By: Gabrielle Donati
Visit any great city and you will discover neighborhoods with their own unique vibe and energy. Sometimes just walking a few blocks in any direction leads you into an area of town that feels distinctively different than any other. You feel it in the architecture, the curve of the streets, the unique restaurants and the cultural influence concentrated in the area.
It is a quality that keeps a city feeling fresh and new, even to old-timers, and Tel Aviv is no stranger to this phenomenon. This very walkable city is home to pockets of distinctively varying vibes, which makes getting to know it a deeply meaningful experience. Summer is the perfect time for a leisurely stroll, so come along with us as we jaunt through 3 of our favorite “hoods” and take note of the change in the air.
For a port city dating back thousands of years, Jaffa has successfully blended antiquity with modernity perhaps as well as any other city in the world.
Kedumim Square, the sprawling plaza near St. Peter’s Church, is newly renovated and you’d never suspect that The Museum of Antiquities is housed right under your feet. It’s a great place to begin your tour of Old Jaffa and marvel at artifacts recovered from as far back as the neolithic period.
Relax and enjoy the scenery
The green, grassy slope behind Kedumim Plaza offers an excellent panorama of the Tel Aviv skyline and shoreline, and provides a great spot to lie back, soak up some rays, and breathe the sweet sea air while you gaze out to sea upon the famous Andromeda’s rock, which Greek Mythology holds is the remnant of a giant sea monster from which Perseus rescued the beautiful princess Andromeda after the King of Jaffa offered her as a sacrifice to Poseidon.
Upon your ascent to one of the best views in town, you’ll likely cross a number of charming historical sites, such as The Wishing Bridge with its bronze depictions of the twelve signs of the zodiac (take notice that many of the narrow streets in Jaffa are named for the signs of the zodiac) and the Gate of Faith — a pristine white Galilee stone sculpture that depicts biblical tales of the patriarchs via carvings into three 4-meter pillars forming a “gate of entry” to Israel.
Shop and eat
Circling the plaza are a variety of art galleries, shops, cafes and restaurants as well as unique points of interest. In nearly every direction a narrow, stone street beacons with the promise of a secret passage and hidden hideaway.
The steep steps on the sea side of the plaza will lead you to the harbor and the Jaffa Port Market — a converted hanger that houses a variety of food kiosks, cafes, and specialty shops. On Fridays from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm, local growers at the popular Farmer’s Market outside the hanger hawk some of the freshest produced and tastiest culinary treats the city has to offer. Personally, my favorite past time, is enjoying a honey beer while combing through the finest fruits and vegetables straight from the field.
If you find yourself hungry or just looking for an excuse to enjoy the romance and adventure of this picturesque location a little while longer, stop in for a leisurely meal at Abrage, a charming restaurant near the Zodiac Fountain on the edge of plaza. The extensive menu and excellent service will please the pickiest of eaters, while the blue-framed windows, colorful foliage and authentic ottoman-era building place you in the heart of what feels like the setting of an ancient fairy tale.
As the first Jewish residential neighborhood to be built outside the protection of Old Jaffa’s walls, Neve Tzedek (Oasis of Justice) was left in a state of disrepair as the growth of the city continued to spread outward. With the help of the municipality, efforts began in the 1960’s to renovate the area, and by the end of the 80’s, the restoration process was in full-swing with some of the most beautiful architecture in Tel Aviv, revealing itself in the restored structures. Today, it’s an oasis of stunning beauty, simplicity, and peacefulness in the heart of the bustling, throbbing city.
Almost all the activity takes place on one strip of road, Shabazi Street. This street begins just off Ahad Ha’am and meanders its way along until stopping at the base of a park and playground. Along Shabazi you’ll find the restaurants, wine bars, cafes, and boutique shops that characterize the consumer aspect of this neighborhood. Turn onto a side street, however, and it’s strictly residential – with the occasional art gallery or museum making a token appearance. Rokach Street is home to a few of the more notable museums, including the Rokach House and the Nachum Gutman Museum.
Rokach House was the home of Shimon Rokach, one of the founders of Neve Tzedek. His home at #26 Rokach has been preserved as a museum dedicated to his time period, and a visit to the house is akin to stepping over 100 years into the past. This is juxtaposed with the artwork and sculpture that adorns the house, which is the work of Shimon’s granddaughter, Lea Majaro Mintz.
The Gutman Museum (21 Rokach Street) is housed in a building of the Bauhaus style of architecture and was the residence of the editorial board of “HaPoel Hatzair”, a young Zionist newspaper in the early 1900’s. A rotating sampling of works by Russian-born Israeli artist, writer, and sculptor, Nachum Gutman is on display at any given time, and the museum also contains a small gift shop.
