Since Tel Aviv is situated on a beach, the best way to get a geographic feel for the city is by using the Mediterranean coastline as a reference point. Head south along the beach from Tel Aviv and you will arrive in the ancient port town of
There is a demographic split between Tel Aviv's north and south. North Tel Aviv is known for being affluent, European in outlook and a little snobbish. South Tel Aviv is poor and working class. However, there has been a certain level of gentrification in recent years, and neighbourhoods such as
The main roads in central Tel Aviv all run parallel to each other, which makes finding your way around easy. Going back to the coastline as a starting point, the beach is a highway of sorts, with walkers, joggers and cyclists breezing past. It is here that Tel Avivians come to relax: be that meditating, doing yoga at the water's edge, juggling, playing beach tennis, watching the waves, lying in the sun, flying kites or playing soccer. The
The road by the beach is Hayarkon (later Herbert Samuel Boulevard) and it is here that all of Tel Aviv's luxury hotels are to be found, along with many other accommodation options. There are also a sprinkle of eateries aimed at tourists. One street back from the beach road is Ben Yehuda Street. It is here you will find travel agents, backpacker facilities, souvenir shops and more eateries. As the road goes southwards, it becomes Allenby Street. This street is known for its seediness, liveliness and bargains and is packed with strip bars, pre-clubbing hang-outs and cheap and cheerful stores. Allenby Street is a corridor to many interesting places. It intersects with the Carmel Market, the Nahalat Binyamin craft market and the fashionable Sheinkin Street, where the cappuccino-sipping crowd come to see and to be seen.
The third major road back from the street is Dizengoff Road. In its heyday, it was the Champs Elysees of Tel Aviv. A verb even existed in Hebrew, "To Dizengoff," meaning to window shop with friends and have coffee. Today's Dizengoff Street has suffered somewhat with the advent of the shopping mall. However, there are still coffee shops and clothes shops aplenty, with designer name shops located at the northern end of Dizengoff. The street also has a large concentration of bridal outfitters. Towards the southern end of Dizengoff Street are the landmark
About a 10 minute walk away from the beach (some 5 minutes beyond Dizengoff Street), you will hit Ibn Gvirol Street, which is also a major thoroughfare. City Hall and
There are many distinctive neighbourhoods in and around central Tel Aviv. Kikar Medina in north Tel Aviv is the Rodeo Drive of Israel with designer stores located around a circular park. Also to the northern edge of town is Basel Square, a quiet, café lined square with a Continental feel.
The Greater Tel Aviv area is home to 384,000 of the country's seven million occupants, so many faces of Israel can be found in this central part of the country. The poor areas of Hatikvah and the neighbourhoods surrounding the Central Bus Station are home to a large population of migrant workers, which gives the areas an ethnic, developing world feeling. Bnei Brak on the outskirts of Tel Aviv is home to ultra-Orthodox Jews and is couched in old world values. The seaside neighbourhood of Bat Yam is popular with immigrants from the Former Soviet Union.
At first glance, the concrete architecture of Tel Aviv may seem both old and tired, but start exploring and you will soon discover the city's vibrancy and energy.
Tel Aviv is a city of life and movement, where your greatest tour will simply be exploring the city as it is while you are there—for tomorrow it will surely be different. While the concrete buildings and homes are permanent, the best the city has to offer is constantly moving, just like its youthful population.
But while Tel Aviv is young, it started out as a distant suburb of its four thousand year-old neighbor to the south. Jaffa, forty times as old as Tel Aviv, is a fascinating place to wander around. It is here that the whale spat out Jonah and it has been a port since the times of King Solomon. Today, Old Jaffa is a place of quaint winding alleys, cobbled streets and beautiful gardens with sea views.
If you're lucky enough to be in Jaffa on a Wednesday, the Tourist Office runs a free English speaking tour which meets at 9.30am outside the clock tower. If you are not on the Wednesday tour, don't fear. Follow the signs to Kedumim Square, where the Tourist Office is located, and pick up a map. With map in hand, you can start exploring. The area of Kedumim Square is the centre of Old Jaffa, with shops, galleries and restaurants branching off from it. The large church you can see is St. Peter's Church and Monastery. As an artist's colony, there are wonderful galleries and artisan's stores to look at.
One of the artists living in Old Jaffa, Ilana Goor, has turned her home into a piece of living art. The The Ilana Goor Museum is filled with bold and jazzy art collectors' pieces. You can sit on a state-of-the-art rocking chair or have a coffee on the top level, which has a wonderful sea view. If you're lucky, you may catch Ilana coming in with her groceries and have a chat.
