When looking at (new) holiday destinations I must say I am pretty predictable; most of the time I am looking for a combination of sun, sea, charm and, last but not least, safety.
Tel Aviv might not be your first choice when it comes to that last prerequisite: at least it had never been mine because of all the turbulence in that area.
However, when my youngest brother announced that he would be living in Tel Aviv for a few months to write his thesis and study the language, I had to rethink my doubts. My husband immediately stated that we would ‘definitely come and visit’; a promise that kept me awake a night as I am quite a coward and thought of everything that could happen to both my baby brother and us while making that trip.
Long story short: once my brother actually moved and shared his daily adventures and experiences during our many conversations, I felt I needed to reconsider a possible holiday to Israel. It was still cold and wet in Amsterdam, and we were looking for a nice place to spend our babymoon- actually our last vacation before baby number two would arrive.
I must admit Tel Aviv had quite a few perks and, more importantly, checked almost all of the earlier mentioned boxes: sunny, located at the beach, just a 4 hr flight away and supposedly very child friendly.
And so it happened that I actually ok-ed the trip…
There are quite some airlines offering tickets to Tel Aviv from Amsterdam. As we were travelling with a 2 year old and me being very pregnant, it was important to us that we could leave and return at decent times. This excluded the KLM flights as their timetables were horrible (who takes a flight at 3 in the morning anyways?), so we ended up choosing between El Al, the country’s own airline, and Transavia. Both schedules were pretty ok, but as we booked very last minute the price Transavia offered was much cheaper and I find Transavia safe enough. We booked a midday flight which left us with enough time to finish packing in the morning, prepare some food for Alba and leave for the airport quite relaxed.
Be sure to pack some decent food for your toddler, as the food they offer during the flight is expensive, fast food-ish and not very interesting. So I brought some fruit, crackers and a few sandwiches.
Do not forget to bring more diapers than you think you will need, as ‘accidents’ tend to happen high up in the air and they do not weigh a lot anyway. And some extra pairs of clothes as well! Alba first wet herself and got airsick as well so those pants and onesies came in very handy…. A big scarf or swaddle and a comfortable sweater are recommendable as well, as it is quite chilly in the aircraft and you do not want your toddler to catch a cold.
As it is a 4hr flight only, the entertainment options in the airplane are literally none. A very friendly stewardess did bring Alba a coloring picture (so don’t forget crayons!) but we were very happy that we took along some cartoons on the Ipad, a reading book and her favorite stuffed animal.
Well, this proved to be pretty difficult! Hotels are either very expensive, or don’t allow children at all. And did I mention the measurements of the dozens of rooms I checked?! Parisian hotel rooms are huge in comparison and I am always shocked about those…
Depending on the neighborhood you want to stay in there are some options, but very limited.
This time we preferred a more boutique like hotel instead of the big hotel chains so that made the search even harder, as most boutique hotels like to avoid small children (well hello there, new life-and-status…). My brother suggested Neve Tzedek, a neighborhood located in southwestern Tel Aviv. It was the first Jewish neighborhood to be built outside the walls of the ancient port of Jaffa. For years, the neighborhood prospered as Tel Aviv, the first modern Hebrew city, grew up around it. Years of neglect and disrepair followed, but since the early 1980s, Neve Tzedek has become one of Tel Aviv’s latest fashionable and expensive districts, with a village-like atmosphere. After some disappointments (we found a perfect place to stay, but when trying to make reservations we learnt that Chelsea owner Abramovitsch had just bought the entire place to turn it into his own pied-a-terre in Tel Aviv… go figure) we finally came across a wonderful little place called Boutique Molcho Neve Tzedek (http://www.nevetzedek.co/).
As if it were meant to be there had been a cancellation the night before so we were able to book the upper apartment which was even better because it was way bigger than all the other rooms and apartments we had been checking out. Owner Golan was very helpful and friendly and responded immediately to our e-mails.
I would not say his prices are cheap, on the contrary, but we were able to negotiate a good last minute deal and I can tell you: it was worth every penny. Spacious, new, perfectly located and decorated with lots of style and charm. It felt like staying at a beach house while in fact it was in the middle of this super cute, buzzy little neighborhood that reminded us a bit of Soho, Notting Hill and the 9 streets in Amsterdam. Molcho also offers a pick up service and late check in so that was settled as well. The minute we walked in we felt completely at home and relaxed, and we were able to hang on to that feeling the entire nine days we spent in Tel Aviv.
