Tel Aviv appears more like a mirage of Miami than a city in the Middle East. This modern, robust city (nary an ancient wall in sight) is brimming with surfers, men in Speedos, girls in thongs, and restaurants in the sand. Tel Aviv is home to gay saunas and gay beaches, a happening lesbian scene, and LGBT clubs that pump until dawn. Homosexuality was decriminalized in Israel over twenty years ago, and the Israeli tourism board even produces gay TV ads, but don’t expect a robust gay life outside of Tel Aviv.
- Israel’s nightlife
There is no gay neighborhood in Tel Aviv, although the hip area of Florentine is queerly “bohemian.” LGBT establishments are nicely integrated into the overall cityscape, and most of the city’s 20-plus gay bars and nightclubs are found in the southern parts of the city – making up nearly all gay nightlife in the country.
- Gay Beaches
Gan Ha’atzmaut, or Independence Park, is queer-social rather than simply cruisy, and the city’s gay beach is just below its cliffs in the northern part of Tel Aviv. Called Hilton Beach, it’s located near the Hilton Hotel, and you’ll know it by the hunks in Speedos splayed out on the sand. Israel actually has a gay-popular nude beach, called Ga’ash, located about a 35-minute drive north of Tel Aviv. Get good directions from a local before you try to find it yourself. Jerusalem, for example, is just an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv, but is far more conservative, and there is less tolerance for the gay community.
- LGBT Events
Tel Aviv’s large pride parade draws over 100,000 in June, when TLVFEST, the city’s annual gay film fest, also happens. The Lethal Lesbian film festival is held in Tel Aviv each October.
Insider tips for Israel gay travel
- Plan for questioning at the Tel Aviv Airport
This airport (which nearly every visitor to Israel flies into and out of) is one of the most security-conscious in the world, so expect to be questioned within an inch of your life – especially if you are two young males traveling together. Dress nicely, be polite, and don’t take it personally.
- Don’t expect much a gay scene outside of Tel Aviv
Despite Tel Aviv’s brashness, the rest of rural Israel is a bit conservative (particularly Jerusalem). Although holding your partner’s hand is fine in Tel Aviv, personal displays of affection are frowned upon in other parts of the country.
- Expect fewer services during Shabbat
From sundown on Friday to after nightfall on Saturday (the Jewish Shabbat), public transport runs less frequently and more expensively, and many establishments (except restaurants) are closed as well. But the beach gets going Friday afternoon, and the clubs rock every night.
The sun is setting, gay pride flags wave next to the water, same-sex couples kiss and cuddle on the beach. This is Tel Aviv — which the government of Israel is now pushing as one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world — and gay tourism is booming. Next Pride Week starts on June 8th 2014, and will have events throughout the week until Saturday June 14th. The pride parade takes place on Friday, June 13th, 2014.
Gay Accommodations in Israel
Purple Roofs lists gay and lesbian owned and friendly accommodations around the world and in Israel – bed and breakfasts, vacation rentals, hotels, guest houses, and much more. Also list hundreds of gay and lesbian friendly travel agents and tour operators.
Gay Bars and Clubs
Gay nightlife recommendations are listed in the GayTLVGuide