If you’re an art lover in Israel, prepare yourself: wear comfortable shoes, eat a big breakfast and stay hydrated. Because you’re going to have some long, fun days. (The breakfast part, at least, will be easy — Israeli breakfasts are amazing.)
Every guidebook will tell you to hit the standbys like Jerusalem’s Israel Museum or the Tel Aviv Art Museum. And so you should. But Israel has a vibrant, eclectic art scene that encompasses everything from sculpture to street art, and you won’t find it all in museums.
What follows is a by-no-means-comprehensive list of suggestions for visitors to Israel who (a) live and breathe the arts and (b) prefer the road less travelled.
Tagging in Tel Aviv
There’s so much to do here: cafés and clubs, bars and beaches. Not surprisingly, Israel’s hippest city also has a ton of attractions for art lovers.
If you like street art, check out the neighborhood Florentin. This southern corner of Tel Aviv is the graffiti and street art capital of Israel. Although the neighborhood is becoming gentrified (see also: Brooklyn) it still has a bohemian feel, with chill cafés to grab a bite or a coffee.
As you might expect, Florentin has plenty of galleries that are worth a look, like the Street Art Gallery. And just down the road is Pachot M’Elef, or Under 1000. This place is, as the name suggests, a gallery for art priced under a thousand bucks. Meshuna is another Florentin gallery showing interesting work by emerging artists.
The northern end of Tel Aviv is not exactly off the beaten path. But any art lover already knows that the city’s Bauhaus architecture is a can’t-miss. It’s a good idea to stop into the Bauhaus Center to orient yourself or get information about walking tours. While you’re on Dizengoff Street — which everyone in Tel Aviv finds their way to sooner or later — stop into The Gallery of International Naïve Art. It boasts a collection of folk art from quite literally all over the world.
The crafting revolution has hit Israel as well: the Nachalat Binyamin Market runs every Tuesday and Friday on Nachalat Binyamin Street. The market focuses on handmade work, with some 200 vendors displaying visual art and artisanal work like glassware and jewelry. And while we know you’re all about the edifying nature of art, there’s no harm in mentioning that you can also find fun items like artisanal soap and handmade toys.
City of Art, City of Peace
It’s natural to assume that Jerusalem is all about religion, but the city has a vibrant secular culture too. Perhaps the best way to experience it is with the Jerusalem Season of Culture, a massive festival that plays out all over the city from late summer to early autumn. The festival highlights a huge of range of genres — visual art, performance, new media and music, just to name a few. There’s a lot of good food too.
Whether you’re in town for the festival or not, make time for the Artists’ House, which is tucked away in a quiet corner of this intense city. This old stone building is the original site of an art school and museum founded in 1906. It’s a great place to see works by emerging Jerusalem artists.
If you like the graphic arts, then you absolutely need to stop into the Jerusalem Print Workshop. It’s a combination of a gallery, artists’ center and print shop dedicated to the traditional arts of printing — silkscreen, etching and woodcutting. The workshop also has beautiful 19th century presses in use and an amazing collection of artists’ books. An added bonus is that it’s located on the edge of Jerusalem’s Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, Mea Shearim.
Two More Things That Aren’t Exactly Visual Art But Are too Cool to Leave Out
It’s not exactly visual art, but it’s an experience like no other: the Nalaga’at or “Please touch” community center, a performance space for the deaf and blind. You can see wonderful, experimental theater pieces by deaf-blind performers. There’s also BlackOut, a restaurant wherein the blind staff serves your meal in total darkness.
One last suggestion: the International Fringe Theater Festival in the ancient seaside city of Akko. Its diverse offerings include plays, dance, music performance art and street theater, with performers from performers from Bulgaria, Slovenia, Italy and Holland. Some productions will be in English, and because it’s a fringe festival, some productions will be strange in any language.