Jaffa, or Yafo as it’s known in Hebrew, is a cute little city with an amazingly rich history, perched at the southern end of the Tel Aviv shoreline.
Old Jaffa is in fact the name given to the mass of buildings and the old port (one of the oldest ports in the world!) you can see from the Tel Aviv promenade, perhaps one of the most photographed scenes by visitors to Tel Aviv.
Although it might lose out in the tourist battle to central Tel Aviv (we include it as one of the ten essential things to see and do IN Tel Aviv), Old Jaffa is an awesome maze of architectural delights, amazing little galleries and studios, and cute little eateries. And whereas Tel Aviv offers a somewhat surprising European flavor, there’s no mistaking the Middle East atmosphere and vibe in Old Jaffa…
Those famous alleys are where you should start any visit to Old Jaffa. They are easy to find, just head upwards from the promenade or port once you hit the main promenade of Old Jaffa. And don’t worry, their relatively recent restoration will charm your camera out of your pocket on endless occasion.
The alleys of Old Jaffa are not just a delight to stroll down: they’re also home to over 50 trendy galleries, studios and design shops, including the legendary Ilana Goor Museum.
Not only has this world renowned artist filled the museum, which is also her home, with a collection of sculptures, furniture, paintings, jewelry and clothes including her own works to be enjoyed by the public, but Ilana Goor has also restored a magnificent building in the heart of Old Jaffa. Built over 250 years ago to welcome Jewish pilgrims on their arrival at Jaffa port, it has impressive walls of honey colored rock and graceful arches. You can enjoy magnificent sea views from nearly all the windows and it’s a place to enjoy a lovely collection in a peaceful and calming atmosphere.
Other established artists you can find in the alleys include Horace Richter, Frank Meisler, Varda Carmeli, and Ben-Zion David, and there are a number of very interesting new galleries such as the Gallery of Original Ethiopian Art, the Bauhaus Center and the Aharon Farkash Poster Collection Gallery, all great galleries for art lovers.
Old Jaffa is a romantic place, particularly at night when buildings and the old port are illuminated and reflect in the waters of the Mediterranean. Its restaurants are a real destination in the evening when the artists close up shop and Tel Aviv residents and tourists drop by, at least those who appreciate good food and a convivial atmosphere.
Leading restaurants (at the time of writing this article) include Kalamata, Casa Nova, Yamit, and leading Israeli chef Nir Zuk’s Napoleon Patisserie, while the amazing Na Laga’at is perhaps the ultimate dining experience in Israel (your senses will work like they’ve never worked before – that’s a promise!). A recent addition well worth checking out and open every day (except Sundays) is the Jaffa Port Food Market, complete with food stands, great felafel, and a very tasty tapas bar (Rokach Yam).
Perhaps the most authentic Israel dining experience in Tel Aviv can also be found in Old Jaffa – head to Doctor Shakshuka! It’s fun and tasty, a must try, especially if you’re visiting the legendary Jaffa Flea Market (see below).
For a superb view of the whole of Tel Aviv’s coastline, head to the top of the gardens in the middle of Old Jaffa, known as HaPisga Garden, or Peak Garden. The gardens themselves are nice and well-kept, and are well worth the climb to the top. As well as the beautiful coastline vista, you can also see across Jaffa and the iconic clock tower, the Old Jaffa port, out to sea and across the southern neighborhoods of Tel Aviv. Don’t forget your camera!
Tales of Jaffa’s amazing history can be heard in the Visitor’s Center at the heart of Kdumim Square in Old Jaffa. Here you can check out the major archeological discoveries found in Jaffa, meet some of the central characters (watch out for Yehuda Agronimos, a Jaffa man from first century CE!) in the tales of Jaffa, and learn the city’s history. Also worth checking out are the audio tours available, which you can rent or buy to guide yourself around the major Jaffa sites.
As opening times vary throughout the year, it might be an idea to call ahead: 03-6037686 or 03-6037000.
The Old Jaffa that beckons tourists today has its roots in the old port, and when you visit today you will find a harbor busy with working fishing boats operating the same way as they have for hundreds of years.
Thanks to the newer ports in Ashdod and Haifa, your scenery of pretty colored boats and views out to sea and of Tel Aviv-Yafo aren’t obscured by massive container ships, liners and ferries. If you’re up for it, you could also go for a boat trip along the Tel Aviv coast, there are always a number of cheap options available in the port, just look around.
You can enjoy the renovated waterfront with its collection of interesting little shops and eateries by day and the beautiful ambiance created at night when the port buildings are illuminated. As well as those restaurants mentioned above, there are a couple of very decent fish restaurants, notably Misedet Hadayagim (The Fishermen’s Restaurant), at the very end of Jaffa port where the fried calamari is described as sublime.
There are very few tourists that don’t enjoy picking up a souvenir or two and buying something that evokes local flavor is all part of the fun. For some vacation retail therapy with a difference, head towards Yefet Street when coming from the alleyways or port. You’ve only got to walk a short difference from the Clock Tower and you’ll find yourself amongst a myriad of bargains, antiques and secondhand treasures. Read our full guide to Jaffa Flea Market here.
Even if you don’t like shopping you can enjoy the atmosphere, the smells and the chatter of the merchants. What’s on sale? Just about anything that someone is looking for; just make sure you hone up on your bargaining skills before you set out.
Once you’ve done your haggling take a breather in a selection of cafes and coffee shops, a charming and welcome relief for visitors.
And once you’re done in Old Jaffa, the enticing and charming neighborhood of Neve Tzedek is a short taxi ride away…