Jerusalem vs Tel Aviv: Lessons in Contrast

September 23rd 2012

Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are only about an hour away from each other, but in some ways they are worlds apart. Jerusalem is the Holy City and Israel’s ancient capital, while Tel Aviv is its modern cosmopolitan center.
The city of Jerusalem is the first tour destination for many tourists. The Old City offers a fascinating, 3000-year-old mix of cultures and religions. The Western Wall of the Temple Mount is the center of Jewish religious longing. For centuries, Jews have come here to pray for themselves and their families, and for the wellbeing of the Jewish people as a whole. Archaeological excavations of ancient Jewish life dot the area, including the Burnt House from the destruction of the Second Temple and Robinson’s Arch, which held up the staircase leading up to the Temple Mount in antiquity.

Jerusalem’s new city houses Israel’s premier museum, the Israel Museum, featuring art, archaeology and symbols of Jewish life. Israel’s parliament building, the Knesset, is a few minutes away and offers free tours in various languages. The Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall is a popular destination for tourists, with its many souvenir and Judaica shops.

Tel Aviv’s history is much shorter than Jerusalem’s. Founded in 1908, it played a key role in the establishment of the State of Israel. As the cultural center of Israel, it houses the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, the Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater and the Cinematheque. Its thriving nightlife has given it the nickname, “the city that never sleeps.” Clubs, bars and private parties keep natives and tourists alike entertained.

Tel Aviv is known for its beautiful beaches and the high-quality hotels adjacent to it. It is the perfect place to catch some sun and relax. Restaurants and cafes, both kosher and not, line the beach boardwalk, for a leisurely meal any time of day. The city also has many green spaces, including Hayarkon Park, for biking, boating and picnicking.

Shabbat in Jerusalem means the closing of most shops and many restaurants and clubs. Weekends in the city are spent in synagogue, enjoying the outdoors and relaxing at home. Tel Aviv, on the other hand, just cranks up the notch a bit on the weekends, with more partying and later closing times. Of course, many traditional Jews roam the streets of Tel Aviv, while Jerusalem does sport a thriving youth culture! But the stereotypes are driven by the realities the presiding atmospheres in each town, so it is advisable to take them into consideration when planning your Israel tour itinerary.