I was recently lucky enough to visit the cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Both are rich in culture and history, and Jerusalem, in particular, is like a living museum, with deep spiritual significance for many people around the world.
Tel Aviv is a fascinating city to visit all year round. However, things are especially vibrant during the Purim Festival. During the festival, the streets of Tel Aviv come alive with colourful and fascinating costumes, with residents and locals both getting into the spirit.
Journey to Tel Aviv
We took a direct flight from London Heathrow to Tel Aviv, which was a comfortable five hours. Once we arrived, it was a 35-minute drive onto our beachfront hotel.
We left London mid-morning for our El Al flight, arriving in Tel Aviv around 7 pm. As soon as we landed, we went straight for Dixie Restaurant, a typical Americana restaurant that served classic diner fare with a local twist.
Apparently, it’s usual for locals to order several starters to share, which we were happy to try along with my main order of sea bass fillet. This meant I got to sample several different starters, which were all delicious – so I definitely appreciated the local approach!
Following dinner, we went back to the Carlton Hotel right on the beachfront. This beautiful luxury hotel featured gorgeous sea views and a fantastic pool. As it was so late when we arrived, however, we just went back to our room – I’ll share more about this in the ‘Where I Stayed’ section later.
We woke up early and began with a delicious breakfast in the hotel restaurant. The restaurant overlooks the beach and the marina – the expansive views were utterly stunning, and the perfect accompaniment to a tasty breakfast!
After breakfast, we met our tour guide Karl and drove to our first destination, the historic port of Jaffa (also known as Yafo), just outside of Tel Aviv. Jaffa has undergone a rejuvenation in recent years and is today a network of streets filled with cafes and shops. We explored the Old Town and made a stop at the famous Jaffa Flea Market with its fabulous and quirky antiques and other wares.
For lunch, we stopped in at the local favourite of Dr Shakshuka. Fittingly, I tried shakshuka, made from spiced stewed tomatoes and poached eggs – it was really delicious.
Following lunch, we explored the gritty and industrial Florentin and the lively and historic Hatachana, where we got our first glance of some of the vibrant Purim street celebrations. I particularly appreciated our tour guide taking us to see his home in Florentin, which gave us an insight into the lives of local people and their culture.
After this, our next stop was at Carmel Market. Known first and foremost for its fabulous food, it’s actually so much more than that – a charming trade centre that bustles with stallholders and people going about their everyday lives.
We also dropped into the nearby Nahalat Binyamin Crafts Market, which opens on Tuesdays and Fridays and is the perfect place to get some beautiful, handmade souvenirs of Israel.
After our action-packed day, we returned to the hotel to spend a few hours enjoying the beautiful beach and nearby marina.
For dinner, we visited the gorgeous Yulia Restaurant on the Tel Aviv port. It was another beautiful seafront restaurant, and we again shared our starters and desserts. I had my own main, which was the traditional “Chraime” fish curry. The spices were incredible, and the vegetables were so fresh and delicious.
After dinner, we had just enough time to enjoy a beautiful walk along the beach promenade back to our hotel.
On our third day, we had another delicious breakfast and then headed out to visit the historic city of Jerusalem. Having heard so much about the city and the history of religion in the area, I was really looking forward to it. As we drove the hour-and-a-half journey from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, I was amazed by the beautiful and dramatic landscapes with lush green hills and plunging valleys.
I knew we were approaching the city when I began to see some impressive old stone buildings. I was already mesmerised, waiting to see more about this historical city which is deeply significant for three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This means that people all over the world, of very different faiths, each view the city as a profoundly holy and essential place.
Once we arrived, we checked into the Orient Hotel in Jerusalem. I adore hotels with history and character, and the Orient Hotel did not disappoint. I was immediately drawn to the charismatic exterior that weaved traditional Israeli style and modern elegance. We checked in and dropped off our luggage, before heading out to explore the Purim Festival.
Jerusalem’s most vibrant festival takes place in Safra Square and is a massive hit amongst locals and visitors of all ages. Local people dress up in all kinds of wacky and beautiful costumes from unicorns to nuns and descend to listen to the DJ tunes and enjoy the party along Nissim Bachar Street and the Mahaneh Yehuda.
It’s an incredible spectacle full of performances like music, human pyramids, music and more. It’s an absolute sight to behold, as the streets come alive with all of the colours, sounds and sights of the amazing festival.
As well as the festival itself, we also explored the nearby areas on foot, and one particular highlight was the sprawling Mahane Yehuda Market. We also enjoyed a local favourite lunch of falafel wraps.
One interesting thing was that nearly everything in the city closed at 3 pm on Friday, as most people observe the Sabbath. This is where Jewish people observe a day of rest and celebration beginning on Friday and ending the following evening after sunset.
