Tel Aviv and Jaffa: A Visitor's Guide
Tel Aviv, with its golden beaches and lively cosmopolitan outlook is Israel's most modern metropolis. Most visitors land here to soak up the sun, shop-until-they-drop in cutesy boutiques, and enjoy some serious foodie action at the city's renowned café and restaurant scene. The beach may be the major highlight, but Tel Aviv is more than its famous strip of sand. Nicknamed "The White City," the town was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2003 in recognition of its multitude of fine examples of Bauhaus architecture (an early 20th-century modernist style of building). The city itself is full of small museums and funky art galleries that provide excellent sightseeing opportunities. While Jaffa, just to the south, is a gorgeously well-preserved old city with an old port that has been in use for thousands of years and is now revitalized with restaurants and cafés.
1 Tel Aviv Beaches
Tel Aviv is defined by its coastal position. The beaches attract tourists and locals alike. On weekends Tel Aviv's strips of sand are crowded with sun-worshippers, posers, partiers, and people just chilling out. The most popular sandy stretches are centrally-located Gordon Beach, Frishman Beach, and Banana Beach where you'll find excellent facilities such as fresh-water showers, sun loungers for rent, and cafés.
A short walk south along the coast from downtown Tel Aviv brings you to the old Arab port town of Jaffa with its preserved acropolis remains and well-restored stone architecture. Much of the original bazaar area is now home to restaurants and artisan boutiques. It's particularly lively in the evening when the old town throngs with diners. The flea market here is the major attraction for visitors, full of the hubbub of a genuine souk, while St. Peter's Monastery and the Old Port area itself are also not to be missed. Compared to the big-city hustle of Tel Aviv, Jaffa is a wonderfully tranquil place for a stroll that, despite serious gentrification, still retains its old-fashioned charm.
Location: 2 km south from Tel Aviv
3 Yemenite Quarter
One of Tel Aviv's most atmospheric neighbourhoods, the Yemenite Quarter is full of meandering alleyways lined by old-style architecture that has withstood the area's gentrification. It was first settled by Yemenite Jews in the early 20th century, and the original feel of the closely-packed streets is still very much alive. The neighborhood backs onto Carmel Market; busy, colorful, full of fresh produce and Tel Aviv's answer to Jerusalem's famous Manane Yehuda Market. If you're hungry in Tel Aviv and want a cheap meal, this is the place to head.
Location: off Allenby Street, Central City
4 Dizengoff Circle and Surrounds
The hub of Tel Aviv is this central plaza, laid out on two levels with a raised area for pedestrians above the carriageway and topped by the peculiar modern-art Fire and Water Fountain designed by Israeli artist, Yaacov Agam. The plaza and the street running off it are named after Meir Dizengoff, Tel Aviv's first mayor after the city separated from Jaffa. From the circle, Dizengoff Street runs southeast to Habimah Square, Tel Aviv's cultural center and home to the Habimah Theatre, built in 1935. This is also where you'll find the excellent Helena Rubenstein Pavilion of Contemporary Art, which hosts a program of temporary art exhibits.
Location: Dizengoff Street, Central City
5 Tel Aviv Museum of Art
A leading light in Israel's contemporary art scene, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art contains works by Degas, Monet, Van Gogh, Henry Moore, Picasso, Jackson Pollock and the world's largest collection of work by Israeli artists. The ultra-modern building with its sophisticated architecture houses and highlights the artworks perfectly. As well as the permanent collection, the museum hosts regular temporary exhibits and other events.
Hours: Mon, Wed, Sat 10am-6pm; Tue, Thu 10am-9pm
Admission: adult 50NIS, student 40NIS, child under 18yrs free
Address: 27 Shaul HaMelech Boulevard, Central City
6 Neve Tzedek Quarter
The funky Neve Tzedek Quarter is the city's oldest neighborhood with European-Jewish settlers first building houses here in the 1880s. These lovely old buildings have been well preserved and many now house arty boutiques, cafés, and some of the city's hippest restaurants. Snuggled within the quarter on Rochkach Street, you'll find the Rockach House, home to a small sculpture gallery, and the Nachum Gutman Art Museum, which displays the artwork of this Israeli painter. In the district's southwest corner is the old Ottoman railway station called the HaTachana. This has been restored and reopened as a rather stylish complex of cafes, restaurants, and designer boutiques.
