I have no problem admitting when I’m wrong. And this was definitely one of those times.
As I planned our epic Israel and Jordan adventure, many forum posts and blog articles reiterated, “Don’t discount Tel Aviv and Jaffa, they’re worth spending some time in”.
But I had so much I wanted to fit into our itinerary that I kept telling my friends (and myself) that if we needed to cut time, I didn’t feel like Tel Aviv was critical as anything other than a base. We ended up only having a morning to explore Tel Aviv and Old Jaffa, but I was surprised at how quickly the city charmed me.
After our first day spent exploring the north of Israel, we’d finally gotten a decent night of sleep. Feeling refreshed, I was jonesin’ for some coffee and ready to hit the pavement.
We headed out from Abraham Hostel and started walking toward the sea, with a quick stop for vital sugar and caffeine. Is this not the cutest?!
It was a gorgeous, hot Sabbath morning, and Tel Aviv was ALIVE. No sleepy weekend morning here. Because Tel Aviv is a bit more secular, there were still some shops open, and tons of people out walking, having brunch, walking their dogs, and generally enjoying a beautiful late spring morning. It was also a couple days before their Independence Day, so there were Israeli flags displayed all over.
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The street art in Tel Aviv is really something. I was obsessed with these adorable squirrels (who definitely look like they’re up to something). If you have longer to spend in the city and are into this kind of thing, there are street art tours that you can take to really get a feel for it. We just walked through the Neve Tzedek neighborhood toward the sea.
We enjoyed soaking in the city, but after about 25 minutes we reached the real star—the Mediterranean.
I challenge you to find a major city with beaches this beautiful and accessible. I could have parked myself on that sand all day and just stared at the changing blues, greens, turquoises, and teals.
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But alas, we had another destination in mind. We walked south along the promenade as Old Jaffa came into view.
To give a little bit of background: Tel Aviv is a very modern city, only founded in the early 1900s. But next-door and now included Jaffa (also Yafo, Joppa, etc.) is one of the oldest functioning ports in the world. Because it’s a very key strategic position and an natural port, reading who’s controlled it is like a “Who’s Who of the Ancient World”.
It first shows up in the historic record in the 1500s BCE as a Canaanite port, then Egyptian, Hittite, Philistine and Israelite (honestly, went back and forth between those two for a while), Assyrian, Persian, Phoenician, Greek, Hasmonean (Jewish), Roman, Byzantine, Mamaluke, Ottoman—even Napoleon conquered it before the British took control in 1917. This port is not a spring chicken, and it got around.
We walked along the water, rounding the bend. Some street musicians really set the scene for us, the perfect ambiance for a stroll in such an amazing historic town. (Apologies for the obnoxious vertical video, I Snapchatted that originally)
We didn’t have a specific game plan, just walked around. I probably should have done a bit more research because I feel like we probably missed some important sights. I will say that I expected the narrow streets, stairs, and alleys to be a bit more…old-looking. Not only were they super clean (props, Jaffa-ians) but weirdly newer-feeling.
In addition to the cute little farmers market in the main square, there are a few famous churches. We didn’t bother with visiting them, but if that’s your thing you can feel free. We wanted to stay outside in the sun as long as possible.
To that end, make sure to head to the top of the gardens in the middle of Old Jaffa (HaPisga Garden, or Peak Garden) for the beautiful views of Tel Aviv, the beaches, and Jaffa. They make it as Instagrammable as possible 🙂
I kept taking pictures of this sailboat, because it somehow kept popping up everywhere we went. As we walked, the thing that kept running through my mind is that this is a very old view. Like, this pic here (below) is basically the same one that the apostle Peter would have seen when he was staying in Joppa over two millennia ago. That is INSANE.
Not this one, obvs.
Jaffa is home to tons of art galleries and great restaurants, which we just didn’t have time to sample, unfortunately. If you have more time to explore than we did, check out articles like this and this for a bit more info.
We finally made our way to the famous clocktower (which honestly was a bit underwhelming after all it was talked up). I missed the sight of the sea, but my stomach was growling and we needed to get back to the hostel to meet our friends soon. Luckily, she texted me right at that moment that we should try to grab a bite at Abulafia.
Except she didn’t spell it that way (it apparently has a few different spellings, like Aboulefia), so I scanned the street and finally did some googling, trying to figure out what that was.
Sooo happy I did. It was just a few steps down the street, and I was captivated by all the baked goods on offer as we drew near. The challenge for someone like me is 1) figuring out what I want, and 2) getting served. There isn’t really a line, you have to know what you want (no, there’s no any kind of menu that I could see), and politeness isn’t valued. In general in Israel, I found you just have to be direct and a little pushy (not straight up rude, just not deferential) to get around.
Abulafia is famous, and has sat at the same corner in Jaffa since 1879. The biggest bummer for me is that I’m 100% positive I didn’t get the best things there just because I didn’t know they existed, and I wish I’d had a local to point me in the right direction. Regardless, we got a couple pastries filled with savory things and a long phyllo stick pastry thing, and made our way back to the beach to eat.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
It was only a few hours (and a chill few hours at that), but Tel Aviv and Jaffa left me thoroughly charmed. I’d head back there in a heartbeat to explore the food, culture, and history (it also has a major nightlife, but that’s just not for me).
Places to visit in Tel Aviv if you only have a half day:
- The beach!!! Walk, sit, lay out, have a snack, and soak up Tel Aviv’s beach culture—and if you’re here at sunset, this is the place to be!
- Explore Old Jaffa. Visit the clock tower, the port, the main square with churches
- Neve Tzedek neighborhood…just walk through and enjoy the street art (Simtat Shlush in this area has a lot of great examples), have a snack or sit down for some brunch
- Eat at Abulafia bakery in Jaffa
- If you’re here at night and nightlife is your thing, head to Shenkin, Allenby, and Bograshov Streets
I know I missed a TON of places to visit in Tel Aviv…let me know what I need to do next time I’m there in the comments!
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