After lunch, we returned to the hotel to enjoy a few hours at the hotel pool before we went to Adom Restaurant just across the road. It was yet another delicious meal with incredible local spices.
On our fourth day in Israel, we spent the day exploring the old city of Jerusalem, one of the world’s most historic places.
Our first stop was at Mount Scopus, a historic site with a history that spans more than 2,000 years. The name is drawn from the incredible views that you can enjoy from the viewpoint – they were truly beautiful panoramas.
The next stop on our tour was at the Western Wall, Judaism’s most sacred sight and one of Jerusalem’s most iconic places. We then moved onto Dolorosa a sacred route believed to have been traversed by Jesus, and then onto the Christian Quarter and the Church of Holy Sepulcher where He was said to have been crucified.
This area of Jerusalem was particularly beautiful, with elements of the narrow streets dating back from around the year 300, when the Romans arrived in the city. Although I am not religious myself, it was really amazing to feel the energy of the Church of Holy Sepulcher, and I felt very privileged to experience a place that is so significant to so many.
For a different perspective on Jerusalem, we also visited the Arab Market (or souk) which had a very distinctive feel within its labyrinth of streets and alleyways. I also loved visiting the rebuilt Jewish Quarter and Cardo, which is the ruins from what would have been a bustling main street in Roman times.
From here, we also visited the Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock from a viewing point near the Western Wall. The Dome of the Rock is one of the holiest sites for both Judaism and Islam, with it being the place where the Prophet Muhammad was said to ascend to heaven. Due to its deep significance to so many people, it is one of the most photographed places on earth.
After seeing this amazing sight, we stopped in at Viennese Cafe near Via Dolorosa for a quick coffee and to enjoy the amazing view.
For lunch, we returned to the Arab Market and enjoyed some delicious local specialities before we returned to the hotel to rest our tired walking feet!
In the evening, we visited Satia restaurant which offers a fabulous menu of Israeli favourites, using mostly local herbs and ingredients. The atmosphere in the restaurant was also lovely, and the location in central Jerusalem was excellent as well.
Our final day in Israel was one that I’d been looking forward to the most, as we were visiting the Dead Sea. This experience has been on my bucket list for a long time, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to experience it.
I finished off my breakfast quickly, and we then started driving to the Dead Sea. It was amazing to see the landscape shift, as we entered a desert punctuated by dramatic mountains.
It wasn’t long before we arrived at the Dead Sea. The sea’s name is because the salt content of the water is so high that it struggles to sustain life. Another result of the salt content is that you naturally float in the water!
It is hard to put the experience in words as it feels so bizarre to float right to the top of the water – in fact, it’s almost impossible to sink! Instead, you bob right to the top like an apple… such an odd, but exhilarating, feeling!
As well as the water itself, the mud of the Dead Sea is also said to be excellent for your skin. As recommended, I lathered it all over myself before floating in the sea, and afterwards, my skin certainly felt very fresh and young, so I highly recommend it. Another tip for visiting the Dead Sea is to make sure you drink plenty of water, as the experience can make you feel quite dehydrated.
After the incredible experience of floating in the Dead Sea, we drove to Abu Gosh, which is the site of the biblical Kiryat Yearim, where the Holy Ark of the Covenant is said to have rested. We also enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Naura restaurant nearby, which featured incredible views as well as a fabulous traditional Israeli menu.
With that, my amazing five days in Israel came to a close, and we headed back to the airport in Tel Aviv to return to London.
Where I stayed in Tel Aviv
In Tel Aviv, we stayed at the beautiful Carlton Tel Aviv right on the beach. The location is excellent, just steps away from the soft sands of the beach as well as the marina. The hotel also offers other great amenities including a fabulous rooftop pool and a great cocktail bar.
From my Superior City View room on the 11th floor, I had a fabulous view out over the city skyline, which was really beautiful. The decor of the room was also contemporary and modern, and the location was great for exploring the city.
Where I stayed in Jerusalem
My favourite hotel was the Orient Hotel in Jerusalem – from the moment I saw that charming exterior, I was really drawn to it. The hotel blends traditional architecture and character with modern luxury, and the end result is really something special.
I stayed in the Orient Germany Colony View Room, which was spacious and enjoyed a charming balcony. Within the room, there was a large closet and desk, as well as a comfortable seating area and a beautiful bathroom. I particularly appreciated the luxe copper freestanding bathtub which enjoyed an exquisite view. It was the perfect place for relaxing, and I just loved it.
It was amazing to have the opportunity to visit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as well as the incredible Dead Sea. Due to the proximity of the two cities, it’s definitely possible to visit them both and experience their iconic sites. I also highly recommend visiting the Dead Sea; it was absolutely everything I hoped it would be, and such a unique and memorable experience!
Disclaimer: This post has been created as a part of a press trip collaboration with Israel Tourism Board, but all opinions are 100% mine.