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Instead of busy Tel Aviv, try Eilat for a calmer, quieter beach vacation in Israel

Artsy, up-all-night Tel Aviv attracts 1.8 million visitors a year

Barely on people’s radar a decade ago, the city (officially Tel Aviv-Jaffa) is being celebrated by international travel magazines for everything from its boutique hotels to its late-night bar scene.

Established in 1909 on the edge of the ancient Jaffa Port, Tel Aviv quickly became known as the future State of Israel’s financial and cultural capital.

Beyond the beach, where free outdoor gyms abound, travelers can check out the permanent and rolling exhibitions at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art or, for a more intimate experience, visit the Jaffa home-museum of the artist-sculptor-designer Ilana Goor. Afterward, stroll through the artists’ colony and dine at a seafront restaurant.

Take a walking tour to explore Tel Aviv’s “White City” — its collection of International Style buildings, including the world’s largest concentration of Bauhaus buildings, which has been deemed a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Still, Tel Aviv’s frenetic pace, traffic jams and air-so-thick-you-can-cut-it-with-a-knife humidity aren’t for everyone. Between its 444,000 residents, Israeli commuters and 1.8 million annual visitors, it can get mighty crowded.

The best time to visit is April to June and September to October, when the weather is warm but not as hot as the scalding summer months. Keep in mind that swarms of jellyfish arrive around the end of June and depart about a month later.

Location: Central Israel, about 42 miles northwest of Jerusalem on the Mediterranean Sea.

Much smaller Eilat feels like a resort town and offers ocean adventures

For a quieter, gentler beach vacation consider Israel’s southernmost city, Eilat, about an hour south of Tel Aviv by air (buses also run from both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem). Wedged between stark orange-tinged mountains and the clear Red Sea, the port city is especially popular among Europeans and Russians escaping the cold back home. With an average daytime temperature of 104 degrees in August, and 80 degrees in November, locals and tourists gravitate toward the sea, where hotels and holiday villages hug the shoreline.

The best way to acquaint yourself with Eilat — which, with a population hovering around 50,000 has the feel of a resort town — is to stroll along the beachfront promenade that runs northward, from North Beach to Herods Hotel. Here, you’ll find restaurants, pubs, shops and ice cream parlors. Along the way, you’ll pass the marina, the place to hire a boat or book a private or group boat trip offering the opportunity to snorkel around the protected coral reefs at Coral Beach, on the quiet, less-populated side of the city, close to the Egyptian border. The most popular attraction there is the Underwater Observatory Marine Park, where people of all ages can view the reef’s nearly 300 species of coral and 650 species of tropical fish swimming in the wild, from a depth of 6 meters. (It gets crowded, so book ahead online.)

Visitors can also check out the nearby Coral Beach Nature Reserve, which features shallow pools and a snorkeling trail, or the family-friendly Dolphin Reef, which offers a chance to watch or swim alongside (but never touch) the local dolphins.

Those who prefer stark desert landscapes can hike or drive through the Eilat mountains. The Red Canyon, about 12 miles north of Eilat, offers both easy and strenuous walking trails. Nearby Timna Park, the site of the world’s first copper mine, features hiking, cycling, rock climbing and paddle boating.

Eilat is also a great launchpad for a visit to the sparkling beaches of Sinai in Egypt and the ancient Nabatean city of Petra in Jordan, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Consider visiting from October to April, when the weather is usually warm but not brutally hot. Just be aware that it may rain during the winter months and the nights can be chilly.

Location: About 195 miles south of Jerusalem, at the northern tip of the Red Sea and near the borders with Jordan and Egypt.

Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that visitors should be prepared for rain in Eilat in the summer months. The story has been updated.

Chabin is a journalist based in Jerusalem. Follow her on Twitter: @MicheleChabin1.

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