June 5, 2009 / 11:10 AM / in 8 years

Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Tel Aviv

TEL AVIV (Reuters Life!) - Got 48 hours to spend in Tel Aviv, the cosmopolitan, urban heart of Israeli culture?

<p>Israelis play a game of "Matkot" on a Tel Aviv beach June 2, 2009. REUTERS/Gil Cohen Magen</p>

With its vibrant nightlife, delicious eateries and Mediterranean beaches, the city tries hard to tempt visitors and next week hosts the annual conference of IOSCO -- the world’s financial regulators will debate ways to avoid new crises.

And there’s no better time to visit than now, as Tel Aviv, dubbed the first modern Hebrew city, celebrates the centenary of its founding in 1909 by Jewish immigrants to Ottoman Palestine.

The work week starts on Sundays, so weekends typically begin Thursday night. While much of Israel closes from Friday night to Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, many shops, cafes and restaurants in Tel Aviv remain open.

Unless noted otherwise, restaurants are reasonably priced, though dinner reservations are highly recommended.

THURSDAY

6 p.m. - Start the evening with a stroll down Rothschild Boulevard. The wide promenade, named after a scion of the banking family who financed early Jewish settlements, is dotted with coffee shops, sushi stands, restaurants and the occasional street performer. Enjoy a stop at Max Brenner (www.maxbrenner.com), now a famous chocolate chain. Its 20-page menu is dedicated just to desserts.

At the south end of the boulevard is Independence Hall (www.ilmuseums.com/museum_eng.asp?id=57), the cramped, modest building where David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s statehood in May 1948 as British rule over Palestine ended in war between Arabs and Jews. Take a detour along any small street to see some of the 1930s Bauhaus buildings that helped earn Tel Aviv a UNESCO World Heritage site designation.

8 p.m. - Enjoy dinner at Nanuchka on Lilienblum Street, a Georgian bistro nearby with unique Black Sea cuisine and charming atmosphere. As the night rolls on, the music gets louder as diners flock to the bar. There are several other pubs, nightclubs and late-night snack joints just around the corner.

FRIDAY

9 a.m. - The Hotel Montefiore (www.hotelmontefiore.co.il) in the center of town is the place to start your day. Its Israeli breakfast of eggs, cheeses, vegetables and fresh juices is a great choice and will give you energy for the entire morning.

10 a.m. - The Diaspora Museum at Tel Aviv University (www.bh.org.il) tells the story of the Jewish people and the communities they built as they scattered across the globe. A favorite exhibit has detailed models of synagogues from around the world.

12 a.m. - Special on Fridays are a pair of outdoor markets that run parallel to each other in downtown Tel Aviv.

The downtown area was a target of Palestinian suicide bombers in the 1990s and earlier part of this decade. But with the relative calm of recent years it has returned to become a popular spot, crowded with locals and tourists alike.

<p>Performers entertain passers-by on Nachalat Binyamin street in Tel Aviv June 2, 2009. REUTERS/Gil Cohen Magen</p>

Down one street is the Carmel market, packed with food, clothes and any kind of houseware you can think of. Customers push their way through in search of the freshest fish, cheapest underwear or biggest pomelo -- a giant relative of the grapefruit popular in Israel -- before Sabbath begins at sunset.

Running parallel is the Nachalat Binyamin Street fair, where scores of artists sell their colorful creations, and musicians and performers entertain passers-by.

1 p.m. - Walk along Shebazi Street in the Neve Tzedek neighborhood, known for its abundance of boutiques and cafes. Take a rest and enjoy a glass of wine at Jajo Vino or just keep walking until you reach the restaurant Dallal (www.dallal.info) for a delicious lunch.

3 p.m. - Head to the ancient port of Jaffa (www.tourism.gov.il/Tourism_Eng/Tourist+Information/Christian+Themes/Details/Jaffa.htm), just south of central Tel Aviv (www.tourism.gov.il/Tourism_Eng/Tourist+Information/Christian+Themes/Details/Jaffa.htm), just south of central Tel Aviv and now part of the city. It’s a half hour walk down the beach, just a few minutes by cab. It still has Arab residents, though most of Jaffa’s population fled fighting in 1948 and many ended up in Palestinian refugee camps in the Gaza Strip, some 50 km (30 miles) to the south. Now artist studios and restaurants dominate Jaffa’s Old City. They overlook the old stone harbor and Andromeda’s Rock, a spot associated with the Greek myth of the princess being sacrificed to a sea monster.

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4 p.m. - Have fun bargaining for all types of antiques and souvenirs at Jaffa’s flea market, open late night in the summer. You can find there some good cafes and falafel/shwarma stands. Walk up the hill to St. Peter’s Church (www.btlr.com/sp), first built in 1654 and twice destroyed since. It is one of the largest buildings in the Old City. It holds daily Mass and is open to the public.

7 p.m. - Stick around Jaffa for dinner as well. For a cheaper meal, head to Dr. Shakshuka right near the clock tower, who specializes in the eponymous dish long loved by Sephardi, or Middle Eastern, Jews. From the word “shake,” it’s a spicy mixture of eggs, tomatoes and onions -- and deceptively delicious. More pricey restaurants are also nearby, like Yoezer Wine Bar or Cordelia.

9 p.m. - Tel Aviv’s own port is a newly renovated boardwalk located at the north end of the city. A lot of money was put into its development and it shows. Finish off the night in one of several outdoor bars, listening to the waves crash against the quay. If you have the energy, venture into one of the port’s lounges or nightclubs. The party lasts until sunrise in Tel Aviv.

SATURDAY

10 a.m. - Enjoy a relaxed, late breakfast at the beachside restaurant Manta Ray. While it’s well known, you can always tell a cab driver it’s next to the Etzel Museum, commemorating one of the Jewish militant groups, also known as the Irgun, which fought British troops and local Arabs during the 1940s.

11 p.m. - Tour through the Tel Aviv Museum (www.tamuseum.com/museum/index.htm), which you’ll notice is across the street from Israel’s conspicuously located military headquarters. The museum has a wide selection of works, but most of its exhibits focus on Jewish and Israeli art. If you have extra time, see what’s playing at the Opera House (www.israel-opera.co.il/eng) next door.

1 p.m. - Spoil yourself at the restaurant Herbert Samuel, on the street with the same name, overlooking the sea and promenade. You may pay a bit more for great food and service, but you are guaranteed a good time.

3 p.m. - From there, set out in search of a nice spot on the beach to sunbathe and get in some people-watching. Walk along the sections of beach, each with a different feel, until you find one that suits you. The sound of paddleball players and the high flying kites will keep you entertained.

Stop along the way for a refreshing fruit shake at Yotvata on the boardwalk. You may notice one walled-off beach designated for religious bathers -- women or men only on alternating days.

The northern-most beach, Metzitzim, is a safe bet. Stay for a while, there is no better way to end your day than with a Mediterranean sunset.

Writing by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Paul Casciato

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