Hip neighborhoods, Hebrew street art, an innovative food scene, and fast-paced nightlife converge in this laid-back coastal city.
A popular call on many Seabourn voyages, Tel Aviv serves as gateway to Jerusalem, Galilee, and other holy sites. Yet Israel’s second-largest metropolis and booming tech hub often gets overlooked – which is a shame, because visitors discover a warm, inviting city brimming with culture, color, and a zest for life. Here are nine reasons to take a deeper look at what The New York Times calls the “Mediterranean capital of cool.”
Bauhaus Bonanza – During the 1920s and 30s, a large number of European Jewish architects immigrated to Tel Aviv. These pioneers of Bauhaus – the German art movement that shaped our modernist era – created what would become the largest collection of Bauhaus-style buildings in the world. This so-called White City of Tel Aviv, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, comprises more than 4,000 modernist structures defined by their asymmetrical design and use of geometric shapes with flat roofs, oversized balconies, and long, narrow windows. Many buildings have been restored to their former glory, and some of the finest examples can be found along the ficus-lined, and always lively, Rothschild Boulevard.
Coffee Buzz – Those same European migrants brought with them a vibrant cafe culture reminiscent of Vienna’s kaffeehäuser. Today Tel Aviv veritably hums with hundreds of coffee shops where locals come to talk shop, catch up with friends, or just check out the street action while sipping a cafe shachor (Hebrew for black coffee) or other favorite brew.
Neighborly ‘Hoods – Tel Aviv is a walker’s delight, so grab a cafe ha’fooch (Israeli latte) and head to the Neve Tzedek neighborhood, one of the city’s oldest. Its narrow, twisting streets have a hip, artsy vibe, and you can easily spend an afternoon admiring the Bougainvillea-draped houses and browsing the art galleries and eclectic shops. Florentin is another old district that is undergoing change; bohemian and multicultural.
Souk Hop – Florentin centers around the Levinsky Market, a cultural hub where Tel Avivians come to get their spices. It’s an intoxicating mix of exotic aromas, stacks of dried fruits and nuts, and tasty treats like flaky bourek pastries and feathery-light bizets (mélange kisses). Shuk Hacarmel or Carmel Market, Tel Aviv’s largest, is a mind-numbing maze of stalls hawking everything from farm-fresh produce to unique clothing, while the Nachalat Binyamin Market is the spot for jewelry, ceramics, and other unique souvenirs handcrafted by local artisans.
Local Flavor – Beyond its markets, Tel Aviv has emerged as the culinary mecca of the Middle East, where your dining choices range from chicken schnitzel to fresh seafood to dim sum. The city’s dynamic street food scene is legendary, and served as inspiration for celebrity chef Eyal Shani’s pita-centric Miznon chain; his fine-dining restaurant HaSalon is a favorite for locavores.
Gads of Graffiti – The writing is on the walls in southern Tel Aviv, known for its original and edgy street art. Written in Hebrew and unbounded by style or theme, the colorful, thought-provoking images are often permeated with a sense of ennui – although there are plenty of comical and “love is love” concept murals as well. Florentin’s streets and hidden alleyways are renowned for their provocative graffiti; you also can find great imagery in old Jaffa and along the beachfront.
Yay for Yafo – Speaking of Jaffa (Yafo in Hebrew), Tel Aviv’s ancient port district is a true charmer and must-do for any visitor. Spend some time meandering its winding, arched alleyways packed with boutiques, art galleries, and buzzy cafés. The area’s flea market, Shuk Hapishpeshim, is a great place to pick up authentic Middle Eastern antiques, kilim rugs, and other vintage treasures.
Beach Bounty – As the locals say, “Jerusalem prays while Tel Aviv plays” – and much of that play takes place along the city’s gorgeous beaches. There is a stretch of sand for everyone – from the ever-popular and well-known Hilton Beach to Gordon Beach with its many matkot (paddleball) players to Alma Beach, which has literally gone to the dogs. You can follow the seaside Tayelet (paved promenade) for nearly nine miles from north to south, soaking in the beaches’ different vibes and spectacular Mediterranean views.
Vibrant Nightlife – Considering a Seabourn cruise that begins or ends in Haifa, the port for Tel Aviv? Plan to spend a night or two so you can experience its famous nightlife. The “city that never sleeps” takes on a vibrant atmosphere after dark, with revelers spilling into the streets. Sip sundowners at a beachfront bar, sample Israeli wines at a cozy neighborhood wine bar, chill out over creative cocktails at a themed hipster lounge, and dance until the wee hours at an underground techno club.
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