Having implemented some of the toughest pandemic lockdown measures and at the same time, rolled out one of the world’s fastest vaccination drives, Israel fully opened to tourists earlier this year.
The bounce back has prompted frenzied activity in the hospitality sector, with several new hotels opening and existing properties relaunching after undergoing extensive renovations.
From Israel’s vibrant economic capital, Tel Aviv, with its glistening skyline, to its historic and spiritual heart, Jerusalem, and across its breathtaking terrains, from north to south, local and international hotel brands are making their presence felt countrywide.
With the Abraham Accords normalising relations between Israel and the UAE in 2020 and flights operated by flydubai, Etihad Airways, El Al, and as of this month (June 23), Emirates, now connecting the two countries, new travel opportunities have been unleashed. If you’re based in the UAE, it’s certainly a great time to visit Israel for business, leisure, or a bit of both. Here’s a glance at some of the accommodation options you might want to consider.
The Jaffa, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Tel Aviv
This Luxury Collection property is a timeless classic in the heart of Tel Aviv’s historic port town, Jaffa. A statuesque monument, the white stone Neo Renaissance structure built around its central courtyard is part of a restored 19th century complex that once housed Jaffa’s French Hospital. With views across the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, the hotel is close to attractions such as Shuk Hapishpeshim flea market, the Museum of Antiquities and the area’s rich array of local boutiques. With just 120 rooms, the hotel is both luxurious in its grandeur, dotted with towering, vaulted ceilings, grand arches, enormous stained-glass windows, yet boutique in its homeliness, retaining its old-world charm while designed with a modern, minimalist elegance. The hotel is minutes from the beach, but has its own pool, gym and spa. While Jaffa is famous for its local foodie offerings, this property features Golda’s, serving Israeli street food. It’s styled as an old-fashioned Jewish deli and named after the country’s first female Prime Minister, Golda Meir. Other dining options include Italian restaurant Don Camillo’s, a lounge bar located in a former chapel on the top floor, and a pool bar – perfect for sundowners. marriott.com
The David Kempinski
Perfectly located in the centre of the vibrant Tel Aviv Promenade, The David Kempinski is one of the city’s hottest new openings for 2022. It is fast becoming a dining and social hub with five outlets run by Executive Chef Mor Cohen, a World Luxury Restaurants Award winner specialising in gourmet Kosher cuisine. There’s all-day dining at Sereia, the hotel’s beachfront restaurant serving Mediterranean-inspired cuisine while The Common is a more intimate affair, offering some of the best cuts of meat and freshest fish in the sophisticated setting. The bar features a huge cocktail selection and Israel’s first Cohiba Atmosphere cigar lounge. Horizon Lounge is an exclusive spot for guests in selected room and suite categories offering a place to work and play on the hotel’s 22nd floor with sweeping ocean views. In addition to exclusive leisure and dining options, a private boardroom for up to four guests is another business feature on offer. The David Kempinski is close to some of the city’s financial areas, a 10-minute walk to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and near tourist attractions such as Old Jaffa, Tel Aviv Museum and the Opera House. Only 35 minutes from Ben Gurion Airport, the hotel is geared up for both leisure and business travel with expansive conference facilities making it one of the most sought-after events destinations in the city. kempinski.com
Hotel BoBo by Brown Hotels
The Brown Hotels brand is shaking up Israel’s hospitality scene with a host of new openings and relaunches in some of the most sought-after locations, including Hotel BoBo. Both contemporary and chic with an apt ‘Bohèmien Bourgeois’ tagline, the hotel has the quintessentially Brown vibe from the moment guests walk through the doors. Although there are 200 rooms, the property feels unique, and boutique. Its hip design blends elegance with urban rawness and with a rooftop bar and plunge pool, restaurant, conference centre and lavish spa, it caters to leisure and business travellers. Well situated on the corner of the prestigious Rothschild Boulevard, several of the city’s must-see locations, including Carmel Market, The National Theatre and many of the cool boutiques and eateries, are within walking distance. A big talking point for the hotel is Méli-Mélo, led by esteemed Israeli Chef, Meir Adoni, a fusion dining concept by day and trendy rooftop bar by night. brownhotels.com
Hilton Tel Aviv and Hilton Vista
One of Tel Aviv’s most established hotels and the only one to offer direct walking access to the beach, Hilton Tel Aviv is a city institution. Renovated in 2019, the hotel, with 167 rooms and suites, feels fresh, despite it being a grandfather of Israeli hospitality, inaugurated in 1965. Perched on a cliff, the sprawling property is buffered on three sides by Independence Park so guests are spoiled with views and it’s away from the hustle and bustle, but just a short walk to local attractions too. Sunset here is highlight. All the rooms and suites face west for guaranteed sea views. Located on the top floors of this property is Hilton Vista, promising panoramic Mediterranean views, with the Vista Lounge serving all-day dining and drinks. The hotel also has five dining options from French-Mediterranean cuisine with a kosher twist at Chloélys to sushi and Japanese specialties at Yakimono, and for business, 22 meeting rooms. Guests in the Hilton Vista rooms use the private check-in on the 17th floor for a touch of VIP service. hilton.com
