What to do on a Saturday in Tel Aviv?

By Sarah Mann | Published on 1/1/0001

Saturday in Israel is unlike anywhere else. Why? Because it’s the sabbath - the Jewish Shabbat. This is the country’s official ‘day of rest’ and it’s taken very seriously, both by orthodox Jews and those who are entirely secular.

Much of the country ‘shuts down’ to give people time to rest, meet friends and family, attend services at synagogues, or simply spend some quality time with themselves. 

However, Tel Aviv - Israel’s liveliest city - isn’t quite like everywhere else so if you do find yourself there on Saturday, you won’t have to twiddle your thumbs, because even though there are no street tours running in Tel Aviv on Shabbat, there’s still plenty going on in this ‘24/7’ metropolis.

When does Shabbat begin and end in Tel Aviv?

In Tel Aviv, Shabbat begins at sundown every Friday night and ends around 25 hours later so, of course, this holy day will differ according to the time of the year. In the winter, Shabbat can begin as early as 4.30 pm in December and in the summer as late as 7.30pm in June. 

However, things will start to shut down a couple of hours earlier - the big supermarkets will be closed usually by 2pm, as well as many of the stands at the famous Carmel Market (don’t despair, foodies, you can tour this incredible place from Sunday to Thursday and experience its endless culinary delights).

Shabbat will end the following day (Saturday evening - called ‘motzi Shabbat’ in Hebrew) when dusk turns to night (according to the Jewish sages say you know Shabbat is over when you can see three stars in the sky). 

Celebrating Shabbat in Tel Aviv 

For observant and traditional Jews, Friday night dinner is a ‘sacred’ time of the week - a chance to catch up with family, break bread with friends or simply wind down after a hard week. Friday night services at synagogues throughout the city last for about an hour, after which people return home, make blessings over wine and bread (candles will already have been lit by the women of the house, about 30 minutes before Shabbat arrives) and sit down at the table for a leisurely dinner.

In contrast, young secular Jews in Tel Aviv will often eat with their families then head out to bars and nightclubs which are open into the wee hours - Tel Aviv’s not known as the Non-Stop City for nothing!

On Saturday morning, religious Jews will often attend services (that begin as early as 9am), then head home for a Shabbat lunch. Secular Israelis will often be sleeping late then heading out to places like Dizengoff Street (where cafes and restaurants are usually packed) for brunch. And, of course, in good weather, Tel Aviv’s beaches will be packed out with locals sunning themselves, swimming in the Mediterranean and strolling along the city’s famous Tayellet (promenade).

For those who observe, Shabbat ends with the ritual of ’Havdalah’ using wine/grape juice, spices and the lighting of a braided candle. Everyone wishes each other ‘shavua tov’ (‘a good week to come’) and ‘regular life’ in Israel resumes.

If you do want to celebrate Shabbat with locals, there are organizations you can reach out to, who’ll put you in touch with families - and it’s not just a chance to learn more about Jewish traditions but you’ll probably eat a fine meal too! As for a gift for your host, flowers are always welcome but if you bring chocolates/wine/cake, make sure it has a kosher label on it.

Do buses run on Shabbat in Tel Aviv?

The regular buses that you’ll see in Tel Aviv all week won’t be running and nor will trains. But the good news is you don’t have to rely on taxis (or your feet) to get around because a few years ago the municipality set up a ‘Shabbat bus service’. 

There are six lines (yellow, blue, pink, green, red, purple) which run every 20-30 minutes throughout Shabbat and - best of all - they are free. 

Check out times on Moovit or Google Maps - the bus stops with Shabbat buses running are marked accordingly with the specific line color! 

Things to do in Tel Aviv on Saturday

There’s a great deal to do in Tel Aviv on Saturday, depending on what kind of activities you like. Endless cafes and restaurants are open where you can wile away the hours- in fact breakfast in Tel Aviv is taken very seriously. (Just bear in mind that you might have to queue for a while, because some places are so popular they don’t even accept bookings for Shabbat).

For culture vultures, Tel Aviv’s best museums and galleries are also open on Shabbat - check out exhibitions at the Tel Aviv Museum of Fine Art, head to ANU and learn about the history of the Jewish people, or even book a guided tour with the famous psychic Uri Geller at his very own museum in Jaffa! 

For those who love sun, sea and sand, the beaches in Tel Aviv are fabulous - they all have their own flavor - from the serene Hilton Beach (Tel Aviv’s non-official hangout for the LGBTQ community), to Frishman and Gordon beaches (where you can watch performances of Israeli dancing on Saturday mornings). Further south there’s Banana Beach, which is a huge hangout for those who like music (especially drumming) and Brazilian martial arts and Jaffa Beach which (like the Hilton) is excellent for surfing in the winter months.

Finally, for those who like to walk, head for beautiful Rothschild Boulevard where there are Bauhaus buildings aplenty or Park Hyarakon, the green lung of Tel Aviv, where you can bike, rent a paddle boat or even take a ride up in a hot air balloon and see the city from above.

Shopping in Tel Aviv on Saturday

As we’ve mentioned before, all the big shopping malls and boutiques/independent stores on Dizengoff street are closed on Saturdays but if you do want to go shopping in Tel Aviv on Shabbat, don’t fear - you do have a few options!

First of all, there’s the Namal port, near to Hyarakon park, where there big stores selling popular Israeli brands (clothes by Castro and Comme Il Faut for adults and upmarket Shilav for children), as well as sports shops, if you need gear for hitting the beach.

Sarona Market is open seven days a week -once home to a community of German Templars, it's lovely renovated buildings now house small stores,and there’s a gourmet market as well, where you can pick up speciality cheeses, wines, chocolates and eat an excellent lunch, 

South of the city, head to Neve Tzedek, where lots of small shops selling jewelry, high-end clothing and artwork are open on the main Shabazi Street - afterwards, grab a bite at Dallal Bakery, Meshek Barzilay (fantastic vegan food) or gelato at Anita, and take a stroll around the Suzanne Dellal Performing Arts Centre.

Finally, don’t forget Jaffa - the famous Flea Market (Shuk haPishpeshim) might be shut on Shabbat, some of the art galleries and small stores selling clothing, home accessories, designer furniture are open. Old Jaffa is also full of bars, cafes and restaurants, not just around the market but over in the harbour and when the weather is good (which is formuch of the year) the area is packed full of locals, walking, fishing, drinking coffee and enjoying the fantastic views.