Morning strolls to the beach, daily ice creams in the afternoon, and cozy early dinners became our daily routine and one of the many perks of the apartment was the huge roof terrace (with a Jacuzzi!) so after putting our girl to sleep we took our drinks outside and enjoyed the stars and the distant chatter from the deckchairs.
Be sure to decide on what kind of place you are looking for before making a reservation; we have also looked at the big hotels up north (with beautiful beaches) and some smaller ones in the Rothschild and Lilienblum area (huge avenues with great local restaurants and numerous juice bars, shops and noizy terraces), not to forget Jaffa (where Tel Aviv began its history), the ancient 3000-year-old adjoining city that lies to its southwest. The current Old City of Jaffa was built during the Ottoman Empire and its stone houses and narrow alleyways now house the picturesque artists’ quarter and tourist center.
Just a few other places to check out- we did and liked them!:
The Dan Hotel
All hotels in Tel Aviv that belong to Atlas
Brown TLV Urban Hotel (they have just opened another one right on the beach!)
The Market House in Jaffa
As I said before, Tel Aviv consists of many different neighborhoods, while still being rather small.
We chose to stay in the Neve Tzedek area as it is charming, very close to the beach and very (and I repeat: very) child friendly and accessible. We wanted to be able to go for coffee in the morning, take strolls and do a little shopping, and therefore chose peace and quiet over nightlife. The area is packed with cute little restaurants and bistros so dinner is covered as well.
However, the bubblier Rothschild Boulevard offers endless amounts of constantly filled terraces and bars, cool restaurants and a very young, artistic vibe.
Up north you will find the bigger hotel chains with lots of nice beaches and beach clubs, shopping malls and parks.
Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv, is quite a good option as well. It is a twenty minutes walk from downtown Tel Aviv and has a pleasant, slightly more Arabic feel. The old city center has been restored and you will find many little shops, a (flea) market and local galleries where you can browse for treasures. If you are looking for an upcoming place with a lively atmosphere, this is the place to be. The market area turns into streets filled with live music and restaurants at night and things will not quiet down as early as in Neve Tzedek.
Well, I must admit I sometimes miss the days when I just had to pack for myself; countless high heels, my cutest summer dresses and a few magazines were carefully selected and placed in a huge suitcase.
Nowadays, I am happy if I succeed in remembering to pack that one multifunctional maxi dress, my bikini and some slippers. Bye bye sexy heels, hello comfortable (and less heavy!) slip ons, trainers and sandals.
As we went in June, I did take some vests and long trousers, as it tends to get chilly during the evenings. We were very lucky since it only rained once and I could leave my coat at the apartment, but a scarf and a vest came in handy. Be sure to pack comfortable shoes as a lot of sightseeing is done by foot. Sunglasses are important too, as the sun is quite blinding, and do not forget sunscreen and a hat! People do look nice while having dinner, but it is perfectly acceptable to wear sneakers or a simple t-shirt as well.
Do bring some shekels to get you through the first day; we did not even once use the dollars we took with us.
As for your toddler:
See ‘Getting there’ for the necessities during your flight.
The following (non exhaustive!) list of things proved very handy to us:
– Favorite toy and/or stuffed animal (if possible, take a second pair as these items easily get lost)
– At least two Sippy cups/bottles
– Your own formula if still needed. We tend to take enough for two or three days so that we have time to find a supermarket and check out the available brands there. Most of the time it is perfectly accepted by your kiddo but make sure to look up the different name so you won’t end up looking for a familiar name and not being able to find it
– At least three pacifiers if needed; attach them to both the stroller/maxicosi/car seat and your own handbag
– Enough diapers to get you through a few days- and nights! And follow the same directions as above-mentioned formula
– Sunscreen! We rubbed her in after her morning shower and I kept using it on her face and bare legs and arms. You tend to forget that while they are in their stroller but believe me: sunburn happens very quickly and is VERY dangerous for their tender skin
– Sunhats and sunglasses (preferably good ones and do not forget those little chains so they will not fall of their tiny faces all the time!)
