Since Tel Aviv is situated on a beach, the best way to get a geographic feel for the city is by using the Mediterranean coastline as a reference point. Head south along the beach from Tel Aviv and you will arrive in the ancient port town of Jaffa . Head north and you will arrive in the upscale neighbourhood of Ramat Aviv, where the university is located.
There is a demographic split between Tel Aviv's north and south. North Tel Aviv is known for being affluent, European in outlook and a little snobbish. South Tel Aviv is poor and working class. However, there has been a certain level of gentrification in recent years, and neighbourhoods such as Florentine are now considered hip and Bohemian (if a little raw around the edges).
The main roads in central Tel Aviv all run parallel to each other, which makes finding your way around easy. Going back to the coastline as a starting point, the beach is a highway of sorts, with walkers, joggers and cyclists breezing past. It is here that Tel Avivians come to relax: be that meditating, doing yoga at the water's edge, juggling, playing beach tennis, watching the waves, lying in the sun, flying kites or playing soccer. The Tayelet is the beach promenade which stretches from the old harbor of Tel Aviv to Jaffa.
The road by the beach is Hayarkon (later Herbert Samuel Boulevard) and it is here that all of Tel Aviv's luxury hotels are to be found, along with many other accommodation options. There are also a sprinkle of eateries aimed at tourists. One street back from the beach road is Ben Yehuda Street. It is here you will find travel agents, backpacker facilities, souvenir shops and more eateries. As the road goes southwards, it becomes Allenby Street. This street is known for its seediness, liveliness and bargains and is packed with strip bars, pre-clubbing hang-outs and cheap and cheerful stores. Allenby Street is a corridor to many interesting places. It intersects with the Carmel Market, the Nahalat Binyamin craft market and the fashionable Sheinkin Street, where the cappuccino-sipping crowd come to see and to be seen.
The third major road back from the street is Dizengoff Road. In its heyday, it was the Champs Elysees of Tel Aviv. A verb even existed in Hebrew, "To Dizengoff," meaning to window shop with friends and have coffee. Today's Dizengoff Street has suffered somewhat with the advent of the shopping mall. However, there are still coffee shops and clothes shops aplenty, with designer name shops located at the northern end of Dizengoff. The street also has a large concentration of bridal outfitters. Towards the southern end of Dizengoff Street are the landmark Dizengoff Fountain and Dizengoff Centre shopping mall.
About a 10 minute walk away from the beach (some 5 minutes beyond Dizengoff Street), you will hit Ibn Gvirol Street, which is also a major thoroughfare. City Hall and Kikar Rabin (Rabin Square) are located along here as well as a huge number of restaurants, cafes and businesses.
There are many distinctive neighbourhoods in and around central Tel Aviv. Kikar Medina in north Tel Aviv is the Rodeo Drive of Israel with designer stores located around a circular park. Also to the northern edge of town is Basel Square, a quiet, cafe lined square with a Continental feel.
Neve Tzedek is a historic district, with pastel painted properties positioned along winding alleys and is now a sought after Tel Aviv address. Further south is Jaffa , one of Israel's few mixed cities where Arabs and Jews co-exist. The old city of Jaffa is particularly quaint and is a popular spot for couples to have their wedding photos taken thanks to the surrounding gardens and sea views.
Florentine is also a south Tel Aviv neighbourhood. It achieved cult-like status after the launch of an Israeli TV drama Florentine which followed the lives and loves of young Tel Avivians living in the area. Herzl Street, which runs through Florentine, is known as the place to go to for furniture shopping. Many of the back alleys of Florentine are filled with furniture workshops.
The Greater Tel Aviv area is home to 384,000 of the country's seven million occupants, so many faces of Israel can be found in this central part of the country. The poor areas of Hatikvah and the neighbourhoods surrounding the Central Bus Station are home to a large population of migrant workers, which gives the areas an ethnic, developing world feeling. Bnei Brak on the outskirts of Tel Aviv is home to ultra-Orthodox Jews and is couched in old world values. The seaside neighbourhood of Bat Yam is popular with immigrants from the Former Soviet Union.
At first glance, the concrete architecture of Tel Aviv may seem both old and tired, but start exploring and you will soon discover the city's vibrancy and energy.
Being the lively city that it is, Tel Aviv offers all kinds of cuisines around the clock. Unlike Jerusalem, which is more religiously observant, Tel Aviv's restaurants are open for business on Friday nights and Saturdays.
Tel Avivians tend to eat later in the day, so if a restaurant seems a little empty at 8p, chances are that by 10p it will be buzzing. Restaurants and cafes are often open to 2a and beyond. Some never shut their doors.
Tel Aviv is a city you will never have to worry about going hungry in for lack of open eateries. It is also a city where you will never complain that the offerings at restaurants are monotonous. A good place to sample the many kinds of food available is the weekly Homebaking Food Fair at the Dizengoff Centre, which takes place on Thursdays and Fridays. Here, vendors set up stalls with homemade food. All kinds of Jewish foods are available, from the cholent of Eastern Europe (a thick stew with beans) to the malawah of Yemen (a fried pastry served with tomato relish).
In terms of other international cuisines, there is Asian, Arabic and South American to try. The yearly Ta'am Ha'Ir food festival at Hayarkon Park also offers a chance to get acquainted with the culinary offerings of Tel Aviv. At this event, held in June, top restaurants set up booths, offering small sample portions of their cuisine for reasonable prices.
Cafe-restaurants in Tel Aviv are very popular. The seats normally spill out onto the pavements allowing dining al fresco in both summer and winter (heat lamps are installed next to the tables). These places do a brisk trade all day, starting with breakfast customers and staying open until the early hours of the morning. Typical fare will include coffee, freshly squeezed juice and a selection of alcoholic drinks. Most main course dishes are big enough to share. Expect to see well presented salads made with fresh, healthy vegetables. As a country with a good climate and a big agricultural industry, Israel's fresh produce is exceedingly good. This is not the land of limp lettuce leaves, although be advised that this was not always the case, so in Israel, "salad" usually means a sort of salsa made out of tomato, cucumber, and onion. Other standard cafe food includes toasted sandwiches on large bagels and a range of Continental-style desserts.
You will not have to saunter far to find a typical Tel Aviv cafe. Try Cafe Basel, on Basel Square, for a refined experience; London Cafe on the beach, for a table beside the waves; and Sheinkin Street, Rothschild Boulevard or the cafes opposite Rabin Square if you want crowds and commotion.
The range of non-Kosher options in Tel Aviv is huge compared to Jerusalem. There are restaurants such as Mika with large seafood menus, barbecue heavens like Papagaio , and most Asian restaurants have pork dishes on their menu.
For strictly Kosher travellers, there is still an array of options, especially in the areas around the deluxe hotels. Shangrila serves upmarket Thai food, China Lee is a Glatt Kosher Chinese restaurant and the majority of falafel stands have Kashrut certificates.
Israel has a fascination with the East and this is reflected in the popularity of its Asian restaurants. There are several Japanese eateries in town, including Moon , a revolving sushi bar. In terms of Chinese food, Yin-Yang offers all kinds of dishes with rice and noodles. Giraffe is a trendy noodle bar and Thai House offers inexpensive and very tasty dishes.
In Tel Aviv, Italian restaurants and steakhouses are also easy to come by. The city has a mix of old, established restaurants and newcomers, which come and go with dizzying rapidity. Generally you do not have to walk more than a few hundred meters to bump into an eatery as this is a city that loves food.
All that is left to say is 'Betayavon' (Bon Appetit).