Not just for Veganuary
Even if you’re not one of the 250,000 people worldwide who’ve signed up for Veganuary (yes, it’s a thing, apparently) chances are you’re thinking of cutting back on your meat consumption because, quite honestly, who isn’t these days, what with concerns about the effect of red meat on our health, not to mention all those cows farting and heating up the planet? Thing is, it’s hard to stick to a specific diet when you’re travelling, which is why Israel makes such a great destination for vegans – or anyone trying to cut out meat.
While Israelis do eat meat (except pork, obviously), their diet is largely plant-based, so you’ll find plenty of vegetarian dishes and at least one or two vegan options in most restaurants in cities such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
With a population made up of immigrants from all around the world, Israeli cuisine is a melting pot of flavours from not only the Middle East but the rest of the world too, including eastern Europe, the Mediterranean and the Americas.
In Jerusalem, locals actually argue about which restaurant serves the best hummus, which isn’t just a dip in Israel, it’s an entire meal. Israeli’s talk of going to ‘wipe’ some hummus, often eating it with raw onions, which they use to ladle dollops of the creamy stuff into their mouths.
Of course, aside from the food, there are a zillion other reasons to visit Jerusalem, which is home to some of the most sacred sites for Christians, Muslims and Jews, including the Western ‘Wailing’ Wall (pictured) and while you’re there, it would be a shame not to visit Tel Aviv too, which is only an hour’s drive away. Both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are packed with historic and cultural attractions, and both are buzzing at night.
You can’t talk about Israel without addressing the question of safety. When I told friends and family I was visiting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv the first thing they asked was if it was safe. All I can say is that I felt 100% safe in both cities, both during the day and in the evening, and although I was travelling with others, I would have felt totally safe walking alone. However, since my visit, tension in the Middle East has increased due to the growing U.S. – Iran conflict; you can see the latest travel advice from the Foreign Office here.
Consider … combing Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in one mini-break, they’re only an hour’s drive apart but it’s worth spending at least a couple of nights in each one.
You must…go to the market in Jerusalem. I’m talking about Machne Yehuda market, (or shuk as it’s called in Hebrew), which is the biggest in Israel with more than 600 stalls. Guides offer foodie tours of the market and the surrounding restaurants, which I recommend. The area is also really lively late at night.
Go to Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre… (pictured) between 5am and 6am. I’m not kidding. Wait till later and you’ll wait for hours – literally hours – with hundreds of pilgrims trying to get close to the spots where Jesus was crucified and where he was buried.
You should pack… sweaters and warm clothes if visiting Jerusalem outside the summer months. Don’t be misled by the weather forecast, it often feels colder than expected due to its altitude and cool breeze.
Go to… the coastal town of Caesarea, built by Herod the Great, which is not far from Tel Aviv and filled with well-preserved Roman ruins, including an impressive amphitheatre, a hippodrome, and baths with mosaic floors.
Walk to… the ancient port of Jaffa, which is at the southern most end of Tel Aviv and is famous for its association with the biblical stories of Jonah, Solomon and Saint Peter as well as the mythological story of Andromeda and Perseus, and later for its oranges. In addition to the fascinating old town, there are some lovely independent boutiques (I especially liked the jewellery stores), appealing bars, some interesting street art, some of which can only been seen at night when the shop shutters are closed) and lively restaurants. Watch the sunset over Tel Aviv.
Buy… Israeli home-grown wine. It’s delicious (but expensive), and not easy to find in the UK, so it’s worth bringing back a bottle or two. Quality olive oil, spices and dried herbs can also be found in the markets for pennies, but you can also get all of these at home so you might not want to fill up your suitcase with these. Israel also makes some delicious craft beers, which you can taste at Beer Bazaars, or I’d recommend the independent Biratenu bar in Jerusalem, which has lots of craft beers and spirits.
Ladies, I’m also loving this face cream, made from natural products, which I picked up in Machne Yehuda market, it’s supposed to make you look younger, I can’t say if it’s working yet, but it does feel lovely and smooths out the complexion J
Remember to… book a restaurant if in Jerusalem on a Friday night. Only non-Kosher places will be open and, according to my guide, these book up fast, so unless you want to be restricted to eating in your hotel, make a restaurant reservation when you confirm your travel plans.
It would be fun to… hire an electric scooter or e-bike in Tel Aviv and ride along the seafront. They’re available all around the city centre and locals seems to use them to get from A to B.
Save money with… with a city pass, which you can buy at the airport; they can be used on public transport in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and also the bus from the airport to Jerusalem and the train from the airport to Tel Aviv, plus you get discounts on tourist attractions.
Look for… shops which display a blue sticker indicating that they have signed dup to the VAT reclaim scheme, which allows international visitors to claim back 17.5% of the purchase price when they leave the country. You must ask for a receipt and a VAT reclaim form when you buy anything worth over 125 shekels (about £30) , then you present these, together with the goods, to the VAT reclaim Milgram clerk at the airport before you go through security and you’ll get back 17.5% minus a fee of 1.99% of your refund.
Stay in… the stylish Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem, which overlooks the Old City. So does the David Citadel, one of the city’s most historic hotels, but I stayed here and although the view from my window was stupendous and I couldn’t fault my room, which was enormous, the service was a bit off and I thought the whole place lacked atmosphere.
In Tel Aviv, I stayed at the centrally located boutique Berdichevsky hotel, which I loved for its 1920s vibe and cool Bellboy bar (pictured above), which, I was told is one of the most popular in the city and hard to get into at night, but I met some Americans who complained that the rooms were small and dark, which they were.
Have you been to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem? If you’d like to share your tips, please leave a comment below!