There are few places that have histories as impressively long and fabled – not to mention tedious for tour guides to study in it’s entirety – as the ancient city of Jaffa, out of which Tel Aviv has now grown.
At approximately four thousand years, Yafo – as it is also known – it is one of the world’s oldest ports and has been invaded and ruled by countless empires – Babylonian, Persian, Ottoman, Roman, etc…It is an archaeologist’s dream to dig down into the “tell” – an artificial mound formed by the accumulated refuse of people living on site for thousands of years (gross, right?) – and discover the ruins that had been built upon ruins by past conquerors.
Adding to the cool factor, Jaffa has received shoutouts in the Bible and is the site of many legendary happenings. As the Greek myth goes, the infamously beautiful princess, Andromeda, was chained to a rock by the coast as a sacrifice to the sea monster sent by Poseidon (the god of the sea) to ravage the kingdom. Returning from having slain the gorgon Medusa, Perseus (a Greek hero) happened upon the chained princess and used Medusa’s head to turn the sea monster to stone. The rocks that dot the coast of the port are said to be pieces of the slain sea monster.
I mean, that’s not how science works but I prefer this story to the boring reality that it’s probably (as my mother would say) “just a bunch of rocks.”
As Jews returned to the Holy Land through the entry point of Jaffa, the city became overcrowded and resulted in the formation of Tel Aviv. The ancient port city was left to decay until the municipality initiated it’s restoration, created an official title – Tel Aviv-Yafo – and returned it to it’s former glory.
Jaffa as it stands today is like an entirely different world from Tel Aviv and definitely a must-visit if you really want to understand Israel’s origins. There’s SO much to do so if you’re spending the day there, want to maximize you time but don’t know where to start – I got you.
Here is an itinerary for how to spend 24-hours exploring the ancient city of Jaffa:
9AM: START THE DAY WITH AN ISRAELI BREAKFAST
It’s going to be a busy day so kick it off right with one of Israel’s most beloved breakfast dishes – shakshuka! Brought over from North Africa by Jewish immigrants, it is a saucy confection of spicy stewed tomatoes, onions, and peppers with eggs poached in a skillet and served with warm pita.
Grab a seat inside at Doctor Shakshuka and partake in dishes of mezze under a high ceiling festooned with hanging pots or if it’s a nice day, snag a table on the patio in the back. Sip a glass of refreshing lemonade while choose from a variety of shakshuka options to satisfy your breakfast cravings.
10/11AM: TAKE A HISTORICAL WALKABOUT
You know how when you go to a museum you appreciate the art better when you understand the history behind it? The same is true for this ancient port city that has a rich past going back thousands of years with archaeological evidence of being inhabited as far back as 7500 BCE.
Getting cultured doesn’t have to break the bank though so join one of the free walking tours – the Sandeman one is every day at 11am and 5pm or city-run tour at 10am. Both meet at the Old Clock Tower, conveniently right around the corner from Dr. Shakshuka!
1PM: GET A HIGHER PERSPECTIVE
Build an appetite for lunch by climbing up to Gan Hapisga, a beachside park named after the Hebrew word for “summit” due to the glorious view of the Tel Aviv coastline.
The highest point of Jaffa, revel in the expansive perspective your vantage point affords you and while you’re there, inspect the historically significant Statue of Faith and the amphitheatre. The surrounding grassy hills provides the ideal spot for lounging while watching outdoor movies in the summer.
2PM: REFUEL WITH A HUMMUS SNACK
Not indulging in hummus while in Israel is like going to a steakhouse and getting a salad – insanity! To ensure that you have enough energy for the rest of the day’s adventures, refuel on hummus at Abu Hassan, where a large portion of the Tel Aviv population argues serves THE BEST hummus in the city.
For less than 20 NIS you can secure a sumptuous bowl of a thick, velvety blend of chickpeas and tahini, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with paprika and parsley. Don’t even bother using any cutlery and dig in with warm pita bread or chunks of raw onion.
3PM: SEARCH FOR SOUVENIRS AT THE JAFFA FLEA MARKET
Meander through the flea market in Jaffa – known as Shuk Hapishpishim in Hebrew – in search of the perfect tchotchke to commemorate your trip to Israel. Lightheartedly haggle with vendors over the price of hidden treasures (or junk…depending on who you ask) – from Persian tiles to vintage jeans and even a trinket that will shockingly turn out to be a dual set of rusty daggers.
My favourite find was a hardshell metallic case with a gorgeous mosaic of stones embedded in the surface. The jolly vendor even sweetened the deal with a free bracelet to protect me against the evil eye!
Open Sunday to Thursday 10am to 6pm and Friday 10am to 2pm
4PM: ENJOY A (LATE) HEALTHY LUNCH
By now, you’re probably famished and in need of a little time out. Café Puaa is a quirky and idyllic place to catch your breath and chill on a cozy floral couch or basking in the sun on the foliage-filled patio with a healthy feast.
Keep it light with the cold, grilled eggplant topped with herbs and sour cream as well as the roasted cauliflower florets with garlic aioli or if you’re looking for something more substantial, opt for the creamy chestnut gnocchi, balancing savoury parmesan with the sweetness of the chestnuts.
5PM: EXPLORE THE ART SCENE
If you have time to spare, immerse yourself in the local art culture in Jaffa. If your schedule is packed, you can catch glimpses of the playful graffiti that span entire buildings and the sides of fresh juice stalls or pass by the suspended orange tree and take advantage of the photo op.
If you still need to walk off that food baby, check out SAGA gallery for artisan crafts.
6PM: LISTEN TO LIVE MUSIC
While you’re already at the port and have some time to kill in between meals, check out The Container for live music and a cool glass of beer. Housed in an “abandoned” shipping container, it’s a spacious, bohemian dock-side venue that once stored boats but now features local art as part of the decor. It’s a must-visit for live music lovers with everything from jazz to rock performances starting around 10pm.
7PM: WATCH THE SUNSET OVER THE BEACH
Enjoy the remainder of the sunlight and take a meander along the port and drink in the view of the coastal beaches lined with the impressive buildings of Tel Aviv looming in the background.
Wander down the wide steps to Jaffa Beach and recline against graffitied walls or lounge on a stretch of sand as time seems to stand still in the bustling city. In the city famed for it’s sunsets, locals and tourists alike take pause to watch the sun sink below the horizon to the hypnotizing sounds of the waves lapping on the shore.
8PM: SPLURGE ON A SEAFOOD DINNER
You may be bursting at the seams (of your pants…that’ll teach you for wearing pants) from all the food consumed throughout the jam-packed day but Jaffa has so many drool-worthy restaurants that you don’t want to risk experiencing major FOMO.
If you want to stay in line with the seaside theme, head over to Old Man and the Sea for a seafood feast with a great view. Great for families though a bit touristy.
For a more trendy and energetic vibe, hit up Onza where the menu is bursting with fresh ingredients used in comfort food favs with an added creative twist.
10PM: SIP A GLASS OF WINE
After a day like today, you must feel mighty accomplished so celebrate with a glass of wine (or three) and Shaffa Bar across the street. An effortlessly cool spot, the simple design and eclectic music humming in the background provides the ideal atmosphere to relax and reflect over your busy day.