I've been traveling to Israel for over 20 years and I have always wanted to do one of the graffiti tours in Tel Aviv. On past trips I'd either run out of time or the weather wasn't cooperating. 2020 was the year! At long last, my graffiti dreams came true.
My aunt and cousin researched the best graffiti tours in advance of my arrival, and decided the one we should try was with Be Tel Aviv Tours. Fun fact: they also host a street food tour and a vegan food tour!
The meetup spot for the tour is the Abraham Hostel in Tel Aviv. If you are looking for an inexpensive place to stay, this is a great option. They have private rooms, a fun bar and a roof deck. One of my cousins stayed there for several weeks last year and loved it.
We were joined on the tour by travelers from Poland, the Netherlands, California and even a few local Israelis!
Our guide's name was Yaela. She was warm, kind and very knowledgeable. She was a designer for 13 years before she decided to start studying for the tour guide exam. When she learned there were entire tours dedicated to street art, she knew that's what she wanted to do!
Yaela conducted the whole tour in English (phew!). She made it interactive and was always happy to answer questions. She taught us about the different types of art: masterpieces, burners and beefs. We talked about tagging and name recognition, and how to recognize when the city has painted over something.
We started by looking at a piece by an artist named Kislev. Many of the people on the tour commented that his work reminded them of Banksy.
A few buildings away, he also did this piece of the witch from Snow White holding a spray paint can.
The third piece we saw was one of my favorites. It's repeating rows of rainbow hearts. The wall it's on is directly next to an elementary school.
Here we are cheesin' in front of the hearts:
And here's Yaela explaining all the noteworthy elements of the piece:
Next to the hearts was a stencil that has been appearing all over Tel Aviv.
It reads "We want Na'ama" and refers to a young, Israeli woman who was being held as a prisoner in Russia. As a group, we discussed how graffiti is commonly used a form of political expression and resistance.
One of the travelers on the tour asked how we can know who is putting up those stencils and Yaela replied, "For many of these artists, the cause is more important than getting the credit."
The neighborhood we were walking through, Florentine, is covered in graffiti. As we were strolling, I felt like I couldn't lift my camera fast enough to capture everything.
This piece, by Solomon Suarez, is actually on the side of a synagogue.
The synagogue community loved it so much, they put up a fence to protect it.
I really loved this piece, which depicts the immigrant experience. The bright colors draw you in and make you want to walk closer.
Yaela explained that this piece (below) was by a street artist who also does commissioned work. This particular one is a satire about French immigrants.
She said, "Many French immigrants to Israel are named David, so this piece is a play on the famous statue of David. They also have a reputation for loving the beach and wearing Speedos. She also pokes fun at their addiction to discount shopping."
Next, we wandered through a part of the neighborhood that the artists call "practice alleys." These are narrow streets mostly surrounded by construction sites or builder's workshops, where the street artists are not disturbing anything.
In one of the practice alleys, Yaela showed us how some of the artists are incorporating technology into their work, by having QR codes that unlock a second layer to their pieces. In this instance, Yaela is showing us how over this black and white piece, the artist has created dancing graphics (in color) that you can only see if you use the app.
In the practice alley we also walked by this piece, which I loved! It says "Fake it 'til you make it."
The second to last piece we saw was two stories high and featured . . . a gorgeous pup!
Yaela told us that this piece was not approved by the city, but it was commissioned by the owners of the apartment building. They thought it would be a great attraction and make it easier to market their available units.
Who wouldn't want to say, "Oh yeah, I live in the dog building."
Our final stop was in front of a piece by Kislev called "The 27 Club." It features artists who died at age 27.
On the far right, he painted himself, and then covered it up.
Other artists have been adding their own work underneath, making the wall look even more magnificent.
All in all, the tour was about 90 minutes. Personally, I could have kept going all day! There is so much to see.
When we wrapped, Yaela offered to make recommendations for where people could grab coffee, lunch or ice cream. I just adored her.
For the rest of the afternoon, as we strolled through Florentine, we couldn't help but notice more art and we tried to analyze it with everything we had learned. Here we are in front of a hamsa:
A huge thanks to Yaela, the most fabulous guide, and the teams at Be Tel Aviv Tours and the Abraham Hostel. Tickets to this tour cost $29 per person and it's worth every cent!