Until a few years ago, Haifa was perhaps Israel’s most underrated city. Written off as a sleepy, elderly place that’s not as cool as Tel Aviv or as special as Jerusalem, it passed under the radar. What a mistake.
Earlier this year, the Seatrade Cruise Awards competition nominated Haifa as one of the three outstanding cruise destinations worldwide for 2023. Some 250,000 tourists are expected to arrive through the port this year alone – in contrast to 2018 when just 28,000 tourists arrived there by ship.
Haifa has loads going for it: it is the center of real, everyday coexistence in Israel, it has fabulous beaches, gorgeous nature right in the middle of the city and a burgeoning cultural scene complete with top-level art, music and food.
And while we strongly encourage you to treat yourself to a delicious meal or two and check out some of the city’s famous museums, we equally strongly encourage you to enjoy what the city also has to offer free of charge. That way, you can enjoy it for longer, and splash out on that extra dinner. Here are our top recommendations – enjoy!
Together with nearby Acre, Haifa is one of the main landmarks of the Baha’i faith that originated in Iran in the 19th century. This is because they are home to the shrines of the religion’s main spiritual leaders, surrounded by what brings us to discuss them – the beautiful Baha’i Gardens UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
A walk through the perfectly symmetrical, colorful gardens, with their views of the sea and the city, is a breathtaking experience – and not only because of the stairs involved. It’s a wonderfully serene place, and also one of religious significance, so make sure to dress appropriately and tour around respectfully.
The 19th century Stella Maris Monastery is one of the prettiest spots in Israel, both inside and out.
You can take in the sea view and the greenery outside, while inside the building – which sits atop what is believed to be the cave of the Prophet Elijah – you should check out the beautiful stained-glass windows and colorful ceiling. Even the door is special. The church is open daily to the public and is a must-stop on any visit to the city.
3. Take a scenic seat
While you’re at Stella Maris, wander off a few feet to what is apparently the most coveted bench in the whole city. The two-seater bench on the path leading from the parking lot to the monastery is a very romantic spot that offers panoramic sea views and a refreshing breeze. It can also be enjoyed solo, of course.
4. Grab your beach toys
Speaking of sea views, Haifa’s coastline makes it a proper seafaring city with a huge port. It also makes it a great beach destination, with beaches running some 10 miles along the city’s edge (only 2 miles of which have lifeguard services if you’re planning a swim.)
5. Go promenading
Where there are beaches, there are also seaside promenades. Dado Beach has the most famous one, complete with lawns, picnic tables, sport and playground facilities and even an amphitheater, as well as less-than-free restaurants and cafes.
6. Snap a pic at Louis Promenade
Haifa’s most famous promenade, however, is far removed from the beach, instead resting atop the slopes of Mount Carmel.
Boasting bay views, Louis Promenade is also a convenient spot for entering the Baha’i Gardens (they were built by the same contractor) and is probably the best place to snap that selfie.
7. Feel European at the German Colony
Built in 1868, the German Colony in Haifa was the first planned urban neigborhood in the Land of Israel. It was constructed by German Templers who arrived in Israel out of religious convictions and brought with them a whole host of European ideas then foreign to the area – such as a building engineer, designated beaches and public transport.
After World War II, during which the Templers were banished by British authorities, the area fell into disrepair. In the 1990s, the German Colony was renovated and reinvigorated to be the urban hotspot that it now is. Stroll through the neighborhood and admire the architecture and history, and treat yourself to a very stylish coffee while there.
8. Go spiritual at Elijah’s Cave
While you may remember that Stella Maris sits atop Elijah’s Cave, fear not – we are not losing it. Instead, there are two caves associated with the Prophet Elijah in Haifa, and this one is actually the more major one.
Considered a revered site by Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze, the grotto has been a pilgrimage site for centuries, with people coming to pray for health, children and love throughout the years. Stop by yourself for a quick prayer or wonder at the stories of the people who arrived here through the ages.
The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology is one of Israel’s most revered institutes of higher education, and you too can feel more brainy than usual by taking a tour of the David and Janet Polak Visitors Center at the university. Registration is required at least 72 hours in advance. It’s less than ideal for little kids, but for adults wanting to tour the leafy campus, hear about the university’s many successes and admire the Israeli research and technology scene, this is a great tour.
The Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa is a great option for archeology lovers, and especially those with an interest in ancient coins.
The permanent collections at the free museum once belonged to its donor, the late Dr. Reuben Hecht, and include an ancient shipwreck, artifacts from crafts such as glassmaking, metalworking and stone vessels, and objects relating to the Phoenician seagoers who once lived in the area. Those interested in more modern art, the museum also houses Hecht’s collection of works by Manet, Monet, Soutine and Van Gogh.
11. Feel hipstery on Masada Street
Masada Street is perhaps the center of all things hipster in an already hipster city. The street is home to a great array of cafes, secondhand stores and seemingly endless street art, and is beloved by cool Jewish and Arab residents alike.
12. Hike in nature
Despite being Israel’s third-largest city, Haifa also charmingly offers numerous urban nature spots that can give you a green break from its (relative) hustle and bustle.
Top recommendations include Wadi Siah, with its downhill trek from the Carmel to the sea via Mediterranean foliage and little pools, or Nahal Ahuza, which starts next to a bus station and ends in a pool of cold water.
13. Wander the markets
Haifa is home to quite a few food markets, each with a distinct character. There’s the Talpiot Market, which combines grungy surroundings and fine dining restaurants; Wadi Nisnas, famous for its top-quality local fruit and vegetables, a legendary falafel spot, and it’s Christmas market in December, and the Turkish Market, replete with bars, restaurants and street food. Wander around and soak up the atmosphere.
14. Go skateboarding
Happen to have packed your skateboard with you? Then have the time of your life in the municipal, community-based skate park.
The large complex includes ramps, slopes and railings, and is designated for amateur and professional skaters alike. Don’t forget to bring your helmet.
12. Check out local art
Haifa is home to some great museums, but art can also be enjoyed free of charge in galleries around the city, such as the Pyramid contemporary art gallery in the Wadi Salib neighborhood that showcases the works of local artists.
13. Get your glutes in shape
Haifa is one hilly city, and wandering around it makes for a fabulous workout. Thankfully, it’s also such an interesting city, with the endless sea and urban views helping you forget the burn in your legs.
17. Behold the graffiti
While south Tel Aviv usually gets all the glory when it comes to graffiti, Haifa is a top-notch place to check out urban art from a variety of street artists including Haifa’s own Broken Fingaz collective. Wherever you go, you’ll likely come across some interesting street art that adds to the contemporary and diverse feel of the city.
18. Be blown away by Bauhaus
Similarly, Bauhaus architecture does not begin and end in Tel Aviv. Buildings built in the International Style are also dotted throughout Haifa, with many bearing plaques describing their history in three languages – English, Hebrew and Arabic. Prime examples include a seafront villa, the former home of the British high commissioner and the old Carmel Hospital.