Tel Aviv is called the non-stop city, but some things do stop on the Jewish day of rest- Shabbat. For Israelis, Shabbat is also a political issue, concerning the degree of separation between religion and state. Ask Israelis about whether shops in Tel Aviv should be open on Shabbat and you’ll get into a very heated debate. But that's a whole other issue...
Now, the important thing to know is that Friday is awfully busy, because the shops close earlier than in other days, few hours after noon. Some shops and cafes will go on until 4 or 5 PM, but that's it. Also, around that time, buses and inter-city trains stop completely. Taxis will keep running as usual, charging a little extra.
At dusk, you will spot more people with religious attire going to pray at their local synagogue (religious Jews refrain from driving or using electrical devices on Shabbat). The sunset on Friday night marks the start of Shabbat, celebrated in many houses in Israel with a festive dinner. Most restaurants in Tel Aviv are open regularly on Friday night, but you should make reservations since this is a popular time to feast.
After Friday night dinner, young people will flock to Tel Aviv to find the best places to party or hang out. Tel Aviv is considered the most secular city in Israel, boasting many clubs, pubs, taverns, bistros and brasseries - all are open on Friday night until very late at night. If you’re in the mood to feel the local scene you can check out several different areas -
Tel Aviv Port - located to the north of the city center, the site of the old port turned into a touristic entertainment area in recent years. Here you’ll find the outdoor mega-bar Shalvata, several dance bars and the Shablul Jazz club.
Dizengoff Street - one of the major streets in Tel Aviv has two intense sections. One section is on the corner of Yirmiyahu st. (on the northern part of Dizengoff st.) and the other section is between Dizengoff Square and Ben-Gurion Boulevard (on the southern part of Dizengoff st.). You won’t be disappointed if you’re looking for intense street activity with pubs taking over the sidewalk and offering their pints of beer. You’ll also find good late night meals at Sidewalk Cafe and the seafood restaurant Goocha.
Rothschild Boulevard - if you’re looking for the most sophisticated bistros and the most luxurious clubs you’ll find them around the southern part of the famous Rothschild Boulevard. You can choose among a variety of places on the boulevard and its intersecting streets, including Shpagat, the super-LGBT-friendly pub, and Café Europa, a high-end bistro and bar.
Florentine neighbourhood - chosen as one of the most Hipster neighbourhoods in the world, you’ll feel right at home if you’re too cool to shave. As you get closer to Florentine neighbourhood, you’ll start hearing the tremendous noise coming out of the most notorious pubs that Tel Aviv has to offer.
Jaffa flea market - if you’re looking for taverns in a rather mediterranean style, you should come to the flea market area that has lately become one of the most fashionable of places, but keeping up a more relaxed and easygoing atmosphere. Check out Akbar pub for a cool experience.
Saturday morning is a very quiet time in Tel Aviv. Cafes and restaurants open around 9 or 10 AM. You can start off the day of rest by going to the promenade, either joining the many people jogging and cycling along the seashore or laying your towel on the sandy beach to relax and sunbathe.
If you’re in the mood to check out another part of Tel Aviv, don’t go to the main streets since most shops will be closed on Shabbat. Instead, aim your stroll to either one of the following areas:
Jaffa - the biblical city on the small hill next to the mediterranean sea is a must-see. Saturday is an optimal time to visit Jaffa, since it has a large Arab population that open shop regardless of Jewish religious customs. The art galleries in ancient Jaffa and the Ilana Gur Museum are a good choise for art lovers. Afterwards, you can check out the local cuisine at the old Jaffa Port that is still operating as a marine for fishermen. The Arab restaurant The Old Man and the Sea comes highly recommended and is also suitable for families.
Neve Tzedek - the first Jewish neighbourhood outside the walls of ancient Jaffa is the most picturesque place in Tel Aviv. Saturday morning you’ll see many walking tours going on in Neve Tzedek. Satisfy your shopping urge by going to Hatachana or by window-shopping on Shabazi st. Don’t miss the beautiful Suzanne Dellal Center for the performing arts. Also, consider visiting the Nahum Gutman Museum to learn about the life and works of a renowned Tel Avivian painter. After passing through the enchanting alleys of the neighbourhood, go to Suzana to get a terrifically refreshing meal or to Bellini for magnificent Italian cuisine.
Sarona - the German colony established by the Templers in 1871 was completely restored in all its authenticity. The old European houses were turned into shops, but the German architecture is magnificent and quite surprising to find in Tel Aviv. There’s also a huge food market in Sarona, that is very popular among Israelis.
If you prefer to be indoors, some museums in Tel Aviv are open on Saturday, including the Tel Aviv Art Museum, Eretz Israel Museum and Ben-Gurion House. Check their special operating hours, because they vary greatly.
That’s about it. The sunset on Saturday night will mark the end of Shabbat. Buses will return to their routes and shops will open regularly on Sunday morning
So, did you have a good day of rest? Tell me your tips to a good Shabbat in Tel Aviv.