My most vivid memories about Tel Aviv were the smell of the food, spices and striking different views in the streets. It is a contrast among noisy, busy markets and messy streets opposite to Bauhaus neighborhoods, promenade along the beachside and skyscrapers. In Tel Aviv, you will set eyes on beautiful architecture and modern museums and plenty of art galleries, but you will encounter the oriental on many corners.
And that reminds me much of Istanbul, Turkey.
I’ve shared here some practical info about Tel Aviv, and a few experiences for a first-time traveler to Israel.
Let’s move on and go through a checklist for a chill city break.
Tel Aviv’s Beach and Promenade
If you want to mingle with the locals, take your running shoes and enjoy the coastline with the other Israeli runners. You will notice them at any moment in the day, morning or evening.
The promenade stretches along the seashore, from the port to the old town of Jaffa, which means more than 10 km.This is a very open and active area, which I enjoyed a lot. It reminded me of Jan Gehl and the relevance of a good design in the public space. If you do not fancy running on your holiday, rent a bicycle to check out the whole area. You’ll also notice people playing volley in the sand or using the fitness machines placed on the beach.
Being your time off, you’d better just soak up the sun, relax your feet at the edge of the beach, and walk along the nice alley. Here are some details about the different beach areas.
I went there on Friday and later I discovered that it’s one of the busiest days, cause Israeli go out for shopping. I did not enjoy the stuffed narrow alleys or the noise coming from everyone, but this is an authentic experience. Smell and sight is quite an experience! I don’t like to bargain, but here you will find everything at a good price. You can get some fruits or halva as a snack; buy souvenirs if you don’t find them kitsch; buy local spices for home; try sea salt products.
One street parallel to Carmel runs a different market on Fridays, with local artists crafts.
Jaffa is in the south part of the city and it’s actually an ancient site with a historical importance.
The old town of Jaffa is now part of the same municipality as Tel Aviv – this is why the full name of the city is now Tel Aviv Yafo. Tel Aviv has around 100 yrs old, previously being an extension, an outskirt of Jaffa.
Just walking the streets you’ll notice a different Tel Aviv. My recommendation is to check available walking tours in order to get the stories behind the places and acknowledge biblical references. Time to spend here: one full day.
The clock is still running from Ottoman times and now it marks the access to Jaffa. The physical access to the ancient Jaffa was close to this place, but unfortunately, there’s no remaining of the gate there.
If you see queues nearby, go for it, there’s a good place to buy tasteful falafel and Kebap (decent price, less than 20 shekels).
St. Peter’s Church
Saint Peter has a great importance to the beginning and spreading of Christianity. The church is a beautifully colored baroque building. Coming from the city, it will be easy to notice this landmark. In the area, right beside the church, there’s a park with a few other things to see:
- Wishing bridge with zodiac signs – if you walk around Jaffa, you’ll see the signs sculptured on top of a fountain or painted on the walls of a nice neighborhood
- Egyptian gate – an archaeological finding which reminds of Egyptian rule (Ramses II, 13th century)
- Statue of Faith – Do not miss it, it’s great place for city views and panoramic pictures
- Amphitheatre – also a nice place for pictures and a walkthrough going to / back to Jaffa Museum
Jaffa museum is rather an ancient archaeological museum, with some temporary exhibits. I didn’t manage to get in during our stay – closing is 5 pm. However, it’s a nice and old building, back from the Ottoman Empire times.
Simon the Tanner’s House and Lighthouse
Although a private place, here’s a place of another biblical reference, where you can only see the lighthouse and the gate. Simon is a biblical character and this is a great landmark due to the fact that St. Peter lived here. Decoding a dream about the way they consumed (unpure) animal food, he is supposed to have started the spreading of Christianity.
Old port of Jaffa
The port and position of the city along the Mediterranean coastline made the city economically and politically important.
Ilana Goor Art Museum (plus other galleries)
This is one of the largest art galleries in Jaffa and also the home of the artist. I recommend wondering the tiny alleys around it, other small galleries will show up in your way.
Jaffa Flea Market
Is a good place to bargain and to take some souvenirs back home. However, the streets adjacent to it are hidden gems of hip restaurants and bars. The coolest ones have queues and there’s a common practice to wait for a table (no reservation, guys).
German Jewish architects brought this style from Europe and now their lovely white modern buildings are part of UNESCO World Heritage Site. 4,000 buildings built here in the so-called Bauhaus or International Style dragged the White City’s name to Tel Aviv.
Bialik Square together with Bialik Street is a good area to check in for a better understanding of this architectural style. We got there in the afternoon, so we had only the sights, no entries to museums around. However, during our wanderings, I’ve seen nicely maintained, quiet and clean neighborhoods: 3 level apartment buildings, trees in the access area, designed as a natural gate, lemons, and oranges in the garden etc.
Don’t miss Rothschild Boulevard: a lively public space, designed for outdoor activities. During the day, people walk, run, or just lay down on the grass, in the evening they stay late at the outside tables of the restaurants.
Tel Aviv Museum of Art
I was well aware of the fact that Tel Aviv has many art galleries and generally a disposition for art. Our Airbnb was close to the coastline and the whole area was full of restaurants, café bars and, you guessed it, contemporary art galleries!
However, the museum of art is the masterpiece. I’ve completely fallen in love with the geometrically shaped building, both inside and outside. Besides the new exhibits, the main collection is dedicated to the great 20th century artists: Monet, Klimt, Picasso, van Gogh, Rothko, Juan Miro etc.
Time to spend here: about 2hrs; Entry fee: 50 NIS
The Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art is also part of Museum of Art although it’s maybe a 10-15 min walk from the main building.
This could be a good plan for a full 3 days or lazy 4 days in the city. In the end, my last recommendation is to enjoy streets and the overall public space, the graffiti art and cool cafes.