By: Gabrielle Donati
Like nautical bookends supporting the city, the southern port of Jaffa and the northern port of Tel Aviv are centers of culture and nightlife in both areas, but if you take a closer look, they are also as different as night and day.
One has a history dating back centuries, the other is less than 100 years old and has undergone renovations and a resurgence in only the past 15. Although both have a Friday Farmer’s Market and a lighthouse, that is nearly where the similarities end.
Each port embodies a different energy and focal point of interest so if your itinerary allows it, a visit to both ports is optimal. If, however, your schedule demands choosing one or the other, here’s a synopsis with all the information you need to make your choice…
Believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited ports in the world, Jaffa Port has been a centerpiece of Middle Eastern life for thousands of years, with archaeological remains dating back to the 18th century BCE. While it may seem unassuming today, this port has witnessed the evolution of civilization itself. From Jaffa Port, you can easily walk to Jaffa’s Old City, St. Peters Church and numerous other historical sites.
On the other side of the spectrum, Tel Aviv Port (Namal Tel Aviv) has only existed for less than 100 years, and in its current state, just over a decade.
After operating as an alternative to Jaffa Port from the mid-1930’s, it fell into disrepair after larger ports popped up in Ashkelon and Ashdod. However, since 2001, it has been reinvented as an upscale hotspot for shopping, dining and nightlife and shows little evidence its past.
If you’re looking for a wealth of dining options, then Tel Aviv Port will probably be your choice. There are cafe’s and restaurants about as far as the eye can see, including the ever-popular Kitchen Market, Benny Hadayag, White Pergola, Agadir and Japanika.
For something a bit special, the elegantly chilled out Shalvata opens at 5pm (Friday & Saturday at 9am) providing the perfect setting for a sunset dinner. If you’re looking for some more whimsical nourishment, order up a plate of fruit-topped hotcakes from the Original Pancake House – a total indulgence no matter what time of day.
For a dramatically different dining experience, reserve a meal at Blackout - where you’ll dine in complete darkness, catered by a blind waitstaff. The restaurant is located at the Na Laga’at (“Please touch”) Center and can be reserved with or without the accompanying stage show. The center also manages Cafe Kapish, which although not in darkness, is staffed by deaf waiters. The experience is truly indescribably.
Both ports have a stable of entertainment options, but you definitely get a different experience at each one.
At Jaffa Port, members of the deaf and blind community perform the aforementioned Na Lagaat’s “Not by Bread Alone” on a regular basis, and music is never far away, with international music and dance troupe Mayumana headquartered just outside of the port and the Container hosting free live music shows several times a week and afternoon parties every Friday until sundown.
One of the newest music venues, Jaffa Turku (operated by the popular and delicious seaside restaurant Casita), is housed in an ancient architectural delight of cool stone walls and ottoman-era archways, where you can dine, drink and dance to live Greek music on Tuesdays, Turkish on Fridays, and Flamenco on Saturdays. Reservations required.
Meanwhile, Namal Tel Aviv is bursting at the seams all summer with a variety of shows, like the Rock & Port concert series with performances by Hadag Nahash, Monika Sex, Dudu Tassa, and other Israeli headliners.
For a unique welcome to the weekend, don’t miss the seaside Kabbalat Shabbat every Friday at 6:30 pm, and always keep an eye out for concerts and other events at the Namal’s mega-venue, Hangar 11 and parties at the hip Shalvata.
If you prefer to be your own entertainment, book a room at Me On the Mic, an event venue where your party of 6-100 guests can drink, dine, and sing their karaoke-loving hearts out on a private stage.
Commerce is where the two ports really diverge.
Tel Aviv Port is a shopaholic’s dream as hanger after hanger reveals yet another designer store. The Namal is all about international brands: Adidas, Levis, Breitling, Carolina Lemke, and Steve Madden – just to name a few. Factory 54 gathers top-notch labels like Boss, Paul and Shark, Missoni, and Tommy Hilfiger together under one roof, while Comme il Faut integrates a fashion house, spa, and restaurant into a one-stop extravaganza.
You can top off your visit at Shuk HaNamal, a charming food market that feels more European than Middle Eastern. The Friday Farmer’s Market sets-up at the front and back entrances of the permanent market, which accommodates a variety of vendors selling fresh meat, fish, cheeses and more daily (except Sundays) for take-away.
Conversely, Jaffa Port has only a few outlets for shopping and most showcase Israeli designers.
Just past The Sea Mosque, small storefronts beckon shoppers with hand-crafted leather goods, jewelry, clothing, and art — all by Israeli designers. Orit Kutai Arts and Jewelry Gallery hosts 50 Israeli designers with a quality selection of fine jewelry and accessories.
The Woman’s Courtyard, in the main hangar near the harbor, is a unique project that teams designer clothing with social awareness. Israeli designers donate the goods, and at-risk women from South Tel Aviv and Jaffa operate the store. Prices are surprisingly reasonable and the societal reward is priceless.
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.