Although Haifa has less religious and historical significance than many other cities around Israel, it is definitely worth visiting for those who have the time and want to see a different aspect of Israeli culture. Haifa is also a city where all religions coexist and Jewish and Arab neighborhoods intertwine throughout the city. Here are some of the keys places to see and things to do in Haifa, Israel.
GETTING AROUND HAIFA
Getting to Haifa by public transport is very easy, either by bus or train. The city is built on the side of a mountain so there can be a lot of walking, but there is also a small subway system, as well as plenty of buses and taxis.
THE CLANDESTINE IMMIGRATION AND NAVAL MUSEUM
While the Atlit museum is specific to the refugees who passed through the camp, many refugees were not given permission to enter, which led to clandestine immigration. The Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum also features the history of the Israeli Navy, those who founded it and how the illegal immigration ships were transformed into warships.
A visit to Haifa would not be complete without a walk on the Louis Promenade, with breathtaking views over the Baha’i Gardens and Haifa Bay. On a clear day, you can see across the bay to the Old City of Akko.
BEACHES OF HAIFA
Most of the hotels and attractions are on the port side of Mount Carmel, so it is easy to forget that Haifa is, in fact, a coastal city. The beaches are much calmer than Tel Aviv and other sea-side cities and definitely worth a visit. The beach promenade is scattered with cafes and restaurants and it is also a popular site for windsurfers.
You can visit parts of the Baha’i Gardens on your own but in order to learn about the Baha’i faith and to get the full impact of the 19 terraces, I would recommend a guided tour. The free guided tours run at various times throughout the day in English, Hebrew, and Russian (except Wednesdays) – check the official timetable before visiting.
ARAB MARKET, WADI NISNAS
Underneath the Baha’i Gardens is the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood, with an authentic outdoor Arab market. The market is a wonderful place to find fresh produce, home-cooked food, and great falafel.
The market was established in the 1930s by dockworkers and although it is no longer a functioning market, the area has been completely renovated and is now full of boutique shops, cafes, and bars. Wandering around the small streets in this area is a wonderful way to discover the unique aspect of Arab and Jewish coexistence in Haifa. There are also many art galleries to explore and street art to admire.
HAIFA STREET FOOD TOURS
A great way to explore a city is through its food, and the diversity of cultures in Haifa makes it the ideal place for a street food tour. Jessica Halfin runs Haifa Street Food Tours and is a self-proclaimed ambassador of Haifa. She offers food tours as a way to showcase the local culinary scene and will customize the tour for each group. Be warned to go hungry as the tour includes lots of food!
ATLIT DETENTION CAMP
Just outside of Haifa is Atlit Detention Camp, a historic museum dedicated to the plight of the numerous Jewish refugees who entered Israel during the time of the British Mandate. Having survived the Holocaust and the dangerous journey to get to Israel, many faced harsh conditions at the camp.
As well as the history of the refugees, the guided tour includes a fascinating multi-sensory film in a reconstructed boat, similar to that used by some of the refugees. Tours must be booked in advance.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK IN HAIFA, ISRAEL
- Gal’s Bakery in Merkaz Carmel is a wonderful kosher café with fresh food and pastries. The café has a full menu but the highlight is the savory and sweet pastries which are all incredibly buttery, flaky and addictive. The café is slightly draughty in the winter but the outside courtyard is a wonderful sanctuary in the summer.
- Konditoria Hamizrach in the Arab neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas is a great place to taste a selection of authentic Arab sweets. This store has been run by the Mahroum family for over 35 years and is the younger sister of a larger bakery in Nazareth. The signature knafeh is made with cheese from Nablus and kadaif noodles from Nazareth and the recipe is different from the knafeh found in Jerusalem, which is often topped with semolina. The homemade halva is softer and creamier than in most places and if you are there during Ramadan, then be sure to try the katayef.
- Burekas Turki M’Izmir in the downtown Turkish market area is an authentic Turkish bureka cafe. As well as typical bureka fillings like cheese and potato, they also serve a local specialty za’atar and Arabic cheese bureka. The burekas are served with a sliced hardboiled egg, pickles and fresh tomato sauce.