A trip to Israel is not complete without seeing its most precious gem, Jerusalem, a place deep in the hearts of Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Set in the heart of the Old City, David Citadel is a magical spot to enjoy this special destination. An institution in its own right, it’s a go-to for heads of state and royalty visiting one of the world’s longest inhabited cities. It’s easy to see why year after year, David Citadel tops the rankings as one of the city’s best hotels. Room balconies offer vistas of historic domes, steeples and towers and the Old City is within easy walking distance, as is the vibrant Mamilla Avenue with its array of cafés and boutiques. Since its 2017 renovation, it is clear attention to detail remains critical, from the luxurious Frette linens, which guarantee a perfect night’s sleep to the luxurious Bvlgari amenities. Leisure facilities include a gym, spa and pool, offering respite from the hours easily spent wandering Jerusalem’s cobbled streets and narrow winding alleyways, where all the senses are stimulated by the sights, smells and sounds of this ancient city. If guests haven’t already been tempted by the amazing array of street food and upscale dining around Jerusalem, the hotel has several options including the poolside restaurant, The Grill Bar, and all-day dining at Seasons. It is well-equipped for meetings and conferences too, with spaces including The Citadel Boardroom, an executive suite and banquet rooms. thedavidcitadel.com
Waldorf Astoria JLM
The Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem oozes the brand’s trademark grandeur with its sparkling marble floors and glittering chandeliers, befitting its VIP guests. For those who love to walk, it is the dream location, just steps from the walls of the Old City. Despite the vibrance of the busy streets outside, the Waldorf Astoria offers a peaceful oasis, the serenity greeting guests as soon as they walk through the doors. Blending iconic features of Waldorf Astoria hotels around the world such as its signature grandfather clock and orchid-dotted lobby, the building, designed around an inner courtyard of pale Jerusalem stone, seamlessly merges old and new. Here, everything is grand, from its high ceilings to elegantly designed rooms that pay homage to elegant old New York. Some rooms have balconies, not only promising guests sweeping city views, but the unique smell of Jerusalem air and the sound of the Muezzin ringing out throughout the day, bringing to life the essence of this spiritual heartland. Quintessentially, Waldorf dining includes the likes of Waldorf salad at the King’s Court, while traditional kosher fare takes on a whole new twist at the Palace Restaurant. Not to be missed is the rooftop tapas bar, The Garden Terrace, where diners can soak up the atmosphere surrounded by the lush green forest of the Jerusalem hills. Facilities include a spa and fitness centre and 11 meeting rooms. hilton.com
The American Colony Hotel
Part of the Small Luxury Hotels group, the American Colony Hotel is somewhat of an icon for heritage lovers visiting the city and a favourite for Hollywood celebrities including Robert De Niro and Natalie Portman. The former colonial building is an urban retreat in the heart of Jerusalem, once the site of an American-Swedish commune. The lush, landscaped space dotted with olive and mulberry trees, water features and private corners, oozes tranquility at this hidden gem, just a mile away from the historic Old City. Quaint and charming, the Ottoman-inspired architecture is dappled with details, from courtyards to grand vaulted ceilings and dramatic arched windows. With several dining options including Arabic and European and business spaces, it suits all travellers. The 95 rooms each have their own character. americancolony.com
Efendi Hotel (Akko)
This ancient coastal town is just a short drive from the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv but is a breath of fresh air from the modern metropolis; a beautiful journey back in time, in fact. Fittingly, Efendi is a historic and storied hotel that has been expertly restored, with elements of the structure dating back 1,500 years to the Byzantine era. To say the hotel is special is somewhat of an understatement. With just 12 ornate rooms paying tribute to the Ottoman period, it is more like staying in a regal home of a bygone era than a hotel. It comprises two antique stone buildings, formerly large homes of rich merchant families from Akko. Elaborate chandeliers and intricate cornices give the property an elegant yet opulent feel. A 400-year-old Turkish Hammam remains a key historic feature, as does a 900-year-old cellar dating back to the Crusader period now converted into a cosy wine bar. Each corner of the house tells a story, with part of the dining room remaining from the late Islamic period when it served as a private church. The rooftop views all the way to Mount Carmel are breathtaking and give visitors a true taste of the country’s natural beauty and historical past. While staying, a visit to Uri Buri – now one of the country’s most famous dining destinations – is a must. efendi-hotel.co.il
The Farmhouse, Bat Shlomo
For luxury accommodation in an off-the-beaten track location, The Farmhouse delivers, offering an escape with a difference. With just five beautiful suites, the boutique property is set within the grounds of the Bat Shlomo vineyards. It’s located just an hour north of Tel Aviv, but feels a million miles away. Priding itself on offering exclusive hosted chef dinners and wine tasting, it’s a gastronomic destination in the heart of nature, with plenty of outdoor activities such as hiking to enjoy nearby too. Bat Shlomo is one of the country’s hidden gems and needs to be booked well in advance as it is less of a ‘well-kept secret’ nowadays. This intimate experience is unforgettable for nature lovers and foodies alike.