Food and culture
Neve Tzedek is also home to the Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theatre (6 Yehieli St.), a highly esteemed performance center which showcases some of the best dancers in the world. The Center sits on a complex that includes a spa, a restaurant, two performance halls, fruit trees and a sprawling plaza where on any given summer afternoon, you’ll find children of all ages riding their bikes and skateboards, kicking a ball, or just burning off their limitless supply of energy.
The small fountain at the entrance just off Shabazi Street is a magnet for kids seeking respite from the heat with an open invitation to dip your toes. If the fountain is not enough to provide some respite from the hot summer sun, a tasty temperature reduction can be sought in a double-scoop of decadence from Granny’s Ice Cream (Glida Savta), conveniently located just off the main Dellal plaza. This quaint cafe has seating both indoors and out, and 24 frozen flavors to choose from.
Of course, a visit to Neve Tzedek would not be complete without a leisurely meal in one of the fine area restaurants. The ever-popular Café Suzanna (9 Shabazi Street) epitomizes the ambiance of this neighborhood, drawing diners with its inviting atmosphere and elegant simplicity. Always abuzz with conversation, the shaded terrace is the perfect spot to enjoy a cool salad or grilled sea bream and the rooftop bar, “Suzanna on the Roof,” an ideal venue for rubbing elbows and enjoying drinks with the locals.
Sharing corners with Dizengof Street to the west and Ibn Gvirol to the east, the narrow, tree-lined, one-way-only Basel Street looks unassuming, yet leads to one of the most popular gathering spots in Tel Aviv — Basel Square. The ratio of Israelis to tourists is heavy on the “Israeli” since it’s rare that someone taking in the city sights would “stumble onto” this lively locale, so if you want to experience a-day-in-the-life of Israel’s upper class – head to Basel and indulge.
Though it doesn’t boast the lengthy historical background of Old Jaffa or Neve Tzedek, Basel Street is the namesake of the initial meeting of Herzl’s First Zionist Congress held in Basel, Switzerland in 1897, and one could argue, the first step in a long series of steps that led to the creation of the State of Israel.
Basel (officially known as “Builder’s Square”) is also home to a monument erected in honor of the builders of the city. Oddly, a towering apartment complex grossly overshadows the monument, and looks a bit out of place alongside the rest of the buildings on the square, but doesn’t detract from Basel’s charm or appeal.
Considered “Old North Tel Aviv” since the growth of the city pushed the northern parameters further out, this neighborhood is currently one of the priciest addresses in the country, which comes as no surprise when you consider that both the beach and Park HaYarkon are just a few minutes away.
Keeping it classy
So what do upper-crust Israelis do at Basel Square? Shop and dine. And both are done to perfection.
The four streets that form the square (Basel, Ashtori Hafarchi, Alkalay, and Hashla) are lined with specialty shops ranging from Israeli designers such as Daniella Lehavi and Hagar Satat to international offerings including deliciously colorful Italian leather creations from Campo Marzio and the fascinating collection of Japanese paper products found at Shinzi Katoh. Mothers and mothers-to-be are pampered with a wide selection of maternity wear at Avishag Arbel and Liat Har Nof, as well as sugary-sweet baby and toddler toys at Cooly Co. For everyone else on your shopping list, Del Arte offers an eclectic selection of some truly unique gift items — all of them handmade with a tangible touch of whimsy.
After building up an appetite with all that shopping, satiating said appetite is no doubt next on the agenda. Basel Square offers a little something for everyone.
Ze Sushi provides the chill-out vibe of the neighborhood and some of the best sushi in Tel Aviv, while Rustico is the go-to spot for Italian food-lovers. Cafe Ashtor has an extensive menu with a large variety of options, and the budget conscious can dig into a plate of Humus Shel Ronen or enjoy a slice at Tic Tax Toe Pizza. Cafe Colette, La Bon Patisserie, Liati, and Lulu are magnets for those seeking coffee, tea, and a little something sweet — although it should be noted that Lulu offers not only the most pleasant ambiance on the square, but a business lunch menu that is guaranteed to surprise. The food is excellent and the warm Vine Leaves in Labane is not to be missed.
About the author
Gabrielle Donati lives a life of relative ease in the great White City. She is a veteran writer, critic and all-in-all decent person, once you get to know her. A devout Pastafarian who puts an emphasis on living healthy and happy, she enjoys discovering and sharing the many little pleasures of the city.
Photos: Gabrielle Donati/iTravel Tel Aviv; Israel Ministry of Tourism