A fun walk through Old Jaffa and Jaffa Flea Market
One sunny Shabbat in November, I found myself in Tel Aviv. A walk through Old Jaffa and a visit to the flea market is probably one of the best things you can do on the Jewish day of rest. Aside from Haifa or a sea side resort, Tel Aviv might be the best place to find yourself on a Shabbat in Israel. Tel Aviv is definitely lively on Shabbat, just… different. I had been up in the early morning to walk central Tel Aviv and admired the fine Bauhaus architecture, then walked on seamlessly to Florentin for its Street Art, then in the afternoon, found myself at a bit of a crossroads. Too early to retire to a cafe, I turned right and walked.
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Walk through Old Jaffa – How to get there
Any day but Shabbat, you can use the extensive bus network of Tel Aviv. The 54 Bus operated by Dan leaves the Central Bus station and goes along Shalma Road all the way to th Clock Tower, and there are several buses that leave the Carmelit Terminal near the HaCarmel Market and go along the seaside (Goldmann and Kaufmann Streets) to Olf Jaffa.
On Shabbat, there is pretty much no public transport. Few people drive on Shabbat as the car ignition is seen akin to operating fire which is, according to the Torah, forbidden on Shabbath at least among the more Orthodox-leaning Jews.Walking and cycling is fine, so you may find lots of people out and about enjoying bars, cafes and restaurants, so the city is lively without the commerce or the traffic, and I though there is a really nice atmosphere in central Tel Aviv on Shabbath.
Here I was, standing at the Southern end of Abarbanel Street, facing normally busy but now dead Shalma Road, and there was no option but to walk. It took me about 20 minutes to reach the Jaffa Clocktower, a central Landmark of Old Jaffa. Alongside, I spotted some very interesting murals on Shalma Road.
Other than that, Shalma Road is rather featureless, with a mixture of new residential development and some early 20th Century mixed use buildings that would love a bit of attention.
Just before the road ends at the seaside, the Clocktower stands on the left, an important land mark for our Old Jaffa walk. Despite its Western Looks, it is one of eight clock towers in Palestine built under Ottoman rule in the early 20th Century, using donations from Jaffa’s diverse community. In fact, there are many clock towers in Turkey surviving from the Ottoman period. The other six clocktowers still standing today in Israel and Palestine can be found in Akko, Haifa, Nablus, Nazareth and Safed. The one in Jerusalem got demolished as Edward Allenby, having played a key role in “conquering” the Palestinian Territories form the Ottomans in the First World War, did not wish for a Ottoman symbol to remain in Old Jerusalem.
The Clocktower was constricted by Baruch Papirmeister who had trained in Germany, hence its somewhat Central European style.
A bit of history before we walk through Old Jaffa
Jaffa is one of the oldest sea ports of the Mediterranean. Its ancient name is Joppe and its Modern Hebrew name is Yafo. Jaffa is the anglicised name this town is known as, and it has been united with the much younger Tel Viv in 1950 to form the city of Tel Aviv-Yafo.
It was established around 1800 BCE and is mentioned several times in the Hebrew Bibles, as an area bordering the territory given to the tribe of Dan, and as a port where Jonah set off for Tarshish, and where the Lebanese cedars arrived for the building of the second temples.
It was conquered by Arabs in the 7th Century CE and continued to serve as a major port and also provincial capital. Conquered twice during the crusades, it was re- conquered by the Mamluks and later in the 16th Century the Ottomans. It was always a more Arab/Muslim city until present day, and the end of the ottoman Empire in the early 20th Century and the influx of some Sephardic Jews did not change that. At the end of the First World War, the area that is today Israel, Palestine and Jordan went under a British Mandate following the San Remo Cpnference in 1922, officially to provide structure and aid to Jewish immigration which had been in full flow since the late 19th Century as the Zionist Movement but also to promote Arab Independence. Basically, the territory received a British civil administration headed by a British High Commissioner.
