What To Do In Israel After You’ve Been On Birthright

So, you went on Birthright. You spent 10 days not sleeping, you ate more falafel than is recommended by the Surgeon General, and for whatever reason, you’re going back to Israel. When you’re touring on a bus around the country for 10 days, you don’t get to see everything. I assume if you’re going back, you probably still have limited time in the country, which means you’re going to want to use your time wisely. Having gone on Birthright and then another trip hosted by the Ministry of Tourism in less than a year, I feel like I’m pretty good at getting no sleep (thanks, insomnia) in favor of traveling this country. So, I’m here to give advice based on my experiences on what to see and what to skip. Also, on Birthright they basically only let you eat at the hotel buffets, so I’ll do a section on where to eat, and where to go out.

Jerusalem

Skip: There isn’t a whole lot in Jerusalem that I’d advocate skipping. Even if you’ve been to the Western Wall before, for instance, you can’t just be in Jerusalem and not go there. What would your parents say?! I will say that I saw this 3D movie at the City of David that was wholly unnecessary. I think our tour guide just wanted a break from lecturing…

See: The Muslim and Christian quarters. Birthright doesn’t take you there, but you should go to get a better sense of the history and why everyone is fighting over this tiny country that’s the size of New Jersey. Go to the Church of Holy Sepulchre, and after that, visit the Monastery of the Sultan, a tiny Ethiopian monastery located on the roof of the Holy Sepulchre. You also should visit the Temple Mount, but you can only do that for a few hours a day, Monday-Thursday (between 7:30-10:30am and 12:30-1:30pm during the winter and 8:30-11:30am and 1:30-2:30pm during the summer).

There are also the markets in each respective quarter—while the Christian and Jewish quarters have the same stands of touristy T-shirts (like a Hebrew-ized shirt for every random college in the U.S., for reasons unknown), the setups and particular knick-knacks differ. As does the food—in the market at the Muslim quarter, try Kanafeh, a sweet goat cheese pastry. Sounds kind of weird, but trust me, it’s amazing.

Skip: Walking Tour
See: Segway Tour

If you’ve already had an intensive walking tour, heard about the destruction of the Temple, etc. you can get the same lecture, but on a segway. It looks totally ridiculous, and is slightly off-brand but is really fun. And this is coming from someone who is petrified of those Lime scooters! The actual tour is like, not the most informative (though it did include information on places like the King David Hotel that I did not hear about on Birthright), but again, if you already know the history, then you probably don’t need to hear it again.

Eat:

The Eucalyptus: The food is amazing and the atmosphere is like a family restaurant, but it serves upscale dishes like Syrian-style beef tartare, a pâté macaroon with berries and wine, short rib, and more. The real fun comes when it’s time to serve the Makluba—a dish of chicken, rice, vegetables, saffron, tomato relish, and yogurt sauce. But it’s not just put in front of you by a waiter. The head chef and owner, Moshe Basson, gathers all the guests outside the restaurant. All the makluba that will be served to all the patrons is in a giant pot. Then, he invites a guest to help him perform a ritual (basically wave over the pot seven times), and then, it’s doled out to all the tables. Kind of silly, but it’s fun.

Adom: Located at a converted former historical train station, Adom is in a cool area that is nice to walk around in before your table is ready. The food is modern, changing using seasonal ingredients. Like its name implies, it’s good if you need a meat fix. (And also, they will side-eye you for getting a burger, so go big or go home.)

Ishtabach: If you want something more casual, go to Ishtabach off the Mahane Yehuda Market to try a Syrian sandwich, which is kind of like a meaty calzone with fillings of your choice. So f*cking good.

Go Out:

Toy Bar: Plot twist, this actually is a place I went to on Birthright (because we were allowed out because I waited until I was 27 to go). You will feel like a local in this basement club that plays a healthy mixture of American and Middle Eastern music. Just don’t wear anything you care about, because people smoke inside and it is a literal ashtray.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

צ׳ייסר שמייסר

A post shared by Ben Haimov (@ben_haimov_) on

Gatsby Cocktail Room: an unmarked bar with a secret door in downtown Jerusalem. They have a massive cocktail list with drink names you’d find at your standard NYC speakeasy. You can guess what the decor theme is. 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

➖ COCKTAILS ➖ are like a present you give to yourself 💜

A post shared by Gatsby Cocktail Room (@gatsbycocktailroom) on

Mirror Bar in the Mamilla Hotel: upscale bar ideal for drinks pre- or post-walking around Mamilla, an outdoor mall with familiar stores like Zara, Mango, and Topshop.

