Jerusalem is older than the Bible and Tel Aviv is a thoroughly modern metropolis. But in recent years, both cities have started to buck those long-held stereotypes. Jerusalem, a holy place steeped in Jewish, Christian and Muslim history, is modernizing with new hotel projects, trendy boutiques and restaurants. Tel Aviv, often considered the New York City of Israel, is seeing the value in restoring its historic sites, like the ancient port city of Jaffa and the storied Hatachana train station.
Jerusalem, the faithful still flock to the Western
Wall of the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, to slip hand-written
prayers into the cracks of the wall. Christian pilgrims still retrace Jesus’
final steps to crucifixion along Via Dolorosa, and Muslims still worship at the
of the Rock, Islam’s third-holiest site, where Mohammed was said to receive
But in the
past few years, two neighbourhoods to the north and south of Old Jerusalem have
undergone a spate of new development to keep up with tourist demand, revealing
pockets of a modernised city amid otherwise historical sites.
northern part of the city on Mount Scopus has developed a collegiate-vibe,
thanks to two universities — Hebrew
University and the Bezalel Academy
of Arts and Design. Young hipsters party at HaTaklit (The Record), a bar started
by three men who share an obsession for collecting records. Rare vinyl covers the
walls and a DJ spins every night with an emphasis on indie-rock. Literary majors
flock to Tmol
Shilshom (Those Were the Days), a bookstore and café housed in a 130-year
old building, where Israel’s best known writers read from their works and aspiring
scribes work on their next great novel.
Refaim, the main drag of the German Colony neighbourhood in southern Jerusalem,
is lined with new restaurants and high-end boutiques. The street buzzes on
Friday mornings, the start of the Israeli weekend, with people brunching,
shopping and scoping out the arts-and-crafts fair in the courtyard of the
Waldorf School. The school opened in 1993 and adheres to an unconventional teaching
style; in the early years, the alphabet, reading, math and other lessons are
taught using movement, stories, art, music and crafts.
you work up an appetite while shopping, grab a bite at La Boca, Jerusalem’s only kosher South
American restaurant, opened in 2010 by owner and chef Guy Kimhi who spent a
year backpacking through South America. Stav Jewelry, the studio of
husband and wife designers Dalia and Eyal Stav, sells handcrafted jewellery
made of gold, silver, ceramic and precious and semi-precious stones, as well as
locally-made leather handbags. Cap off your day with a film at the Lev Smadar Theater, a quaint art-house theatre
just off Emek Refaim that attracts a young, secular crowd. On Shabbat (the
Jewish day of rest), the theatre
is often crowded with local artists, while the rest of the religious city
gathers for family meals.
the tourist centre, a 223-room Waldorf
Astoria Jerusalem is set to open in 2013 near the Jaffa Gate. A 10-minute
walk away is the two-year old Mamilla
Hotel, which brands itself as Israel’s first luxury lifestyle hotel.
Old Tel Aviv
Jerusalem, where ancient sites are the main draw, Tel Aviv has long been
considered a modern city in a deeply historical country. Its contemporary arts
scene is anchored by the cutting-edge collections at the Sommer Contemporary Art
Gallery, the Herzliya
Museum of Contemporary Art and the
sleek and sexy Design Museum Holon,
opened in 2010 and designed by star-architect Ron Arad. The city’s exquisite Bauhaus architecture
even won it a spot on the Unesco World Heritage Site list.
with being Israel’s most modern city, Tel Aviv is now working to preserve its
past through the ancient port city of Jaffa. In 1909, neighbouring Tel Aviv was
founded by Jews who left the cramped conditions of predominately Arab Jaffa. Since
2009, the 4,000-year-old harbour town on the Mediterranean has been undergoing a
restoration, with the goal of turning it into an artists’ quarter, packed with high-end
restaurants, bars and cafés. Jaffa’s winding streets get overrun with tourists
in the warm summer months, drawn by the refreshing sea breeze and the constant sound
of tinkling of wind chimes. In the off-season, the streets are mostly empty except
for residents and the stray tour group. Shop like a local near the Jaffa flea market, Shuk Ha Pishpishim,
where a hip crowd scours the racks at vintage clothing stores. Grab a bite at The Container, an industrial
warehouse-turned-seafood restaurant with revolving art displays and live music.
In 2010, after 10 years of renovation, the historic outdoor Hatachana train station reopened as an entertainment
complex with shopping, dining and an outdoor organic market. Trendy restaurants
like the new tapas spot Vicky Cristina
sit next to stores such as AHAVA and Tzomet Sefarim -- a
bookstore and café devoted to art and design. Other storefronts showcase young
Israeli and international designers, and there is a stage for fashion shows,
theatre performances and other special events.
Tel Aviv launched Tel-O-Fun,
a citywide self-service bike share program for residents and tourists, the perfect
way to tour the city’s new-old hotspots. Over the next five years, the city will
spend 150 million shekels to build 150km of bike paths that will keep
pedestrians and cars separate in a continuous network that covers all of Tel
Aviv and links the city to Jaffa’s bike paths.