Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv
Concierge.com's insider take:
Like Israel itself, Tel Aviv is compact and easy to navigate. Most of its main hotels are spread along its central seafront stripclose to Dizengoff Street's prime shoppingwhile historic districts such as Neve Tzedek and the Bauhaus-filled "White City" are a half-hour walk south. Farther on are the market-filled quarters of Florentine and Jaffa, while in the city's far north are the New Port area, Tel Aviv's famed university, and parks along the slow-flowing Yarkon River.
The rapidly gentrifying city-center Gan HaHashmal district takes its name (Electric Park) from the city's first power station, opened here in the early 1920s. For decades, the area was Tel Aviv's de facto "Red Light" district, with its once-grand Ottoman-era homes falling into disrepair. But since the turn of the millennium, the Gan has developed into a warren of stylish shops, hip nightspots, and tasty cafésall with an independent spirit reminiscent of Manhattan's Lower East Side. Try the LovEAT café for fair-trade espressos (1 Barzilay St.; 972-3-566-6699), Kisim for high-quality leather goods (8 HaHashmal St.; 972-3-560-4890), and Levontine for live musicfrom jazz to hard rockand cocktails (7 Levontine St.; 972-3-560-5084).
Even though Tel Aviv's population is barely 500,000, its arts scene is (almost) as sophisticated as anything America or Europe can offer. The city's pride and joy is the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, under the leadership of venerable conductor Zubin Mehta. It celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2006, and performs in the iconic, modernist Mann Auditorium (972-3-621-1766; www.ipo.co.il). Nearby, the Israeli Opera puts on some half-dozen productions annually from the likes of Mozart, Verdi, and Strauss, almost always with English subtitles (972-3-692-7777; www.israel-opera.co.il). For visual art, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art houses an impressive array of European, American, and Israeli works from the 16th century onwardincluding paintings by Liechtenstein, Rubens, Kandinsky, and Israel's own Reuven Rubin (27 Shaul HaMelech Blvd.; 972-3-607-7020). The city's architecture is celebrated at the Bauhaus Foundation Museum, a private home which cosmetics heir Ronald Lauer renovated in 2008 to display furniture, photography, and crafts from seminal Bauhaus designers including Mies van der Rohe, Erich Mendelsohn, and Marcel Breuer (21 Bialik Street; 972 3 620 4664). The Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv presents plays and theatrical events, both large and small, such as the sold-out musical-theater piece Badenheim 1939 by Israeli composer Gil Shohat and a Hebrew-language version of Hamlet that traveled to the U.S. in 2007. Performances on Tuesday evenings have English translation (30 Leonardo da Vinci St.; 972-3-606-0960; www.cameri.co.il). The Batsheva Dance Company presents its thoroughly contemporary take on dance at its elegant, Arabic-styled home at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Neve Tzedek (www.batsheva.co.il). Tel Aviv also plays host to many of Israel's important cultural festivals: the winter Jazz Festival (www.jazzfest.co.il); Israel Chamber Orchestra classical music festivals (www.ico.co.il); and film and documentary festivals at the Israel Cinematheque (www.cinema.co.il).