Beaches & Watersports
The main attraction in Netanya is, of course, the lovely beach, and you'll have perfect beach weather here more than 75% of the year. Elevators now take you up and down the cliffs that line the beach. The water is great for swimming -- you can go out pretty far before it starts to get deep. There's a lifeguard on duty; do swim in the approved area, whose boundaries are clearly posted. In addition to sand, swimming, and sun, you can enjoy the attractions in the beach complex, which include restaurants and snack shops, beach chairs, large public umbrellas, a basketball court, and a gymnastics field. You'll see people fishing up on the rocky breakwater. Surfing and sail boarding can be arranged at the Kontiki Club down on the Netanya beach -- lessons, too -- open daily from 8:30am until sunset.
Of course it's beautiful to see the sun set over the Mediterranean, and in the high tourist season, student patrols keep watch to make sure everything is okay. The lifeguards leave the beach in the late afternoon. Still, be cautious at night here; stay where you see other people, especially if you're a woman alone. During the winter when the student patrols are not around, it's not a good idea to hang around the beach or the parks on the cliffs at night.
Tip: If you have a car, you might want to drive to sheltered Mikmoret Beach, about 11 to 13km (7-8 miles) north toward Caesarea. It goes on for miles, and is a great place for walking. There are lifeguards and other facilities; parking in summer is NIS 24 ($6/£3) per car, but the fee is deducted from your bill if you eat a meal at the beach's restaurant.
Horseback Riding & Other Sports
Riding is available at two locations. The Ranch (tel. 09/866-3525), in northern Netanya, has horseback riding daily from 8am until sunset; take bus no. 17 or 29 from the Central Bus Station. There's also the Cactus Ranch (tel. 09/865-1239), open daily from 8am until sunset. Rates are approximately NIS 110 ($28/£14) per hour. It's always wise to reserve ahead.
Bicycle rentals can be arranged at the Hotel Promenade (tel. 09/862-6450). Rates start at NIS 35 ($8.75/£4.40) for half a day
Paragliding off the sandy bluffs along the Israeli coast has become a major sport in Netanya. Lessons and equipment can be arranged at NIS 125 ($31/£16) per hour through Dvir Paragliding (tel. 09/899-0277 or 050/833-3103; fax 09/899-1705). For other Israeli paragliding sites, contact AGUR, the Israel Hang-gliding and Paragliding Club, Sea Palace Beach, PO Box 1035, Bat Yam 59110 Israel; or Sky Paragliding LTD., 4 Hacharuv St., Rishpan 46915, Israel (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Nature Walks & Hiking
The Poleg Nature Reserve, 8km (5 miles) south of Netanya, offers an interesting hike along the Poleg River, upstream from the point where it meets the sea. The riverbanks are lined with giant eucalyptus trees, planted almost a century ago to help drain the swamps that had developed throughout the plain of Sharon (eucalyptus seedlings were imported from Australia by early Jewish settlers, who valued their ability to withstand drought). In winter and early spring, the wildflowers along the route have made the Poleg Reserve a favorite destination for botanists. Unfortunately, the Poleg River has become dangerously polluted, a situation not unusual in the intensively developed coastal plain. Recently, the Mediterranean beach near the Poleg Reserve has been closed to swimming, and the river water itself is absolutely off-limits.
The Iris Nature Reserve, at the southern edge of Netanya, is a sanctuary for wild and cultivated irises. There is an adjacent pond that attracts seaside birds and waterfowl. In February and March, the reserve is carpeted with wild, dark-blue irises -- pathways let you immerse yourself in this paradise that few travelers know about. There is a parking lot on Ben-Gurion Boulevard, and you are asked to stay on the pathways. There is no admission fee. Check with the Netanya Tourist Information Office to see if the irises are blooming.
Elitzur Sports Center (tel. 09/865-2931) has a heated swimming pool and also has squash and tennis facilities. The center is at the end of Radak Street (take bus no. 8 from the Central Bus Station). It's open daily from 6 or 8am until 5 to 10pm (call to check which hours are on what days). The Orde Wingate Institute (tel. 09/863-9523; www.jewishsports.net/wingate_institute.htm), named for a British officer who was extremely sympathetic to the Zionist cause during the British Mandate, is the national center for sports and physical education, with every program and sports facility imaginable. It's 8km (5 miles) south of Netanya, off the main Haifa-Tel Aviv coastal road. It has a swimming pool, as do many Netanya hotels.