Location: Central City
7 Bialik Street
Little Bialik Street is home to three historical houses that will interest history and culture lovers. The House of artist Reuven Rubin is now a museum dedicated to his work, full of paintings as well as old photographs of Tel Aviv. Further along the street, Bialik House used to be the residence of poet, Chaim Nachman Bialik, and is now a tribute to his life and works. Next door is Tel Aviv's original town hall, now known as Beit Ha'ir. It contains displays documenting Tel Aviv's history.
Location: Central City
8 Haganah Museum
In the house once occupied by Haganah Commander Eliyahu Golomb, the Haganah Museum documents the Haganah guerrilla force, which actively attacked British Mandate rule. There are weaponry exhibits and information on the Haganah's activities.
Hours: Sun-Thu 9am-4pm
Address: 23 Rothschild Boulevard, Central City
9 Namal (Old Port Area)
Tel Aviv's old port area (known as Namal) has been slickly rejuvenated and is now a hip waterfront hang-out strip full of shops and cafés. The boardwalk here is a favorite for promenading youngsters, while families flock to the area on weekends. The port area is also home to an excellent indoor market.
Location: off HaYarkon Street
10 Ben-Gurion House
David Ben-Gurion was Israel's first prime minister and his residence has been left largely as it was when he and his wife Paula lived here. There is an interesting display of old black-and-white photographs, and a number of his letters are exhibited. The house also still contains part of his extensive library.
Hours: Sun-Thu 8am-3pm, Fri 8am-1pm
Address: 17 Ben Gurion Boulevard
11 Eretz Israel Museum
The Eretz Israel Museum (Land of Israel Museum) occupies a complex of buildings that also takes in the Tell Qasile archaeological site. The complex includes a planetarium as well as pavilions with displays on ceramics, glass, the history of writing, science, ethnography, and folklore. In the center of the complex is Tell Qasile where Israeli archaeologists have identified 12 settlement levels dating back to the 12th century BC. Stratum XII and Stratum XI are attributed to the Philistines, while Stratum X dates from the 10th century when the kings of Israel had a port here. Later strata show that the site was still occupied during the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine eras and was only finally abandoned in favor of nearby Jaffa during the Islamic period.
Hours: Sun-Wed 10am-4pm, Thu 10am-8pm, Fri-Sat 10am-2pm
Admission: Adult 42NIS, Child 28NIS
Address: 2 Chaim Levanon Street
12 Beit Hatefutsoth
Beit Hatefutsoth (the Diaspora Museum) illustrates the life and culture of the Jewish people throughout history. The museum displays a wide variety of exhibits including film, recordings, and models, to document the world's Jewish population across the centuries.
Hours: Sun-Tue 10am-4pm, Wed-Thu 10am-7pm, Fri 9am-1pm
Admission: Adult 42NIS, Student/Child 32NIS
Address: 2 Klausner Street
This popular seaside resort sits on a beautiful golden sand beach that stretches for more than ten kilometers. The shoreline is the major attraction. Tel Aviv locals flock here during sunny weekends to chill out with friends and family. Downtown is crammed with cafés and restaurants and really buzzes with energy during summer evenings. It's a quieter alternative to Tel Aviv if you don't fancy the big-city rush, and there are plenty of accommodation options here. The Jewish Legion Museum (four kilometers north of the town center) documents the achievements of Jewish military units in the British army during World War I.
Location: 32 km north of Tel Aviv
Although now known mainly for being home to Ben-Gurion International Airport, Lod has a rich history. Founded by the tribe of Benjamin after the Israelite occupation of the Promised Land, Lod was later destroyed by the Assyrians during the 8th century BC. From the 4th century onwards, it was settled by Greeks who renamed it Lydda. During the Byzantine era, Lydda/Lod became an important Christian center, and St. Paul is said to have healed a bedridden man here before traveling on to Caesarea. It's also one of the towns mentioned on the famous 6th century Madaba Map of the Holy Land in Madaba, Jordan. Today, you can visit Lod's Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, which was rebuilt in 1870 over the original Crusader era chapel here, and the El-Chodr Mosque, built in the 12th century.
Location: 22 km southeast from Tel Aviv
Other Notable Attractions
The Independence Hall (Beit Dizengoff) is the former residence of Tel Aviv's first mayor and is where David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the state of Israel on May 14th, 1948. A display of mementos from this event is exhibited.
