Vintage port

It’s like Covent Garden – with more sunshine. Simon Griver rocks around the dock

November 9, 2010
Way to go: the boardwalk is the coolest way to get around (Photo:

Way to go: the boardwalk is the coolest way to get around (Photo:

Tel Aviv Port is one of Israel's most attractive locations in every sense of the word. Not only does the former port turned leisure, shopping and entertainment centre attract thousands of visitors daily, it also recently won a highly prestigious award for its architecture at the European Biennial of Landscape Architecture in Barcelona.

In October, Tel Aviv Port's design prevailed over 470 other projects for public spaces in European Union member and associate member countries. Architect Ganit Meislits Kasif, who won the award with her partner Udi Kassif, said: "We have to pinch ourselves to check it was really true that Tel Aviv Port beat some of the world's best architects. The award demonstrates that we succeeded in transforming a site that was neglected for over 50 years into a public asset."

The ambitious project has been compared to the renovation of Covent Garden, though Tel Aviv Port enjoys more sunshine than the former London market and it also has the distinct advantage of overlooking the Mediterranean coast. Others compare the project to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, or similar upmarket and tourist port redevelopments in Barcelona and Vancouver.

Created between 2003 and 2008 by the Marine Trust, a public development company set up by Tel Aviv Municipality and run by businesswoman Orna Angel, the project converted 30 buildings and warehouses into a complex of cafés, restaurants, nightclubs, fashion stores and artists' workshops and it is already well worth visiting.

In addition, Tel Aviv Port has a spacious boardwalk, which is part of the seafront promenade and cycle path stretching from Jaffa Port in the south and northwards over the Yarkon River. Tel Aviv Port is a 10- to 15-minute brisk walk north from the beachfront hotel strip.

Tel Aviv Port itself as a working dock had only a brief existence. It was opened in 1936 as a Jewish-owned port to compete with the British run port in nearby Jaffa, which was frequently strikebound by Arab stevedores to protest the policies of the Mandate authorities, which they considered to be pro-Zionist. The Port was closed down in 1965, because its relatively shallow waters could not harbour the large vessels shipping goods to and from Israel and custom was diverted either to Haifa in the north or Ashdod to the south.

Street entertainment strikes a lively note, all day through

Street entertainment strikes a lively note, all day through

For nearly 40 years, the port fell into disrepair, even though the adjacent Tel Aviv district known as Old Tel Aviv (the northern junctions of Hayarkon, Ben Yehuda and Dizengoff Streets) became a trendy area of restaurants, cafés and pubs. The only surprise is that it took so long for somebody to have the idea of rehabilitating the port.

Even before Tel Aviv Port's redevelopment was fully completed in 1998, the complex had become the hub for the city's leisure life. In the city that never stops, neither does life by Tel Aviv Port, from dawn joggers and fishermen to daytime (and nighttime) shoppers at major international fashion retail outlets.

By day, Israelis and tourists alike also flock to a range of restaurants (most of them not kosher) and cafés with outdoor beachside tables and sea views. The port is surrounded by beaches and there is a diving club that rents out equipment to qualified divers. Boat tours are also available.

In the public areas, Tel Aviv Municipality often puts on shows and there are regular arts and crafts fairs, farmers' markets and street theatre and other performances.

It is at night that Tel Aviv Port really starts buzzing and the cafés, restaurants and bars fill up, as do the trendy night clubs and discos like the Hangar club, TLV, Erlich, Whiskey Agogo and Shalvata, named after one of Israel's most famous mental asylums but which bills itself as the sanest place in Israel.

Even if you do not want to eat out or party, Tel Aviv Port makes an ideal destination for an evening stroll, with the sea breezes tempering the city's humidity.

Last updated: 3:19pm, November 9 2010