The Negev

Stay:

The Beresheet Hotel: Located in Mitzpe Ramon aka the middle of the desert. It’s a 5-star hotel so it’s definitely a splurge, but it’s also a beautiful oasis in a unique setting, so maybe worth it for a special occasion. Like, how many luxury hotels have you been to that have been built on a giant desert crater?

Skip: Masada

This is coming from someone who got my first kiss at the top of Masada after watching the sunrise when I was younger (not on Birthright, thank you), which is to say, it will always hold a special place in my heart. That being said, if you’ve seen the ruins and heard the legend about the mass suicide once, you’ve seen it enough times. At some point, a cistern is a cistern, ya know? Instead…

See: Go on a different kind of desert tour. The first is a Jeep Tour in the Judean Desert with Darkei Midbar. You won’t have to walk, which is my preferred kind of excursion. You’ll go deep into the desert where you can see Ibexes and other animals, and look out over giant canyons. (Also if you ask nicely, your guide might let you stand on top of the Jeep for a one-of-a-kind snapshot to put on your Instagram.)

For your actual hike, head to Ein Avdat Natural National Park, an oasis in the Zin riverbed. This place is beautiful. It’s a desert canyon with springs and a natural pool amidst white limestone mountains. You can get pretty up close and personal to the wildlife, and climb up to see an incredible view of the canyon. And don’t worry, the hike isn’t too long (about an hour) and except for the way out, which is a bunch of steps, it’s not that rigorous. 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Alexandra (@strawberry_letter) on

Skip: The Dead Sea Public Beaches

Chill out, I would never advocate for anyone skipping the Dead Sea. It’s a one-of-a-kind place, and it’s probably evaporating, so get that salty goodness in while you can. However, and I know this is incredibly bougie of me, if you’re actually spending money to go to Israel, don’t go to the section of the Dead Sea where they take you on Birthright. It’s crowded, it’s touristy, and the beach is so rocky you literally have to wear water shoes or else you’ll tear your feet the f*ck up. Go to…

See: The Dead Sea via the Spa Club Hotel, Ein Bokek

If you’re spending a night at the Dead Sea, the Spa Club Hotel, Ein Bokek is right next to the beach (okay, across the road, but close enough), and it’s a lot more secluded. There’s not as much mud readily available, but the entire bottom of the sea over there is just straight-up salt. You win some, you lose some. Plus, the hotel is pretty nice. (I also feel like, if you don’t want to pay for a room and can find the hotel, you could just act like you are staying there and go to their section of the beach? But you didn’t hear it from me…)

 

View this post on Instagram

 

На пляже в 12 часов никого и не удивительно – 55 градусов !!!

A post shared by Миронова Юлия (@mironovahairart) on

Tel Aviv

There’s not a lot I would recommend skipping when it comes to Tel Aviv. It’s a fun, beautiful city that’s kind of like Miami mixed with LA.

Stay: The Port and Blue hotel is in a convenient location, a short walk to the Tel Aviv port (hence the name), and the entire hotel’s aesthetic is like a dark, Instagrammable Alice in Wonderland. The bar, appropriately named Fantastic, serves crazy drinks like the Danger Gimlet (gin, pepper, lemon, pink grapefruit, Indian tea cordial, and citrus grass cordial) which comes in a lightbulb, or the Ballroom Beauty (gin, fresh basil, lemon, candied ginger, raspberry syrup, sparkling water, blackberry vinegar), which comes in a spinning ceramic model of a ballgown. The garden room, where breakfast is served, has a life-size white rabbit statue, pastel pink chairs, fake grass on the floors, and fake trees everywhere. But not in a tacky way, it’s very cute.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

one more cuz I’m random xD 😛

A post shared by ARIEL MIRON (@arielmiron) on

Skip: Carmel Market

If there’s one thing I did in Tel Aviv once that I don’t wish to go again, it’s the Carmel Market. It’s… fine, it’s just overcrowded and not really that worth it, unless you’re looking to buy candy/spices/Don’t Worry, Be Jewish T-shirts. If you walked through any market in Jerusalem, you can pass on Carmel Market guilt-free.

