With the recent election of Ehud Barak, Israel seems to be enjoying a new political optimism. Go now to be convinced - and to beat the millions of (largely Christian) tourists that are expected to descend on the country to celebrate the year 2000. And, in two weekends' time (11-12 September), as the summer temperatures are simmering down, over 80 per cent of Israel's population will celebrate Rosh Hashana, Jewish New Year. More information about impending events can be found at www.infotour.co.il
Head west in Tel Aviv and you'll hit surf
El Al (0171-957 4100) flies scheduled from Heathrow, Stansted and Manchester to Tel Aviv; British Airways (0345 222111) has services from Gatwick and Heathrow. The lowest fare on El Al is around pounds 300, if you stay three to 30 days. El Al does not fly on the Jewish Sabbath, which runs from dusk on Friday to dusk on Saturday. Charter flights to Tel Aviv are available for around pounds 230, through agents such as Pullman Holidays (0171-630 5111). Ben Gurion International Airport (00 97 23 971 0000) is about 25 minutes drive from the centre of Tel Aviv. A taxi will cost you NIS 70 (around pounds 11) but comfortable air-conditioned buses leave on the hour and cost NIS11 (pounds 1.75) one-way. If you want to avoid turning up at the airport three hours before your flight, you can check in your luggage the night before in the centre of Tel Aviv (details, 00 97 23 972 3388). For further information contact the Israeli Tourist Office, UK House, 180 Oxford Street, London W1N 9DJ (0171-299 1111).
GET YOUR BEARINGS
Tel Aviv is dominated (physically and spiritually) by a 13km stretch of beach. Go west from wherever you are in the city and eventually you'll hit the surf; but the city has such an integral beach culture that you'll probably find yourself on the sand before you've even started looking for it. To the north is the posh part of town, Ramat Aviv, and the university. In the middle are the shops and public buildings. To the south the bustling Yemenite Quarter and the town of Jaffa, and to the east, the business district and, eventually, the airport.
You can walk between most of the city's major sights but buses - from either the train station (1) or the central bus station (2) - are a useful and efficient way to get further afield. There are Tourist Information Offices at the central bus station and at the airport (ask for a copy of the practical guide, `Israel's Tourist Yellow Pages').
Most of the major hotels sprawl along the city's beach or sit just off it, including the Dan Tel Aviv (3) at 99 Hayarkon Street (00 97 23 520 2525). This model of Sixties sophistication is generally considered to be the place to stay and a double here costs a stylish pounds 215 including breakfast. If you really can't leave the office behind, try the new Sheraton City Tower (4) at 14 Zisman Street (00 97 23 752 5533). Its luxury Smart Rooms (TM) incorporate personal offices and cost an introductory $146 (pounds 94) per night, but there is a complimentary bus service to the beach if you need to escape. If you're on a budget, try the Old Jaffa Hostel (5) at 8 Olei Zion Street. For NIS 120-218 (pounds 19-35) per double room per night you get to enjoy the scruffy charm of this atmospheric tiled building.
TAKE A HIKE
Conveniently, the city has mapped out four signposted `Orange Routes' for tourists (one of which is a driving route). Together, they take in the city's major historical and cultural sights (details 00 97 23 521 8500). Alternatively, construct your own architectural stroll, beginning with a wander from the top of the Shalom Tower (6) (at 9 Akhad Ha-Am Street) and then down leafy Rothschild Boulevard past Bauhaus-inspired buildings and pavement bistros to the Ha-Bima Complex (an art gallery-cum-theatre- cum-concert hall extravaganza on Tarsat Boulevard) and finishing at the Ron Arad-designed Golda Meir Cultural Centre (7) at 19 Shaul Hamelech Boulevard (00 97 23 692 7777).
