Having just a short stay in Tel Aviv and not feeling the hassle to take a tour to Jerusalem? No problem, Jaffa is only a decent stroll away from the city beaches to the South and offers at least the same amount of history, architecture and art.
It was more than 10 years ago since I had last have the opportunity to spend a few hours outside to explore a little bit more of a country that I generally knew rather from the news than for real. So it came more than handy that my latest domestic tour left me with almost a full day in the Israeli metropolis.
My original idea was actually to take a local bus ride to the legendary Jerusalem, but since I was not so sure about the company policies regarding traveling with public transportation within Israel, I decided the last-minute to stay within the city borders and make an excursion to the ancient neighborhood of Jaffa. Just about 25 minutes by foot from our hotel located straight at Charles Clore Park at the oceanfront.
The walk along the shore is a neat thing to do as you can watch the locals enjoying a day at the beach or simply run their errands and get cooled off by the gentle ocean breeze. There are several beaches along the way and you could pack a towel if you wanted to take a spontaneous dip into the waves.
My first stop was right at the entrance towards the old Jaffa harbor. Casita is a cafe and bistro which is set up in an old control booth and which serves great coffee and sweet and savory snacks with an amazing view over the sea and the Tel Aviv skyline. A perfect spot to rest for a little while before beginning my tour through one of the country´s oldest civilized areas (settlements reach back to 3,500 BC!).
The port is mentioned already in the bible and is today a popular spot for seafood dining and sunset cruises.
Most of the old warehouses are still in use for storage or they house restaurants, some are wonderful scenes for urban decay snapshots to decorate your home with. Like this one.
Jaffa is particularly known for its rich variety of art galleries and you should definitely take a chance and check some of them out. I picked up a few souvenirs and prints at the Warehouse 2 art gallery.
Before I made my way into Old Jaffa, I continued along the shore towards Midron Jaffo Park which offers fantastic 360 degrees panoramic views from the top of the hill over the entire area.
From here, I turned into one of the side streets and walked zig zag up the hill towards the center of Old Jaffa. I love to stroll through residential areas as they give great insight into the way of life of the local people. Lots of beautiful house facades to marvel at and tiny little back streets.
Something that was quite interesting to learn was that Jaffa was mainly populated by Muslims during the 1940´s. Back then, it was planned as an Arabian enclave while Tel Aviv had been intended to belong to the Jewish part when the UN tried to organize a separation between Israel and Palestine.
It remains a mainly Arabic neighborhood these days with lots of small shops and antique stores. The old city, on the other hand, reminded me a little bit of ancient Dubrovnik.
Beautiful narrow alleyways lead up and down the steep rock and create a mystical and romantic atmosphere. Small artist shops invite to sneak into and here and there a hidden lookout pops up to reveal fantastic vistas over the area.
Large parts of the area have been renovated while others were left in decay, yet this combination makes Jaffa a highly interesting and diverse place to visit and explore. Due to its rich history, there are quite a number of different architectural styles to discover, as well as religious buildings and museums.
My absolute favorite spot was the Jaffa Flea Market though. Spread over a couple of blocks, this treasure trove for hand-woven carpets, antique furnitures, jewellery and other local products is a must see for everyone! I could have spent hours and hours there, but unfortunately it was already early evening and my stomach was screaming for food.
So after enjoying street food here and there I slowly made my way back to the oceanfront promenade, but not without passing the famous clock tower.
It was now the time of day that the district truly came to live and I was a little sad that I had to leave already.
The beaches began to fill up with people of all confessions and here and there large groups of families and friends met up to enjoy a barbecue by the sea.
Before I had to turn off the lights in order to catch a few hours of sleep, I spend watching the extraordinary sunset from the balcony of my hotel room that formed the perfect ending to this perfect afternoon. Once you have been to a country and you have seen things for yourself, isn´t it always interesting how this view can be so much different from the picture that is created by the media? I definitely need to come back sometimes soon. And not only for Jerusalem…. Shalom Tel Aviv, Shalom Israel.