– Some long trousers and socks for the colder nights and bike rides; also some vests and sweaters
– Medicines! You do not want to go looking for a drugstore should your baby get sick or stung by an insect. We brought aspirin, nose drops, suppositories, after sun, after bite, cough syrup and of course her daily vitamin D drops. It may sound a bit overdone but it saves you so much time and stress…
– A (lightweight!) stroller. Trust me, we have considered taking her huge pram several times but a small stroller is so much easier to pack, travel with and store when not used. We have a Koelstra (type: Simba) and it is perfect. You can take it with you until after the gate (do check that explicitly with your airline!! Some are very vague when it comes to taking them that far and you do not want to be surprised while checking in) and they bring it up again immediately after leaving the airport at your destination. You can take long strolls as they are smaller and more flexible and maneuverable for city walks and they fit in every cab you will take. We also used it during lunch and dinner; if Alba was very tired we simply fed her before we had dinner, placed her in her stroller with her pacifier and animal and she slept like a baby while we we enjoying the rest of our meal. Oh and did I mention the afternoon naps on the beach? The perfect lounge chair for her
– Comfortable shoes for your little one(s) to join you on your walk, and slippers for the beach, as the sand is really hot
– Swim gear. Unlike many other countries we saw many kids running around naked but if you are not comfortable doing that you should at least pack some swimming diapers or bathing suits/swim trunks. Do not forget to rub in those tender little butts!
– An inflatable little bathtub. Alba enjoys taking a shower now but when she was smaller we never went anywhere without packing our Mommy’s Helper inflatable Froggie baby bath. You can easily place it in the bathtub or shower and fill it with water
– A decent body cream or lotion to hydrate the skin after a long day in the sun
Wow, where to start! Usually we try to at least read a book or two on the destination so as to know what to expect upon arrival. However, as this turned out to be a very last minute trip, we barely had time to prepare at all. Many travel guides have implemented a special ‘Kids’ section but I normally tend to find those a bit lame. Of course, once the kids get older they will definitely enjoy crowded water parks, carting or a zoo, but activities for toddlers are rarely mentioned.
We might be a little different from other parents, as we do not explicitly focus on activities for Alba; we just try to think of doing fun things that will keep her happy as well, or at least will not bore her.
First of all we made sure that the place we would stay at had at least a terrace and small pool to give her space and some splashing time. The fantastic ice cream parlor just around the corner (Anita, La Mamma del Gelato) was a big hit as well and a daily treat for our little girl.
The wonderful thing about Tel Aviv is that it is so extremely child friendly that you will find a playground literally every 500 meters. They are safe, well kept and offer a large range of swings, slides and merry-go-rounds, as well as chairs for the parents and some shade.
We also rented bikes at Pole Position Bike Rental (http://www.polepositiontlv.com/?lang=en ) so we could move quicker and easier. Actually, it was my husband’s idea to rent those, as I was not able to walk around all day with my 30- weeks pregnant belly. It was a huge success! They offer both electric and city bikes and yes, I will confess right here that we actually rented the electric ones as Tel Aviv is quite hilly. They were perfect, well kept and very lightweight. We did not even have to ask for a baby seat and a helmet and Alba enjoyed herself so much.
As said before we did not visit any of the big shopping malls as we just wanted to relax and enjoy the city, however, we had one rainy morning to cover and ended up cycling to the Tel Aviv Port up north. Not really worth it but it does have some huge shops with nice baby clothes- and accessories and again, many playgrounds.
My brother took us for a tour through Tel Aviv to Jaffa and that was a very nice walk; perfectly do-able with a stroller and the necessary stops at both playgrounds and ice cream parlors. Obviously, many roads lead to Jaffa, but just to give you an idea: we started at the corner of Hashuk and Levinsky (do not forget to get a coffee and amazing soda filled with fruits-of-choice at Levinsky 41) and headed southwest, via Abarbanel, through Ma’on where we took a right to Elifelet and passed beautiful Immanuel Church and ended up in a tiny little neighborhood called Noga. There is a nice playground right on the shady square, surrounded by nice little boutiques and coffee bars. Continue on Raziel Street, cross Clock Tower Square and walk to the port. We had an excellent lunch at Container before we slowly walked back to our apartment, alongside the sea and small popular beaches.
As Tel Aviv is a coastal city, the beach is never far away. So make sure to spend some time there as well! It was literally a 10-minute walk to the closest beach, Alma Beach, so we went there quite often. It is crowded with local people and there is a lifeguard as well so we liked it there; you can also easily rent chairs and an umbrella. Try to have a drink at Manta Ray as the view from the terrace is superb! Slowly walking back to our apartment at the end of the day we usually stopped at Mitzedek, a tiny place where they make the best smoothies ever… They have a regular list, but as I felt like something with coconut (yep, a craving!) they made me a fantastic Pina Colada-style drink which had me coming back every single day. Cool people and very low key atmosphere.
