The party-minded, seafront resort of Tel Aviv is Israel’s football capital. It has seen the Israeli title come its way four times this decade, venerable Maccabi winning the last three in a row. City rivals Hapoel last won the championship in 2010.
Groundsharing the city’s main stadium, the Bloomfield, Maccabi and Hapoel meet in Israel’s most enduring derby. Set south of the city centre, the Bloomfield is close to the historic port of Jaffa, part of the modern-day city but with an entirely different atmosphere to the office towers and commercial buzz of downtown.
Elsewhere in town, the Ramat Gan was Israel’s national stadium until 2014. More recently, international matches – and the 2015-16 Champions League campaign of Maccabi Tel Aviv – have been staged 100km north in Haifa, at the Sammy Ofer Stadium.
Tel Aviv was where the game first took root in these parts. Maccabi were formed in 1906, three years before the city of Tel Aviv itself as a Jewish suburb of mainly Arab Jaffa. After World War I, this area was administered by the British, so-called Mandatory Palestine. In 1928, the Palestine Football Association was founded in Tel Aviv and a league and cup set up.
Hapoel had merged with Allenby FC, named after the influential British field marshal, the year before. A list of league champions and cup finalists from this period features mainly the big two from Tel Aviv, British Police and Army sides, and other Maccabi teams set up in the region, most notably Jerusalem.
Mandatory Palestine had a national team, too, who took part in two World Cup qualifying competitions in the 1930s, losing all four games to Egypt and Greece. Their home stadium, the Maccabiah, built for the Games of the same name in 1932, was also Maccabi’s ground until 1968. It remains in place today, a training pitch on the grounds of the Tel Aviv Convention Center on Rokach Boulevard north of town.
In 1948, the newly created state of Israel gained control over the running of its domestic football set-up. Unable to take on teams from the immediate region, Israel’s national team began its tricky diplomatic hopscotch to become part of the global football family. A first victory over Turkey in 1950 attracted 20,000 to the Maccabiah and, with the opening of the Ramat Gan and the Bloomfield, Tel Aviv remained the nation’s soccer hub.
At club level, the emerging force of Beitar Tel Aviv, co-champions of the Palestine League and twice cup winners in the 1940s, joined Maccabi and Hapoel in the first post-independent league season of 1949-50. Maccabi duly dominated and Beitar would fade, first merging with Shimson Tel Aviv in 2000 then with Ramla in 2011. The new outfit, based in Ramla, south-east of Tel Aviv, compete in the second-flight Liga Leumit.
Tel Aviv does have a third team in the top flight, recently promoted Bnei Yehuda. While Maccabi in blue and yellow represent tradition and Hapoel in all red workers and unions, so gold-shirted Bnei Yehuda have a neighbourhood, community feel about them. With a supporter base in the district of Hatikva, Bnei Yehuda also use the Bloomfield as their home stadium.
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Ben Gurion Airport is 19km (12km) south-east of Tel Aviv, connected by an easy-to-use train service into town. From the rail station on level G of terminal 3, trains run every 30min to central HaShalom and the main city station of Savidor Center in town (20min; not Fri after 2pm, Sat or Jewish holidays; 16NS/€3.90 single) and onwards to Haifa Center-HaShmona (1hr 30min, 1hr from Tel Aviv; not Fri after 2pm, Sat or Jewish holidays; 41.50NS/€10 single). The ticket machine has an English-language option and takes credit cards.
The airport website also has a taxi fare calculator: 144NS/€35 to Tel Aviv, 545NS/€132 to Haifa.
Next to Savidor Center is the 2000 Bus Terminal (or Arlozorov). Hourly bus Nos.910 to Haifa takes about 90min and costs 25NS/€6. Inter-city buses and local Haifa ones are mainly run by Egged, which has an English-language timetable option.
Information on city transport in Tel Aviv can be found at downloadable Moovit. Most local buses are run by Dan, no English version. A single ticket is around 7NS/€1.70, paid to the driver, exact change not needed. Route No.5 connects major streets in town. Much of Tel Aviv is pleasantly walkable.
An average taxi journey across town is around 25NS/€6. To call one, contact Shekem on +972 3 527 0404.
Best place to be is the beach, where the landmark Sheraton offers a spa, outdoor pool and upscale kosher restaurant. A spa, pool and gym, plus Mediterranean location, are the attractions of the Renaissance.
For a boutique stay, the Savoy also offers happy hour on its rooftop terrace. The Beachfront opens its rooftop terrace for sunbathing while the nationwide Dan group has two hotels taking advantage of a seafront location. Nearer Jaffa, the five-star Royal Beach, set just inland, provides luxury as well as a sun terrace, outdoor pool and hammam.
Down in Jaffa itself, a 15min walk from the Bloomfield Stadium, The Clock comprises a range of guest units from budget doubles to two-bedroom apartments.
The mid-range international Leonardo group has recently taken over the Marina Hotel, with the same panoramic sea views from what is now the Leonardo Art Tel Aviv By The Beach. Also mid-range, the Imperial is ideally located just in from the seafront.
Three-star Maxim telavivmaxim.com/ is handy for the beach and bar zone as is the affordable TLV 88.
Tel Aviv is party town – local Maccabee and Goldstar beers flow freely, all along the seafront and in bar hubs tucked inland, on and off Frishman Street. Most offer happy hours.
More American in style, Mike’s Place, by the beach, also goes big on TV sport and live music, in a laid-back, funky atmosphere. Full kitchen too and the large, sun-catching terrace overlooks the sea.
9Beach is the seafront branch of a nationwide chain, with a large, roll-down screen for sports events and a late bar.
Tel Aviv’s other bar strip is along the main commercial drag of Dizengoff, dotted by a more upscale type of venue. The stretch between the main boulevard of Ben Gurion and Arlozorov is particularly lively – on the corner of Dizengoff and Yodfat, Rick Rack (No.192) has a large screen over the bar, where German Tucher and Marston’s Oyster Stout are served.
Finally, the excellent, evening-only, pub-like Mate further along at No.226 can be the best place in town on its night, regulars gathered around the bar, with TV sports, a pool table and late, buzzy chatter.