The population if Jaffas has always been predominantly Arabic, although today its near 50.000 population is only about one third Arab. From the 1990s onwards, preserving the Arab heritage has been a major goal of the city and many Islamic land marks have been restored. However, most of the city outside the touristy Old Town is considered deprived and sometimes dangerous.
The late 17th Century Al-Bahr Mosque (“Sea Mosque”) is a prime example for the preservation of the Arab heritage . It is right by the Mediterranean ancient port and has been used by fishermen and sailors.
The central part of Old Jaffa consists of extensive gardens, many with great views if the sea and the baches of neighbouring Tel Aviv. Walking around Old Jaffa posed no safety problem at all, on the contrary – the area between the sea side and Ilana-Goor Museum was buzzing with foreign tourists, whereas the Jaffa Flea Market appeared to be mostly Hebrew-speaking.
A little bit further inland just starting at the Southeastern corner of the Clocktower Square, starts the Jaffa Flea Market. After a restorative falafel sandwich, I set off to explore… and found that it is quite different to the flea markets I know!
Firstly, it was very busy – not a surprise since it has many very good cafes and restaurants. It is open throughout the week and supposedly closed on Shabbat, but I certainly did not see anything being closed. Perhaps, if you are more into serious antiques shopping a weekday (Sunday to Friday morning) might be a better time to visit. I walked around late on Shabbat in November, not exactly tourist season, and found it super busy, so busy that I was greeted with a long queue at my chosen restaurant.
Some shops appeared to be shut, but plenty were open.
But I got the impression that it is mainly a place for going out, and visiting cafes and restaurants. The emphasis was clearly on eating, drinking and socialising – nothing wrong with that, unless you expect a superb shopping experience.
My AirBnB host kindly texted me a number of recommendations for cafes and casual restaurants at Jaffa Flea Market. My first try, the acclaimed Cafe Puaa with its sweet living room style interior was so rammed with a queue snaking outside its gate, that I ran off quickly. Also, being a solo traveller, the tables full of chatting crowds intimidated me a bit.
And as for the goods on sale? Well. There were certainly many. I just put out this picture as a representation of the general merchandise, which may be a bit unfair, as there were certainly well-sorted shops among the heaps of unsorted good. And no, that is not an Arne Jacobsen “Swan” chair sitting on a pile of cookware there.
Like the usual – records, clothes, some home decor… I read previously on another blog post it might be an excellent place to pick up some vintage Judaica, but I saw nothing that I would have bought save for some lamps – but they could not have gone on my Hand-luggage only Ryanair flight. Another thing I always look for is jewellery, especially vintage silver. Take a look at the works of Rachel Gera or Avi Soffer, and then there are the numerous anonymous artists that made phantastic modernist jewellery, mostly in silver. Israel had a great modernist design tradition, and some years ago I did find some great pieces online, but a thorough look through the wares on Shabbat showed nothing like that.
That was a little bit disappointing, to be honest – but these great finds usually come when you least expect them.
Here are some very authentic looking vintage lamps. I could have plucked every single one of the glass ones and packed it away to hang in my apartment, but the hand luggage restrictions on Ryanair were somewhat too restrictive for that.
And, there is absolutely no way for you to go walk through Old Jaffa Flea Market hungry or thirsty.
This is the entry of the famous “Dr Shakshuka” restaurant in Jaffa flea market which is about as far as my Hebrew reading skills go. The restaurant is small and specializes in Shakshuka and other Arab-influenced dishes. It is said to be a bit of a tourist magnet these days and quality has suffered, anyway, I didn’t visit so I really don’t know!
After the tourist groups around the Clocktower and the touristic buzz around St Peters Church and Abrasha Park, I wanted a bit of a quieter walk, and as usual – turn of the main road, and you might find quiet, I found it by walking through the very compact narrow lanes of Old Jaffa, taking a narrow passageway off Segev Street.
From buzz to… absolute quietitude. Anywhere you cannot drive with a coach or an electric scooter is usually a good starting point.
