It’s midnight outside the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and the place is humming. The last cinema-goers have left but the open courtyard in front is suddenly a mass of wheels — bicycles and trollies, but most of all rollerskates.
It’s the first night of the new winter season for the city’s intrepid rollerskaters, all of whom are knee-padded and helmeted as they prepare to swoop through the Tel Aviv streets. There are dozens of them, and as they finally zip off down Allenby Street, the watching taxi drivers grin and raise a good luck thumb while the skaters weave in and out of the late-night traffic.
One of the joys of Tel Aviv is that you never quite know what you will see when you turn a corner. The ever-inventive Tel Avivis are constantly coming up with new ways to enjoy their city, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. A couple of nights before the skate-off, a breast cancer event had turned the whole of Rothschild Boulevard a day-glo pink with special neon lights and cerise balloons lining the whole of this very long city centre street. Rothschild is home to some of the White City’s most beautiful Bauhaus buildings — but for one night only it was part of the Pink City.
Rothschild is a good place to get the feel of this sprawling, noisy, vivid and buzzy city. Start off at YoGo, a designer frozen yoghurt joint at number 19 and stroll up the avenue, admiring the Italianate villa which is home to Israel’s Sotheby’s auction house. According to Time Out Tel Aviv, a must-read publication, a favourite activity for locals is to invest in a bottle of local cava at La Champa, on nearby Nachalat Binyamin, and stage an impromptu urban street party on any of Rothschild’s street corners.
Nachalat Binyamin, of course, has long been famous for its twice-weekly street fair. On Tuesdays and Fridays, the street is transformed into a riot of colour and music as jewellers, artists and craftspeople from all over Tel Aviv converge to set up stalls. In the summer, Nachalat Binyamin is thronged with tourists, but locals make a point of shopping there, too, for hand-made toys and jewellery.
It’s also worth stepping back from the stalls to look at the shops. Don’t miss the Gottex shop, halfway down the street, a place of pilgrimage for UK tourists in the know: half-price Gottex and Gideon Oberson swimwear, and that’s half Israeli prices — you would pay a good deal more in Britain.
Enjoy, too, some of the blingy material shops, whose window displays are a marvel of over-the-top ingenuity. Full-on, floor-length evening dresses which would not be out of place at the Oscar ceremony. Not a shoulder strap goes unflowered, not a waistband unadorned, and nobody uses a plain silk if they can possibly pile on gold or silver gauze — sometimes both. You might think that this is the spiritual home of the Tel Aviv Essex girl, and you might well be right — but you will certainly smile.
The complete Tel Aviv experience has to include restaurants and beaches. Locals have their favourite eateries, often small, unpretentious neighbourhood bars which serve as a kind of kitchen extension, summer and winter, and sometimes don’t even run to a name. The sheer choice of Tel Aviv restaurants is sometimes overwhelming, from fantastic Italian cooking (and, let it be said, at about a third of current Italian prices), to wonderful fish — especially in north Tel Aviv, in the newly gentrified Port, and in Old Jaffa — and, of course, exceptional meat.
Kosher tourists might like to try a different sort of dining at Pasha, a Turkish restaurant with a sister outlet in Jerusalem, in Rehov Ha’arba’a, just off Ibn Gvirol. The delicately spiced food ensures a consistent clientele with plenty of fans. Make sure to book.
Also very popular, though not supervised (although its meat is kosher), is A Place To Meat in Shabazi Street, in the renovated southern neighbourhood of Neve Tzedek. One of the first residential neighbourhoods of modern Tel Aviv, Neve Tzedek is a rabbit warren of winding streets in which boutiques and bistros jostle for space. At the heart of the area is the Suzanne Dellal arts centre, whose restaurant, Bellini, has been delighting customers for 15 years (but be warned, it is not kosher.)
Hard-core Tel Aviv visitors may discover a flourishing new series of hotels in the city which are attracting tourists from the UK for the first time. Just steps from the beach on Ben-Yehuda Street is the Art + Hotel, with 62 rooms and breakfast served in the library.
For somewhere different to stay — especially, perhaps, during the winter months, when the beach is not sending out siren calls — try the Sheraton City Tower, on the edge of Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan. It’s just near the Diamond Exchange and was built 10 years ago specifically as a business hotel.
For anyone attending football matches at the Ramat Gan Stadium — or even concerts; this is where Leonard Cohen played — the City Tower is the ideal location. It has 167 rooms, 100 of which are designated “Smart Rooms” with state-of-the-art technology and secretarial and office services on call.
Manager Dov Rakia oversees the City Tower, which features a really good spa with long opening hours — 6.30am to 10pm — where guests can unwind with a wide range of treatments.
The other side of the City Tower is its “romance” packages. Couples of whatever stripe can book a room, dinner and a spa treatment, and if a bed scattered with rose petals in the shape of a heart is not your thing, ponder on this story from Dov Rakia.
“We were asked by one man if we could close the restaurant and reserve it specially for him and his girlfriend. He wanted a singer, and he wanted to propose.”
The hotel was happy to oblige. And, happily, the lady said yes.
El Al from £278.90; BMI from £302.50; EasyJet begins flights to Tel Aviv on November 2. Sheraton City Tower, 14 Zisman Street, Ramat Gan, 52521 email: firstname.lastname@example.org, tel: 972-3-7544444; lead-in price for October and November: double, $195 per person per night, including breakfast; December: double, $215 per person per night, including breakfast.