Address: 16 Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv's first high-rise building was the Shalom Tower (Peace Tower) that is mainly used as an office block but also houses a shopping center and museum. For visitors, it is of interest for the Discover Tel Aviv Centre with exhibits of the city's history and the viewing platform at the top, from where you can see panoramic views across the city.
Location: Herzl Street, Tel Aviv
On the 49th floor of the Azrieli Centre high-rise is this observation deck with panoramic city skyline views.
Address: 132 Menachem Begin Boulevard, Tel Aviv
Design Museum Holon
One of Tel Aviv's newest pieces of iconic architecture, the Design Museum Holon is the work of architect, Ron Arad. It hosts a program of temporary exhibitions focused on design, fashion, and art.
Address: 8 Pinhas Eilon Street, Holon, Tel Aviv
Rishon LeZion is one of the earliest Jewish agricultural settlements, founded in 1882. The Great Synagogue, built in 1885, is in the center of town where you'll also find the History Museum, which tells the story of the Zionist settlers who made their way here from Europe.
Address: 14 km south from Tel Aviv
Although Tel Aviv itself is a modern town, Jaffa just to the south has been occupied for centuries. Excavations in recent years have brought to light a wall dating from the Hyksos period (18th-16th centuries BC), and archaeologists have also found a stone door with an inscription in the name of Egypt's Pharaoh Ramses II dating from the 13th century BC. Around 1200 BC, Philistines settled in Jaffa and on Tell Qasile (north of the river Yarqon). Later (approximately 1000 BC), the town was captured by David, and it's thought that his son Solomon imported cedar wood from Lebanon for the construction of the temple in Jerusalem through the port of Jaffa or the harbor near Tell Qasile. In later centuries, however, the population of Jaffa was predominantly Phoenician, and from the 3rd century BC, predominantly Greek. During the 1st century BC, the port of Jaffa lost its leading place to the newly founded town of Caesarea.
The Christian era in Jaffa began with the visit of the apostle Peter (Acts 9,36-43) and it became the see of a bishop during the 4th century AD. In AD 636, it was conquered by the Arabs, and during the 7th and 8th centuries enjoyed a period of prosperity under the Omayyad and Abbasid Caliphs. The Crusaders destroyed the town in 1099 and then rebuilt the walls; thereafter the port was used by pilgrims visiting the Holy Land. The Crusader occupation came to an end, however, with the capture of the town by the Mameluke Sultan Baibars in 1267. Thereafter, for many centuries, Jaffa lay desolate.
From 1520, Palestine was ruled by the Ottomans who in 1650 gave permission to Franciscan friars to build a church and pilgrim hospice at Jaffa. In 1807, Mahmud, whose severity earned him the name of Abu Nebut ("Father of the Cudgel"), became Pasha of Gaza and made Jaffa his capital. Many monuments in Jaffa date from this time including the Seraglio (now a museum), the nearby Hammam, the Mahmudiye Mosque, and the Abu Nebut Fountain.
A new period of development under European auspices began in the mid 19th century.
The "capitulations" in agreement with the Ottoman government ensured great influence for the European powers in Palestine. The French built hospitals and enlarged monasteries and churches. The Russians built a church dedicated to St. Peter at the "Tomb of Tabitha" on the hill of Abu Kabir. Farther north, the Jewish settlements of Neve Tzedek and Neve Shalom were established. In 1892, French engineers built a railway line between Jaffa and Jerusalem. In 1909, immigrants from Russia founded the purely Jewish suburb of Ahuzat Bayit, with the Herzl Grammar School (on a site now occupied by the Shalom Tower). This marked the beginning of the modern town, which was named Tel Aviv in 1910, and following Arab riots in 1921, broke away from Jaffa and became an independent city. During the British Mandate (1920-48), wide new streets were cut through Jaffa's maze of alleys to make it easier to control disorder. By 1924, the town had a population of 35,000.
The United Nations plan for the partition of Palestine (1947) proposed that Jaffa (population 100,000, including 30,000 Jews) should remain Arab, and Tel Aviv (population 230,000) become Jewish. In 1948, as the British Mandate was dissolved, an Arab sniper attack led to Jewish forces capturing Jaffa. Much of the Arab population of Jaffa fled during the onslaught. On May 14th, 1948, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the state of Israel in the former house of the first mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff. In 1949, the old town of Jaffa was amalgamated with the new Jewish town under the name of Tel Aviv-Yafo.