Haifa is Israel’s third-largest city, after Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It is beautifully set on the slopes of Mount Carmel facing the Mediterranean Sea. It is also known as one of Israel’s busiest ports along the Mediterranean coastline and now one of the centers of the country’s renowned high-tech industries.
Haifa is one of the few places in Israel where Jews and Arabs coexist relatively peacefully, resulting in some amazing amalgam of Jewish and Arabic cultures. Like in many other cities in Israel, there are also communities of other different religious and ethnic groups in Haifa.
Haifa – the beautiful, smart and cultured “working” city
Having a reputation as a port city and industrial hub in northern Israel, Haifa is traditionally considered as a “working” city. There is a joke that says that Haifa works while Tel Aviv plays and Jerusalem prays! But Haifa knows how to attract tourists as well, not the least because of the unique landscape of steep cliffs rolling down to the shore, giving the city a beautiful setting.
Haifa is also a highly cultured city. In fact, despite its chief reputation as a port and industrial city, Haifa is the cultural hub of northern Israel. It boasts a large number of museums and a theater company. It has two universities, the University of Haifa and the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology, which are also among the most respected academic institutions in the country. The Technion is also one of the world’s leading institutions for science and technology. Many of Israel’s renowned tech entrepreneurs come from Technion, and its faculty members also include three Nobel Prize laureates in chemistry.
Masada Street gains a reputation for its cool graffiti and street art, their edgy appeal adding color and verve to this bustling port city.
Situated above boisterous traffic and harborside bustle is Haifa’s fame and pride – the celebrated Baha’i shrine and garden terraces. Descending down the flanks of Mount Carmel, the gardens provide a magnificent symmetry to this complex city, whose atmosphere can change from serene to fast-paced (and vice versa) in just a few steps.
Places to visit in Haifa
Take a historical and cultural walk in the port city of Haifa by visiting some of its most popular tourist sites and a few underrated, off-the-beaten-track attractions.
Baha’i Shrine and Gardens
Your Haifa tour will never be complete without visiting this majestic UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Baha’i Complex, which includes the Baha’i Shrine and the Baha’i Gardens.
Baha’i Shrine – The garden terraces surround the Shrine of the Bab, commonly known the Baha’i Shrine. With its conspicuous golden dome, the Baha’i Shrine is Haifa’s landmark monument. The shrine is a mausoleum that houses the remains of Siyyid ‘Ali Muhammad Shirazi (1819-1850), who proclaimed himself as the “Bab” (the “gateway” to God) and was the founder of the Baha’i Faith.
The shrine was designed by renowned Canadian architect William Sutherland Maxwell (1874-1952) who was himself a convert to the Baha’i Faith. The architectural style of the shrine is a combination of Gothic, Renaissance, Romanesque, neoclassical and Islamic. It is the second holiest place for the Baha’is, only next to the Shrine of Baha’u’allah in Acre in Israel’s Northern District.
Baha’i Gardens – The beautiful and symmetrical Baha’i garden terraces are one of the most visited tourist attractions in Israel. These immaculately landscaped gardens were designed by Iranian-American architect Fariborz Sahba, who is also a Baha’i. The gardens spread out magnificently along the north-western slopes of Mount Carmel. They exude a classically Old World ambience, complete with balustrades, eagle sculptures and fountains. But the best part of touring around the gardens? It’s the unbeatable panoramic views of the Haifa Bay and Mediterranean Sea that stretch serenely to the horizon.
Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery
Also located on the slopes of Mount Carmel, the Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery is the world center of the Carmelite Order of the Roman Catholic Church. The site was selected during the 12th century by a small group of hermetic Carmelites who settled there to devote themselves to abstinence, solitude and prayer. The church itself was built during the 18th century. Stella Maris is noted for its lush frescoes portraying the prophet Elijah. The monastery’s interiors also feature paintings that depict the scenes of the lives of the other prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah, as well as a cedar figurine of the Virgin, which is popularly known as the Madonna of Mount Carmel. Not far down the monastery lies a grotto known as Elijah’s Cave.
Elijah’s Cave can be reached along a footpath from Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery. The grotto is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, where the prophet Elijah took refuge during his journey into the wilderness. Many of the faithful believe that this site is also Elijah’s final resting place.
Haifa’s seafront and port
Being situated on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea proves to be economically advantageous for Haifa. Not to mention that it provides the city with really glorious beaches, some of which are the best in Israel. One of the popular beaches in Haifa is Bat Galim. It is the only beach in the country that faces north, which makes it the best for surfing. In fact, several surfing competitions have been held there. Bat Galim can be reached via a cable car that runs from the heights of Mount Carmel down to the Bat Galim promenade. Dado Beach is another popular beach in Haifa.
Several beachfronts in Haifa have plenty of cafes and bars to keep you hydrated and energized, as well as a wide range of watersports for the adrenaline junkie.
If you have seen all the popular tourist spots in Haifa and are looking for some alternative things to do there, Masada Street is worth checking out. People who think of Haifa as monotonous, purely industrial or stodgily academic will be surprised to find some cool graffiti in the downtown area. Masada Street is teeming with lots of awesome street art that it could give Florentin (a popular artsy neighborhood in Tel Aviv) a run for its money. You may happen to catch some random street parties on Masada with youngsters jamming to live music.
Haifa Museum of Art
Haifa doesn’t always get the rep as a tourist destination in a way that Jerusalem and Tel Aviv do. This is rather surprising, considering that the city still has lots of hidden gems. One of them is probably the most underrated museum in the country, the Haifa Museum of Art. Located on 26 Shabtai Levy, Haifa Museum of Art is Israel’s third-largest museum. It was established in 1951 in a 1930s building that once served as an all-girls school. Three floors display works by Israeli and international artists, including Chagall, Daumier, Chana Orloff and Andre Masson, as well one-off exhibitions and video installations.