The Old City is a very atmospheric place, perhaps owing to the legends that surround it, the biblical figures who have passed through it and the ruling powers who have been and gone throughout the past 4,000 years. There are good fish restaurants if you wish to stay and soak up the atmosphere. At night the Old City is lit up, adding a magical and romantic touch to any evening. In the summer months, there is free jazz on a Saturday night in Kedumim Square.
Jaffa is also famed for its Jaffa Flea Market, which is found outside the Old City, east of Yefet Street. The market has rugs, water pipes, antiques and hippy clothes aplenty, but be prepared to haggle for a good price.
If you still have the energy a walk along the Tayelet, it's the most pleasant way to travel back to Tel Aviv, which lies 2km north. There are several beachside cafes on the way back, if you want to stop and rest. The Charles Clore Park offers a green spot to sit and look at the golden sand and turquoise waves.
Tel Aviv's streets are lined with hairdressers and cafés, which will tell you something about the population of this city. Tel Avivians love to be seen and to go out. If you stay a few months in the city, you will notice that social businesses open, close and change with alarming rapidity, hinting that this is a city that loves novelty.
Allenby 58, which used to be 'the' nightclub, is now gone and a state-of-the-art hairdressing salon stands in its place. Cafés and bars also tend to disappear, move location and change their image frequently. Maybe this is because Tel Aviv is a non-stop city, providing 24 hour entertainment, always experimenting, improvising and embracing new horizons.
Tel Aviv prides itself on being the cultural heartbeat of Israel. The municipality provides a huge amount of cultural events, many of them free throughout the year. For the young at heart there is a DJ competition, where the five winners host a free outdoor rave for the city. For those who love celebrating there are outdoor carnivals such as the Love Parade and Gay Pride. For the classically oriented, the Israel Philharmonic gives a free summer concert in Hayarkon Park and opera performances are broadcast live to the masses on a giant screen in July and August.
There are all sorts of festivals, celebrating food, chocolate, Irish culture, Cuban culture, jazz, Afro-American music, percussion, children's tales and the list goes on. For Hebrew speakers, Ahba Ha'Ir (City Mouse) provides good listings of Tel Aviv events. English speakers should pick up a Friday edition of the Ha'aretz/ Herald Tribune International, which contains The Guide—a listings magazine.
Tel Aviv is where Israel's finest theatre, dance and music can be sampled. The Suzanne Dellal Centre in the historic Neve Tzedek neighborhood is a beautifully restored building (formerly a school) which is home to the Inbal and Bat Sheva dance troupes and an impressive dance venue.
The Habima is Israel's national theatre. The Habima group which began life in 1917 in Moscow, was the first Hebrew speaking theatre. Located next door is the Mann Auditorium which houses the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
The Cameri Theatre, located in the upstairs of a shopping precinct on Dizengoff Street, shows thought-provoking contemporary pieces, with a simultaneous translation into English on Tuesday nights. For film lovers, there is the Cinematheque—the first institution of its kind in Israel. There are film festivals, workshops, free foyer events and the screenings of dozens of films every month.
If you're going out at night in Tel Aviv, it's worth noting that most locals don't go out until close to midnight and most cafés stay open until the wee small hours. Alcohol and pubs do not play a huge part in Israeli nightlife as Israelis have a notoriously low tolerance for alcohol. Instead the custom is to sit at an outdoor café until late, late, late.
On a summer's night on the Tayelet (beach promenade) the pavements are still thick with people at 3a. Many clubs keep on going until daylight.
You may encounter a 'selectorit' at the entrance to certain very image-conscious nightclubs. This is someone who looks the potential clientele up and down and decides who looks good enough to go in. Thankfully, the Knesset (Israeli parliament) passed a law in December 2000, outlawing discrimination on the part of nightclubs as to who can and cannot enter. Some of the livelier areas at night include the strip of Allenby Street near Carmel market, Sheinkin Street, Florentine and areas near the beach.
The beach is a sure source of entertainment in all seasons and at all hours. In summer, it is packed body to body with both tourists and locals. But, all year round the beach is great for both people watching and wave-watching, water sports and impromptu games of football and beach tennis, night picnics, romantic walks, jogging and meditating.
On Friday nights, the alternative population of Tel Aviv gathers on Chinky Beach to drum in the sunset. Normally the crowd includes a few digeridoo players and fire jugglers.
Tel Aviv's live and let-live attitude has led to the flourishing of a lively gay community. There are numerous cafes, bars, clubs and saunas, catering to both a mixed and gay-only crowd. The The Tel Aviv Cinematheque screens gay films every month as part of its Pink Cinema Club. Hebrew speakers can pick up Varod Zman (The Pink Times) for listings information.