For a more upscale beach experience you need to go up north to one of the more trendy beaches. We went to the Carlton beach once and I must admit it was quite nice to have someone bring your drinks to your lounge bed. The sea is a bit calmer in this part and the beach stretches all the way to the south, which actually reminded me of the never-ending beaches in Miami. Again, the place is packed with playgrounds and work out areas for grownups as well.
Should you prefer a public pool then you should definitely visit The Gordon Pool that is located next to the beach; it has a special outdoor pool for children and a bigger seawater pool for adults.
The Nachum Gutman Museum is also very worth a visit as it pays special attention to the little ones.
Another cool thing to do is pack your lunch and bike up north to Yarkon Park for a lazy picnic. I love city parks and the shade is pretty pleasant too!
And then the food… Now that is something else. I could go on and on and on about how we enjoyed every single meal we had during those nine days- be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. Instead, I will just give you a list of the places we have been, mostly for breakfast or dinner as we tried to be at home during lunchtime for Alba’s nap. Please note that as the city is so extremely well equipped for children I will not mention the availability of highchairs at every joint. Alba was very welcome at every restaurant!
Dalal– the Patisserie. Wonderful croissants and other pastries, delicious
coffee and sandwiches. My favourite!
Lulu Kitchen & Bar– perfect for people watching and a nice coffee
Suzanna– A low key place with a nice patio, situated below a huge ancient
tree. Good place for coffee and small bite before hitting the beach
Orna and Ella– low key breakfast joint with typical Israeli dishes
Dalal– the Restaurant. Very cozy place with both a patio and a cute little
terrace, surrounded by a brick wall and lush flowers. Excellent food
Tzfon Abraxis– Amazing food and surprising dishes. Try the cauliflower
and you will know what I mean. Amazing. Order several
dishes and just share and enjoy. My absolute favourite!
They also own Port Said, which is pretty good as well
Pronto– Very good Italian food. Good service. Terrace a bit windy but very
nice to sit inside as well
Okinawa– Great Asian food. We went to get food there twice to take home
and it was very fresh and well prepared
Popina– Upscale, very good service, unique combinations, not too cheap
but very well worth it
Dalidah– Very nice service, exciting combinations, nice atmosphere
Da Osvaldo– Great pizzas, good service, excellent calzone, delicious olive oil
Club Alphabet- Very centrally located svelte bar with an awesome sound system and great drinks. Some of the best music in town is offered here and easily some of the nicest people both working and visiting!
Aria restaurant-great place for a diner a deux, as you can either start or end the evening with cocktails at their cool downstairs bar; upstairs is the cozy, tropical like dining area, with lots of wood, plants and slowly turning fans. Good food; reservations necessary!
Social Club– Young crowd, lots of energy, nice classic dishes and very good
Jajo Vino- Part of the Jajo group, this cozy little place offers superb wines, either per bottle or by the glass. Intimate yet informal atmosphere, and I literally wanted to go in every time we passed by (which, being pregnant, was quite a torture..)
Tel Aviv on a whole:
What a wonderful place. It honestly offers everything we were (and always are) looking for during a much-needed holiday. Close to the beach, perfect weather, excellent food, great service, child friendly in every possible way and so many different areas and neighborhoods to explore.
About the safety issue: I actually felt safe. As I said before, we did not visit the big shopping malls, nor did we stay in one of the big hotels. Partly because we wanted to relax and preferred a boutique hotel, but also because I had a feeling that the latter options would be less ‘attack prone’. We did not see that much security on the streets or anywhere else for that matter, and I found everyone to be very relaxed and easy going. That said, the region is still very unstable at the moment and for well-known reasons, Israel always needs to watch its back. But I did not once feel unsafe and would definitely go back, together with my husband and children. It has been said that people in Tel Aviv live in a bubble, and that they pretend everything is fine while that is certainly not the case, but I have been there way too short to either agree on that point of view or reject it. The city felt young, vibrant and happy, and my little family and I loved it.
Would I recommend Molcho? Most definitely yes. It offered everything we were looking for: enough room to have a baby cot in there with us, a small kitchen, a beautiful terrace, perfectly located and surrounded by fantastic little boutiques and restaurants, close to the beach, perfect service (they even provide a free mobile phone for all domestic calls!), great amenities by Sabon, and exactly the kind of charm we like.
Triple A as far as we are concerned. Children form an integral part of the everyday life in this city and not even once have we felt that Alba was not welcome. On the contrary, people went out of their way to make her happy and provided her with crayons, toys, and her own cutlery. Every restaurant offers highchairs, kids menus when needed and makes sure your children get their meals very quickly. Our little Alba was as happy as can be!