Stretched along miles of gorgeous Mediterranean coastline, Tel Aviv, founded in 1909 as part of the Ottoman Empire in Palestine, is Israel’s first modern Hebrew city. Unlike other cities in the country, there are no holy sites here, rather a smorgasbord of nightclubs, bars, art galleries, and miles upon miles of stunning beaches. The unique Bahaus style of architecture of the city is reflected in the white and off white buildings with their distinctive curvilinear balconies, building columns and flat roofs, and has led to Tel Aviv being called the White City. In 2003, the White City was proclaimed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The Bahaus School of architecture, of which Tel Aviv has the largest number of examples in the world, actually originated in Germany and was brought to the city by Jewish refugees who sought shelter in Palestine during the Second World War. The city has a vibrant cultural and literary life. Most of the country’s newspapers are published in Tel Aviv and there is a thriving Hebrew theater scene. The recent economic boom powered by a burgeoning tech industry has led to large scale construction projects – steel and concrete skyscrapers, luxury hotels, shopping malls and stock exchanges line the Tel Aviv skyline. Unexpectedly, there is also a flourishing sex industry as evident from the number of ads in tourist brochures and magazines.
The city of Tel Aviv actually sprang out of the ancient port city of Jaffa. Jaffa itself has a proud and ancient history. It was in Jaffa that Jonah began the journey that landed him inside a whale. Poor living conditions in Jaffa led to a group of Jewish settlers moving base to a new area to the north of Jaffa called Achuzat Bait. This locality was the first neighborhood in Tel Aviv. A better lifestyle wasn’t the only reason these settlers established a separate city with European style suburbs – the idea had its rots in the Jewish national movement or Zionism. “Tel” is Hebrew” for “old” or “ruined” while “aviv” mean “spring”. The founding fathers of the city therefore envisioned Tel Aviv as a meeting point of old troubles and new beginnings. The influx of Jewish immigrants from all over the world after the creation of the State of Israel further accelerated the pace of growth of the new city. Even within the country, Tel Aviv is the destination for young Israeli immigrants who want to experience life in a pulsating metropolis.
The official name of Tel Aviv is Tel Aviv Yafo, owing to the origin of the city from the port city of Jaffa. It is situated about 60 kilo meters to the north west of Jerusalem.
The Ben Gurion International Airport is located in Lod on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. Hire a taxi to get to the city center from Ben Gurion, the fare is approximately $30 for an hour long ride and includes one piece of luggage per passenger. A well planned network of highways is used by buses and cars to ferry passengers from Tel Aviv to Jaffna, Jerusalem and Haifa.
A well co coordinated bus system carts passengers around within the city as well as to the outskirts of tel Aviv. Seven seater vans known locally as Monit Sherut are slightly cheaper than buses, and some of them even ply on the Sabbath although extra surcharges may apply then. If you find it difficult to flag down a taxi, ask the hotel desk to arrange one for you and insist on the meter being turned on. Many times, cab drivers may prefer to negotiate a fixed fare for the journey which might not necessarily work out to your advantage. Although cabs are more expensive, they are plentiful and you can find one almost 24/7.
Where to Stay
If you have unlimited dollars to spend, head to one of the city’s luxury hotels on the sea side of Ha Yarkon. Some of them offer direct access to the beach or down a small road. Budget accommodations can be found inland. These include camping hotels and backpacker haunts. Private suites and apartments are also available and the Tourist office will supply a list of renting agencies although there are no guarantees made about the quality of services.
The Gordon Inn on Ben Yehuda Street is simply furnished, but comfortable. You’ll be close to the beach and can count on the hotel’s little bar for a drink late in the night.
The Dizengoff Suites Boutique Hotel is a family run enterprise that’s perfect for business travelers. An added plus- the staff speaks Italian and French besides English and Hebrew.
The Magraby hostel and Ha Yarkon 48 Hostel are located just minutes from the beach and in the heart of the city. (Tel Aviv’s beaches are some of the most accessible in the world).
The Hotel de la Mer is a comparatively new boutique hotel in Ha Yarkon that offers air conditioned rooms that are laid out according to Feng Shui principles. There is even a tiny spa and breakfasts are served in a cozy breakfast bar.
The Basel Hotel has comfortable guest rooms and is situated in a great location in from Ha Yarkon street,in a neighborhood filled with luxury hotels.
The Best Western Regency is an excellent family friendly hotel. Rooms come with their own kitchenettes and this hotel is a great base for exploring the city.
The Crowne Plaza, the Dan Tel Aviv Hotel and Tel Aviv Sheraton Hotel and Towers are all located along Ha Yarkon Street.
