For years, Tel Aviv was a jealously guarded secret of hip travelers seeking an alternative vacation destination that was more vibrant than the overpriced, touristy cities that dot the Mediterranean basin.
Even when touring Israel, visitors tend to stick to the traditional hot spots of Jerusalem, Tiberias, Safed and Eilat.
Nowadays, it's harder to ignore the stylish metropolis - and the recently published Visit Tel Aviv-Yafo guide by the Association for Tourism, Tel Aviv-Yafo caters to the tourist based in the city that never goes to sleep.
The pocket-sized English book is specifically tailored for exploring the Tel Aviv area, for both the first-time visitor and the keen enthusiast. Tourists can now navigate their own way through the city's green boulevards, chic cafes, fashionable boutiques, rich cultural scene and roaring nightlife armed with all the information they need to unearth the secrets of Tel Aviv's mystique.
The association's director-general, Eti Gargir, said she had searched for a guide book that focused only on the country's commercial and cultural capital.
"I was surprised that there was nothing available for tourists that was specific to Tel Aviv," she told The Jerusalem Post. "So we created the ultimate guide for English-speaking tourists."
The book divides Tel Aviv-Jaffa into five distinct areas - the North, City Center, the Heart, the South and Jaffa. Providing maps, addresses, Web site information and phone numbers, each section is illustrated by photographs and a short introduction to each Tel Aviv "neighborhood."
This way, the visitor can plan his Tel Aviv conquest in the most orderly fashion - street by street, museum by museum, park by park, cafe by cafe.
Tel Aviv is also known as the gay capital of the Middle East. Last week's shooting attack on a gay and lesbian youth center in the heart of the city shook the local gay community, as well as incoming tourists.
When asked whether the shooting could have a negative impact on tourism, Gargir said the city had survived for a century despite coming under fire from Iraqi rockets and Palestinian terrorists - and would survive this criminal attack as well.
"Visitors still came during the height of the intifada," she said. "This was a crime, not terrorism."
There are very few cities that feel as strongly alive, self-confident and hedonistic - or that live so firmly in the present, she said.
The association is sponsoring tourist information booths on Segways along the Tel Aviv promenade. Local Tel Avivians riding the Segways will be able to answer travelers' questions and hand out fliers notifying them of "what's hot" that month.
Further along the promenade, at the association's tourist information center, visitors can pick up their free "City Pass" - a coupon booklet which includes discounts for various recreational activities, museums, entertainment shows, plays, restaurants and bars throughout the city.
Gargir understands that "Tel Aviv is the city for any budget," and accordingly, the association provides free English-language walking tours during the week. Any visitor could become an expert on the the Bauhaus architecture of Tel Aviv's "white city" or observe the city's nighttime character from afar before diving in the deep end.
Blending old and new, the association reveals to the English-speaking public that the city has it all - sparkling beaches and sprawling parks, nonstop nightlife and bustling markets, world-class culture and several centuries' worth of history. Both chaotic and relaxed, hip yet homelike, the initial seduction of Tel Aviv usually evolves into a lifelong love affair.
Association for Tourism Tel Aviv-Yafo, 46 Herbert Samuel Street (corner of 2 Rehov Geula), telephone: (03) 516-6188. Opening hours: Sunday-Thursday, 09:30 to 17:30, Friday, 09:30 to 13:00. The Tel Aviv-Yafo Guide (NIS 60) is available at the Tourist Information Center and all good bookstores.
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