel’s original kibbutzes (just outside Tel Aviv)
- An amazing Dead Sea chillout tour – from Jerusalem
- A hard night’s drinking in Tel Aviv
- …and a few more surprises along the way!
Now for a short commercial break: the tour is being kindly sponsored by a number of very generous sponsors, most notably Abraham Hostels and Abraham Tours. We’ll be staying at the awesome Abraham Hostels in Tel Aviv AND Jerusalem (seriously, two of the best and budget-friendliest places to stay in Israel), and joining them on a number of their tours. Other great peeps will be mentioned along the way, which you can read about below. Join us for the ride – and watch out for the hashtag #TLVvsJLM – it’ll be everywhere this summer!
Day 1: Tel Aviv here we come!
When you’re visiting Tel Aviv for the first time, expect to be wowed by Tel Aviv beach and some glorious summer sunsets. In fact, expect to be wowed every single time you go to Tel Aviv – even after 20+ years here in the Holy Land, we’re still impressed!
So yes, after driving down from our base in the north of Israel, and stopping by for a quick hello at some of the wife’s family, we headed straight to the beach. I have nothing more to add here, apart from it was just an amazing way to launch our adventure – sea, sand, and sunsets!
Day 2: Hummus, Shopping, Abraham Hostel – and some Jamming
Day 2 saw us head out of our friends’ place (where we’d spent the night) and head into the heart of Tel Aviv – Dizengoff Center to be more precise. It had been a good few years since I last entered this iconic shopping mall, and to my surprise, the place is still bustling with shoppers. There are plenty of shops selling the same ol’ tat that you can find almost anywhere, but there are a few hidden gems in there too, so worth checking out if you’re in need of some retail therapy.
When the hunger pangs hit, we headed to Hummus Abu Dubi on King George Street, just a minute or two’s walk from Dizengoff Center. What can we say other than there was some simply great hummus served up by some friendly Tel Avivians! This place has some great reviews on Trip Advisor, and yep, if you’ve got room in that gut, you’re gonna love this place (see our full review)!
With our bellies full, we headed over to Abraham Hostel. Checking in to the hostel was quick and easy, and it wasn’t long before we were enjoying our Welcome drinks (the kids were adamant that their cold chocolate drinks were the best they’ve ever had!). The evening quickly arrived and – after consuming some great burgers and pizza – it wasn’t long before a jam session was rocking the lobby of the hostel. Have to say, there was a real nice vibe there, and it was awesome ending the night there, sitting there with my eldest and enjoying the tunes. Nice job Abraham!
Day 3: Jaffa and Rothschild
After struggling a bit to wake up, we finally managed to catch the freebie breakfast in the hostel before they closed up shop (10 am, just in case you were wondering). We then caught the bus to Jaffa – bleedin ‘eck, it’s been a couple of years since we last rode a bus – and walked around, browsing through the Flea Market and the various market stalls in the area. Let’s be honest, it hasn’t really changed in the last 25 years, and I doubt it will in the next 25, but it’s still worth a visit, just for the old school charm!
With lunch beckoning, we headed to Michaelangelo, a fairly new vegan restaurant in one of Jaffa’s small side streets. Despite a very slow start, the food was really great, coupled with some nice little surprise dishes – we let the owner choose for us. We loved some of their unique vegan specials, including the Mousaka, the vegan kebab, and the lemon and creamed cashew pie for dessert (see our full review here).
We made it back to the hostel for a couple of Happy Hour beers (which starts at 5), then strolled down the nearby Rothschild street, where we craned our necks at the ever increasing number of huge tower blocks in the area like country bumpkins. The evening was a chilled out one, as we all seemed content to chill in the hostel, and then our beds, occasionally farting and laughing…
Day 4: Food tours, the Beach, and a Night Out
Day 4 saw us scoff down some brekkie (or at least a couple of us, since there were some lazy buggars in our room who couldn’t wake up…mentioning no names) before heading for a food tour of the nearby Levinski Market.
Run by Delicious Israel, who we partner with on a few food tours, we had the lovely Talia guiding us through some of the area’s hidden gems. Some of the highlights were the visually stunning gazoz drinks (gazoz is an old school syrup drink, legendary back in the day) at Cafe Levinski, the tasting session at the Yom Tov delicatessen (wow, those hibiscus flowers stuffed with cheese!) and the very sweet delights at The Magical Halva (you can probably guess that they sell halva, right?).
After heading home stuffed, we chilled out for an hour or so – the late July Tel Aviv swamp-like heat had caught up with us – before the beach started calling our names. It wasn’t long before me and the kids were frolicking in the sunset surf.
