Tel Aviv is buzzing at the moment – but if you venture just outside the city you’ll discover an even more happening hotspot with some of the best food and culture in Israel. The ancient city of Jaffa, perched on the edge of the Mediterranean, has been undergoing a renaissance over the past decade and it’s now one of the most vibrant places to visit in the Middle East. With lively restaurants, cutting edge art spaces and a treasure-filled flea market, not to mention a gorgeous Mediterranean coastline and the best hummus in Israel, this offbeat historical spot should be at the top of your travel itinerary.
Here are some of the things you shouldn’t miss:
An eclectic flea market has spread through many of the streets of Jaffa, operating week around but most vigorously on weekends, and the cafe Puaa is a little gem nestled in the midst of it all. Filled with mismatched furniture and quirky ornaments that have come from the local markets, this is a sweet little spot to stop for a coffee and a bite to eat. Dig in to simple hearty fare such as enormous crunchy schnitzels or little earthenware pots of shakshuka (eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce) washed down with fresh pomegranate juice, finished off with a sticky slice of homemade walnut cake. The small terrace, surrounded by planter-boxes filled with flowers, is the place to be seen on a sunny day.
Where: 8 Rabbi Yohanan St, Jaffa
Old Jaffa Hostel
Hands down, the best place to stay in this area is the Old Jaffa Hostel. Located right in the middle of all the action, at the centre of the flea market and a five minute walk to the beach, this adorable guesthouse is the definition of shabby chic. Thoroughly affordable, it offers beds in shared dorms for $AU35 with the option of private rooms for a little more coin. This includes a simple but lovely breakfast (think bread with hummus, cheese and spreads) and access to the spectacular rooftop with 360-degree views of the city. Extra bonus: In summer they’ll let you take a mattress up to the roof so you can sleep under the stars.
Where: 13 Ami'ad St, Jaffa
Abu Hassan (Ali Karavan)
Don’t expect a glamorous experience from Abu Hassan. This place is entirely old school in a plastic plates kind of way. Set a few streets back from the water, it has a single focus: pumping out dishes of hommus so creamy and delicious you can skip the bread and eat it with a spoon. The décor is simple and the menu limited. You can order the nutty hommus hot or cold and with either a sprinkling of ful (cooked broad beans) or warm chick peas. That’s it. But it’s all they’ve been doing for more than 50 years and, take it from the truck-drivers and locals who frequent this humble eatery, it’s all you’ll want. This luxurious version of the ancient dip, considered by many to be the best in Israel, comes crowned with a ruby dusting of paprika, emerald flecks of parsley and a golden swirl of olive oil, with pita bread, crunchy slices of raw onion and pickles on the side. They’ve opened a new outlet in Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market, but the original is best.
Where: 1 Ha' Dolfin St, Jaffa
Anna LouLou Bar
This is the place to go when you’re ready to let your hair down and embrace the local nightlife. Anna LouLou is open late Monday-Saturday and it’s the perfect place to discover some of the best local Djs, who serve up everything from salsa to hip hop. Don’t arrive too late because this tiny joint fills up quickly, and be prepared to drink mostly beer because these kids like to keep things simple.
Where: 2 Hapninim St, Jaffa
The Container is the embodiment of the changes taking place in Jaffa. Located in a renovated warehouse perched on the edge of the wharf in Old Jaffa Port, overlooking the Mediterranean, this chic little place manages to successfully be all things to all people. First and foremost a restaurant offering dishes such as a bright calamari salad, or a lightly grilled fish with tomato, olives and parsley, The Container also doubles as an art gallery, as well as a bar and live music venue by night. With spectacular views out over the port, and an interior design that respects the original industrial use of the site, this feels like a very special corner of the world.
Where: Warehouse 2, Jaffa Port, Jaffa