- Hummus Bardichev is a family-run hummus restaurant serving warm and creamy hummus with fluffy and fresh pita bread. The menu includes food from Iraq, Morocco and Libya, as well as some traditional Eastern European Jewish dishes. Be sure to order a jug of fresh lemonade, which is perfectly thirst-quenching and not too sweet. The vegan malabi dessert, made from coconut cream with candied pistachios on top is a delicious way to end a meal.
- Hanamal 24 is a rustic European style bistro in Downtown Haifa with a mix of Italian and French dishes. As well as a varied a la carte menu, there is also a tasting menu which allows diners to sample all of the restaurant’s signature dishes. The wine menu includes a selection of local and European wines.
- Chang Ba is a Thai street food restaurant which serves the most authentic Thai street food. The Thai chef grows some of his own herbs to make the dishes as authentic as possible. Signature dishes include Pla Thot, deep-fried whole sea bass served with a Thai dipping sauce. The fish itself is full of flavor, and the thin batter gives the skin a wonderful crunch. A fragrant Thai gin cocktail is the ideal accompaniment to the meal.
- Suidan Nehme is a family owned deli with a wide range of food and drinks from all over the world. It is the ideal place to choose from a selection of Arak, local cheeses, halva, spices and Abu Salma coffee from Nazareth.
- Kabareet is a hidden bar run by young secular Arabs in downtown Haifa. The bar is quite hard to find, as the entrance is hidden down a quiet, dark alley but it is worth the search. Just like an Aladdin’s cave, the interior is filled with an eclectic collection of antique-looking furniture, which adds character to this most unusual establishment.
- Libira BrewPub serves a selection of dishes that pair well with their own brand craft beers. As well as a full burger section on the menu, they also serve other pub-style dishes like beef stew, seafood skillet and roast beef.
- Vortman Winery is a local organic winery made from grapes grown in the Mount Carmel wine region. The winery has a tasting room and garden which is a lovely place to taste the wines, accompanied by a cheese platter.
- Tulip Winery in nearby Kfar Tikva not only produces an incredible range of wines but is also home to adults with developmental and emotional disabilities, some of whom work in the winery. If you have a car and want to explore the countryside around Haifa, Tulip is a short drive away and a lovely place to visit.
Close to the winery is the small town of Bethlehem of Galilee, which includes some wonderful hidden gems like Galili Olive Oil, a family-run olive oil business that uses a special ecological system from Tuscany to make olive oil without water. Derech Hatavlinim is an incredible spice factory surrounded by fields of herbs.
PLACES TO STAY IN HAIFA, ISREAL
There are a number of large hotels at the top of Mount Carmel, but the boutique hotels are more intimate and more reasonable.
- Bay Club Hotel, part of the ever-expanding Atlas chain, is located in central Haifa. Although the hotel itself is in a business area, it is a short walk to both the German Colony and Downtown Haifa. The impressive building, which was originally a family home at the time of the Ottoman Empire and later housed the British Mandate police, is now a 52 room boutique hotel. The hotel has a regal art deco design with a nautical theme, accentuated by a calming blue and green color scheme. The hotel offers a free happy hour buffet at 6 pm, as well as a delicious breakfast, in a tranquil conservatory.
- Carmella Boutique Hotel is a charming hotel at the top of Mount Carmel, close to the Louis Promenade. The restored historic building has just 19 beautifully decorated and spacious rooms. The hotel does not have its own restaurant for breakfast, but they do offer complimentary hot drinks and snacks in the lobby, and there are a number of cafes nearby for breakfast.
We hope that this article has helped inspire you to visit Haifa, Israel. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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We Are Travel Girls Contributor Debbie Kandel of Debbestfood.com
Debbie Kandel is a food and travel writer and blogger in Israel. She has been living in Israel for 11 years but is originally from London. She also manages two Facebook groups, Restaurant Club Israel and Restaurant Club Jerusalem.
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