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Tel Aviv has a lot going for it, from one of the best urban beach scenes anywhere to a fantastic array of restaurants and thundering nightlife. But ask a native for a list of the city’s prettiest sights, and you’re likely to draw blank stares. Whenever friends visit, I tell them to ditch the guidebook — especially if they’re looking to document their adventures on Instagram. While many of Israel’s most picturesque spots are located in Jerusalem, over the years Tel Aviv has become synonymous with an ebullient urban beat that’s unique in the Middle East, if not the world. Grab your sunglasses — and maybe a great airfare deal — and get ready to burn up the ‘gram. Yalla! (get going!)
1. The Beach
The only problem with Tel Aviv’s many beaches is how to pick one; after all, they sprawl out over nearly 10 miles of sand. Israelis make fitness a year-round religion, so what the shoreline lacks in surf, it more than makes up for in eye candy. On any given day it’s a full-on Mediterranean tableau of bronzed bods, bikinis and fresh-cut watermelon. The most popular stretches are Gordon Beach, Frishman Beach and Hilton Beach, which draws a gay crowd; luckily for you, though, they’re all pretty interconnected.
2. … and the Beach Promenade
The Tayelet — an official name that nobody really uses — is the beach promenade where le tout Tel Aviv comes to walk, talk, jog, ride bikes or just hang out after work and on weekends — which, in Israel, run from Thursday night to Saturday night. In recent years, the Tel Aviv municipality has invested a lot into sprucing up the promenade, so there are more places to take a break in the shade or sip fresh-squeezed juice than ever before. Tel Aviv’s big beach-view hotels line the opposite side of it, putting you close to all the action.
3. Jaffa Flea Market
If you like flea markets, you’re in luck: The Jaffa Flea Market (or shuk hapishpishim in Hebrew) is one of the most sprawling and captivating in the Middle East. Always be ready to haggle — that’s part of the experience — and remember that the market has limited hours on Friday (10:00am-2:00pm) and is closed on Saturdays for shabbat. Otherwise, hours are Sunday to Thursday (10:00am-6:00pm). And if you don’t like flea markets, you’re still in luck, because the neighborhood surrounding it is a heady combination of Ottoman-era architecture and trendy Israeli designer shops, hip cafés and new boutique hotels.
4. Street Art
Tel Aviv’s official public art is mostly underwhelming, but an exuberant street-art scene more than compensates. Although it’s famously concentrated in the scruffy Florentine section of south Tel Aviv, keep your phone at the ready as you roam; after all, you may encounter cool art just about anywhere. And while London may have Banksy, in Tel Aviv the anonymous graffiti artist Dede always keeps things interesting. Israelis generally love cheeky, colorful, inoffensive stuff — political art, however, not so much. There’s a reason Tel Aviv is called “the bubble.”
5. Bauhaus Galore
Tel Aviv is called the “White City” because it’s home to more than 4,000 classic Bauhaus buildings, many of them painted white and built by German Jewish architects in the 1930s. The Bauhaus Center on Dizengoff Street organizes weekly walking tours through the the heart of the city, which UNESCO designated a World Heritage Site in 2003. If you’d prefer to chart your own course, grab an iced coffee and wander around the city center — you’ll be struck by the chunky white or off-white curvilinear balconies that imbue Tel Aviv with its distinctive look.
6. General Seaside Awesomeness
No matter what you do or where you go in Tel Aviv, you’re inevitably drawn back to the water — Tel Aviv without the beach is like Los Angeles without the freeway. And just when you think you’ve seen the sea from every angle, you’ll notice an entirely new color depending on the time of day or season. Sometimes you’ll come to appreciate a familiar scene afresh simply by switching up your vantage point, just as I did when I took this shot of the Opera Tower from the window of a hotel room on Geula Street.
7. Neve Tzedek: Tel Aviv’s Smurf Village
In 1909, the Neve Tzedek neighborhood became the first one settled in Tel Aviv outside of old Jaffa. Today, more than a century later, it’s still full of small single- and double-story red-tiled houses that seem positively Lilliputian against a backdrop of modern skyscrapers. Small boutiques and charming European-style cafes line Neve Tzedek’s central Shabazi Street; the neighborhood is also home to the Suzanne Dellal Center, home of Israel’s internationally acclaimed Batsheva Dance Company.
8. Habima Square
Don’t let anyone tell you there’s no culture in this beachy metropolis; on the contrary, Habima Square is an arts nexus with a noted theater and contemporary-art pavilion. It’s also where Tel Avivians come to soak up the rays. Open spaces are lacking in this city, so broad plazas like this one, which is marked by Rothschild Boulevard on one side and bustling Dizengoff Street on the other, are always popular with the locals.
9. Old Jaffa
They call it old, but ancient is more like it: Archaeological evidence suggests that Jaffa’s roots predate Jerusalem’s. Whether it’s Jonah and the Whale or Perseus and Andromeda, the legends involving little Jaffa loom large. Most visitors rightly pair a visit to the flea market, which stretches behind old Ottoman clock tower, with the twisting lanes of the oldest section of Jaffa. Some of these byways afford knockout views of the Mediterranean Sea — in other words, this is Tel Aviv at its most Instagrammable.
10. Bialik Square/Beit Ha’ir (Old City Hall)
While Tel Aviv is more famous for its Bauhaus architecture than any other style, a walk along narrow Bialik Street serves as a vivid reminder of the eclectic building design that prevailed in the 1920s, pre-Bauhaus. The street culminates in the Beit Ha’ir, formerly city hall and now home to a great museum of the history of Tel Aviv; exhibitions rotate often and recently included a tribute to Tel Aviv nightlife.
11. Rothschild Boulevard
If Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel’s bohemian class, tree-lined Rothschild Boulevard is where its members go to see and be seen any time of day or night — and to drink coffee. The densest thicket of coffee kiosks can be found in the blocks above and below the tony boulevard’s intersection with Allenby Street. Caffeine: required. Spontaneous dancing: optional.
12. Rothschild Boulevard From Above
Tel Aviv doesn’t really do crowds, unless it’s a busy weekend at the beach, but just as you can’t visit New York for the first time without glimpsing Times Square, here you can’t miss a stroll on the always-buzzing Rothschild. The boulevard, which stretches from Habima Square to the beginning of Neve Tzedek, was originally called Rehov Ha’am, or “street of the people” — a perfect distillation of Tel Aviv’s easygoing essence. Bonus: it’s easy on the eyes, too!
Featured image by Michael Jacobs/Art in All of Us/Corbis/Getty Images.
Where are your favorite places to take photos in Tel Aviv? Let us know in the comments, below.
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