Leave modern Tel Aviv behind in the ancient southern district

bye bye bauhaus

Built mainly in the first half of the 20th century, it’s no surprise Tel Aviv is home to one of the world’s largest collections of modernist architecture. A designated UNESCO World Heritage site, the 4,000-plus white Bauhaus-inspired buildings that crowd its centre have come to define the city – drawing tourists in their droves. But as enterprising visitors can discover, the history of Tel Aviv goes far beyond clean lines and chalky stone. And with archaeological evidence dating from as early 7500 BCE, Jaffa – the city’s ancient original district – offers a refreshing take on this modern Mediterranean outpost.

Meet the ‘Bride of the Sea’

A mix of traditional sand-coloured buildings and red-hued roofs rising from the Mediterranean, Old Jaffa strikes a stark contrast with the uniform ‘White City’ to the north – so much so, visitors dubbed this ancient port the ‘Bride of the Sea’. After a few steps along the stunning esplanade or well-worn alleyways, you’ll agree this bride is more than deserving of her Hebrew name Yofi – meaning ‘beautiful’.

Meet the ‘Bride of the Sea'

Discover a trio of ancient gems

Archaeological digs in Jaffa are not an uncommon sight – revealing the history of the old city. Thankfully, there are no trowels needed to uncover our top picks. And, just a short hop from Jaffa by bus, taxi or relaxing shoreline amble, boutique Tel Aviv hotel The Norman Tel Aviv is a spot-on starting point for your trip down memory lane.

1. The Zodiac Alleys

Welcome to the Zodiac Alleys – a maze of restored walkways named after (you guessed it) the signs of the zodiac. Lined with galleries, studios and places to grab a coffee (try Basma on Louis Pasteur Street), the Zodiac Alleys offer both a change of pace and easy access to Jaffa’s old port.

2. Jaffa Flea Market (Shuk Hapishpishim)

This compact shuk perfectly captures the spirit of Old Jaffa. Behind the stalls, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it walls reveal stonework from the early Islamic period – and older. While genuine antique relics, modern delights and, of course, a fair share of counterfeit wares pack out its labyrinthine streets. Just remember to bring your bartering skills – haggling exchanges can be a little tiresome, but well-won rewards await.

3. Old Jaffa Port (Namal Yafo)

Although dwindling fishing stocks make for a much more tranquil scene today, Jaffa has been home to a working port for over 4,000 years. And for visitors, the natural, west-facing harbour with its rugged outcrop of rocks offers the daily treat of a majestic Mediterranean sunset. So as evening arrives, kick back and relax in one of the public gardens overlooking the port for a view to savour, and a cooling sea breeze to lift the heat. You might even spy a local trawler and its crew heading off into the night – on the hunt for Spanish mackerel.

Where next?

Tick off more of the world’s treasures with a visit to exceptional boutique hotels in UNESCO sites.

Or head deeper into the cradle of civilisation by exploring the Middle East region even further, which offers an unlimited range of truly unforgettable experiences.

Where next?