Explore like a local: how to enjoy Tel Aviv on a budget
Israel’s self-proclaimed non-stop city is hedonistic, cosmopolitan, and modern, with a casual seaside vibe and plenty of “east meets west” charm. With sandy beaches, buzzing markets, world-class restaurants, and a nightlife scene that can easily rival London, New York, or Berlin, Tel Aviv manages to be both effortlessly cool and undeniably unique. It’s also notoriously expensive, even winning the not-so-coveted title of “world’s most expensive city” a few years back. But while it’s true that the city has won the hearts of billionaires and stars like Madonna and Quentin Tarantino, you don’t need to be loaded to enjoy everything that’s good about Tel Aviv. From food to drink, nightlife, art, and entertainment, you can still have it all even if you’re on a shoestring. We teamed up with DIY Tel Aviv, the city’s long-running alternative travel guide, to bring you some local money-saving secrets. If you’re wondering how to enjoy Tel Aviv on a budget, this is the guide for you.
1. Get connected for less
Tel Aviv offers plenty of opportunities to get online for free, so in theory you could survive the city without paying for Internet or a phone plan at all. There’s free Wi-Fi at the airport, train stations, trains, hostels, cafés, and even outdoors in some central parts of town. If all you need is occasional access to emails and social media while out and about, you’re good to go. If you do want your own data plan, you can easily get local prepaid SIM cards loaded with some very good deals on data, as well as local calls and texts. Whatever you do, don’t use the SIM card vending machines at the airport. These are aimed at unsuspecting tourists and offer “deals” that are both overpriced and overkill. Most open-fronted convenience stores in town (the ones called Pitsutsiot locally) will be able to sell you a cheap prepaid SIM from local companies like Partner and Cellcom. You can also find stalls by the phone companies themselves at places like Dizengoff Center and other big shopping centres.
2. Get around for less
One of the easiest ways of saving money while visiting Tel Aviv is to walk or cycle everywhere. Tel Aviv is extremely walkable, as it’s small, safe, and generally warm and sunny. It’s also mostly flat, with a growing number of decent bike paths. Sadly, the only regular pushbikes you can hire with an app nowadays are the city’s own Tel-O-Fun bikes, which are very poorly maintained and make for a very sad riding experience. If you can find a decent one, they are still cheaper than renting from a bike shop. If you have a driving license from any country, you can also rent electric bikes through the same app, or electric scooters from a choice of others. They are a bit more expensive to rent but are in much better condition. On Friday night and Saturday daytime, you can use the city’s free weekend transportation system. Buses serve popular nightlife destinations, the beach, Tel Aviv and Jaffa ports, and neighbouring towns. While quite limited, it’s a good way to get from one end of the city to the other.
3. Discover the street food
There is some truly amazing street food in Tel Aviv, and if you’re on a budget, you can absolutely live on it. A pita loaded with falafel and salad will cost you around 20 or so NIS ($5.75), and is as substantial and filling as any restaurant meal. You can also opt for sabich, a similar dish made with fried aubergine/eggplant instead of falafel. Popular meat dishes like shawarma or schnitzel in a pita still cost around 50% less than a main dish at a standard restaurant. Hummus places are abundant, too, offering a very filling meal for around 30NIS. Many places offer a free refill and/or free tea or coffee at the end of your meal. The cheapest street food place in town is probably Falafel Razon on King George St., where a mere 7NIS will get you a decent serving of falafel. Unsurprisingly, there’s always a large queue, but it moves quickly.
If you’re broke but still want to try food created by one of Israel’s world-famous chefs, try one of the branches of the Miznon, by chef Eyal Shani. Although set up as a fast-food place, the chain shares many dishes with the chef’s far more expensive restaurants. While more expensive than your average street food place, this is the cheapest chef “restaurant” in town.
4. Make full use of lunchtime deals and happy hours
Tel Aviv is notorious for having amazing but expensive food, and alcohol prices are crazy high. That said, locals know you don’t have to pay full price for either. The secret? Go early! On weekday lunchtimes most restaurants and many cafés offer what’s known locally as “business meals” (aruha iskit, or simply iskit in Hebrew). This is usually a limited menu of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, offering very good value for money. Common deals include a free salad or starter included with the main dish, cheaper mains, and sometimes even a free drink or dessert. Meanwhile, many bars offer happy hours early in the evening when things tend to be quiet. Two-for-one offers are common, making even the city’s most expensive cocktail bars far more affordable. If you’re a beer lover, try one of the branches of Beer Bazaar, where three bottles of local craft beer cost less than 40NIS before 20:00.
5. Do your shopping at the market
Even though it’s billed as a tourist destination, the Carmel Market offers some pretty good deals on produce and cooking ingredients. If you’re self-catering, you can get everything you need for less than you’d pay at a supermarket. This is especially true if the only supermarkets in your area are AM:PM or Tiv Taam, the city’s most common, yet most expensive convenience stores. If you’re on a really tight budget, go at the end of the day. Friday afternoons in particular are good for deals, as traders are keen to get rid of their stock before Shabat. If you walk through the market after hours, you may also discover unsold produce left out in the open for people to take.
Haggling is not just for the market. Many prices in Tel Aviv are fluid. With the exception of supermarkets and (probably) big chain stores, you can often negotiate a lower price on whatever it is you’re buying. This is especially true if you’re buying more than one item. As a tourist, your mileage may vary, but as long as you’re nice about it, there’s no harm in trying.
6. Watch live music for free
Live music is everywhere in Tel Aviv, and you don’t need to pay to enjoy it. There are quite a few bars where great local acts play for free almost every night. Try the Teder Bar, a popular hipster haunt set in a large courtyard. Live music is regularly on the menu, as well as other events ranging from parties to film screenings, markets and more. The nearby Herzl 16 is a fancy, intimate bar where all gigs and DJ nights are always free. There’s something going on every night. Kuli Alma is another bar that offers regular free gigs, in a similarly intimate setting. If Jazz is more your thing, Beit HaAmudim is the place to be. There are several gigs a night from some of Israel’s best jazz musicians, including some big international names. Most (if not all) are free.
7. Party for free
In Tel Aviv you can often get into parties for free even when tickets cost money. The trick, as always, is to go early. Local Tel Avivians are notorious for showing up late to events, leaving the poor warmup DJs to play to an empty room. Promoters often try to encourage people to turn up earlier by offering free (or much cheaper) entry, and sometimes even free drinks or merch. While this isn’t true for every party or venue, it’s definitely worth paying attention to listings. You can often save 40-50NIS just by showing up a few hours earlier. One club that does this regularly is the Phi Garden, which is a good place to catch excellent techno and house.
8. Discover local art for free
Tel Aviv’s smaller galleries are pretty much all free to visit. There are new exhibitions opening every week, usually on Thursday evening. If you’re lucky, there may even be free wine. The up-and-coming art hub that is the Kiryat Hamelacha neighbourhood always has something interesting going on. A visit to Artspace, a city-funded not-for-profit art centre, is a good place to start. Apart from having a good gallery itself, it also provides information about nearby galleries and studios you can visit.
9. Find other free events
Tel Aviv’s municipality holds plenty of free events year-round. These vary from free outdoor film screenings to beachside dance classes, Yoga and Pilates classes, and even craft and cooking workshops. While mostly advertised to locals in Hebrew, many are also relevant to visitors. You can visit the city’s free event Facebook page and website and use Google Translate to find something fun to do. You can also check here for more interesting free events in Tel Aviv.
We hope this guide helps you experience Tel Aviv like a savvy local. If you know of more money-saving tips or budget-friendly activities for visitors to enjoy in Tel Aviv, please let us know in the comments below!