The missus didn’t join us – she had the delights of a massage all to herself, thanks to the guys over at Masu (you order online, they come over to your hotel/accommodation – in short, highly recommended, at least according to the missus – see our review here!).
We headed home post-sunset, where we extinguished a few hostel hamburgers – pretty good food from the guys at the Abraham Bar, well worth ordering if you don’t have the time or energy to head out into the city.
Me and the wife then joined the hostel’s Night Out, which-was actually a good laugh (and very similar to the Tel Aviv Pub Crawl). I befriended some happily drunk Swedes and within a couple of minutes we were already taking selfies (that came out completely blurred of course). We started the night at Jimmy Who? on Rothschild, and then headed to Buxa. But it wasn’t long before the day’s activities caught up with us, and we slunk back home a little worse for wear in the wee hours…
Day 5: Kibbutzing, Dosas, and Kutiman!
Brekkie was again consumed at break-neck speed, before we popped on to the minibus for a group tour of Kibbutz Maagan Michael – the tour was guided by Leila, an American immigrant who gave us some great insights into life on one of Israel’s last true kibbutz’s. Quite an eye-opener for those unaware of what the kibbutz used to be about – not so much nowadays of course.
It was also terribly hot, so it was more of a run from one AC’ed room to another. We also got to eat in the legendary kibbutz dining room, which actually ended up turning into a very long lunch, as we waited for our driver to come pick us up (he apparently got lost). All in all, this is an excellent tour, though I don’t think I’d recommend it for kids, unless they get to spend some time at the nearby beach (it was just too hot for even the beach on our tour).
With a long ride home exacerbated by the rush hour traffic, the kids were wiped out and didn’t want to join us for a meal at the DOSA BAR on Ben Yehuda street. We went alone, and frankly they lost out – the DOSA Bar has some great Indian cuisine, both vegan and gluten free! They also have great, friendly staff – read our full review here.
We headed back to the hostel on the legendary No. 4 bus (with multiple flashbacks to my first days in Israel way back when, as this was the area I lived in and owned for the first few months of my time in Israel…), where we joined the thronging mass of locals coming to see Kutiman at the hostel. I had only briefly heard them now and again on the radio, but they were bloody great in concert – what a night, and what a way to end our 5 days in Tel Aviv!
Day 6: Jerusalem – and a slice of the Dead Sea!
With 5 days done and dusted in Tel Aviv, it was now time to head to Jerusalem! Checking out was a doddle, and we were soon on our way to Dizengoff Center once again to snap up some last minute bits and pieces the kids had spotted on their previous visit on Day 2.
Then it really was off to Jerusalem, which is just an hour’s drive away from Tel Aviv. After a quick check-in at the Abraham Hostel (and back to the same family room we had 2 years ago), we then headed out on Abraham’s Dead Sea Chillout Tour.
Have to say, this is a great little tour to take if you don’t have much time but really want a taste of this amazing lake (well, you really don’t want to *taste* it, but you know what I mean!). The drive down is just a quick 40 minutes, through some amazing Judean Desert scenery, and then you’re there, at the bloody Dead Sea!
The tour actually takes you to Kalia Beach, the northernmost beach of the Dead Sea, and probably one of the best in terms of facilities. You have quite a long trek to the water – and unfortunately, that trek is getting longer every year – but it’s well worth it.
My kids had a great time (the tour kind of leaves you to your own devices, although you meet up for tea and snacks at the end of the tour) and literally had to be pulled from the water!
I took some great pics, including some with the drone, see below. Don’t forget, there’s also the Lowest Bar in the World, though their prices are more in line with The Most Expensive Bar in the World!
The drive back was a quick 40 minutes or so – just reminding you how close Jerusalem is to this amazing natural wonder!
The end of the day saw us grab some bites in a nearby Coffix and then crash out for the night…
Day 7: Escape Rooms and Shabbat!
I’m not sure if they’re big where you are, but in Israel, Escape Rooms are all the rage, especially with kids. So, after a quick brekkie in the hostel, we had a 10 minute walk to one of the best Escape Rooms in Israel – and yep, it lived up to its reputation! Full review here, but yes, great fun, especially with the kids working together to uncover the various clues! Did we manage to escape in time? You’ll have to read the review to find out!
With the Escape Room being just a step away from Ben Yehuda Street, we had a stroll down this iconic promenade, before heading into Jaffa Street and hitting shopping mode once again. As it was Friday, most shops closed up around 3 pm, so we headed back to the hostel (where I, ahem, destroyed my cocky 8 year old at FussBall).
