The best way to explore the cosmopolitan Israeli city of Tel Aviv is by bicycle. Not only is the inner metropolis flat and compact, but it also gets very little snow (none, in fact, since 1950), and the city celebrated its 2009 centennial by building 100km of dedicated bike paths.
The cycling scene became even more tourist-friendly in the spring of 2011, when Tel Aviv launched Tel-O-Fun, a public bike hire system that lets residents and visitors pick up and drop off sleek green bicycles at 150 stations citywide, including several along the beach. The cost is just 14 to 20 shekels a day, or 60 shekels a week; the first 30 minutes of each rental are free.
One of Tel Aviv's loveliest cycle-friendly promenades runs right along the Mediterranean coast, from the coastal cliffs north of the city to the ancient port of Jaffa in the south. In some spots, the path affords elevated panoramas of the sparkling turquoise sea; in others, you get a froth-level perspective on the (usually) gentle surf and the bronze bodies tanning on the sand.
This path's northernmost four kilometres intersect the Yarkon River estuary and offer a mash-up of everything from sand dunes to Bauhaus-inspired architecture, with hints of ancient history thrown in for good measure.
Tel Baruch Beach
Start at Tel Baruch Beach, many locals' favourite strip of sand. Situated about five kilometres north of central Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Square, it is framed by scruffy sand dunes, crumbly limestone cliffs and Sde Dov, the city’s domestic airfield. A wide, smooth bike path parallels both the waterline and the runway, attracting not only cyclists -- both recumbent and upright -- but also joggers, in-line skaters, skateboarders, parents with prams and even a few old-timers with fishing rods, squeaking along in rubber boots. Every once in a while, the crash of the waves is briefly overtaken by the low buzz of an idling turboprop or the high-pitched whine of a private plane as it strains to take off.
Reading Power Station
Ride south for about one-and-a-half kilometres and you will reach the Bauhaus-inspired facade of the Reading Power Station, iconic in its 1930s styling and its 150m-high chimney. Until a few years ago, the adjacent coastline was closed to the public for national security reasons, but that all changed in 2010 when a graceful wooden bridge was built over the plant's mini-harbour. From the top of the arch, you can gaze back at Sde Dov's single runway, the sweep of the rugged coastline and, on the horizon, the chic marina at Herzliya, the next town up the coast.
If you hang around long enough, a propeller-driven aircraft -- probably bringing holidaymakers from the Red Sea resort of Eilat -- will swoop in low for a landing, passing so close you may feel the urge to reach out and touch it.
The power station’s cooling water empties into the estuary of the Yarkon River, churning up froth after cascading down a cement ramp. Nearby, across a broad wooden deck, stands a British Mandate-era lighthouse, erected in 1936, its cement chipped away by the salt air to reveal a crosshatch of bare rebar. Doing rather better against the ravages of time is a marble Roman column brought here from the ruins of Apollonia, 10km to the north. 'Seconded' by the British army in 1918, the column is inscribed in English and Hebrew with the story of the dark night in December 1917, when Scottish troops crossed the Yarkon River and attacked Turkish positions right on this spot.
Yarkon River estuary
In Ottoman times, camel trains used to ford the Yarkon River estuary right where it spills into the Mediterranean, but these days, you can simply cycle across on an elegant wooden bridge.
From both ends of the bridge, bike paths lead inland along the Yarkon River, passing sand flats frequented by seagulls, egrets and sooty black cormorants. Further upstream lies Park HaYarkon, Tel Aviv's largest park, with vast expanses of soft green grass, football pitches, a eucalyptus forest, a small zoo and two ponds.
Tel Aviv port
Ride down the ramp at the southern end of the bridge and you come to Tel Aviv's old port, built in the 1930s without anyone giving half-a-thought to high-minded design. But over the past decade, its ordinary warehouses -- anti-architecture at its most prosaic -- have been given a must-needed update with the arrival of cafes, gastropubs, gourmet eateries and nightspots, as well as trendy shops. As you walk or cycle through, you will pass Shalvata, a waterfront cafe with a South Pacific vibe, and Gilly's, one of the finest restaurants in Israel.
Along the water, an undulating wooden deck provides the perfect venue for watching the whitecaps or catching a cooling summer's breeze. Waves often vault the concrete sea wall, worn rough by seven decades of pounding. The old port basin, with its 1930s crane, evokes the era before container ships, when cargo steamers carried sacks and crates.
If you are in the mood for a dip, Metzitzim Beach abuts the southern edge of the port, about 700m south of the river. There is soft sand, shade shelters and more cafes -- and plenty of bicycle parking.