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Winter Adventures in Israel – Episode 2: The Ancient City of Jaffa

After our adventures at the airport, we successfully reached the Jaffa neighborhood (or Yaffa or Yaffo), which is one of the most appreciated by tourists in Tel Aviv, and is also where we had our accommodation, an Airbnb apartment in a really old building, very specific for the area.

After resting for a little bit, we left our luggage at the apartment and set off to look for something to eat and then explore the surroundings. Immediately after leaving the building, we saw a McDonald’s across the street and because we were very hungry we thought it was a good option. We didn’t have many shekels left after paying for the taxi, but were sure we had enough money for a “royal” feast at Mac. Here we had the second shock regarding the prices, after the cab fare: the cheapest two menus were 70 shekels – almost all the changed cash we had left. After eating, we began exploring the area, about which the people from the taxi told us good things.

Jaffa is located in the southern part of the city and it is one of the oldest port-cities in the world. This is reflected by the old buildings you can find there and even by the local atmosphere, the place has a vibe of crossroad between worlds, cultures and destinies.

The district is inhabited by immigrants from Europe and from Arab countries, making it an interesting melange of Jewish and Muslim culture, with religious edifices specific for each faith and people wearing traditional garments.

The narrow streets are full of stylish and diverse coffee shops and restaurants, emphasizing the multiculturalism of the area.

A specific element, unusual for strangers, is the graffiti covering almost all the walls, on every street around here, with many colors and elaborate forms, some with social messages and others just of artistic value.

The old port, used for more than 7000 years, was closed for ships a few decades ago, the new port of Ashdod being used now. The deserted halls and industrial buildings are now a good example of urban renewal, as they were transformed in restaurants, shops and art galleries.

On the sea shore there are fishing nets and boats everywhere, used by the locals to sail out on the sea and come back with impressive catches, that end up in the booths and fishermen pubs from the area and from the rest of the city.

Of course, there are lots of cats here too, just like in all the warm countries from the Mediterranean coasts we visited so far.

Jaffa also has the best known flea market in Tel Aviv – Shuk Hapishpishim – tens of streets with small shops owned by local artisans and antiquarians, with various kinds of bargains.

Do not hesitate to negotiate with the sellers, they expect that and you can get a significant discount and in the end you can buy the thing you want at less than half of the price that was initially asked.

The flea market from Jaffa is closed on Saturdays and other national holidays, the rest of time it’s open daily, attracting tourists and locals with unique merchandise and offers you can’t refuse.

Between the tens of shops and stalls with bargains, you will find bars, coffee shops, colorful and joyful restaurants where you can taste local and international specialties, while admiring the passersby from the terrace – the place attracts interesting people, free spirits and dreamers.

While walking slowly in the warm air and relaxed atmosphere of Jaffa, you can come by the well-known artwork of Ran Morin – „Oranger Suspendu”, or The Suspended Orange Tree.

Continuing your path on the stone alleys, you will reach a place where you can admire from above the fascinating mix of past and present, old houses and new sky scrapers and the shores of the Mediterranean, all twisted together in the effervescence of this city of contrasts – between ancient and modern, cutting edge technology and thousands of years old traditions, Jewish, Muslim and Christian believers and many non-believers.

Here you can also visit the Franciscan church of St. Peter, the biggest and most distinctive construction in the old city.

Near the church, on the left side, lays The Bridge of Wishes, with zodiac signs on the handrail. The legend says that anyone who touches their sign, while looking at the sea, will be granted a wish.

After a walk on the seaside, you will get to the old railway station of Jaffa – Hatachana – which is another example of how a city’s past can be cherished and transformed to serve the present and build for the future.

In order to keep alive the spirit of the past, a few elements were kept, such as a piece of the railway and some wooden train carts, but the old buildings and halls of the station were converted into fancy stores and modern coffee shops, and the whole area shows the respect of the new world for the old world, from which it takes its roots.

Every Thursday, from 7 PM until midnight, in the old railway station there are artistic events and DJ’s that accompany the open air fair, where the artisans keep their workshops and stalls.

Just over the fence of the old railway station there is the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Museum. If you are passionate about this, set aside a few hours to visit the museum, which covers 20 halls and many open air exhibits. Here you can see communication equipment, arms, fighting machines and many more, from the last two centuries. Israel has one the best prepared, modern and state of the art armies in the world, the experience will be appreciated by those who like this domain. Keep in mind that there is a security check at the entrance, as there is in many public places such as train stations or shopping malls, the difference being that here your identity is also checked, so don’t forget to carry your passport with the blue card and to be willing to answer a few questions asked by the soldiers there.

If you like long walks by the sea, it’s a good idea to explore the beaches on foot, which stretch for many kilometers and offer priceless moments of relaxation, dreaming and delight for the soul, with their silence and peace.

Jaffa is a must-see when choosing Tel Aviv as a tourist destination. It is a place with a unique atmosphere that grants an unforgettable experience.

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