I defy anyone to be bored during a short break to Tel Aviv. The high octane vibe is almost tangible and urges you to walk its streets and explore. Do so and you’ll find this is a moody city: beautiful chill-out beaches hemmed by high rise hotels and lapped by the blue Mediterranean sea and a fantastically beautiful promenade. Yet just a road or two inland buildings look in need of some love, yet the vibe prevails.
At its commercial centre the high rises look like a New York mini-me while the ancient port of Jaffa in the south exudes charm in its yellow stone architecture and winding hilly alleyways.
Then there’s museums, markets, shopping and above all, a simply sensational foodie scene. This city has it all and, unbelievably, all packed into a compact area of just 52 km² (around 20 miles).
Check out the beaches
Grab your fiip flops because Tel Aviv is a seafront city with a Tayelet (promenade) that hems a gorgeous stretch of 12 soft sand beaches, each with its own – if somewhat insouciant – personality.
Metzizim in the north is a superb family beach with shallow waters and a life guard. It’s followed by the Religious beach with allocated days for men and women.
Further along is the gay beach in front of the Hilton Hotel right off Independence Park. It has become a trendy hotspot because of its fun vibe. During Pride Week it’s the busiest place in the city.
Three popular beaches Gordon, Frishman and Borashov cover the central stretch and this is where locals and tourists hang out sometimes playing matkot (paddleball).
Guela beach has its own al fresco gym while bizarrely, Drum beach is where anyone can turn up at the weekend and beat their drums.
The stretch ends with a dog beach followed by Alma (home to the wonderful Manta Ray restaurant) and Jaffa beaches in the south of the city much loved by surfers because there are no wave breakers which means huge waves on a windy day.
Shuk HaCarmel – Carmel Market
Oh the joy of a vibrant market and Carmel Market is just that. It’s been there since 1920s when it was just a humble Yemenite market, but today it’s colourful, aromatic, noisy and THE place to buy all sorts of bric-a-brac and food such as local vegetables, nuts, fruit, dates, halva – a sweet flaky, dense, tahini based candy – and street food to go.
Shuk HaPishpishim – Jaffa’s Flea market
This is where you find the carpet makers, furniture restorers, cobblers, one-man jewellery makers and second-hand goods as well as alleyways full of beguiling, colourful and sparkling middle eastern souvenirs.
Nahalat Binyamin Craft Market
The talent is awesome and coming away with a trinket or artwork is going to be hard. Furnishings, art, ceramics, jewellery, gifts, photography and items that defy description, all created by individual local artisans.
Sarona Complex is the new boy on the block. It surrounds the restored German Templar village built in 1871 on what started as swampy land bought from a Greek Monastery. There are several quaint two-story buildings complete with shutters and tiled roofs, some new retails outlets, around paved squares and a gorgeous lilly pond. There’s also a huge indoor market whose 8,700 square meters is filled with 91 shops, stalls and restaurants – a culinary complex if you like
It is worth doing a tour through the nearby Templars Tunnels which connected the two village wineries. When the Templars left, the tunnels were used to reconstruct “stolen” planes in pre-state days. Air force veterans dismantled, smuggled, renovated and reassembled 15 planes that were used before and during the War of Independence. You might say this was the beginning of the Israeli army.
Tel Aviv Museum
Though there are several really worthwhile museums the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on Sderot Sha’ul HaMelech, is the most beautiful. The futuristic building is in itself an architectural spectacle and inside its wide open spaces you’ll find sculptures by greats such as Degas and Auguste Rodin and artworks by Chagal, Cezanne, Dali, Monet, Henri Moore, Archipenko, Picasso, Klimt, Kadinsky. Seriously, if you only have time for one museum, make it this one.
Go for a walk
For a stylish yet cultural walk make time to saunter along Rothschild Boulevard. This tree lined boulevard is home to the “White City” – a clutch of world-famous UNESCO German Bauhaus architecture known for straight lines and no-nonsense design.
Rothschild Boulevard is also where the Israeli Independence museum is located (number 16) and its worth droppin in as this was the very place where the state of Israel was born.
Jaffa port and its flea market
Head south to the impossibly quaint ancient fishing port and city of Jaffa. Jaffa (or Joppa) dates back to biblical times and the architectural style hasn’t changed. Artists hang their artworks on the yellow stone walls of their studios and within the twisty stone passageways almost hidden doorways that lead the way to tiny shops selling Judaica.
The Wishing Zodiac Bridge which depicts the 12 zodiacs along its stretch leads to the red-bricked Franciscan St Peter’s church which, they say, hosted Napoleon is 1799.