LUNCH ON THE RUN
In foodie matters, the Israelis put aside all political divides and unite in devotion to the national snack, falafel. These fried chick pea balls (tastier than they sound) are stuffed into a pitta with dollops of humous and as much salad as you can pack in. Falafel stalls are on most streets but, for a choicer chomp, make your way to newly opened Queen of Falafel (8) with its sleek white interior and homemade wood-baked pitta bread. If you can't face another falafel, pick up fat tomatoes, glossy olives, wheels of sesame bread and a handful of fresh figs at Carmel Market (9) and, follow the Saturday crowds for a picnic on the beach.
Ha-Bima: a cultural complex
THE ICING ON THE CAKE
Drive to Edith Wolfson Park, on Derekh Ha-Tayasim in the south-east of the city, to work off brunch with a walk and to admire the views of Tel Aviv. Getting there takes a bit of effort but it's worth it to see The White City. Not a station on the central line, this 1987 sculpture by Dani Karavan is a heap of smooth white shapes that stand out symbolically against a dark blue Israeli sky.
After a night on the town, the Tamar cafe (17) on Sheinkin street is a good place to recuperate slowly, and an old favourite of Tel Aviv's political activists. It's a lovely Fifties-style place with a fanfare of fans and a coffee-sipping clientele. Order a vegetable salad with salted cheese (NIS17, pounds 2.75), a bowl of yoghurt soup (NIS15, pounds 2.40), a slice of homemade cheesecake (NIS12, pounds 1.90) or a toasted bagel with cheese, tomatoes and garlic (NIS20, pounds 3.20), and enjoy a game of chess while you try to ignore the cigarette dangling from the cook's mouth.
SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH
Unsurprisingly, Tel Aviv has a massive range of places of worship to choose from. If you feel more strongly about your surroundings than your faith, however, you should visit Heichal-Yehuda Synagogue (16), which is just off Jabotinsky on Ben Saruk street. Approached from behind, the building looks like an enormous godly snail but, inside its ornate entrance, you can admire the modern stained-glass windows from simple wooden chairs.
With Arabian-style decor, Aladin (14), at 5 Mifratz Shlomo in Old Jaffa (00 97 23 682 6766), has a sunset view of Tel Aviv's beach that is so grand you won't care what the food tastes like. If you have more selective culinary tastes, try Orna ve Ella (15), 33 Sheinkin Street (00 97 23 620 4753). It is the most popular place in town and serves everything from a deliciously minty homemade lemonade (NIS11, pounds 1.70) and Hoegaarden beer (NIS19, pounds 3) to chicken liver pie with tarragon, served with a sweet and sour papaya, red cabbage and coriander salad (NIS33, pounds 5.30) and poppy seed cake with cinnamon ice cream (NIS22, pounds 3.50).
In respect of Shabbat (the Jewish sabbath), shops close and buses stop running. Thankfully, the city's bars stay open. Shenkin street used to be the place to see and be seen, but now that outlets such as McDonald's have moved in, fashionable folk are starting to move out. Join the party crowd that smooches its way through the bars and clubs of Allenby Street (Allenby 58 is a perennially popular place although some of its clientele moves out to clubs along the beach during the summer) or go north to the top of Ben Yehuda Street and the sleek bar (and even sleeker barstaff) at the Baghdad Cafe (13).
A short drive north of the centre is the Eretz Israel Museum. Entrance costs NIS25 (pounds 4) for adults and NIS20 (pounds 3.20) for children. This gives you access to various museums and exhibits on one large site, from archaeological finds in the Ceramics Museum to a shimmering collection of 20th-century Italian silverware. The site also includes the culturally significant Tell Quasile ruins. Take a crash course in Judaism at the Folklore Pavilion, then cool off at the neighbouring open-air swimming pool.
Tel Aviv's beautiful people can be found in the designer shops of the Dizengoff Centre (10), or, on Tuesdays and Fridays, at Nahalat Binyamin (11). The Portobello Road of Tel Aviv, this narrow street is filled with craft stalls, snack bars and just about everything else you don't need. If shopping gives you a headache, head north to the old Hagalil Pharmacy (12) at 80 Ben-Yehuda to stock up on homeopathic remedies and Dr Haushka products.Reuse content