But that walk walk did not last long, and once I emerged at the Northern end of the Port of Jaffa, I was back in with a buzzy lot perusing the restaurants, cafes and shops in the restored warehouses of the old port area.
Well. Some buildings still have some way to go, and while they wait to be rejuvenated, they provide a perfect canvas for street art. This large piece is by Dede, whose work can be found all over Tel Aviv, particularly in Florentin.
What about Jaffa outside Old Jaffa and Jaffa Flea Market?
I admit, big omission here. As I walked back along the seaside, I had planned to explore on foot outside the confines of restored, gentrified and touristic Old Jaffa and eat my dinner at Hummus Abu Hassan. I wanted to find my tastiest hummus experience (to this date, Abu Shaker in Haifa). With sunset (and the restoration of public transport) close by, I decided to walk back to my accommodation in Florentin and feast on tomatoes, hummus and some very tasty pretzels from the am:pm round the corner. I have read lots of different opinions on Jaffa, from it being unsafe at night, being riddled with crime, to having a buzzing arts scene and some great historical buildings outside Old Jaffa.
But alas, I chickened out with impending darkness and hurried back on my sore 20km-a-day feet to my apartment and an early night – to set off for Jerusalem again the next day to see Rachels Tomb, the Mount of Olives and to wander the Old Town once more. So this is something I want to do if and when I visit again.
Where to stay
If you happen to be in Tel Aviv over the Sabbath, stay somewhere with good infrastructure, as public transport on the Sabbath is still very slim. I stayed in an AirBnB in Florentin, which is a really nice area to begin with – walking distance to Jaffa and the sea, nice cafes and restaurants, good transport links.
If I were to stay in tel Aviv again, I would probably choose a bit closer to the Carmel Market, Mair Park or Rothschild Boulevard – this is a really vibrant area of Tel Aviv and in walking distance to the wide beach. You will need to use public transport, a cab or a bicycle to get to Old Jaffa. This is what I picked for my 2020 Tel Aviv Trip, which I cancelled a week before, due to the Coronavirus. I made all reservations on Booking.com. Their free cancellation policy meant I could cancel my room and get a full refund, so I will definitely use them again.
Tel Aviv tends to be quite expensive. Since my days in 20-beds dorms are over, I only recommend private or semi-private accommodation or small dorms that provide great value for money
With Tel Aviv being relatively expensive, I tend to stay in the cheaper end accommodation. When I asked my colleague at work “What do you think, should I stay somewhere super cheap, even in a dorm, and eat at all the fabulous restaurants, or spend on a classy hotel, he said “the food, definitely go for the food no matter what it costs”. So I had aimed to stay in a hostel, then have one night in a classy hotel.
My top pick is the Isla Hostel on Montefiore Street right between Rothschild Boulevard and Nahalat Binyamin Streets. It has stylish and comfortable semi-private bunks starting at 35 Euros a night. At present, it does not appear to be bookable online, but do check it out in the future if and when travel restrictions ease.
In the centre of the vibrant, neighbourhood, the Florentin House Hostel has all-white simple rooms starting at about 60 Euros. They do have some dorm rooms where the maximum number of beds is 8, starting at around 25 Euros per person.
Air TLV Levinsky 113
This branch of the Air TLV hotel and hostel chain is very close to Ha’Hagana Bus and Train Stations and just a stone’s throw from the superb Levinsky Market. It is not my favourite area of Tel Aviv, but a 5-minute walk will take you to the centre of thr Florentin District with lots of cafes and nightlife. Private rooms start at around 80 Euros and dorms at around 40 Euros.
Moderate / Boutique Hotels
Of the places I picked that goes really well with the Bauhaus theme is the Cinema Hotel. It’s almost impossible to be in a more central location. Right on Dizengoff Square, this hotel is central, generous, has free bike hire and offers a free aperitivo buffet on its terrace on most days. The building is a sympathetically restored 1930s cinema with curved lines and an impressive facade. Starting at about 140 Euros for a double, it is very reasonable for tel Aviv
It always pays to keep an eye on “soft” openings. I secured a booking at the Hotel BoBo for about 110 Euros – unfortunately, it has gone up in prive but the location just off Rothschild Boulevard is unbeatable.
