Tel Aviv is Israel’s cultural capital, but traditional museums are not always the best ambassadors for contemporary artists. For a more colourful look at what the city’s creative community is up to, book a spot on an alternative art tour. A local guide can take you behind the door of local artists' studios, help you understand Hebrew graffiti text and even show you how to get messy with your own can of spray paint.
Hope you packed a shirt that you don’t mind getting dirty because Grafitiyul gets hands-on with with the street artist’s paint palette. An amalgamation of the words graffiti and tiyul (Hebrew for ‘trip’), Grafitiyul offers a voyage through the street art of Florentin, a neighbourhood in south Tel Aviv, with a side of hands-on graffiti training. The company’s tour guides are all graffiti artists themselves, but don’t expect them to reveal their street tags. They will, however, divulge some splashy stories behind the artworks and share practical tips for spraying your own masterpiece. Both daytime and nighttime tours (complete with flashlights) are offered.
Artspace Tel Aviv
Kiryat Hamelacha, a derelict industrial neighbourhood in south Tel Aviv, is a magnet for artists, who are drawn to its retro mid-century structures, large spaces and lower-than-average rents. The area is now home to a concentration of more than 300 studios for both emerging and established artists, as well as a growing number of galleries. Artspace Tel Aviv, a nonprofit organisation that supports the neighbourhood’s creative community, says that Kiryat Hamelacha is where almost half of Israel’s contemporary art is made. Artspace offers local tours with guides who are all working artists and curators in the area. You can have your pick: some tours start with a panoramic outlook from a rooftop, others explain the techniques used by local artists and a few include studio visits to nearby artists and designers.
Tel Aviv’s street art is peppered with Hebrew text, but you won’t be able to read the writing on the walls without a translator or some basic knowledge of the language. Guy Sharett (aka StreetWise Hebrew) will guide you through the nuances as he deciphers the graffiti on his tours, which are part Hebrew lesson, part Florentin street art tour and part introduction to urban anthropology and contemporary Israeli politics. From the perverse to the political, Sharett produces a street-inspired vocabulary that represents the everyday preoccupations of Tel Aviv’s artists. The Thursday afternoon tours will equip you with a few key Hebrew phrases (of the kind you’re unlikely to find in your guidebook) to use during the rest of your visit.
Oh So Arty
As a former Tel Aviv gallerista, Oh So Arty founder Sarah Peguine is fully plugged in to the local creative network. Her bespoke gallery tours take it up a notch from the average, with opportunities to speak with gallery directors and exhibited artists, and she can also arrange intimate studio visits. A tour of artists’ and designers’ workshops in the ancient port area of Jaffa at the southern tip of Tel Aviv is an especially popular route. Not sure what to request? Visit Oh So Arty’s website to whet your visual appetite. If you do find yourself suddenly ravenous though, have no fear: light drinks and snacks are included in these tours, and if you book the deluxe art and wine tour, you can look forward to a whole spread.
Alternative Tel Aviv
There are subtle nuances between street art and graffiti, and keen to explain the differences are a team of trained art historians and professional tour guides who count Alternative Tel Aviv among their many artistic passion projects. Expect to learn the names of Israel’s major street artists and some street art terminology to guide you through your global street art adventures. The company’s Tel Aviv tours focus on street art in the gentrifying Florentin neighbourhood, where works by artists such as Klone, Dede and Know Hope pigment otherwise drab concrete walls. Despite the name, Alternative Tel Aviv also runs tours in Jerusalem and Haifa.
If you felt disoriented when travelling through Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station, it wasn’t just because you are a visitor. This labyrinthine behemoth and its whopping 230,000 sq metres confound even veteran Tel Avivians, making it all too easy to miss the terminal’s cultural treasures. Eager to help you appreciate the station’s unique architecture and artistic institutions is CTLV, a group of urbanist locals who have been giving tours since 2009. Their popular 2.5-hour tours cover a cross section of the Central Bus Station and include a visit to a fringe theatre and a Yiddish language and culture museum, among other local treasures. CTLV has 20 other tour routes and also arranges tailored trips through other parts of the city based on your interests, from street art to freemasons, or the gay community of 1930s Tel Aviv.