Where to Eat
Allenby Street has some of the best restaurants in the city, although it’s located away from most tourist spots. The Old Yemenite Quarter has some of the best Middle Eastern restaurants in Tel Aviv. Sheinken Street has a number of popular cafes and bakeries where you can stop for a bite on a shopping spree. Ibn Givrol Street is lines with both upscale restaurants and smaller, cozier eateries. The Old Tel Aviv Port in its former avatar was a run down derelict maze of abandoned warehouses. Since then, the place has been given a makeover and today boasts of some of the trendiest restaurants and bars in the city. Fusion establishments are a common theme here. You’ll find boutique/restaurants and even spa/bar/restaurant type outfits here.
What to See
Also known as Yafo, the old port of Jaffa has a history that dates back to Biblical times. A stroll around the Old Town yields numerous treasures including the Franciscan Monastery of Saint Peter and the Mahmudiye mosque. Right across from the Church is an excavation area that has unearthed a catacomb that dates back to the 3rd century BC. Gaza out at Andromeda’s Rock, one of the many blackened rocks jutting out through the coastline. This was where the maiden Andromeda was tied to a rock and left to be consumed by the sea monster before being rescued by Persus. The Ilana Goor Museum displays the artist’s private collection of art as well as her own works. The market streets of Old Jaffa are packed with souvenir shops and antique stores.
On Nehalat Benyamin Street is the Founders Monument depicting the three phases of Tel Aviv history from the initial days of building in 1909 right up to modern Tel Aviv.
The Diaspora Museum
Founded by Dr Nahum Goldman, the first president of the World Jewish Congress, this impressive museum has an incredibly detailed range of exhibits that chronicle the history of the Jewish people after they were driven from Israel till the time they returned to the Promised Land. The museum’s 2500 exhibits, including old photographs, relics, films and maps tell a simple yet powerful tale of Jewish accomplishments away from their land. One of the prime attractions is the model of a 13th century Jewish village complete with more than a 100 costumed figurines. There are also models of famous synagogues throughout the world as well as a rare collection of Jewish music tapes. Within the museum complex is also a dairy cafeteria and a bookshop.
The House of Ben Gurion
The personal belongings of David Gurion, including his collection of 20,000 books are displayed in his house which has been maintained perfectly. One of the rooms has a blacked out window that was used as a bomb shelter.
Eretz Israel Museum
Located in Ramat Aviv, this museum houses, most importantly, artifacts from the archaeological site of Tel Qasile, and includes within its complex a rebuilt house typical of the pre Canaanite period. There is also an impressive collection of glassware, ceramic pottery, religious items, jewelry, costumes mosaics and moon rocks. You can also catch an exhibit detailing the country’s coinage and monetary systems. Browse through the gift objects, reproductions and artifacts in the museum gift shop.
Museum of Art
This museum has an array of exhibits consisting of paintings and sculptures from the 16th century to contemporary art. The emphasis on 20th century art is particularly strong. There is a museum bus that also offers a historical tour of the city. Drop in at the trendy Italian ristorante inside the complex for fixed rate meals.
Spread across 250 acres, the open air park has an 8 kilometer long trail from where you can watch (through a closed vehicle) elephants, zebras, rhinoceros, hippos, ostriches and some more African wildlife. Also included are a monkey enclosure and a reptile area. A must visit for those with kids.
A visit to the beaches is a staple on every tourist itinerary. Smells of barbeque in the air, samba music in the evenings and a crowd of buff beach goers make this a fun past time while in Tel Aviv. Gordons beach is highly recommended, located as it is close to a few art galleries and some hip restaurants.
The Dizengoff Street is a popular haunt for people watching, a favorite Tel Aviv activity after sundown. Grab a chair at a street side cafe, order a coffee and watch as the after cinema crowd strolls by. Tel Aviv clubs and discos are the best in Israel. Some of them may be on seedy looking streets, but the ambience inside is anything but. Many Israeli pop stars with international careers had their beginnings in the music clubs of Tel Aviv. The best bars and pubs are located in the five star hotels and feature regular live performances. Catch a Hollywood flick at one of the dozen or so cinema houses in Tel Aviv. The city is also the home of the Israel Philharmonic and the Israel Ballet - try to catch a performance.
The city’s biggest market is the Hakarmel Market, one end of which specializes in clothing shops and the other side crammed with fruits and vegetable sellers. The Jaffa flea market is a favorite hippy haunt and is a great place for bargains. The Nahalat Benyamin crafts market is a great place for hand crafted souvenirs made and sold by the artisans themselves.
Israel has the greatest density of malls on the planet. The Dizengoff Center is one of the biggest and has, besides the usual clothing and chain stores, specialty shops selling stamps, musical instruments etc. Art, rare manuscripts and books, high end clothing by internationally renowned Israeli designers can be found in stores along the city center.