See: Nahalat Binyamin

Nahalat Binyamin is right next to the Carmel Market, and it actually offers stuff you won’t find in every single souvenir shop. Every Tuesday and Friday, local artists set up tables and sell their handmade jewelry, handbags, art, crafts, etc. Do all your gift shopping here, and rest easy knowing that you’re not going to find the same bracelet you just bought your mom at a kiosk in the airport for half the price.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

🇮🇱 Tel Aviv. Bellissime bancarelle dell’arte e artigianato locale, nella bellissima e accogliente Via Nahalat Binyamin.

A post shared by Roberto G. (@blackit7) on

Eat:

Benedict: A classic breakfast spot with multiple locations in Tel Aviv. Also available for late night eating.

Pua: The decor of this place is so cute—think kitschy mismatched plates and a rug you might have found at your grandma’s house. And when it comes to the food, you can’t go wrong. I had a pumpkin dumpling situation served with a curry sauce that was amazing, but all the other entrees looked good too. For apps, get the red tahini and the fried cauliflower.

Blue Rooster: While the atmosphere is nothing to write home about (it’s basically located in a tiny mall), the food definitely is. I literally took the potatoes and chicken on my flight home because it was my last meal in Tel Aviv and they were that good. Not to be missed are the truffle bucatini, and surprisingly, the salads, namely the red quinoa salad and country salad. 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by May Mantzoor🖤 (@maymantzoor) on

HaSalon: a dinner to dancing experience by famous Israeli chef Eyal Shani. He recently opened an outpost in NYC, but this is the original. The kitchen is open so you can see everything being cooked (kind of like in Hell’s Kitchen but without Gordon Ramsey yelling), and then halfway through the night the whole restaurant becomes a party, which is truly the ideal going out situation.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

‏#repost @nirof ・・・ ‏Prada 70’s ‏#hasalonevents

A post shared by HaSalon TLV (@hasalontlv) on

Abrage: Though some would deem this place “touristy” and cross it off their list, I think that would be a mistake. Even though Abrage is in the heart of Old Jaffa—or perhaps because of that—they serve seafood dishes in a romantic Mediterranean setting. Appetizers range from crispy calamari to goat cheese-stuffed portobello mushrooms to salmon sashimi, and entrees encompass Shrimp Arbage, Ottoman Sea (shrimp and calamari in a tomato sauce) and of course, whole baked fish.

Go Out:

Ah yes, the section everybody probably skipped to: where the f*ck do you go out in Tel Aviv? That’s basically like asking me to give a rundown of every bar in New York. But, ok, I’ll do my best.

Sputnik: Kind of a “hidden bar” because it’s easy to miss, this is a cool bar with indoor and outdoor space. I’d start your night here because it can fill up pretty fast, despite being pretty massive, and after you get a few drinks here you can dance at either…

Kuli Alma: My actual favorite place in the universe. I’ve been there twice: on Halloween and New Year’s Eve. Both times, this place was decked out to the max. On NYE the entire space was covered in Christmas paraphernalia, complete with a giant Christmas tree, to the point that I just thought the bar itself was Christmas themed. Not so! They did similar treatment for Halloween, complete with people in full costume walking around scaring people. Once inside, there are multiple rooms to dance: a room for mostly old school hip-hop (obviously my favorite) and a smaller, lesser-known room that plays throwback pop and rock. Also they have good slushie drinks.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

❤️ Time past quickly #israel #nightlife #melancholy

A post shared by Alicia Garrido (@alicia.garrido.uk) on

Jimmy Who: This is the spot to go to if you like electronic music—or at least, it was the night we were there. Even though it’s got a club atmosphere, the actual vibe/dress code is pretty casual.

View this post on Instagram

 

Friday night 💟

A post shared by Linoy Levi 🦋 (@linoy__levi) on

Imperial Cocktail Bar: Great cocktail menu with speakeasy vibes that just happens to be rated #17 on the World’s 50 Best Bars List. Great for pre-dinner drinks or if you want a chill night out.

Images: Adam Jang / Unsplash; The Eucalyptus; abrage_tlv, hasalontlv, maymantzoor, ben_haimov_, joannashootsfood, adomrestaurant, gatsbycocktailroom, mirrorbarmamilla, beautifulhotels, strawberry_letter, mironovahairart, arielmiron, blackit7, rosaandthecity, dcfoodporn, gianluchetto, imperialcocktailbar,linoy_levy, Alicia.garrido.uk,/Instagram; The Blue Rooster/ Tripadvisor; Hasalonnyc.com; Abrage.co