The heart of town
The seeds of Tel Aviv were planted in the area around Rothschild Boulevard and Herzl Street. “Little Tel Aviv”, as this area is known, is still, in many ways, the beating heart of the town.
Rothschild Boulevard is undeniably the most beautiful street in the city. The buildings at the western end of the boulevard are mostly Eclectic Style – the architectural trend that was prominent at the turn of the 20th century. Further to the east, the buildings are notably International Style (Bauhaus). The tree-shaded, busy lane is engraved with the country’s history, as it was here, in the Hall of Independence (former home of the city’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff), where the establishment of the State of Israel was famously proclaimed.
Just off of Rothschild Boulevard, on Ahad HaAm Street, stands the Shalom Tower, built in 1965. For a long time it was the tallest skyscraper in the Middle East, a title that has since been relinquished to other high-rise buildings in the region. .
The Carmel Market, located off of hectic Allenby Street, is a colorful mixture of food, clothes and home ware at cheap prices. Nearby, Nachalat Binyamin pedestrian street hosts an arts and crafts bazaar twice a week. Check it out on Tuesdays and Fridays, when it fills up with artists and designers selling their original creations.
Once a bastion of underground culture, today, Sheinkin Street is a place to drink coffee and “see and be seen.” Shops line the street alongside numerous restaurants and cafés that offer ample chances to bask in some urban cool.
Bialik Street is home to the first city hall, Bialik Museum and Felicja Blumethal Music Center and makes for a stunning compound.
The Tel Aviv Jaffa City Museum (Beit Ha'Ir), located in Tel Aviv's historical city hall, serves as a museum dedicated to the history and social fabric of Tel Aviv, displaying a cohesive documentation of various facets of the city, its history and residents.
Tel Aviv-Jaffa City Museum, Bialik Sq (03-5253403).
Mon-Thu, 09:00-17:00, Fri-Sat 10:00-14:00
The unique shrine to Holocaust survivor Joseph Bau's creation showcases the graphic designer and animator's works that span the artistic curriculum: graphic design, vintage ads, animation films, photography, writings and more. Bau and his wife are known as the couple who marry in secret at the Plaszow Concentration Camp – a moving scene famously retraced in the blockbuster film, Schindler's List. Bau's story and spirited view of life are unveiled at this gem of a spot downtown.
9 Berdichevsky St, 054-4212730. Call in advance to book your visit
“The World Heritage Committee has inscribed The White City of Tel Aviv – The Modern Movement, on the World Heritage List. Inscription on this list confirms the exceptional and universal value of a cultural or natural site which requires protection for the benefit of all humanity” – so reads UNESCO’s 2003 proclamation in acknowledgement of the city’s wealth of International Style architecture. Indeed, the city of Tel Aviv is an open air museum exhibiting an impressive display of International Style buildings and Bauhaus architecture.
The “White City” – named in reference to the city’s wealth of white-colored International Style buildings – stretches between Allenby Street in the south, Begin Road and Ibn Gavirol Street in the east, the Yarkon River in the north and the Mediterranean Sea in the west. Tourists exploring the city may be baffled by the name, as many of these buildings are veiled by a façade of soot and grime, old plastic blinds, electric cables, cracks and peeling plaster.
Fortunately, the Tel Aviv Municipality has launched a program to identify buildings intended for preservation and drafted severe regulations ensuring that these renovations are carried out in keeping with Bauhaus design.
A number of characteristics will help you identify Bauhaus and International Style buildings. Bauhaus architects shunned “bourgeois” details such as cornices, eaves and decorative details in favor of functionality – creating buildings devoid of any ornamentation.
Instead, they used asymmetry, cubic dimensions and right angles embellished with rounded features, such as curved corners and balconies.
International Style buildings boast smooth façades and open floor plans. Some local Bauhaus adaptations include narrow horizontal “strip windows” to block out the sun, stilt-type columns to raise buildings off the street and flat roofs.
The area termed “city center” by locals runs roughly between King George Street and Arlozorov Street. It is punctuated by Dizengoff Center – Israel’s first shopping mall, located on the corner of King George Street and Dizengoff Street. Only minutes away, to the north, is Dizengoff Square. The bustling square hosts “Dizengoff Creates”, an arts and crafts fair that sells woodwork, glasswork, ceramics, jewelry, paintings, sculptures, metalwork and other trinkets (Mon 12:00-20:00, Fri 09:00-16:00) and on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays the square opens up for the “Dizengoff Garage Sale” – a collector’s bazaar that deals in antiques and second-hand goods. Among the bric-a-brac you can definitely find some treasures
(Tue and Thu 14:00-22:00,Fri 08:00-17:00).
The city’s major squares are all located within the city center. Most notably, Rabin Square, beside City Hall and the City Garden shopping mall, has become a must-see spot on the tourist path, since the assassination of Israel’s Prime Minister, Itzhak Rabin, in 1995.
A landmark site long before the turbulence caused by the political assassination, Rabin Square is home to a Holocaust monument, created by the Israeli artist, Igal Tumarkin, in 1975.
