Tel Aviv - often referred to as the Miami of the Med - has been hailed “the destination of the year” and “Israel’s coolest city” by Forbes magazine no less. And rightly so: Israel’s sin city serves up perfect beaches and a buzzy market vibe, together with and architectural treasures, gastronomy, history and culture.
What’s more you don’t need deep pockets to enjoy some time out in Tel Aviv, as easyJet flies to this city of cosmopolitan cool.
Here’s the low-down on what to do, where to eat and how to get around the ‘Hill of Spring’
Bask on a beach
Tel Aviv is arguably best known for beach culture. The Israeli city boasts a beach for every occasion and character – one to party, play sports, one for families (Metzitzim Beach), a religious beach (Nordau Beach where men and women are segregated) and another for the LBGT brigade (hello Hilton Beach). However for the swankiest stretch of sand, seek out Alma Beach, near the Charles Clore Park. Here you can enjoy the fabulous people watching opportunities, rest, relax and read that book that’s been sitting on your bedside table since Easter.
Admire the architecture
Visiting Tel Aviv and not admiring the city’s beautiful white Bauhaus buildings (there are more than 400 in total) which were declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2003, is akin to travelling to Paris and failing to tick off the Eiffel Tower. Make no mistake: Tel Aviv is all about Bauhaus architecture (think curved corners, horizontal lines and an absence of ornamentation). Two of the best examples of Bauhaus style buildings include the charming Cinema Hotel (Dizengoff Square) and Soshkin House (12 Lillenblum Street).
Make friends with the locals
Whether you are in the party capital of the Middle East, for a day, a week or infinitely longer, expect to be warmly greeted by locals looking to shed the region’s international reputation. TNT defies you to resist the charms of the friendly – and unfeasibly good looking – Tel Avivians, who will bend over backwards to share their coastal metropolis with you. Those that this writer was befriended by couldn’t get over the fact that, back home in Blighty, I don’t know my neighbours: absolutely everyone knows everyone in Tel Aviv.
Shop up a storm
Good retail therapy – expect a competitive parade of preening bling – is another tremendous Tel Aviv asset. Go big on trendy Sheinken Street or Dizengoff Street – packed as they are with independent boutiques (you won’t find any chains here) for you to splash your shekels in.
However if you don’t boast the budget of Neymar and fellow footballers Gareth Bale and Paul Pogba, put the panic on hold and check out the Carmel Market where you’ll find passionate Israelis peddling everything from flip flops to face creams and fresh flowers, for peanut prices. And if you’re in town on a Tuesday or Friday between 10am-5pm make a beeline for buzzy Nahalat Binyamin Street – home to a popular pedestrianised craft market specialising in super affordable (and excellent) paintings, ceramics and jewellery.
Fabulous food food and drink is never hard to find in Tel Aviv, which has become something of a world class restaurant capital. Streets such as Rothschild Boulevard – an elegant avenue lined with imported oak trees and named after the famed Jewish family of financiers – are brimming with cafes and restaurants.
The waterfront eateries at the Old Port (that was given a makeover in the early 2000s by the Tel Aviv municipality) also reward a visit while the historic Old Railway Station (HaTachna) is home to to a whole host of fashionable dining venues including Vicky Cristina, (www.vicky-cristina.co.il/en/) – an outdoor tapas and wine bar named after the Woody Allen film, that’s currently the hottest ticket in town.
But you don’t have to spend a lot to eat well. Hummus – aka the humble chick pea dish – is dirt cheap and tastes sublime, especially when slathered on a hunk of pita bread. Benedict (www.benedict.co.il/en) is another place where you can live the high life, without paying the vertigo inducing rates.
It would be easy to spend all your time in downtown Tel Aviv but it’s worth venturing to the ancient port city of Jaffa, just south of the city, to see the contrast between slick Tel Aviv and its shabby-chic neighbour.
Once the unofficial capital of the British Mandate of Palestine, today Jaffa is famed for its flea market and for serving as a film location for the hit US TV series Homeland.
Exploring Jaffa from your Tel Aviv base is safe and easy – simply a hire a bike (cycling is the best way to get around) and stick to the designated cycling lanes.
Say hello to the Holy Land
Jerusalem - which has been seducing travellers and pilgrims since time immemorial – is another destination within easy day tripping distance of Tel Aviv. Trust TNT when we say that nothing prepares you for a visit to the Old City. Even if you aren’t remotely religious, it’s nigh on impossiblenot to be moved by the history and heritage contained within the walls of a city that’s sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike.
Stroll the promenade
Of course chances are you’re probably after a holiday not a history lesson so, back in Tel Aviv proper, spend your final evening strolling along the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Promenade. This always lively walkway is a great place to stop for a coffee, to eat a long, late dinner (this is a city that personifies la dolce vita and even at 3am every venue is heaving) at one of the many eateries, indulge in some serious people watching or simply to listen to some of the best music buskers you’re ever likely to encounter.
Words and pictures: Kaye Holland