For most visitors, Tel Aviv is defined by its nearly ten-mile stretch of beach, which along with the seaside promenade is known as the Tayelet. Here, particularly in the hotter months (April to October), Tel Aviv truly comes into its own: the beaches do get crowded, especially on weekends which are Fridays and Saturdays in Israel, but the vibe is Venice Beach writ large. Whether you're traveling as a family, are religious, gay or any combination thereof, you'll find a welcoming stretch of beach, while the promenade itself teems with a cross-section of Tel Avivis. There is also now a dedicated bike lane.
The next most famous section of Tel Aviv is also quite large, the so-called White City which is named for the preponderance mainly white buildings designed in the signature architectural style of Tel Aviv, Bauhaus. It's a functional style from the 1930s noted for its curvilinear forms. The concentration of Bauhaus buildings earned World Heritage Site designation by UNESCO in 2003. There are great guided walking tours of the Bauhaus district. Rothschild Boulevard and Bialik Street are good places to start if you want to go a more independent route. The main commercial thoroughfare is Dizengoff Street.
Tel Aviv’s biggest open-air market, also known as the Shuk Carmel, begins at Allenby and HaCarmel street and is a district unto itself. From Sunday to Friday it groans with more fresh Israeli-grown fruits and vegetables, fish, meat and more than a truckload of the most capable chefs could handle. When you spot that perfect watermelon, grab it – but don’t be afraid to haggle.
Then, wander about the adjacent narrow, flower-filled lanes of the adjacent Kerem HaTeimanim neighborhood.
Levantine and labyrinthine, its tangle of sloping, flower-lined lanes is heavily trafficked by feral cats and dominated by multicolored two and three-story dwellings of Lilliputian proportion, many with gangly overhangs, and the occasional stray Bauhaus edifice. Derivative of Yemen’s Jewish ghettos of yore, so they say, but it really seems to channel the late Robert Altman’s surreal vision of Sweethaven in his film version of Popeye – only this ‘hood’s got better food.
Neve Tzedek was the first neighborhood in Tel Aviv to be built outside old Jaffa, in 1887. It is pretty with lots of boutiques on narrow Shabazi Street, and most of the buildings are small single and two-story houses painted in pastel shades of pink, yellow, green and blue. It is by and large an upscale neighborhood, and not very exciting, but definitely worth a stroll. On its eastern edge you'll find the HaTachana marketplace, an enjoyable spot for lunch or quality shopping.
Florentine is a small neighborhood next to Neve Tzedek. It isn't beautiful, it has no attractions, and few good restaurants. Also, I love it. Why? Because it has some of the best home furnishing shopping you'll find anywhere. At wholesale prices, if you know how to haggle. And it is in Florentine that you will see some of the most striking examples of Tel Aviv's famous street art.
The Tel Aviv Port, called Namal in Hebrew, is the ultimate un-mall. The vast decks are of bleached gray wood and in places are fashioned to look like sand dunes, their gentle curves forming a foreground to an aquatic orchestra of white-blue waves that tickle the railing. The promenade is lined with a cool parade of fabulous shops and restaurants, only a few of which are chains. There's also a great organic market.
To get to Namal, just walk north along the Tayelet promenade. To your immediate left is the beach, while the streets on the right lead to Tel Aviv's affluent but rather unexciting Old North neighborhood.
Jaffa is ancient and it knows it. The seaside city, officially part of Tel Aviv, traces its history back upwards of 7,500 years, and what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in history. Jonah and the whale...the cedars of Lebanon shipped here for the Second Temple in Jerusalem...the resurrection of Tabitha...these are just a few of Jaffa's cultural legacies.
Kedumim Square is at the heart of the old town. The Visitor's Center, open daily from 10am to 6pm, is directly underneath it. A new W hotel is in development nearby. Many of Tel Aviv's most interesting new restaurants are actually opening up in Jaffa.