The evening saw us head to my wife’s auntie’s place for Shabbat Dinner, including the full-on Sabbath blessing, known as Kiddush (we never do Kiddush back at home, just in case you were wondering). With options very limited for Friday nights in Jerusalem, this was also a great option for us (very) hungry tourists! After saying our goodbyes, we caught some of the much-heralded lunar eclipse, but to be honest, were a little disappointed…and with an early call awaiting us tomorrow morning, it was night night!
Day 8: The Judean Desert
With a trip to the desert beckoning, it was an early call – and to my astonishment, we all managed to wake up in time for the pickup at 8. All 5 of us squeezed in to Nir’s jeep, together with a nice lady from Canada, Sara (she must have cringed when she first saw her jeep partners for the day, I know I would have!).
With some great explanations from Nir, it wasn’t long before we were deep into the Judean desert, with stops at the tallest mountain in the area, Mount Azazel, and then the legendary desert monastery Mar Saba! What a stunner! We stopped here and there for explanations and photos, before hitting lunch, and then the nature reserve of Ein Prat, which has some delicious freshwater pools (with nibbling and tickling fish), perfect for the kids to splash around in! If you’re looking for a decent, budget-friendly jeep tour that lasts more the standard 2-3 hours, this is a superb option, highly recommended (read more here)!
Arriving back to the hostel around 4, we were kinda wiped out from the day, so chilled in the hostel bar and lobby, with me trying to teach my two bigger kids the art of pool – they love playing, I love playing, what more do you need!
Day 9: Exploring Machane Yehuda market!
After yesterday’s long but awesome jeep tour, we promised the kids we’d take it easy today! So, yep, a slow start, with some brekkie and then a brief walk down Jaffa Street for some shopping, since the kids were after some stuff for the upcoming school year.
After that we headed to the famous Machane Yehuda market for some lunch – and the fabulous Jachnun Bar gets our vote for the best value munchies, with some great shakshuka, an amazing Jachnun roll, and a quite exquisite malawach! Wow! See our full review of Jachnun Bar here.
With some market strolling and people watching under our belts, we headed back to the hostel, before spending the evening in the bar and lobby, playing pool, eating pizza, and enjoying the all-round good-time vibe enhanced by the hostel’s open mic night. Another great day in Jerusalem!
Day 10: The Old City (with a hint of Indian)
On our last full day, it had to be a slice of Jerusalem’s Old City! It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been, I just love the place and could easily spend days lost in the alleyways and the many hidden gems.
So, after a quick brekkie in the hostel, we caught the light rail down to the City Hall, and then headed in to the Old City via Jaffa Gate. The walk down David Street, the main market lane down into the heart of the Old City, is always a charmer, full of color and characters. The camera was busy a-clicking!
We strolled along and ended up in the Jewish Quarter, where we headed to the rooftop of the Hurva Synagogue (it will cost you 20 shekels per adult, and 10 shekels per child) – it’s not the BEST view of the Old City, but it’s pretty darned decent.
With the sun sapping away at our energy levels, we returned to the hostel, and chilled out in our room before making it down to the bar for some early evening pool and Happy Hour drinks. As tonight it was the legendary Indian Food Night in the hostel, we were more than happy to join – and I can report that for 40 shekels a person, this is a great little meal, full of flavor and more than enough to keep the hunger pangs at bay!
After that it was back to the Old City for us, with tickets reserved for the new King David Light Show at the Tower of David. Have to say, despite it only being around 25 minutes long (I think most of the crowd – us included – were expecting it to last a little longer) the effects are pretty spectacular.
With the night chills setting in, we headed back to the hostel, our last night in Jerusalem!
Day 11: Heading home!
After a busy 10 days on the road, it was time to head home…but as my wee babes slept in, I headed out for one last look at the Old City. And after seeing the King David Light Show last night, there was one specific place I wanted to check out – King David’s Tomb, and especially the rooftop views out over the Old City.
The Tomb itself is free to enter – check out the burial chamber itself and the religious Jews who come to pray there, it’s quite an eye-opener. But best of all, head to the rooftop (not clearly marked, so look for a flight of stairs just above the police office). I loved the view, though still think the Tower of David, or the Church of the Redeemer, have pretty unbeatable vistas!
Extra bonus: the impressive Dormition Abbey is right next door to the Tomb, as is the Room of the Last Supper.
After that it was checkout time at the hostel, a trip to Tel Aviv to pick up Julie the dog, and then back home!