Israel’s third largest city and one of its prettiest, Haifa has a lot to offer visitors. It has the country’s largest port, a particularly active beach and is the home of the World Center of the Bahai Faith. Surrounded by abundant nature sites, the city contains an interesting mix of modern neighborhoods and older districts; churches and mosques; mountain and sea.
Haifa is a multi-faceted city with several unique characteristics making it an attractive place to visit. Its proximity to the sea and its active port contribute to its prominence. The bustling port area draws merchants, shoppers and tourists. The beautiful beaches are popular for sports and recreation, and are filled with people during summer weekends. In addition, because of their excellent surfing conditions, the beaches serve many of Israel’s top sailing enthusiasts and host sailing competitions and other sporting events.
With residents from the three largest religions as well as from various minority faiths, Haifa is also a symbol of outstanding co-existence and tolerance. Nine percent of the population consists of Arabs (Moslems and Christians) who reside mostly in three neighborhoods: Khalisa, Abas and the famous Wadi Nisnas whose charming alleyways have turned it into a tourist spot. The annual Holiday of Holidays marking the city’s special lifestyle is held there.
The Christian presence in Haifa, with its many churches, also contributes to the city’s image. A Maronite church is located next to Kikar Paris (Paris Square); adjacent to that is the Carmelite church dedicated to the Prophet Elijah; and not far from there is Saint Mary’s Greek Orthodox Parish Church. The Sacre Coeur Catholic School on Allenby Street has a well-tended garden and building, in front of which are impressive statues of Saint Mary. Atop the Carmel, holy to Christians, is the Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery. In the monastery’s Baroque-style church is a cave considered by Christian tradition to be the grave of the Prophet Elijah, and in the monastery is a small museum dedicated to his life. On site is also a hostel which serves the many pilgrims who visit the city.
This does not complete the city’s religious mosaic. Israel’s only Ahmadi Muslim community is based in Haifa’s Kababir neighborhood. The Ahmadiyya is an Indian sect of Islam, founded in the late nineteenth century, which promotes peace among nations and opposes religious coercion. Their large mosque houses a prayer hall and a first-floor exhibit of their history and significant contributions.
Haifa’s reputation for tolerance extends to the Bahai Faith whose World Center is located in the city. The Bahais originated in the Bab sect which separated from Iran’s Shi’ite Islam in 1844. The Bahai World Center, an expansive and well-designed complex on the slope of the Carmel, is famous for its magnificent gardens. It includes the exquisitely landscaped “Hanging Gardens” which run about a kilometer along the Louis Promenade until Ha-Gefen Street. At the center is the impressive, gold-domed Shrine of the Bab, the burial place of the Bab, the founder of the faith. One can enjoy some enchanting spots while strolling through the beautiful gardens by day, but with the special lighting, an evening visit provides equal pleasure and a peaceful, romantic atmosphere.
At the foot of the Bahai Gardens lies the picturesque German Colony, founded in the nineteenth century by German Templars who came to establish a Christian community in the Holy Land. The pretty stone houses lend charm and romance to the neighborhood and reflect its special qualities. Some of the houses have been preserved, and some still have the names of the original residents etched onto them. The German Colony attracts many visitors, and it is worth wandering through it to enjoy its beauty and get a sense of its colorful past.
Those interested in experiencing the city by foot will enjoy one of the “Step Tours”, four marked walking routes which begin on Yefe Nof (Panorama) Street and proceed down to the beach area.
Other options are nature routes which descend the mountain along one of the rivers – Ezov, Akhuza, Lotem and Si’akh. From the coast, one can go up the mountain via the cable car or the Carmelit, Israel’s only subway (underground) which ends at the Carmel district. Here, one should visit Gan ha’Em (“Mother’s Park”) and walk along the Louis Promenade with its spectacular view of the city which hugs the sea.
Haifa also boasts many institutions devoted to culture, art and science which offer an array of festivals and activities. Several types of museums are located in Haifa, including: the Dagon Grain Silo; the National Maritime Museum; the National Museum of Science and Technology; the Haifa Museum of Art; the Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum; the Railway Museum; the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art; the Reuben and Edith Hecht Museum; and the Israel Oil Industry Museum.
The annual Haifa Film Festival features high quality local and international films, drawing those in the profession (directors, screenwriters, actors, etc.) as well as thousands of visitors who fill the streets and the auditoriums.
Haifa is also home to the Technion, Israel’s first institution of higher education, and to the University of Haifa, attended by students from Israel and overseas. The university is situated near the Carmel Nature Reserve, known for its year-round views of greenery and its intoxicating beauty. The Khai-Bar Wildlife Preserve was established within the Carmel Nature Reserve to reintroduce nearly extinct animals to nature.
Throughout the Carmel are hundreds of hiking, automobile and bicycle paths, and amazing charming spots waiting to be discovered.