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Travel Black Book Ambassadors Series

Sunny days in Tel Aviv

The best of home: Ambassadors to Singapore provide an insider's guide to their favourite destinations

Who: Ms Yael Rubinstein, in her 50s, Ambassador of Israel to Singapore

Favourite destination in Israel: My home town of Tel Aviv, the second-largest city in Israel after Jerusalem. It is a modern, vibrant and cosmopolitan city, bursting with vivacity and where life is best lived outdoors.

The city's top draws are the amazing cafes, bars and restaurants and its sun-drenched coastline. It might surprise people that Tel Aviv is a city that never sleeps. You can have traffic jams at 3am, not only on weekends, but also during weekdays.

SEE

Art, music, theatre and dance play an important role in Israeli culture.

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art (tamuseum.org.il) is one of Israel's leading artistic and cultural institutions. Its exhibits include local art from the beginning of the 20th century to the present; international works from the mid-19th century to the present; old masters from the 16th to the 19th century; photography, architecture and design.

The Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv (eretzmuseum.org.il/e), one of the largest museums in Israel, focuses on the country's history and culture through different lenses: archaeology, traditional crafts and popular art, cultural history and local identity.

Israeli dance companies are globally acclaimed. The Suzanne Dellal Center (www.suzannedellal.org.il/en) is the most important dance establishment in Israel and it offers a wide selection of events and festivities all year round. It is situated in the beautiful neighbourhood of Neve Tzedek, one of Tel Aviv's most fashionable districts, with boutiques, hotels, artists' studios and trendy restaurants and bars.

Batsheva Dance Company (batsheva.co.il/en/home) is one of the world's leading contemporary dance companies. With 34 elite and highly skilled dancers from Israel and abroad, it is the most well-known company in Israel. You must catch a performance when you visit Tel Aviv.

But one of the best ways to experience Israeli culture is through theatre, where plays often represent important Israeli issues. The Habima Theater (habima.co.il), the national theatre, is the country's longest running and most respected theatre. It presents a mix of classic and modern Israeli plays. Even though Israeli theatre is mostly in Hebrew, many plays have English surtitles.

EAT

I have three favourite restaurants.

Manta Ray (mantaray.co.il), which is on the beach, has great Middle Eastern seafood and ambience. It might be a little expensive (mains cost 100 to 140 shekels, or S$37 to S$52), but my advice for visitors is to order appetisers for about 20 shekels each and a chilled Israeli white wine, and then sit and enjoy the sea view.

  • Getting there

  • From Singapore, you can fly to Tel Aviv on Turkish Airlines via Istanbul. Israel's national carrier El Al has direct flights to Tel Aviv from Mumbai and Bangkok.

    Tips

    • While Tel Aviv is generally safe, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs says violent incidents do occasionally occur and Singaporeans travelling to Israel should take all necessary safety precautions and buy travel insurance. The ministry also recommends travellers to avoid travelling to Gaza.

    • May is the best time to visit Israel, when the rainy season, which starts in December, has ended, and before it gets too hot. June to August are the hottest and busiest months. Check if any religious holidays will be taking place when you plan to visit as they may affect opening schedules.

    • To familiarise yourself with Israel and Israelis, read A Tale Of Love And Darkness by Amos Oz, the biggest-selling literary work in Israeli history, says Ms Yael Rubinstein. "It explores why the author's mother killed herself and its effect on him, a sensitive, intelligent boy growing up in Jerusalem during the last years of the British mandate and the war of independence. It is one of the funniest, most tragic and most touching books I have read. Also, read David Grossman's Someone To Run With, filled with tragicomic observations of Israeli behaviour which are used as ingredients in an exuberant adventure story."

Kedem 60 (www.bistro60.net) is a reasonably priced restaurant in Jaffa, the oldest part of Tel Aviv. It serves Middle Eastern and Arabic cuisine prepared with fresh Israeli produce. I highly recommend the sefiha, minced beef, onions and tomatoes baked in a tahini sauce (26 shekels). You experience a burst of flavours when you take the first bite.

Kalamata (www.kalamata.co.il) is a small Greek restaurant in old Jaffa. The cosy family-run restaurant with four or five tables serves probably the best Greek food in Israel. It also has spectacular service and one of the most scenic views.

Other dishes you must try in Israel include falafel (deep-fried patties made of ground chickpeas), hummus (a dip made of ground chickpeas), cottage cheese and tahini (a sauce made of ground sesame seeds). Humble and rich in vitamins, tahini is comparable with peanut butter, but without all the sugar.

Also try halva, a tahini-based sweet. The best place to get it is Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market.

Head to Beta Caffe (betacaffe.rest.co.il) in the Ramat Aviv neighbourhood for a bakery with local flavour. Tolaat Sfarim (www.bookworm.co.il), a bookstore-cafe in the Rabin Square, is great for desserts and coffee and you can sit there for hours.

PLAY

The beach is the best place to sit and relax. You can smell the sea, watch the waves and enjoy the solitude.

Tel Aviv hosts dozens of festivals a year and one of the most unique is the annual Tel Aviv White Night festival, which celebrates the declaration of its old town as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2003. The festivities go on all night and are free for all.

Also, take a day trip to Jerusalem, less than 11/2 hours by car from Tel Aviv. Visit the powerful Holocaust Museum in New Jerusalem and, with a knowledgeable guide, see the Jewish and Christian sites of the Old City, including the Mount of Olives, Western Wall (Wailing Wall), Via Dolorosa and Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Ben Shemen Forest, located about mid-way between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, is the largest forest in central Israel and home to a 32km single-track mountain biking trail, one of the longest trails in Israel.

Continue east and the main road leading from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea passes through the majestic landscape of the Judaean Desert. At the observation point on Mount Scopus, you can see green olive trees on one side and desert hills on the other.

SHOP

A visit to Carmel Market (en.shuktlv.co.il) is a must. There, you can experience a true Israeli vegetable and fruit market and sample the most authentic and tastiest local delights.

Israel is often called the Land of Milk and Honey, but it also embraces the three pillars of the classic Mediterranean diet: bread, wine and, perhaps most importantly, olive oil. You can find every brand of olive oil at local supermarkets or farmers' markets.

Medjool dates are another good treat to take home. Get the ones sealed in cellophane or in boxes in the supermarkets, which are the easiest to carry.

STAY

Tel Aviv has hotels for every budget. You have the big hotels, such as InterContinental, Hyatt and Holiday Inn, and the unique, small boutique ones with excellent locations and services, including Boutique Molcho (www.nevetzedek.com) and Trieste Neve Tzedek (triestetlv.com).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 05, 2017, with the headline 'Sunny days in Tel Aviv'. Print Edition | Subscribe