The former home of Israel’s first Prime Minister now serves as a museum that houses Ben Gurion’s 20,000-volume library, personal objects and a display focused on his legacy. Explanatory materials and guided tours in English are available with advance booking.
17 Ben Gurion Blvd, 03-5221010
The home of a robust collection of both Israeli and international art.
27 Shaul Hamelech Blvd,
At the top floor of this mall/office building, awaits a breathtaking, panoramic view of the entire city and its surroundings. The spot is sometimes closed for private events, so call to check in advance.
HaShalom exit west,
Ayalon Highway, 03-6081179
Before Tel Aviv, there was Jaffa. Standing proud on a piece of land jutting into the Mediterranean, Jaffa has been conquered, destroyed, and rebuilt countless times. Against a backdrop of constant turmoil and change, there’s been one constant: Jaffa is a city where, if not always peacefully, Jews, Muslims, and Christians have lived as neighbors.
The ancient city is a goldmine for tourists. With historic attractions, museums, great restaurants, bars, a renovated ancient city, flea market and million-dollar condos on the rise, Jaffa is experiencing another renaissance and is coming into its own as a distinctive part of Tel Aviv’s culture.
The Jaffa Port is rough and authentically Middle Eastern. After becoming obsolete in 1965, with the opening of the port in Ashdod, the Jaffa Port is now undergoing a grand renovation, preserving its unique character while turning it into a site of tourism, leisure and sports, offering priceless views of the sea.
Smack in the middle of the titular square, the Clock Tower is possibly the most significant landmark in a city that has survived time untold and bears ancient footprints. Built after the turn of the last century, the Clock Tower’s completion is said to have marked the 30th anniversary of the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II, one of 100 clocks built throughout the empire.
This ancient house has been a Christian pilgrimage site ever since Saint Peter slept here. During his stay, Peter had a vision (Acts 10:9-4) which led him to convert the Roman centurion, Cornelius, in Caesarea. Once used to guide ships into Jaffa’s port, today, the rooftop lighthouse adds light and character to Jaffa’s night sky.
Saint Peter’s Church is a dominating presence in the Old City’s Kedumim Square. Built in the 1890s, by the Franciscans, the Catholic church stands directly over the ruins of a Crusader citadel and features a room where Napoleon is said to have slept.
51 Yeffet St, Kedumim Square, 03-6822669
An authentic collection of retro furniture, vintage clothing and bric-a-brac, the Flea Market is bustling all week long.
Set up in 1961 as a residential area for artists, this quaint quarter, with its 12 winding alleys, is a charming neighborhood dotted with galleries and studios.
Neve Tzedek is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in the city, with many buildings renovated in the original architectural style of the area, including, most recently, the old Jaffa train station (Manshia), which is planned to be a huge art and leisure destination.
The beautiful mix of classic and modern has made the small enclave a major draw for artists and the bourgeoisie, who live side by side with the working class residents who’ve been here since day one. Despite a strong dose of elitism, the atmosphere remains laid-back – perfect for a leisurely stroll or window-shopping. Aside from the numerous boutiques lining the main road, Shabazi Street, there are quite a few cultural establishments and sites worth checking out.
The Rokach House served as a social and political gathering place for the community. In 1983, Rokach’s granddaughter, an artist, restored the building and opened its doors to the public. Today it holds a display of the artist’s works and hosts musical and theatre performances.
36 Chelouche St, 03-5168042, www.rokach-house.co.il
Housed in an antique building, the Nachum Gutman Museum of Art honors the writer, illustrator and painter who depicted the fledgling town of Tel Aviv at the beginning of the 20th century. The museum features permanent displays of the late artist’s works as well as alternating art and photography exhibits.
21 Rokach St, 03-5108554,
Originally constructed in 1908, the home of the Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theatre was built as an educational compound. Located here were the Hovevey Tzion girls school and the Alliance Francaise boys school. After being unused since 1975, the buildings were renovated and given to Israel’s leading dance institute, named on behalf of the late, renowned dancer Suzanne Dellal.
5 Yechieli St, 03-5105656, www.suzannedellal.org.il
After falling into disuse and dilapidation for years, the historic Tel Aviv Train Station, located just off Neve Tzedek, at the junction where Tel Aviv dissolves into Jaffa, is now a recreational site packed with cafés, bars and boutiques. Sprawling across some five acres and including 22 buildings dating back to different historic periods, this architectural gem is fraught with nostalgic charm. Its location just facing the beach is yet another key for a story of success.
On the beach, between Tel Aviv and Jaffa, Herbert Samuel St, Tel Aviv, www.hatachana.co.il (Hebrew only)
Extending southward from Neve Tzedek and Rothschild Boulevard, the southern part of the city is small yet distinct in character. This section of town has nothing touristy about it. In fact, it’s all about hard work and industry. It is, however, an interesting area for wandering about and getting to know an unseen side of the city.
The ramshackle Florentin neighborhood was considered a promising area back in the 1990s, when real-estate investors followed the advice of experts who hailed the neighborhood as the next hotspot. So far, these expectations have not materialized and aside from some classy residential buildings and several bars and restaurants catering to a young, urban crowd, Florentin has generally retained its tattered look and feel.
