Dubai: Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest metropolitan area, is a modern and youthful metropolis. It’s a converging point between the old and new, where tradition and history mix with innovation and diversity.
Gulf News recently joined a small group of journalists who were invited by the Israel Ministry of Tourism to see and experience the sights and sounds of Tel Aviv. It’s a city that is practically alive 24 hours of the day – perfect for anyone looking for historical sites, cosy hang-outs and active nightlife.
The city lies on the Mediterranean coast and enjoys a year-round of sunshine. Its seaside promenade features bike paths, outdoor gyms, beach volleyball courts, and more.
November is a good time to be in Tel Aviv as the cool breeze coming from the sea makes outdoor activities cosy.
Teeming with arts
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Tel Aviv is teeming with arts and culture. One memorable place we visited was the Ilana Goor Museum, the gallery and private home of eminent Israeli artist Ilana Goor, featuring more than 500 works of art – she either created or collected in a span of five decades. After we enjoyed seeing an eclectic collection of sculptures, antiques, drawings and artworks from East to West, we went up to the museum’s roof terrace to experience the great views of Jaffa and the Mediterranean Sea.
The museum guide told us the building itself is historic. It opened as a museum in September 1995 but it was originally erected in 1743 – located in the old city of Jaffa – and was first used as an inn for pilgrims who were on their way to Jerusalem. It also became a factory for olive oil soap in the latter part of the 19th century, before a part of the building was used as a synagogue and Goor purchased it in 1983 as her private abode and repository for arts.
Ilana Goor Museum is just one of the many art havens in the Artists’ Quarter of Jaffa, where century-old homes and Ottoman-era houses and buildings were converted into galleries and homes for painters and artists. There are also hip restaurants and boutique hotels dotting the picturesque and ornate neighbourhood of ancient stone streets.
Hotbed of history
Our guide told us long before Tel Aviv existed, Jaffa was already a booming town centre. Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 as a modern housing estate for Jewish residents on the outskirts of the ancient port city of Jaffa with history that is mentioned in the Bible and old Egyptian literature dating back from 1440BCE (Before the Common Era).
Jaffa was an important port city in the region for hundreds of years. Now, Jaffa is no longer used as a trade route but it has retained its beauty as a natural harbour. It is just a short taxi ride or 3km walk from downtown Tel Aviv, and a very popular area for local and foreign tourists.
Two must-see local landmarks built during the Ottoman period in Jaffa are the Clock Tower and St. Peter’s Church. The Clock Tower area is the heart of Jaffa and also its gustatory centre, teeming with local restaurants, eateries and Arabic bakeries, where one can enjoy sweet sesame bagels, falafel, zaatars, and more.
The St. Peter’s Church, meanwhile, is located in the Old City, on a hill with a magnificent view of the sea. Built in the 17th century, the Roman-Catholic church that is run by the Franciscan order, is brimming with Christian history and religious significance.
Another important tourist landmark is the Wishing Bridge (Gesher HaMazalot), where, according to legend, “people’s wish will come true if they walk on the wooden bridge and put their hand on their zodiac sign (carved on the banister), then look out to the sea, and fervently make a wish.”
On busy weekends, Jaffa is also full of street performers, including buskers and acrobats. They are a good addition to the genteel vibe when one is rummaging for vintage clothes, collectibles, antiques, or any unique souvenirs at the Jaffa flea market.
Alive 24 hours a day
Locals take pride that their city is alive 24 hours a day, and visitors shouldn’t just take their word for it but fully experience it. At sunset, the beautiful beaches are lit for those playing beach volleyball; while families and health buffs enjoy the promenade for an evening stroll and physical exercise.
A few distance away, the area along Rothschild Boulevard is busy with its active night-life while the avant-garde restaurants at Neve Tzedek are packed with diners enjoying cuisine from East to West as Tel Aviv is also known as a culinary destination. Another important footnote on Tel Aviv is that it is called as “the world’s vegan food capital” for having the highest per capita population of vegans in the world.
Day or night, Tel Aviv is alive with locals and visitors. It is steeped in history and culture and anyone will truly enjoy the rhythm of this modern Mediterranean metropolis.