The pulsating city that serves as a port of entry to an ancient land which always has an eye on the future
No one's immune to the lush plant life in Tel Aviv. While grapevines and climbing plants threaten to engulf the buildings with their roots, the acacias, fig trees, and colossal palm trees form green tunnels over the promenades. Such opulence isn't what one expects in a city founded on sand dunes just 109 years ago. But deconstructing clichés of the Middle East is precisely what this city does best. And thanks to a new direct flight run by LATAM from São Paulo, starting in December, the destination is closer than ever.
Located at the edge of the Mediterranean, Israel's economic engine has the highest per capita ratio of startups in the world (one for every 290 inhabitants), not to mention a tech hub second only to Silicon Valley. With the same determination of its entrepreneurs, the 405,000 residents of the metropolis are dedicated to a lifestyle they describe as sababa (a magic word that covers everything from “cool” to “no problem”), enjoying the endless summer on nine miles [14 km] of white-sand beaches with crystal-clear water. Tel Aviv, the port of entry to the country, has a relentless nightlife and a food scene that's every bit as cosmopolitan as its Pride Parade, which attracts over 250,000 people every June.
Tel Aviv's main creative artery is the glamorous Rothschild Boulevard, surrounded by co-working spaces and startup incubators. Lined with trees from start to finish, the avenue is a display case of the local lifestyle, with many of the city's 1,700 bars and nightclubs in its orbit. Hundreds of electric bicycles circulate on bike lanes, children play on playgrounds in the shade, and there's always someone napping in the hammocks scattered throughout the gardens. The avenue has some of the best-preserved examples of the “White City,” an architectural ensemble of around 4,000 Bauhaus-style buildings, protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Bauhaus Center: 77 Dizengoff Street
Born in Germany in the 1920s, this strain of architecture which places priority on functionality had its best laboratory in 1930s Tel Aviv. Viewed with mistrust in Europe, “Bauhaus fit like a glove in a place that was looking toward the future,” says Micha Gross, director of the Bauhaus Center, which organizes guided tours of the main icons of this piece of historical heritage.
Sababa Tel Aviv
“Fifteen years in Tel Aviv is the equivalent of four decades in any other world city,” says Peleg Pappo, manager of the restaurant Meshek Barzilay. A precursor to the vegan scene (in the world capital of veganism, according to the British newspaper The Independent), the eatery is one of the bastions of the Nev Tedzek neighborhood. With narrow streets flanked by colorful mansions, it precedes the official foundation of the city and, starting in the 20th century, it came to be occupied by artists and intellectuals, like Nobel Prize laureate writer Shmuel Yosef Agnon. Now packed with cafés and boutiques concentrated on Shabazi Street, it is one of the most elegant places in town, and the alternative scene has scattered to other parts of the south side.
Meshek Barzilay: 6 Ahad Ha'Am Street
Teder.fm: 9 Derech Jaffa
Romano: 9 Derech Jaffa
Shuk Ha’Carmel: HaCarmel Street
The best example is Florentin, an old industrial neighborhood whose warehouses were gradually taken over by designers and bohemians in recent years. Vintage shops stand side by side with the most creative elements around – like the gallery behind the iron door that hides the bar Teder.fm and the lively restaurant Romano.
The same hi-low atmosphere reigns in Karem, a Yemeni neighborhood with Arab architecture that borders the sensational Shuk Ha’Carmel. This market is the right place to be on Friday mornings when crowds flock there to stock up their fridges before Shabbat (Saturday, the day of rest on the Jewish calendar, when most businesses close). On a parallel sidewalk, the Nachalat Binyamin street art fair, a good place to dig for an authentic souvenir, comes alive with energetic big bands. “Everything has to be made here in Tel Aviv and only the artists themselves can sell them,” explains Argentine ceramicist Aiala Steimberg, who's lived in the city for 30 years.
Sarona Market: 3 Aluf Kalman Magen Street
Tel Aviv Museum of Art: 27 Shaul Hamelech Boulevard
Then there's the very different Sarona Market. Tucked in between mirrored skyscrapers, it has a nucleus of five mini-restaurants run by some of the most famous chefs in Israel, surrounded by gourmet shops that sell everything from pots and pans to dried fruit – take a break for the best soft date of your life at Hamama and Eden in the form of malva (a sweet made with sesame seeds) at Halva Kingdom. This activity combines well with a visit to the neighboring Tel Aviv Museum of Art, housed inside an asymmetrical building designed by architect Preston Scott Cohen.
The food of the future
The vivacity of the markets in Tel Aviv is a mirror of its culinary arts scene. And you'll understand what this means after having an authentic Israeli breakfast. Colorful little pots transform the table into a kaleidoscope: pesto, hummus, tahini, tapenade, goat cheese, spices, salad. The small feast is also often enhanced by a shakshuka, a kind of ratatouille made with eggs.
“There's still no such thing as Israeli food, but this is precisely what allows us to constantly revolutionize,” says celebrity chef Haim Cohen, of the restaurant Yaffo Tel Aviv, installed in an industrial-style hall lined with hundred-year-old carpets. “We imported the culture of countries that range from China to Italy and we apply this fusion in a place that's very hot, where things happen at high speeds; the result is some very tasty and joyful food,” explains the judge on the Israeli version of MasterChef.
Yaffo Tel Aviv: 98 Yigal Alon
CoffeeBar: 13 Yad Harutsim Street
Miznon: 23 Shlomo Ibn Gabirol Street
Manta Ray: 703 Yehezkel Kaufman Street
Shpagat: 43 Nahalat Binyamin Street
Kuli Alma: 10 Mikveh Israel Street
Bicicletta: 29 Nahalat Binyamin Street
This translates into an extremely eclectic food scene: you can sample Mediterranean dishes with an Italian twist at CoffeeBar, put (almost) everything you want inside some pita bread at Miznon, and feast on the generous portions of seafood at Manta Ray.
Just as diverse as Israel's diet is the nightlife. Considered one of the best cities in the world for a night out by the newspaper The Telegraph, Tel Aviv is a haven for partygoers, with such establishments as Shpagat, a LGBT bar par excellence, and Kuli Alma, which offers good and eclectic music for dancing among the large street art murals. If you're into mixed drinks, Bicicletta serves perfect cocktails on a fantastic outdoor terrace.
Tel Aviv's nine miles [14 km] of beaches concisely illustrate the city's plurality. Rent a public bike and take a ride on the Tayelet, the promenade that runs parallel to the ocean and reaches the feet of Yafo, or Jaffa. Over 5,000 years old, this ancient port is now part of the city and is one of its most captivating sections. The narrow streets covered in irregular stones contain such treasures as the Ilana Goor Museum, which displays works by the titular artist inside an 18th-century palace. An Arab market, mosques, Israeli design stores (like Saga and 8 In Jaffa), and vibrant nightlife wrap up this unlikely mix that make Tel Aviv so unique.
Meanwhile, on the city's north side, the section of the shore known as Hilton Beach has a stretch of sand frequented by athletes. Right nearby is an area for dogs, followed by an LGBT+-friendly haven by the sea, which, in turn, is sectioned off by a wall: on the other side is Nordau Beach, designated for the religious crowd. All of them are bathed by the same Mediterranean Sea.