Tel Aviv: City that never sleeps

When the sun rises in the morning, it’s as if the previous night’s revelry is a distant dream and the city is up and about for another new day. Tel Aviv gives the phrase ‘city that never sleeps’ a whole new meaning, writes Anita Rao-Kashi

The clock tower at the entrance to Jaffa
The clock tower at the entrance to Jaffa

Tel Aviv’s reputation as a party capital is so formidable that it sometimes seems incongruous with Israel’s long and turbulent history. That’s until you dig a little deeper and realise Tel Aviv is actually a very young city, just over 100 years or so, and, hence, unencumbered by any baggage. It is also often mistaken to be Israel’s capital but is not (Jerusalem is the capital) and therefore has not had to bear the gravitas of a capital city either. Rather, it has chosen to swing the other way and has become the country’s financial, technology and new age capital with an enviable buzz and energy that makes for a great destination. But to be fair, the city’s partying spirit does not come to the fore till later in the day.

In the morning, Tel Aviv is like any other international metro with bustling traffic and people intent on getting to work. However, in its markets such as Carmel, which are frequented by as many tourists as locals, there’s a lively bustle. From groceries and household articles to jewellery and souvenirs, it’s fun just to wander around and browse through the many offerings. Or wander further afield and gaze at the city’s varies architecture which ranges from Bauhaus (socialist architecture) to modern high rises with beautiful murals and details.

Glimpse of a roadside market in Jaffa
Glimpse of a roadside market in Jaffa

For a bit of perspective on the city, it is best to head to Jaffa located towards the South on the Mediterranean coast. This is the oldest part and historians believe it has been continuously inhabited for over 9000 years. In fact, Jaffa’s history also speaks of Biblical associations to Solomon, Jonah and St Peter. But more fascinating is the fact that is also referenced to Greek mythology; Jaffa is believed to be the place where Greek character Andromeda was chained and from where the Greek hero Perseus is believed to have rescued her.

Jaffa’s entrance was marked by a lovely clock tower behind which the old town lay spread out in a maze of narrow cobbled streets and alleys with arched paths and little nooks and corners hiding interesting stores and boutiques. The buildings were lovely pale sandstone in colour and gloriously reflected the sun’s rays. In between were small markets, a weekly flea market and interspersed in between were unusual shops like the one selling handmade soaps and rare perfumes.

Jaffa also has some interesting points of interest such as the Jaffa Museum of Antiquities which is housed in a lovely Ottomon building which marks the location of an ancient fortress. On a vantage point at one end of the old town is a hillock on which stands the beautiful pink and white St Peter’s Church, a mid 17th century Roman Catholic basilica. The church also has a bit of interesting history: it is believed that Napolean stayed here at some point.

Tel Aviv: City that never sleeps

A little distance away from the church is a wooden bridge with Zodiac signs where visitors can make a wish. But more stunning is the wide views of the Mediterranean Sea, the harbour and the skyline of Tel Aviv in the distance. It is a good idea to perch on one of the sea-facing benches and just absorb the serenity of the whole scene.

One of the many narrow lanes in Jaffa
One of the many narrow lanes in Jaffa

By evening it is time to head to Beach Road and the beach. The sands are filled with scores and scores of sunbathers as well as people playing beach volleyball and other sports. In the water are not just swimmers but also surfers and other water sports enthusiasts. This is also the best place to watch astounding sunsets. But once the sun sets, Beach Road and the long stretch of beach, transforms into one big party zone with foot-tapping music and glitzy lights. It becomes a bit like Goa, but on steroids.

Elsewhere in the city, the place to be for partying is Rothschild Boulevard, the Port area which is filled with bars and clubs and Neve Tzedek. During summer, many squares and parks also sport temporary bars under marquees. But no matter where you are, Tel Aviv’s nightlife pulsates with energy, buzz and a general air of merrymaking, and something for every kind of soul. There’s music and good cheer well past midnight and almost into the early hours. And yet, when the sun rises in the morning, it’s as if the previous night’s revelry is a distant dream and the city is up and about for another new day. Tel Aviv gives the phrase ‘city that never sleeps’ a whole new meaning.

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Factfile

Tel Aviv is in Israel on the Mediterranean Coast.

How to reach: El Al is the only airline that flies direct to Tel Aviv and has a few weekly flights only from Mumbai.

Where to stay: The best place to stay is on Beach Road which has a lot of accommodation options; there are some lovely and quirky options in Jaffa as well.

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