Tel Aviv is a magnet for those from all over the country who want to have fun and be entertained. With a country whose past is so tainted by the fight for survival, there is very much a live-for-the-day attitude. This results in Israelis loving to go out and celebrate. This non-stop party is a bubble from some of the harsher realities of life in Israel. The attitude here is: Go dancing, sip coffee until late and 'yihiye beseder' (everything will be fine).
The tale of Tel Aviv begins in the time of Bible stories and legends. It was on the shores of Jaffa that the whale spat up Jonah. And at the spot where Andromeda's rock stands, Andromeda of Greek mythology was kept captive until Perseus came on his winged horse to rescue her. At 4,000 years old, Jaffa is the oldest port in the world. Built during King Solomon's time, the materials used for making the Temple in Jerusalem were shipped in through this harbour.
In 1468 BCE, the Israelites lost the port to the Egyptians. However, Jewish sages and scholars remained in the area up to the thirteenth century, when the Mamaluks killed the city's inhabitants. From the eighth century through to 1917, Jaffa was under Arab rule, apart from a short spell when the Crusaders took power. The old city of Jaffa owes much of its quaint charm to the many powers who settled there over the centuries.
Jews began to resettle in Jaffa in 1840 and by the end of the century, because of the birth of Zionism and anti-Jewish pogroms in Eastern Europe, boatloads of immigrants were arriving. The late nineteenth century also saw American, German and Russian Christians establishing communities here.
The overcrowding in Jaffa encouraged some Jews to move out in 1886 and build a new neighbourhood to the north, Neve Tzedek. This historic district became popular with artists and intellectuals and today is a sought after address. The landmark clock tower in the centre of Jaffa was built in 1906 to mark the 25th year of the Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II. However, eleven years later the Turks were driven out by the British, led by General Allenby.
In 1909, sixty families bought a plot of land stretching from Neve Tzedek to the banks of the Yarkon River, some six miles away. The land consisted of sand dunes overlooking the Mediterranean. The families called their new town 'Housing Project'. However, after a year they renamed it Tel Aviv, which means 'Spring Hill'. The first modern Jewish town had been born. Its first mayor was Meir Dizengoff, who remained in charge of the city from 1910 to 1937. Today he has a street, a fountain and a shopping mall named after him.
In 1921, anti-Jewish riots broke out in Jaffa in response to the growing number of Jewish immigrants. This convinced many Jews to leave Jaffa and settle in Tel Aviv. By 1926, Tel Aviv's population had swollen to 40,000 residents and the first town hall had been built. By the 1930s, it was home to over 100,000 inhabitants.
Many of those who arrived in the 1930s were German intellectuals who were escaping from Nazism. Among them were architects who had been influenced by the Bauhaus school of architecture. They were responsible for the look of early Tel Aviv. Along roads such as Rothschild, Bialik and Allenby there are over 3,000 buildings built in the Bauhaus style.
Throughout the war years, Tel Aviv was a center for Zionist resistance against Britain's anti-immigration policy. Shiploads of Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazi occupation were refused entry. Along the beach, there are many plaques marking where immigrants were either successfully smuggled in or where the British opened fire on the boat. The Haganah Museum , The Etzel Museum and The Jabotinsky Institute detail the story of the resistance fighters' struggle against British authority.
In 1947, the UN voted to give Jews a homeland in Israel and on 14 May, 1948, Israel declared its statehood at 16, Rothschild Boulevard, the home of Meir Dizengoff (today known as Independence Hall). The very next day, the British High Commissioner went home. War began, and many of Jaffa's Arab population fled. In 1950, the Tel Aviv municipality united Tel Aviv and Jaffa as joint cities.
The 1950s saw the building of the Mann Auditorium to house the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, and the founding of Tel Aviv University. By the mid-1960s Tel Aviv had a population of 400,000, many of whom were Jewish immigrants. The Diaspora Museum is an interesting place to learn about how Jewish communities, in places as far afield as India, Yemen, Morocco and Zimbabwe, continued their traditions during 2,500 years of exile.
In 1995, tragedy struck when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated at a peace rally outside City Hall, by a student who was opposed to his principles. The spot where he was killed was renamed Kikar Rabin (Rabin Square). There is a memorial and the site is used for weekly and annual memorials.
Tel Aviv is very much the polar opposite of Jerusalem. It is a secular, hedonistic city, more liberal in its politics than Jerusalem and a city which lives on the cutting edge of the here and now. It is here that Israel's celebrities and yuppies live.
If you go to the Azrieli Observatory and look at the sprawling panorama of Tel Aviv, with its skyscrapers and never-ending suburbs, you can take in the miracle that is Tel Aviv, as 100 years ago none of this was here. There were no funky shops on Sheinkin Street, no Carmel Market hubbub and no Azrieli Centre with its soaring glass towers. Just undulating sand dunes and wilderness.