If you are too lazy to read my 2,000 words on how to visit Tel Aviv on a shoestring, check out the video instead: bit.ly/TLV-69 🙂
When I went to Tel Aviv this month on a budget challenge, I thought I could easily stay within my $77 / €69 budget per day – I even wanted to challenge myself and stick to $50 a day! Well, it turned out that it was more of a challenge than I had anticipated. Tel Aviv is much more expensive than one might think, but the good news is that not everything is expensive, and if you spend your money wisely, you’ll be able to fully enjoy the city without breaking the bank.I took down all my expenses in Tel Aviv and was on the lookout for inexpensive things to do and places to eat the entire time so that I can share them with you. So without further ado, here are my tips on how to visit Tel Aviv on a shoestring:
Accommodation: Hotels vs Hostels vs Airbnb
Your biggest expense in Tel Aviv will be your accommodation, unless you couchsurf. Because of the strengthening shekel and a number of other reasons (as reported in this article) accommodation in Tel Aviv is much more expensive than in London or even Iceland! But the good news is that there are several hostels and AirBnB has become more and more popular in Israel, allowing cash-strapped travelholics (like me!) to rent out their places while they’re traveling, or rent out rooms in their apartments allowing them to save up money to travel.
I was an AirBnB host in New York last summer myself, so I’m all about this concept (and pretty much every other sharing economy concept), which is why I ended up staying in an apartment this time, sharing it with two other travelers while the owners were traveling in Romania. Between the three of us, we paid $99/€90, or $33/€30 each, for our own private room, and had two bathrooms and a kitchen to share between us. I thought that this was an amazing deal, considering private rooms in Tel Aviv’s best rated hostels start at $150/€135. Even private rooms in hostels are pricey, starting at $90/€99.However, if you prefer staying in a hostel to meet other travelers, there are several ones to choose from and dorm beds start at $15.50/€14.00 (for a fabulous hostel expect to pay around $22/€20 and for a beachfront hostel $33/€30. And Abraham hostel, where I spent an entire week at last year in Jerusalem just opened its brand new TLV branch (which means I’ll have to go back soon to check out if it’s as good as the Jerusalem hostel.)
Cost for accommodation: Expect to pay around $22 for a bunk bed, around $30 for a room in an AirBnb apartment, $99 for a private room in a hostel, or an entire AirBnb apartment starts at around $100. If you’re not using AirBnb yet, you can get $20 off your first booking by signing up through this link. (There are some great apartments listed in Tel Aviv on AirBnb!).
Food: Develop a love for hummus and falafel
The bad news: Every time I sat down in a restaurant and looked at a menu, main dishes started at ILS40, sometimes ILS50 ($10-13/€9.50-12) – and that’s for the cheapest dish! Eating out is definitely not cheap in Tel Aviv. The good news, however, is that there’s plenty of cheep street food to be had in Tel Aviv, with falafel, sabich sandwiches, hummus & pita plates all for around ILS16-20 ($42.0-5.15 /€3.70-4.70). Don’t expect a fancy restaurant for this kind of money – it’ll be more like a hole-in-the-wall kinda place – but expect to have your taste buds blown away every time you have a meal. I love Israeli food, and I could happily eat hummus and falafel every single day. So get ready for lots of Israeli sandwiches and lots of vegetarian food (I promise you won’t even miss meat!).
Cost for food: About ILS20 ($5.15/€4.70) for a quick meal, about ILS50 ($13/€12) for a sit-down meal in a restaurant.
Booze: Moderate your alcohol consumption
If you’re planning to party, this one won’t be easy, but even if you are on a $50 a day budget and spend your money wisely you should be able to enjoy a beer or two. Alcohol is without a doubt an expense in Tel Aviv that can put a dent into your budget – it’s pricey! Even in the supermarket a bottle of beer can easily cost ILS9 ($2.30/€2.10), which is pricey compared to German beer prices (I rarely pay more than €0.69 a bottle of beer in the supermarket) Buying beers in a bar is what really hurts though: a pint usually ranges from ILS 31 – 34 ($8-9/€7.20-8)! The cheapest pint I’ve found in Tel Aviv was ILS27 ($7/€6.30), and cocktails usually start at a whopping ILS45 ($12/€10.50).That’s where you can go over budget easily. What can you do? I’ve found some liquor stores around town that have special offers on beer, for example two Goldstar beers for ILS16 ($4.10/€3.75), or three cheapie beers from Russia or the Czech Republic for ILS21 ($5.40/€4.90). If you see one of these offers, grab a few beers to drink in your apartment /hostel before you go out. When you go out at night, look for special promotions and happy hours and avoid the pricey parts of Tel Aviv. The Florentine neighborhood is much cheaper than the fancy bars around the port. Often bars have promotions for a beer and a chaser, which is how you get the most bang for your buck.
Stick to water
If you’re not into going out / don’t drink, you’ll find it much easier to stick to your budget. Tap water is free in restaurants for example, and if you bring a reusable bottle you can always fill it up from the tap instead of paying for bottled water. Soft drinks and sodas are also not particularly cheap – try to cut down on those. Instead, search out the cheap juice places in the market that offer fresh fruit juices for little money. I also cut down on coffee during my visit because these iced coffees, even though they’re delicious, add up quickly at ILS16 ($4.10/€3.75) per drink, and cappuccinos are around the same price. The cheapest espresso I found was ILS9 ($2.30/€2.10).
Sightseeing: Take advantage of free attractions
The good thing about Tel Aviv is that there aren’t a lot of pricey attractions – unlike New York or London where sights like the Empire State Building or Westminster Abbey can hurt your budget a lot.
