Things to See and Do in the Ancient City of Jaffa

June 4th 2018

The Israeli city of Jaffa (known locally as Yafo) is an ancient port city connected to the southern edge of Tel Aviv. Now forming part of the Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality, it’s believed Jaffa was first inhabited in 7500 BCE. The city is found in numerous old texts including in the Hebrew Bible (Jonah, Solomon) and in Greek mythology (the story of Andromeda and Perseus).

Given such an ancient history in this region of the world, it’s no surprise that Jaffa has been the setting for countless invasions and movements of people. It’s elevated coastal position in-between so many neighboring civilizations gave it a strategic importance in military terms.

From Ancient Egyptian rule and the Tribe of Dan, through to the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian occupations, then later the Arab conquests, and on to the more modern Ottoman and British mandate periods, Jaffa has seen it all, and more.

Modern Jaffa

Today Jaffa is a growing tourist city and has seen a lot of regeneration after being neglected for many decades, in the shadow of the blossoming Tel Aviv. The ancient buildings and distinctive narrow passageways, together with the fascinating history of the city, mean Jaffa is a big attraction for tourists visiting Israel.

The city has a heterogeneous population of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. There are synagogues, churches, and mosques throughout the area. There are also plenty of interesting sights and attractions, including some of our favorites mentioned below.

Jaffa Flea Market

Known as the Shuk Hapishpishim in Hebrew, the Jaffa Flea Market is a popular tourist attraction owing to its huge array of diverse goods from all the local cultures, as well as from further afield. There’s also a large choice of delicious Jewish and Arab food available. In the surrounding streets there can be found an array of art galleries, boutiques, craft shops, bars, and restaurants.

Old Jaffa Port

The Old Jaffa Port, as the name suggests, is the site of the ancient port which was once the main gateway into Israel from the sea. It’s one of the oldest ports in the world and is said to be from where Jonah set sail in the Biblical story Jonah and the Whale.

Today, the old port has been carefully redeveloped as a cultural attraction, yet still remains an active working port. Around the harbor area there are restaurants, bars, bakeries, sidewalk cafes, art galleries, stores, and more.

Ilana Goor Museum

The Ilana Goor Museum is located in Old Jaffa and houses more than 500 works of art created by – or collected by – the prestigious Tiberias-born Jewish artist Ilana Goor. She’s considered a multidisciplinary artist and her work (as well as those she has collected) include sculptures, furniture, Judaica, lamps, jewelry, and fashion.

The building where the museum is situated also has a fascinating history. Built in 1742, it’s seen life as an inn for Jewish pilgrims, an olive oil soap factory, a synagogue for Libyan Jews, and an art gallery.

Kikar Kedumim Visitor’s Center

The Kikar Kedumim Visitor’s Center is in the same location as the abovementioned Ilana Goor Museum. The site features findings from local archaeological excavations including artifacts from the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine eras. There’s also an audio-visual presentation covering the history of Jaffa.