Old Jaffa: 3500 years of history and counting

This unique neighbourhood manages to marry an ancient past with the frenetic energy of modern life seamlessly.

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Ask any local what the one must-see place in Tel Aviv is, and they will all say "Old Jaffa!". Its history began about 3,500 years ago. Jaffa has seen the pharaohs, the Templars, Napoleon and Alexander the Great. But no matter who ruled it, Jaffa was a prosperous seaport attracting travellers and traders from around the world. And even now that it is consumed into the vibrant and cosmopolitan city of Tel Aviv, Jaffa still stays a unique part of the city, authentic to its history.

What to do and see in Old Jaffa

Being the oldest part of Tel Aviv, Jaffa is the site of the most famous historical attractions. Every building here has a story: The Clock Tower, mosques, the governor's palace, port, churches of different confessions, a few museums and lots of private galleries. I would say it is worth taking a tour with a guide to make the most of it!

The Old City Harbour

Hidden shopping gems

As well as exploring the historical side of this area, you can also shop in the biggest flea market of Tel Aviv (located right next to the port). Here you will find vintage furniture and lamps, Middle Eastern clothing and accessories, carpets and works by local artists.

If contemporary design is more your thing, then you’re in luck. Jaffa is one of the best areas to shop for clothing, art and jewellery made by local designers and artists. During your visit, you could even commission something to be made just for you.

Hand-made jewellery designer and shop

There are a few places you must visit in Jaffa to get the taste of Israeli fashion. Maskit, whose collections have graced the cover of Vogue, and who hold the title of the first Israeli fashion house, is located here. You can come to their visitors’ centre in front of the flea market or their shop on one of Old Jaffa's streets. It’s a store and museum at the same time, where you can see the iconic dresses of different epochs created by Maskit’s designers, as well as modern dresses that can be bought on the spot.

Right next to Maskit's store you will find a Yemenite museum and its jewellery store Ben-Zion David. They exhibit and sell unique Judaica pieces and beautiful handmade silver jewellery created by an eighth generation silversmith from Yemen. The museum is houses several exhibitions and workshops that tell the story of the Yemenite Jews.

Another store worth visiting is Zielinski & Rozen, which sells handmade perfumes as well as soaps, shower gels, hair masks and more. The shop is owned by a husband and wife who themselves produce all the goods they sell. They make their perfumes from raw materials and are “inspired by the eclectic street musicians that play in Jaffa on Fridays”.

If you are into modern art you should go to SAGA shop and gallery. They call themselves "the facade of Israeli design”, and this is indeed the best place to get an introduction to the Israeli design scene. Right behind the store, cafe SAGA is located. It's full of light and plants, and is a perfect tonic to the overcrowded flea market.

SAGA shop and gallery

These are just a few of the hidden gems of Jaffa. Stroll through the streets, enter each little store, talk to its owners who will gladly tell you their story and inspiration – whether you purchase something or not, this is a great way to experience the local culture.

Best cafes, bars, and restaurants in Jaffa

Jaffa is known for its great nightlife, bars with live shows, and of course the many famous Arab restaurants. Most of Jaffa's population is Arab so there are lots of great places to try the Middle Eastern dishes.

Abulafia is probably the oldest bakery in Tel Aviv. A few generations of one Arab family have prepared breads, pastries, pizza, pitas, and other baked goods for their customers and friends. This is definitely a must-try for every first-time visitor to Tel Aviv.

Traditional Israeli food

Go to Fairouz for spicy shakshuka and to Basma for the best knafeh (traditional Middle Eastern dessert made of noodle-like pastry, cheese, and nuts) in the city. In the evening you can come here to listen to oud (traditional Arab string instrument) and smoke hookah.

Unsurprisingly, Jaffa’s port is a hotspot for seafood restaurants. The most famous among them is The Old Man and the Sea, who are known for offering more than a dozen different salads and spreads as an addition to any main dish.

Jaffa is a perfect place for a pub crawl. For live music, it’s hard to beat Akbar, The Container, or Shaffa, while The Cuckoo's Nest and Beit Kandinoff are bars-cum-art galleries which have a great atmosphere. Most bars offer Happy Hour deals, usually between 6 pm and 8 pm, which are an excellent opportunity to try some Israeli beer: Goldstar, Malka, Maccabee are all popular.

There are also a few high-end restaurants in Jaffa. Par Derriere is a swanky bar with an open-air terrace that offers a great collection of wine and delicious food. Selas is a sushi restaurant with exquisite dishes, from delicious sushi rolls to dim sum, gyoza and more. Tash and Tasha serves traditional Georgian food and has live music on most nights.

However, if you could only eat at one place in Jaffa it is definitely Abu Hassan. Many locals consider their hummus the best in Tel Aviv. The place itself is very small and largely undecorated, a mark of quality when it comes to street food in Israel.

When to come

If you are sightseeing in the port or shopping at the flea market, go as early as possible and preferably not on a Friday. This way you will avoid the masses of tourists and locals who come here to shop.

The Plum Guide opens in Tel Aviv from July 2019 along with five other new cities: Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen, Lisbon, Madrid and Tel Aviv. These will join a collection that already includes London, Los Angeles, Milan, New York, Paris and Rome.

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