In case you’re left with extra time on either side of your tour to Israel, travel writer Matthew Teller offers a few ideas for things to do in Tel Aviv if you have a day or two to spare.
Tel Aviv is just about the sexiest city on the Med. A fashion-conscious metropolis that dazzles with sun, sea, sand, and a lazy, chilled-out style. The biggest city in Israel was founded in 1909 as an overflow from Jaffa, a trading hub and Mediterranean port dating back to Old Testament times. Today, biblical Jaffa has been sanitized as a touristy artists’ quarter. Meanwhile, its modern neighbour Tel Aviv (the name means “Hill of the Spring”) has become one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the Middle East.
Sun, sea & sand
Tel Aviv’s beachfront promenade gets better the further north you go. Take a stroll past the marina and the curving Hilton beach to hit the boardwalk. This funky stretch is always buzzing with couples and families, skaters and bladers, people loafing and lounging at beach bars. Keep going towards the old port, now rejuvenated as a leisure and shopping zone; find cafés, restaurants, and a great little indoor food market.
Tel Aviv faces due west over the Mediterranean, making every sunset a romantic’s dream. Anywhere on the three-mile strand serves up epic sunset panoramas nightly – the promenade at Frishman Beach is a popular favourite. Alternatively, head south to Ajami Beach, just beyond the old town of Jaffa. This broad stretch of creamy sand is equally beautiful but half as busy.
Shake it on Sheinkin
Tel Aviv’s most famous street is Sheinkin, in the heart of the urban hum, packed with streetwear outlets, music stores, design boutiques, and terrace cafés – including the famously unpretentious Orna & Ella’s (33 Sheinkin), a perfect pitstop for a light lunch, or just coffee and a sticky pastry.
Plunge into the fascinating, maddeningly packed Carmel Market. This is where Tel Avivians of modest means shop every day (except Saturdays) for fruit, veg, meat, and household essentials. It’s a frenetic, full-on maelstrom of shouts and smells, packed into a network of alleyways beside the downbeat Yemenite Quarter. This traditional neighbourhood is packed with hole-in-the-wall bakeries and soup kitchens. Just to the south is charming Neve Tzedek, with wine bars and quirky restaurants lining Shabazi Street, before you reach the ethnic whirl of Florentin, where Greek delis rub shoulders with Iranian cafés and Balkan bars.
Architecturally speaking, Tel Aviv is most famous for its original Bauhaus architecture. That is, Modernist buildings designed chiefly by Jewish architects expelled from Germany after the closure of the Bauhaus design school in 1933. Aim for the always lively Rothschild Boulevard, a glamorously curving sweep that is flanked by original Bauhaus architecture. Amble down the shaded park within Rothschild’s central divide to view the clean lines and distinctive curving balconies on both sides. Look out in particular for the Levin House, a villa that once served as the Russian Embassy. There’s also the Dizengoff House, from where the State of Israel was declared in 1948.
The good doctor
It’s worth making time for Jaffa. Even though the old town has been blandly restored, there’s still a good deal of atmosphere down by the Ottoman clock tower. The Flea Market fills nearby streets – fascinating for a browse through the junk (sorry, antiques). And you can grab a tasty morsel from the popular Palestinian bakery Abulafia, which has been in business by the clock tower since 1879. Then head around the corner to Doctor Shakshuka, a fabulous, fast-moving local restaurant in high-vaulted stone premises bedecked with old-fashioned memorabilia. Here, loyal fans scoff plates of homecooked shakshuka, a spicy North African tomato/egg casserole, from breakfast till midnight.
Matthew Teller is a freelance journalist and travel writer specializing in the Middle East. He tweets @matthewteller and blogs at QuiteAlone.com. Matthew was recently in Israel researching a story for Wanderlust magazine – article here.