If you’ve never traveled through the Middle East, Tel Aviv is a good place to start. It’s a modern, liberal, and tourist-friendly beach city that welcomes the LGBT traveler with wide open arms. And it’s within driving distance to other essential Middle Eastern destinations, e.g. Jerusalem, Eilat, Galilee, Sinai, and Petra. But even if you choose to stay within Tel Aviv, there’s still plenty to see.
Here’s rundown of many useful tips and insider info to use when planning your Tel Aviv visit. Good luck!
Your passport cannot expire less than 6 months from the date of entry into Israel.
A nonstop flight to Israel takes about 9.5 hours (from NYC). The return trip takes a bit longer at about 11 hours. El Al offers direct and comfortable flights. It’s also the most secure airline in the world. Arrive 2-3 hours before departure for security measures. Also, the airport security procedures leaving Israel to the U.S. is much more thorough.
Israel is 7 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
Hebrew and Arabic are the two official languages but most Israelis, especially in Tel Aviv, also speak English.
The Israeli currency is the New Israeli Shekel (NIS). As of 2009, the exchange rate is about 4 shekels to 1 U.S. dollar. You can find banks and ATMs all over Tel Aviv. Also, many places, especially restaurants, shops, and hotels, accept Visa, MasterCard, and American Express credit cards.
Tipping is standard. Leave about 12-15%.
You don’t need a car in Tel Aviv. The traffic is as bad as any major U.S. city and free parking in Tel Aviv is difficult to find. And many destinations are within walking distance. Also, there are cabs/taxis everywhere. However, if you choose to rent a car, Israel honors American driver’s licenses. Driving is on the right side and most signs are in both Hebrew and English (some are also in Arabic).
While the U.S weekend is Saturday and Sunday, the Israeli weekend is Friday and Saturday. Many businesses close early on Fridays. Most Israelis begin their work week on Sundays.
Almost 300 days of the year are warm to hot and sunny. It rarely rains during the summer season.
If you plan to visit areas outside of Tel Aviv, bring head covering. Women should also bring clothes that cover your shoulders and pants that end below your knees.
Israelis in Tel Aviv like to party late. It’s common to go out at midnight so don’t expect a bar or club to be in full swing until after 1:00AM.
The variety and quality of the cuisine in Tel Aviv is astounding, and the dining experience is very casual, sometimes going late into the night. You’ll find some of the freshest Mediterranean seafood in Tel Aviv and many restaurants serving both traditional and contemporary Israeli cuisine. There’s also a wealth of Arabic food and surprisingly authentic Italian food (many claim that Tel Aviv features the most authentic Italian cuisine outside of Italy).
Fast-food in Israel is generally along the lines of falafel, chicken schnitzel, and shwarma, despite the recent arrival of American chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Pizza Hut. Hummus is also widespread and high quality.
Good cheese, wine, and coffee are standard in Tel Aviv. Many restaurants serve a wide variety of high quality, fresh cheeses and offer a large wine menu. A cool glass of Cava is a common way to start a meal. And it’s difficult to find a bad cup of coffee, although keep in mind that cappuccinos and espressos are the preferred coffee drinks (some restaurants and cafes don’t even offer “Cafe Americano”).
Recommended restaurants & cafes: Assif, Radio Rosco, Binyamin, LovEAT, and Manta Ray. [See the main Tel Aviv destination page for details]
THE LGBT SCENE
Tel Aviv is where people from all over the world come to play, and who knows how to throw a good party better than the LGBT community? The bars, clubs and parties here can range from casual and relaxed to wild, all-night thumping and grinding. The scene is as lively as you’d expect from NYC, San Francisco, or Sydney. The Pride parade alone draws tens of thousands of gays from the area as well as from around the world. Also, LGBT Pride is celebrated throughout the month of June so expect a lot of parties on top of the usual year-round regulars.
The nights start late here. People head to the bars & clubs at around 1:00AM and sometimes stay out until dawn. Also, even though there isn’t much diversity within Tel Aviv (over 90% of the population are Israeli Jews), you’ll see a bit more diversity within the LGBT communities, including more Jewish/Arab couplings as well as random foreigners. But don’t be surprised if you’re one of the few black, Latino, or Asian people, if not the only, at a scene. Other than that, expect much of the same as you would from a bar or club in a major metropolitan U.S. city.
If you’re interested in dating or are nervous approaching people at bars and clubs, go online. This is common practice in Tel Aviv and almost everyone in the LGBT community here has online profiles.
And for those seeking “short-term encounters,” there are two saunas and a cruising park, Haatzmaut Park, near the gay beach. Given the general attractiveness of people in Tel Aviv, you won’t be disappointed.
Recommended bars, clubs, and parties: Ashmoret, The Notorious G.A.Y. at Lima Lima, Beit Hashova, and Pop Ring & Big Boys at Theatre Club. [See the main Tel Aviv destination page for details]
With these general considerations in mind, you should be comfortably on your way to exploring a new, yet somewhat familiar, culture (although, given the modern, fast-paced nature of the city, a few surprises will probably come your way). The city also has many other things to offer, including a thriving arts and theater scene, eclectic architecture (particularly Bauhaus), numerous museums and fairs, competitive sports clubs and events, and world-class shopping. Full of culture, energy, and hot men and women, Tel Aviv is a welcoming and unique city that every LGBT traveler must visit.