Tel Aviv: to some people the name is synonym with wild nightlife and trendy clubs. Others still associate the place with the conflict of the Middle East… To me, it’s a place I had been dying to see for a very long time!
I stayed one week in what is known as the most modern metropolis of the Middle East. It allowed me to discover the markets, neighbourhoods and people of the city. I learnt that Tel Aviv is difficult to pin down: from ancient ports to hipster districts, this is a clear and compact guide on where to stay in Tel Aviv:
Neve Tzedek is Tel Aviv’s oldest district. At the end of the 19th century a lot of Jewish people were living in the port city of Jaffa, in very poor conditions. One of them was Shimon Rokach. He talked the Jewish families into establishing a new residential area east of Jaffa, the nowadays called Neve Tzedek.
You can still find some sites referring to this period, like the Rokach house itself, or the Chelouche factory. Aharon Chelouche was an Algerian Jew who moved to Israel and one of the first inhabitants and pioneers of the area.
Nowadays Neve Tzedek is one of the trendiest and priciest neighbourhoods of Tel Aviv! Home to trendy designer boutiques and laidback coffee houses on Shabazi Street, if feels somehow like a village inside the big metropolis.
Roam around Shabazi Street, check out the Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theatre and mingle with the cool-looking dog walkers and surfers on their way to the nearby beach.
Oh and don’t miss out on Hatachana, the old railway station! It has been transformed into a public square full of little shops and cafés. The best time to go is on Friday and Saturday, when the square is converted into an open-air organic market! I enjoyed a lovely druze pita at one of the stalls, browsed for souvenirs at the quirky “Made in Tel Aviv” shop and even had the chance to see one of the open-air concerts!
Bordering Neve Tzedek to the south is the Florentin neighbourhood, the hipster area I stayed in during my visit. At first sight it has a tatty and scruffy feel to it. With garages, warehouses and bakeries it comes across as a typical working neighbourhood. But don’t be mistaken: over the last decade Florentin has been shifting from working-class to artist-class. The numerous graffiti displays and the galleries in the side streets are a proof of its edgy character. Florentin mainly comes alive at night. Check out Vital Street, home to laidback bars with a hip clientèle, spilling out onto the pavements during the busy weekends.
South-west of Florentin is Jaffa. Jaffa has been around for thousands of years and was once a major port. Due to its strategic location between Asia, Africa and Europe, it has been occupied by Greeks, Crusaders, Ottomans or whoever was in charge at that time. Jaffa has been severely damaged during its violent past, but has been beautifully restored!
Most people arrive at the Clock Tower, from which it is only a short stroll to the Flea Market. The market is a disorganized mess of bric-à-brac, souvenirs and fabulous antique furniture. Definitely worth a stroll!
But the main attraction in Jaff is probably the Artist’s Quarter! The narrow alleys are named after the 12 horoscope signs. Its artistic inhabitants are either painters, architects or designers. Go inside one of the studios even if it is just to catch a glimpse of the lovely renovated interiors! Getting lost in the little winding streets of this area, especially in the evening, is an experience not to miss!!
A short stroll from Kedumim Square (with its easy recognizable St Peters’s Church) is the old Jaffa Port. Once the region’s major port, it is nowadays a picturesque little harbour lined with fancy restaurants and simple eateries. A walk along the beachfront awards you with lovely views of Tel Aviv!
Rothschild Boulevard is the heart of Tel Aviv’s city centre and runs from Neve Tzedek in the south to Dizengoff street in the centre. It is a boulevard steeped in history and architecture. Starting south is the Independence Hall, the hall where the State of Israel was pronounced back in 1948. The tree-lined boulevard with pedestrian and cycling lanes takes you along some of the International, Eclectic and Bauhaus-style houses of the city and you can enjoy a well-deserved break in one of the coffee houses or kiosks.
The City Centre
West of the Rothschild Boulevard is generally considered the centre of Tel Aviv. You should definitely start with a visit to the Carmel Market, Tel Aviv’s largest and busiest market, specializing in fresh produce. Dozens of stalls selling fruit, vegetables and herbs offer you a great selection of the Middle Eastern cuisine. It gets very busy at times, but it has a great buzz!
Parallel to the market is the pedestrian Nachalat Binyamin Street, which transforms into an arts and crafts market on Tuesdays and Fridays. Local artists sell their self-created artefacts while street musicians contribute to the charming atmosphere.
To the west of the Carmel Market you can find the Yemenite district. The quaint little streets are hidden from the busy Herbert Samuel Boulevard and the seafront, and just like Neve Tzedek it feels like a village inside the big metropolis.
Of course, the beaches! How can you not mention the beaches of Tel Aviv? I visited in December and although the temperature was pretty nice (20°C) it wasn’t exactly bikini weather. But that doesn’t mean that Tel Aviv’s beaches are empty!
Every beach seems to have a certain clientèle: there’s the “gay beach”, the “dog’s beach” the “religious beach” (where men/women bathe separately), …
On Gordon Beach for example, you can watch a game of “matkot”, which looks pretty much like “ping pong”. The tick-tacketing of the rackets is very recognizable but does tend to get rather annoying after a while…
Closer to Neve Tzedek and Jaffa, you’ll be able to spot windsurfers trying to tame the waves. It has a more laidback and less family-orientated atmosphere with surfer cafés and lounge bars.
I am glad I got to spend a whole week in Tel Aviv! It can be quite overwhelming at first, with no real centre or big attractions to aim for. But thanks to my friend and Tel Aviv inhabitant Nathalie I got to know the city quite well and I must say: it really grew on me!
Now it’s time to tick one of these other experiences of my bucket list: floating in the Dead Sea!
Have you been to Tel Aviv? What was your favourite neighbourhood?