Sophie Hirt seeks out enlightening museums, local celebs and the tastiest hummus in Israel’s second-largest city
1. Old Tel Aviv
A good place to start your tour is the beautiful area of Neve Tzedek, a short walk from the beachfront. The oldest neighbourhood in Tel Aviv, it was constructed at the end of the 19th century and was the first Jewish district to be built outside the ancient Port of Jaffa. It was home to many writers and artists, such as Nobel Prize winner Shmuel Agnon, and painter and sculptor Nahum Gutman.
The area was neglected and left to crumble until the 1980s, when efforts were made to renovate and preserve the architecture. The maze of narrow, winding streets is now home to trendy art galleries, restaurants and cafés, and is a great place to explore. Look out for the Chelouche Gallery for Contemporary Art on Chisin Street (chelouchegallery.com).
Neve Tzedek remains one of the most cultural parts of Tel Aviv and provides a good contrast to the hustle and bustle of the modern city centre, found between Allenby and Arlozorov streets.
2. Aba Gil
In Israel, hummus is not seen merely as a snack to keep you going until your next meal – it’s a national obsession, and the best hummus restaurants are regarded as state treasures. If you want to see what all the fuss is about, head to Aba Gil on Yehuda Halevi Street, which runs parallel to Sderot Rothschild – it’s one of the best joints in the city. Don’t expect a sit-down meal, as most Israelis enjoy their pitta bread and hummus on the go.
Aba Gil puts an emphasis on healthy eating and all the ingredients are organic. Try a light drizzle of olive oil over your hummus, and for a little extra flavour, squeeze some lemon juice over it as well. Be warned that hummus and pitta are just about all you can order here.
3. Sheinkin street
If you are keen to do some shopping, you won’t be short of options. Malls are large, bustling and refreshingly air-conditioned, but if you would rather stay outdoors, Sheinkin Street, off Sderot Rothschild, is well known for its off-the-wall boutiques, bohemian eateries and great atmosphere. Shop for trendy fashions, try a fruit shake from one of the many stalls or sit in a café and take in the surroundings. If you feel hungry, try the charming Orna and Ella bistro, which mainly serves Italian food and is one of the best-value options around.
The area is popular with the young and stylish and is frequented by Israeli celebrities, so if you want to see Tel Aviv at its most lively, spend some time in the company of the glamorous “Sheinkinians”.
4. Rabin Square
If you continue to the end of King George Street, you will reach Rabin Square, scene of the assassination of former Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin. He was shot here as he was leaving a pro-peace rally in 1995, and in the days that followed, the square became a focus of national mourning. Its name was then changed to commemorate the leader who had come to be seen as an icon of peace. Outside the country, there are streets named after the Nobel Peace Prize winner in Bonn, Berlin and New York and parks in Rome, Lima and Montreal.
Although not a particularly attractive square, the place remains highly significant in Israeli political history. A memorial to Rabin stands in one corner, at the site where he was shot, and visitors can read an inscription of his last speech in Hebrew, Arabic or English at the top of the stairs leading to City Hall.
5. Yarkon Park
From here, it’s a short taxi ride to Yarkon Park, which lies between Rokach Boulevard and the Bavli neighbourhood in north Tel Aviv. This large oasis of tranquillity features sweeping, lush lawns, botanical gardens, an aviary, a water park, two outdoor concert venues, sports facilities and several lakes. If you’re feeling active, hire a bike for an hour and see as many of the attractions as possible. One highlight is the Binary Bashi fortress, dating from the Ottoman period, which offers a lovely view of Rosh Ha’Ayin springs.
Make sure you visit the eastern side of the park too, where you can wander through a ten-acre rock garden and a five-acre tropical garden, which will transport you to the greenery and wildlife of the Amazon rainforest. It is also possible to rent a small boat and take it along the Yarkon River, which runs the full length of the park.
6. Museum of the Jewish people
Recommended in the best-selling book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, the Beit Hatfutsot Museum of the Jewish People is located just north of Yarkon Park, within the campus of Tel Aviv University. It relates the story of the Jewish people since their dispersion from the Holy Land 2,000 years ago to their return in 1948, when Israel was formed.
Using a largely interactive approach, the museum explores issues of Jewish identity and recounts the struggles people faced in adapting to their new countries. Visitors can also search a huge database of Jewish family genealogy. Open Sun, Mon, Tues and Thurs 10am-4pm, Wed 10am-6pm, Fri 9am-1pm. Closed Sat. Entry NIS 35 (£5.50). Visit bh.org.il