My favorite attraction in Tel Aviv, the beaches, is entirely free, and should be on your agenda every day while you’re in town! Another thing I love is Carmel Market, and a market stroll is always free – but even if you end up picking up something here, it’s not going to cost you a lot.There are a few museums worth paying for, like the Tel Aviv Museum Of Art (ILS50/$12.85/€11.65) or the fabulous Ilana Goor Art Gallery (30ILS/$7.70/€7), but you could also just wander the streets of Jaffa which feels like an outdoor museum in itself, taking you a few centuries back with its well-maintained ocher colored stone buildings to the time when Jaffa was one of the most important port towns of the regions. Pop into the many art galleries that line the narrow alleys and you’ll be entertained for hours. If you want more background information on the places you pass, you can join the free Tel Aviv walking tour which focuses mainly on Jaffa (don’t forget to tip your guide though!), and simply walking all the different neighborhoods is the best way to get a feel for the city.
Cost for attractions: Appr. $0 – $10
Transportation: Work your legs
Luckily Tel Aviv is pretty compact and unless you’re staying somewhere in the far northern or far southern part of town you can walk pretty much anywhere in 35 minutes. There is a functional bus network (no trams or subways) – a ride is ILS6.90 ($ 1.77/€1.60) – and there are sheruts, shared taxis that go along certain routes and are ILS6.50 ($1.65/€1.50). The great thing about sheruts is that they run during Shabat, when buses don’t run.If you are planning to travel to other places in Israel, take the train, which is not expensive at all and connects Tel Aviv with places like Jerusalem and Haifa (less than $10/€9 to get to). To get to the beautiful Red Sea beaches of Eilat, you’ll have to take a train to Be’er Sheeva and a bus from there (total cost around $38/€35).
There is also a new shuttle bus service called Flo Shuttle which offers airport transfers (pick-up / drop-off directly at your hostel/hotel) for only $17, which is 1/8 of what a taxi would cost you! Flo Shuttle also offers transportation from Tel Aviv to Eilat for only $17 – an unbeatable price!Israel’s railway has an easy to use website in English. You can also take the train from the airport into Tel Aviv for only 16ILS ($4.10/€3.75) – compared to a ILS150 ($38.50/€35) taxi ride. Speaking of taxis: I recommend avoiding taxis at all costs, since they are pricey and will hurt your budget for sure. If you don’t feel like walking, I recommend Tel Aviv’s public shared bike system Tel-o-fun. The bikes cost ILS17 ($4.35/€4) for 24 hours (ILS23/$5.90/€5.37 on public holidays and Saturdays), but you have to return them to a station every 30 minutes. Thirty minutes is plenty though to get halfway around town, and should it take you longer, you just switch bikes at a station after 30 minutes. For smooth sailing I recommend downloading the tel-o-fun app which shows you the locations of all stations, how many bikes are available there and how many free spots.Cost for transportation: ILS6.90 per bus ride, or ILS17 for a Tel-o-bike, or nothing at all if you walk.
Is it possible to visit Tel Aviv on $50 a day?
Circling back to my initial challenge of visiting Tel Aviv on $77/€69 a day, which I didn’t only want to beat but also undercut, and see if I could visit Tel Aviv on $50/€45 per day. Is it possible to visit Tel Aviv on $77 per day? Yes, absolutely. You have to be careful with your spending though – I easily could have exceeded my daily ‘allowance’ a few times. $33 for accommodation, $20 for food and coffee, and I had a mere $24 left for transportation, entertainment and going out. Had I splurged on a sit-down meal and a cocktail in addition to everything else I spent, I would have probably spent around $100 per day.
$50 a day? Yes, that’s possible, too, but it’s real shoestring travel: Staying in one of the cheaper hostels and avoiding drinking in bars. If you live off street food, buy beers in shops instead of bars, walk and don’t take any public transportation, it’s doable. But I wanted a little more fun: enjoy the nightlife, rent a bike, have a private room.
Is Tel Aviv worth a visit?
Absolutely! The city was among my absolute favorite destinations of my 2014 travels and I am still planning a longer stint there – ideally a month! It’s such a liberal, open-minded and laid-back city, and I love the beaches, the distinctly different neighborhoods, the vibrant bar scene and nightlife (and as a lesbian traveler I have to mention the large LGBT scene!). The Florentine neighborhood, where I stayed, was recently named as #2 on a list of the 10 most hipster neighborhoods on earth, right after Williamsburg, Brooklyn, so no wonder I felt right at home 🙂
How to get to Tel Aviv on the cheap
If you are traveling to Tel Aviv from Europe, you’re in luck: Most of the European low-cost carriers have direct flights to Tel Aviv , such as Easyjet, Germanwings or smartwings. I have flown both AirBerlin and Up, which is the low-cost of arm of Israel’s national carrier El Al, and had decent experiences with both. Up beats AirBerlin with prices as low as $65/€59 one way (on the sample searches I did tickets averaged $98/€89), but AirBerlin was not that much more expensive with $243/€221 for a return flight directly from Berlin.
I usually consult Google Flights to find the cheapest airfare, and if you’re a little flexible with your dates and plan a couple of months in advance, you should be able to fly to Tel Aviv for less than $200/€180 (round-trip). If you’re planning to visit Israel from North America, the cheapest round-trip tickets I’ve seen were around $650, but the Ministry Of Tourism just launched a campaign with Groupon, offering people in the U.S. package deals to Israel for $999, including flights, transportation, hotels and most meals for a week, which is an amazing deal, well worth checking out!
For more information on Tel Aviv and Israel, check out GoIsrael.