Kedma, Sde Boker
Israel’s Negev Desert is a dramatic natural wonder, and home-grown brand Isrotel has opened Kedma in Sde Boker at its heart. This luxury property recently played host to the Negev summit, bringing the region’s leaders together for in Israel for the first time. The Nabatean-style hotel has 163 rooms and suites built around an open-air courtyard with its feature pool surrounded by fruit trees and plants. Desert-inspired design features include authentic mashrabiya, handmade rugs and locally made handcrafts. The property is ideal for a relaxing desert escape or for more active travellers, outdoor adventures such as hiking and mountain biking are right on the doorstep. Facilities include a spa and fitness centre. isrotel.com
New and noteworthy
Coming soon: Nobu, Tel Aviv
The luxurious Japanese hotel chain Nobu will open a property in Tel Aviv next year. The 38-room hotel, located on Rothschild Boulevard, will feature a large garden, fitness centre, pool, outdoor area, and a private rooftop. nobuhotels.com
Newly renovated: Sheraton, Tel Aviv
One of the city’s most famous landmarks, the iconic Sheraton Tel Aviv reopened in April with a new look following a full renovation. Situated on Herbert Samuel Boardwalk, the property overlooks the Mediterranean coastline and is walking distance to many city hotspots. marriott.com
Most expensive: Six Senses Shaharut
Six Senses’ first Israeli property, located in the ancient Negev Desert, is one of the country’s most luxurious new offerings, and hands down, the most expensive. It has 60 rooms, 48 of which are suites, a Six Senses Spa with saunas and hammams, two pools, a gym, a yoga studio, plus a camel farm, outdoor cinema and Earth Lab. The minimum stay is two nights, which costs around AED 7,400 (US$2,000) in June. Guests must be aged 12 plus. sixsenses.com
2022 BTME Awards’ ‘Best Hotel in Israel’
Intercontinental David Tel Aviv
Situated at the southern end of Tel Aviv’s beachfront promenade, Intercontinental David Tel Aviv reinvents traditional luxury to present modern sophistication in the fashionable neighbourhood of Neve Tsedek. Inspired by its location, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea yet in the heart of the city, the hotel delivers elegant contemporary interiors and serves as a refreshing sanctuary from the bustling streets of Tel Aviv.
The hotel offers “unparalleled, amenities” with 555 oversized guestrooms and suites with sweeping city and sea views, two premium lounges, three dining facilities, an outdoor pool and sun deck, a state-of-the-art fitness centre, an acclaimed spa, the largest hotel-based conference centre in the country, and much more.
In addition, Intercontinental’s signature service strives to offer guests the best possible experiences, “surpassing their expectations and fulfilling all of their desires”. ihg.com
Know before you go
PCR tests are no longer required on arrival at Ben Gurion Airport and masks are no longer mandatory indoors or outdoors.
Etihad Airways, flydubai and from June 23, Emirates, operate direct services to Tel Aviv. Israeli carriers operating services include El Al, Israir, and Arkia.
Taxi prices are similar to those in the UAE. Gett app is the local version of Uber and Lime provides access to Tel Aviv’s bikes and e-scooter hiring network. The country also has great public transport but services do not operate during the sabbath (sunset Friday to sunset Saturday), though taxis still run. Parking around Israel is notoriously difficult, especially in the cities, so bear that in mind if hiring a car. If you are into fitness, a great way to explore Israel’s cities is on foot – walking or running. I ran around Jerusalem with Run JLM – you run with a local who knows the city’s best hidden gems. A great way to see Tel Aviv is to grab a bike and cycle the dedicated cycle paths. If hiking is your thing, it’s the perfect way to discover Israel’s natural beauty: visit hike-israel.com
Jewish sabbath (Shabbat)
During the sabbath (sunset Friday to sunset Saturday) everything closes down, so keep that in mind when planning your trip. Israel works a Sunday-to-Thursday week.
What to wear
Jerusalem is a holy city so modest clothing for men and women is a must – no shorts and no bare shoulders. The same goes for many other locations so don’t be fooled by the Tel Aviv liberality.
Words by Melanie Swan