Best things to see and do in Israel if you’re visiting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem

Thousands of years separate them, but a melting pot of cultures and diversity is a common bond ­between historic Jerusalem and its modern coastal cousin Tel Aviv.

Our two-centre trip to Israel was a journey back in time as I experienced the hustle and bustle of 24-hour Tel Aviv before seeing the centuries-old jewels of the Holy Land in the capital.

We started on the coast, where Bauhaus architecture from the 1930s and ’40s stands in the shadow of the latest glass-sided skyscraper.

Tel Aviv is a kaleidoscope of cultures, designs – and people.

Take the district of Sarona, for example. Surrounded by office blocks, this oasis with paved roads and smart gardens is the site of the city’s original German Templers colony some 140 years ago.

Properties have been immaculately restored and this area of beautiful colonial buildings is now a destination for corporate types looking for a fashionable lunch of gourmet dishes.

The Old Port in Jaffa, Israel

Across town is the neighbourhood of Neve Tzedek with its narrow backstreets and hidden alleyways.

Here, you’ll find craft markets hidden behind stone walls adorned with politically charged messages.

Carmel Market is the place to pick up intricately handcrafted ceramic bowls and spices.

Unassuming cafés and coffee shops seem to be on every corner.

We stuffed our faces on Israeli salads and a melt-in-the-mouth crispy-charred cauliflower baked whole with lashings of oil, cumin, turmeric, red pepper and salt.

The Western Wall

 

A two-hour tour of the White City area reveals an abundance of Bauhaus architecture – some 4,000 buildings were influenced by German design in the last century.

And a trip to Tel Aviv wouldn’t be complete without a stroll on the beach.

Glorious sea views are best enjoyed while munching on a hummus wrap from the famous Falafel Gabay restaurant – as the health-conscious Israelis play beach volleyball along the promenade.

The nightlife in downtown Tel Aviv is pretty special too.

We particularly liked the Sputnik retro bar and the upmarket Aria cocktail joint. And our hotel, Cinema, hosted the perfect warm-up to any night out with a jazz-themed happy hour on the roof terrace.

Aptly named, the hotel was one of the city’s oldest cinemas, and the nostalgic interior pays homage with posters and projectors from yesteryear dotted around the foyer.

The Jerusalem Old City market

While the centre of Tel Aviv itself is little more than a century old, this mushrooming city also incorporates historic Jaffa – referred to in the Bible as Joppa.

Mingle with the locals while haggling in the eclectic flea markets, or enjoy a cooling aperitif by the port.

Wander along Old Jaffa’s endless winding alleys filled with hidden art galleries, colourful craft shops and pop-up bars, finishing off at sunset with an iced coffee by the landmark golden-tinted clock tower.

We enjoyed a traditional Israeli feast at the wholesome Puaa Restaurant.

Jaffa was the perfect step back from the present day – a journey we would continue after a 90-minute drive east to Jerusalem. Its population tops 850,000 – almost twice as many as Tel Aviv.

A spice market in Tel Aviv

 

We arrived late afternoon and wasted no time in taking in a panoramic view of the Old City from Mount Scopus.

A tour of the main historical and religious sites the next day took us first to the Christian quarter and The Church of the Holy Sepulchre – which holds the Tomb of Jesus and was the reported site of his crucifixion. The Cardo – a Roman-paved street now lined with shops – is within the rebuilt Jewish Quarter.

And then, of course, is the Islamic shrine the Dome of the Rock, atop Temple Mount – of huge significance to Muslims, Jews and Christians.

The 2,000-year-old limestone Western Wall – also known as the Wailing Wall – is a sight to behold on the Sabbath, as thousands of Jews gather to lay their hands on it and pray. Jerusalem is awash with museums telling the story of a city that goes back some 5,000 years.

Laura at the top of the hill in Jaffa

 

The Israel Museum, in the Givat Ram neighbourhood, houses 2,000-year-old copies of the Old Testament.

We also headed to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre.

It contains moving footage, photos, testimonials and even a cattle car used to carry victims to Nazi gas chambers.

It is a powerful finale to our trip to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv… a tale of two inspiring cities.

Book the holiday

BOOK IT: El Al has flights from Luton to Tel Aviv from £265. Double rooms at the Center Chic Hotel from £150 on B&B, and the Cinema Hotel from £150 per night on B&B. Find out more at atlashotels.co.il.

INFO: Find out more at new.goisrael.com.

TOP TIP: Don’t miss the port of Jaffa – a beautiful historic backdrop to modern-day Tel Aviv.

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