Magen David Square is perhaps the most interesting square in Tel Aviv. It is one of the busiest points in the city, where five major streets meet: Alenbi, King George, Sheinkin, Ha’Carmel and Nachalat Binyamin. Six in fact, if you count both parts of Alenbi, the same number as the points on a Star Of David.
It is also where two very special markets meet: The Carmel Market, which offers food, cheap clothing and pirated DVDs and is active every day except Saturday, and the Nachalat Binyamin Arts and Crafts Market that joins in on Tuesdays and Fridays. Though both markets definitely deserve a visit, if you’re not hungry and if you’re looking for something uniquely Tel Aviv, make sure to come when the Arts and Crafts market is open.
While the market is the main attraction for most visitors to the area of Nachalat Binyamin, it’s really not all there is on Nachalat Binyamin Street. The market was started in 1987 as part of an initiative aimed at preserving dying crafts and arts. It was at first only a small market with a dozen sellers, but since then it has grown to accommodate over 200 artists and vendors that set up shop between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. every Tuesday and Friday.
It is a point of pride for the vendors and the city that all the goods on sale are handmade, often by the vendors themselves. Some, such as the glass blower, even practice their craft on the spot. The items on sale are presented on small and crowded tables along the pedestrian area of the street, which has been blocked off to cars.
The variety and choice of things to look at and buy might be a bit much, so make sure to have a good hour or two to devote to the market if you want to see it all. You can find pretty much anything, ranging from the beautiful to the useful, from jewelery to toys, photography to ceramics, Judaica items and even designer toothbrush holders.
Some of the vendors are there on behalf of charitable organizations, offering works of art made by volunteers and sold for cheap, while others are professional artists, offering their works for relatively high prices. In the rare and few spaces between the tables you’ll find plenty of street artists, fortune-tellers, magicians, interpretive dancers and the occasional broke musician trying to make some money with a guitar and a hat.
What makes Nachalat Binyamin so unique and deserving of a visit even on a non-market day is its history and looks: Nachalat Binyamin was originally founded back in the early 20th century as an entirely separate town and not as part of Tel Aviv (then called “Achuzat Ba’it”).
In 1912, mainly due to a water shortage, Nachalat Binyamin (named after the biblical tribe of Binyamin, and not as most mistakenly think, after Theodore Herzl) joined the young town soon to become Tel Aviv. Since then it’s been able to maintain a unique character that makes it stand out compared to other areas in the city: It is a very long street, stretching all the way from Magen David square to Florentin, and along it are some of the most beautiful buildings in Tel Aviv. While Tel Aviv is famous for its Bauhaus buildings, most of the structures on Nachalat Binyamin were built in an eclectic style, with touches of art nouveau in the art nouveau tiles made in Palestine in the 20’s and 30’s (walking down the street, make sure to look up once in a while and you’ll surely spot a few original tiles).
The most beautiful part of the street is the part where the market takes place, in the pedestrian area that goes from Magen David square to Gruzenburg street.
Since the market arrived in Nachalat Binyamin and replaced the traditional textile merchants, the area has known a real revival, and it’s still close to impossible to find a vacant apartment in the area. What once was a sleepy little alley occupied mostly by textile merchants has become a vibrant and happening place to be.
The textile merchants are still there, though in smaller numbers, but have been joined by plenty of fine restaurants, bars, cafes, concept shops and even a gallery or two. Carmella Bistro, a fine dining restaurant, LoveEat, a trendy café, Hummus Kaful, a friendly hummus joint, and the new Little Prince literary café are just a few examples, and all are located on the pedestrian area. Going further down the street, or off it to one of its many side streets, will allow the curious visitor to find many more good places to eat and drink. La’Champa, which is a bar that serves only sparkling wine, is one of them, and Café Eifel is also a notable one, as it is the smallest café in Tel Aviv, yet its coffee is often better than that served in the biggest.
Continuing the old textile tradition of the area, many young designers have made their studios along Nachalat Binyamin, and though the studios are not easy to find, you’ll have no trouble finding boutiques and second hand shops that cater to pretty much any taste and price range. All in all, and with the exception of the rare rainy day, no visit to Tel Aviv would be complete without checking out Nachalat Binyamin, be it during a market day or at night for dinner and drinks.