In the middle of the walking route is the Poli House Hotel, an upmarket boutique hotel in a Bauhaus Building right in Magen David Square – an unbeatable if somewhat buzzy location. Although the modern white rooms are somewhat small, the hotel even has a lap pool on its roof! Rooms start at about 120 Euros but push the 200 Euro mark at most times.
What about staying in Yafo?
For someone who loves to walk and use a lot of public transport, staying in Yafo did not sound appealing. I had heard conflicting things about safety. especially at night, and although there are some accommodations in Yafo that are cheaper that in central Tel Aviv, mostly rooms and holiday rentals, Yafo has also seen a few truly luxurious properties in historical buildings spring up, such as The Drisco, The ElminaHotel and the Margosa Hotel.
Where to Eat
Admittedly, I did not visit any amazing restaurants on my trip, simply because I was on a tight budget, and when I did decide to go on a small splurge, everywhere I tried was really packed. So, I mostly ate some food from the supermarket/Convenience store. However… their hummus selection is second to none, there is some fresh fruit and vegetables for sale in even the smallest convenience store, and I got very fond of the many different types of pretzel
You don’t really need a tour to see Old Jaffa and the Jaffa Flea Market. However, if you looking for a tour to highlight its Arab history, I recommend Green Olive’s Jaffa and Tel Aviv half day tour, which focuses on YAfo and just visits nearby Neve Tzedek in Tel Aviv.
The Small Print
I visited Israel in November 2017 at a time of relative peace in the Middle East.
In view of the recent events in Israel and Palestine I was unsure whether it would be appropriate to post this content now. The security situation is volatile at present, and it may no tbe safe to travel there right now. Travelling to Israel at the time of publishing is not possible due to COVID-related restrictions to vaccinated tourists in tour groups only, and with the
I have decided to post it, as this street art tour has been part of my travel in the Middle East. I have travelled in both Israel and Palestine and try to keep informed and form my own educated opinion. I have come to the conclusion that not posting this and not visiting Israel and Palestine will not benefit any one. I recommend to try and visit both Israel and Palestine when it is safe to do so and to find good sources of information with as little bias as possible.
My personal sources of information on Middle East are Al Jazeera (a Qatari News Chanel), Haaretz (a liberal/secular Israeli newspaper) and The Guardian (UK Newspaper).
I had booked a tour of Nablus with Green Olive on the 2020 trip that never happened and I did not only receive some very detailed information about Palestine and its history, but they are also running a current affairs webinar that you might wish to join, including a virtual tour of Sheikh Jarrah. They also do some great virtual tours, if you ware interested in visiting in the future. They are also a Israeli-PAlestinan Joint Venture and part Palestinian owned, so by booking with them you support a business that has an interest in cooperation and peaceful collaboration.
Another way to support Palestinian-owned businesses when travelling would be to travel with a Palestinian -owned company or independently, so your money goes to wards local hoteliers, taxi drivers and restaurants. A good place to look is the Arab Hotels Association, where you can book with Palestinian-owned hotels directly.
I was between jobs and on a relatively tight budget, meaning I stayed in private rooms I booked on AirBnB and ate in snack bars most of the time. Which meant I am a bit at a loss as to recommend good cafes and restaurants. This Florentin Street Art walk was assembled by myself using some pointers in other blog post, and a route in a post I can unfortunately no longer find.
My trip to Israel was planned and funded entirely by myself. Therefore, I can be 100% honest and give you an unbiased opinion. You will get an idea on what is easy to do independently, and where you might require a bit of guidance, and you’ll know what things really cost! I have not received any monetary or non-monetary rewards for any recommendations made in this post. Some links in this post are affiliate links to Booking.com – purchasing through these links means I earn a small commission at no extra cost to yourself.