The low prices and edgy character have nevertheless attracted quite a few bars, restaurants, designers, craftsmen and artisans, who maintain thriving studios in the area. Check out the Levinsky Market, which is exceptional for quality spices and authentic delicacies. This is an excellent locale for a cheap yet filling lunch.
A sprawling expanse of green amidst Tel Aviv’s vertical growth, HaYarkon Park hugs the Yarkon River. The park is situated at the northern end of the city and offers plenty of recreation options. Rent a boat on the lake, rent a bicycle, or try one of many walking trails. Kids will enjoy the petting zoo while sports buffs can work up a sweat at the Sportech – a spacious facility offering a rock climbing wall, basketball and football courts and areas for skateboarding and rollerblading.
The park also features several nature-related attractions. HaMeimadion is an exhilarating water park with a choice of slides and pools. The wet activities are ideal for overheated young ones in the summer. The Rock Country sprawls out over about 10 acres and holds dozens of types of rocks brought from all parts of the country.
The Farm at “Rosh Tzipor” (Bird’s Head) offers a taste of nature in the form of a petting zoo, butterfly dome and other activities for children.
Among the rocks, hundreds of plant species were planted to form a heterogeneous collage of the flora in Israel. For an impressive view of cacti from all corners of the globe, head to the Cactus World. Lush vegetation is on view at HaBustan (“The Orchard”) – a spacious garden that combines formal, classic and Mediterranean gardening into one – while Tropical World houses an orchid greenhouse as well as fish and aquatic vegetation pools.
Tel Aviv’s old port has been given a new life as a mixed-use retail and leisure complex.
One look at it today and it’s almost impossible to believe that only a few years ago, the Tel Aviv Port was an abandoned, municipal wreck – lost to the damage and disinterest of time. A massive re-gentrification program turned it into a compelling city attraction mixing retail, nightlife and culinary destinations.
The Tel Aviv Port was founded in 1936, receiving its first traffic in the form of a Yugoslavian freighter, the Chatworthy. Two years later, it welcomed its first immigrants. For the next three decades it continued to serve as one of the nation’s major port facilities. By 1965, the Port loaded its last cargo, replaced in prominence by Ashdod’s newer and more capable port.
For almost 30 years, the Port languished, a victim of general disinterest and a lack of imaginative thinking. In 2001, it underwent one of the most important urban renewal programs in the country. The idea was to renovate and upgrade the Port, transforming it into a leisure and commercial destination for all seasons.
Today, the Port hosts an antique market on Saturdays, a farmer’s market on Tuesdays and Fridays, and is home to a plethora of restaurants, cafés, nightclubs and bars, along with shops offering everything from fashion to jewelry and fine design.
Tel Aviv’s beach stretches the entire length of the city and is the backyard of most of the city’s hotels. On any given day of the summer, the beach is teeming with tourists and locals.
Situated next to the Dolphinarium, Banana Beach offers excellent views in all directions – west to the sea, south to Jaffa and north to the Tel Aviv hotel strip.
Come Friday, the late afternoon sees locals ushering in the weekend by watching the sunset over Jerusalem Beach and participating in the weekly drum circle – amateur musicians and random locals playing percussion instruments and dancing to the beat.
With its central location, opposite the Sheraton Hotel, Gordon Beach is one of Tel Aviv’s busiest. If your ideal beach includes crowded bodies, music and a lounge chair to work on your tan, head to Gordon on the weekend and be surrounded by Tel Aviv’s die-hard sun worshippers and a real mix of characters – tourists, locals, roving masseurs and everyone in between.
The Hilton Beach, also the city’s unofficial gay beach, is one of the hottest and cleanest beaches of all. There is a surf club, restaurant, volleyball area and at the northern end, an area for dogs.
Mezizim offers decent food, a late-night lounge atmosphere and an abundance of beach chairs. With a playground, decent toilets and location minutes from the restaurant and bar-filled Tel Aviv Port, Mezizim has it all.
Located beside the Hilton beach yet miles apart on the social spectrum, Nordau is Tel Aviv’s religious beach, where men and women swim on alternate days (Sun, Tue and Thu for women and Mon, Wed and Fri for men). On Saturdays, the walled-off beach is open to all.
Built relatively recently, the northern part of Tel Aviv is largely residential, but is also home to several important museums. Additionally, the lush, green HaYarkon Park offers many outdoor activities and is a perfect place for a day of fun.
Beit Hatfutsot (The Diaspora House), the Museum of the Jewish People, recounts the unique, ongoing story of the Jewish people throughout the ages and around the world. The Museum is home to a remarkable collection of exhibits as well as a selection of Jewish music, documentaries and photographs. Audio-guides in English, French, Spanish, Russian and Hebrew are also available.
Tel Aviv University Campus, Gate 2, Klausner St, Ramat Aviv, 03-7457800, www.bh.org.il. Sun, Mon, Tue and Thu 10:00-16:00 Wed 10:00-18:00, Fri 09:00-13:00, Sat closed.
To book a private guide, contact the Visitors Center at 03-7457808 or firstname.lastname@example.org
From Tel Aviv Visitor’s Guide (Time Out Tel Aviv).