By Andrew Sanger | February 2016 | 10 minute read
Mediterranean Tel Aviv is Israel’s cosmopolitan, stylish social hub, a global centre of high-tech development. As well as its all-important sun, sea and sand, there’s a non-stop café culture and colourful, anything-goes street scene. For sheer laid-back atmosphere, Tel Aviv has justly been called ‘San Francisco on the Med’.
“The tree-shaded Rothschild Boulevard, lined with cafes, chic hotels and restored Bauhaus mansions, has become the attractive main focus of Tel Aviv at leisure. Saunter along it from the national theatre and auditorium to the quirky, bohemian historical neighbourhood Neve Tzedek. Here, several 1920s and 1930s buildings have become luxury hotels, notably The Norman, whose outstanding main restaurant is one of the best in Israel"
ANDREW SANGER, TRAVEL WRITER
Top nosh: Cuisine at Tel Aviv top tables, such as The Norman, reaches gastronomic heights as accomplished chefs from around the world work with Israel’s amazing local ingredients
Pedal power: Pick up a bike under Tel Aviv’s Tel-O-Fun scheme (like London’s Boris Bikes) at scores of street locations, and ride the cycle lanes which run right across the city
Picture perfect: Among a plethora of museums, Tel Aviv Museum of Art displays a major collection of rarely seen Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings by the greatest names
Good mornings: Tuck into a huge but healthy Israeli breakfast including lavish salads, fresh pastries and sumptuous egg dishes like the spicy classic, Shakshuka
Water table: A blue sea and blue sky provide a dreamy backdrop for leisurely lunches or dinners at restaurant and cafe tables on the beachfront. Best is Manta Ray, on Alma Beach in south Tel Aviv
Sundowner: Tel Aviv faces west across the Med, ideal for visitors and residents alike to enjoy a stroll on the Tayelet or a drink at a beach bar while watching the glorious sunsets
Neighbourhood watch: Tel Aviv is a mosaic of neighbourhoods worth exploring – don’t miss the alleys of the Yemenite Quarter and historic lanes of hip Neve Tzedek
Need to know
Unlike Israel’s traditional tourism to Biblical sites in Jerusalem and Galilee, the activity focus in the Negev desert and archaeological sightseeing around the country, Tel Aviv’s appeal is more hedonistic, celebrating the sheer joy of life (although those other attractions are within easy reach for one-day excursions).
The city is packed with things to do and see, shopping, galleries and museums. Round-the-clock entertainment ranges from world-class classical music and modern dance to late-night clubs and a renowned gay scene.
It’s big on food, too. All over town are delicious street snacks, pastry-shops and ice cream parlours and scores of high-quality restaurants. The service is always friendly, relaxed and informal, but the cooking is impeccable and skilful.
Just over a century old, Tel Aviv grew rapidly in the early 20th century. The sleek white modernist architecture of the period gives a distinctive, elegant style, and caused the whole pre-war central area of the city to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Its official name is Tel Aviv–Yafo, because it now includes picturesque old Jaffa on its southern edge, popular for nightlife and waterside dining.
My Tel Aviv experience
“Sweaters and shawls were taken off again as the audience poured out from an air-conditioned concert hall into the exquisite warmth of a Tel Aviv night. Inside, we’d heard brilliant Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by the acclaimed Indian musician Zubin Mehta.
“Outside – at nearly midnight in late October – the streets were crowded with couples and families strolling in summer clothes.
“An enterprising pavement vendor was doing a roaring trade selling freshly-baked bagels for two shekels each – just 35p. We ate some as we walked under the trees of a wide boulevard down to the beach, where even at this hour bathers were swimming in the dark among silvery waves.
“I had to smile, thinking of a colleague saying he presumed I’d chosen to visit Israel because it had some “special significance” for me. Certainly that’s the way it’s been sold for years – a destination ideal for a variety of niche markets: pilgrims, birdwatchers, gay travellers, archaeology buffs, even vegetarians.
“It doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone, until now, that Tel Aviv is quite simply an all-year city break destination that’s as good as it gets.”
What the experts say
“IGTO has developed an online training programme (israelforagents.co.uk) to aid agents in familiarising themselves with Tel Aviv. We also have modules on Israel’s capital Jerusalem and the Dead Sea – both just a short hop from Tel Aviv.
“To promote Tel Aviv in 2016 we are working with tour operators through joint marketing opportunities to promote our destination via traditional and online media.”
NAAMA ORYAN-KAPLAN, DIRECTOR, ISRAEL GOVERNMENT TOURIST OFFICE (IGTO), LONDON
“It’s likely we’ll do a trade event early in the year and we’re confident it will be enjoyable and educational. Israel is a fascinating, safe country for either short breaks or extended tours and with quality operators and agents promoting the destination, we look forward to increasing arrivals in 2016.”
MICHELLE ROBERTS, BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT MANAGER, IGTO
Accommodation: Chic boutique hotels are opening in the restored heart of Tel Aviv, away from the traditional beachside strip, among them Leonardo Rothschild 22, part of Fattal Hotels and independent Lily and Bloom Hotel at the gateway of Neve Tzedek.
Airlines: With the start of Monarch flights from Luton (Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays), four scheduled carriers now fly direct from the UK to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport. The Monarch service continues until at least April 2016.
Attractions: Sarona is a new ‘shopping and lifestyle’ complex in a converted historic site in central Tel Aviv. It’s the third of these interesting indoor and outdoor commercial complexes, the others being Namal (the Old Port, in north Tel Aviv) and HaTachana (the Old Railway Station, in the south).
Where to book it
Monarch features Israel packages inclusive of accommodation at Tel Aviv beach and city hotels. Three nights of B&B, departing in March 2016 at the Arcadia Tower (rated four-Diamond by the operator) costs from £375pp, based on two adults sharing a standard double/twin room and includes flights with Monarch.
A four-day/three-night short break to Tel Aviv with Cox & Kings is priced from £650pp, twin share. The deal includes international flights from London, five-star accommodation with breakfast daily and return airport transfers.