Peter Moss joins the non-stop beach party with attitude that is Israel's second city

When JJ Cale wrote the lyrics to "After Midnight" he might have added the words "is when Tel Aviv really comes alive". For if New York is the city that never sleeps, then Tel Aviv is the city that never even takes a nap. The area between Dizengoff Street and the sea throbs with life, mostly in the small hours, before spilling on to a beach so soft and golden you don't so much walk on it as sink into it. Tel Aviv has attitude, energy and a Mittel-Europa café society, with the highest ratio of mobile phones per capita on God's own earth. But then, this is God's own earth.

When JJ Cale wrote the lyrics to "After Midnight" he might have added the words "is when Tel Aviv really comes alive". For if New York is the city that never sleeps, then Tel Aviv is the city that never even takes a nap. The area between Dizengoff Street and the sea throbs with life, mostly in the small hours, before spilling on to a beach so soft and golden you don't so much walk on it as sink into it. Tel Aviv has attitude, energy and a Mittel-Europa café society, with the highest ratio of mobile phones per capita on God's own earth. But then, this is God's own earth.

When to go

Spring and autumn are perfect, with the seasonal Jewish holidays adding atmosphere. Winter is fine, too, warmed by the menorah lights on the festival of Chanukah. Avoid millennium eve, unless you want to see nutters combusting in ritual silliness. Be there on a Friday when Jerusalem winds down for the Sabbath and Tel Aviv cranks up for a big beach party.

Getting there

The international airport is Ben-Gurion. El Al (tel: 0171-957 4100) offers autumn return flights from Heathrow and Stansted from £194, including tax. Prices rise to £294, including tax, during the millennium period. British Airways (tel: 0345 222111) offers a three-day Apex return from November through to mid-December for £234, including tax, on board its new 777 Boeing. Most other major airlines fly to Israel, but not without lengthy transit stops. Some of the charter airlines - Monarch, Air 2000, Britannia - also fly to Tel Aviv.

Where to stay

There are two views in Tel Aviv - the Mediterranean up to Old Jaffa, and the sprawling, heaving metropolis. My advice? Look at the sea. The main hotels are on Hayarkon Street, across the road from the beach, in some cases backing on to it. Best by far is the Dan Hotel (tel: 00 972 3 520 2525). Its rooftop swimming pool is heavenly, and the whole place has an unhurried feel. For a deluxe double sea-view room, expect to pay upwards of £250 per night, including full Israeli breakfast.

More modest is the Basel Hotel (tel: 00 972 3 520 7711), a cosy three to four-star hotel on Hayarkon Street without sea views, but with a swimming pool and lively bar. From mid-November, prices are reduced and start from £70 for a single, £90 double including full Israeli breakfast.

The Hilton (tel: 00 972 3 520 2222) has its own private beach. All rooms have sea-facing balconies, singles from £185, doubles from £225, including full breakfast.

If you are on a budget, try the Old Jaffa Hostel at 8 Olei Zion Street. For £19 to £35 per double room, you can enjoy the scruffy charm of this atmospheric tiled building.

What to see and do

Stroll along the Orange Route, the paved promenade which hugs the sea from the hotel strip to Old Jaffa, where the artists' colony, complete with silversmiths' workshops, ramparts, and cobbled alleyways, has been beautifully revitalised.

The Diaspora Museum at Tel Aviv University (tel: 00 972 3 646 2020) is the best museum in Israel offering an exhaustive history of the Jewish people where you can trace family roots. The Mann Auditorium on Dizengoff Street (tel: 00 972 3 528 9163) plays host to the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, while the lawns of Hayarkon Park have reverberated to live concerts by Dylan, Springsteen and Jacko himself.

Israel is beginning to make waves in world football, and its top team is Maccabi Tel Aviv (tel: 00 972 3 629 1590). Shenken Street is the chic shopping hub of Tel Aviv. For food, and a real Sabbath-eve buzz, try the Carmel Market. Then head back down to that fabulous beach, take your backgammon board, Frisbee - and mobile phone - with you.

Food and drink

Many hotels and restaurants adhere to the kosher dietary laws, so don't be surprised to find pork, shellfish, and the mixing of any meat and dairy products scarce. That said, Planet Hollywood (tel: 00 972 3 517 7827) does the best burgers in town. Around £10 a head should do it, before heading a few doors down to Yotvata (tel: 00 972 3 516 1991) for dessert. Yotvata is a wonderful dairy restaurant, selling produce from the kibbutz of the same name. Its ice-creams and frozen yoghurts are very good.

Still further down the strip is the Fashion TV Café (tel: 00 972 3 527 8666). Attached to the Dan Hotel, this award-winning café-restaurant has an Italian bias and huge windows over Jaffa and the Med. Main courses cost from £6.

Dizengoff and Shenken Streets are awash in cafés and there's no end of places to pick up Israel's staple food-on-the-run - falafel with hummus and tahina. And for kosher Chinese cuisine, cross the road to China Lee (tel: 00 972 3 524 3141).

Special events

The Nachlat Binyamin Pedestrian Mall is a riot of living colour every Tuesday and Friday, even in winter, to the beat of musicians, mimes and dancers. The most special event, though, happens every Wednesday morning, starting at 9.30am at the Clock Tower. It's the free guided walking tour, in English, of Old Jaffa.

Out of town

Jerusalem, of course. Twenty minutes north of Tel Aviv is Kibbutz Shefayim, which has a water park that is open to visitors, charging £8 a day. Further north is Caesarea, with its Crusader history and waterfront setting. Charlys restaurant serves the best St Peter's fish and Israel's only 18-hole golf course is here. Deals and packages

AMG Travel (tel: 0181-958 3188) offers five nights from November to February at the three-star Imperial Hotel, four-star Metropolitan Hotel, and five-star Crowne Plaza Hotel for £299, £325 and £449 per person, respectively, including b&b accommodation and taxes.

Further information

The Tel Aviv Tourist Office (tel: 00 972 3 521 8500). UK tourist office (tel: 0171-299 1111).

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