Set on the slopes of Mount Carmel, Haifa is Israel’s Mediterranean oasis. Stroll around the smart German Colony, with its restored streets settled in the 1860s lined with restaurants, cafes and art galleries. Continue toward the tropical Bah’ai Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and take a meditative walk around the 19 different terraced gardens. Cruise to Haifa, Israel and visit the Shrine of the Bab, with its striking golden dome composed of 12,000 tiles. For even better views, climb up to the Viewing Balcony to look down on the shrine and out toward the Mediterranean Sea. Perhaps it’s time to relax on the beach now? Pop down to Bat Galim for windsurfing or a stroll along the boardwalk.
THINGS TO DO IN HAIFA
BETTER IN BAB
Visit the Shrine of the Bab, a pilgrimage site built in 1953. It’s said to hold the remains of the Bab, the spiritual predecessor to the Baha’i faith’s prophet Baha’ullah. Canadian architect William Sutherland Maxwell unified Middle Eastern and European styles here. Then, visit the symmetric Baha’i Gardens with their 19 steep terraces.
STAR OF THE SEA
Take the cable car up to Mt Carmel (546 meters) and enjoy the magnificent views. Visit the Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery, Latin for “Star of the Sea.” Admire the church’s beautifully painted ceiling and dome. Stretching back to the Crusader era, the monks originally inhabited the mountain caves.
Stroll around the picturesque, restored German Colony at the foot of the Baha’i Gardens. German Templars who came to establish a Christian community here built the houses in the 19th century. Cruise to Israel to admire the pretty stone houses, browse the little shops, and meet the locals in the lively cafes.
Fill up for your Haifa adventure with some burekas, a crispy phyllo dough pastry often filled with vegetables, spices and cheese. Enjoy Middle Eastern fare like falafel wraps slathered in tahini sauce or lamb shawarma brightened up with herbaceous parsley in the Wadi Nisnas or Hadar neighborhoods. For desert, taste sweet baklava, with layers of flaky pastry and pistachio sweetened with honey, or knefah, a light cheesecake soaked in sweet syrup.
Haifa’s largest shopping mall is the Grand Canyon and includes over 200 designer and boutique shops. In the Haifa Flea Market, you can find vintage and secondhand items, including handmade silver and gold jewelry. During your Israel cruise, look for decorative plates and ceramics hand-painted with traditional geometric patterns or Holy Land-themed designs.
During a cruise in the Mediterranean, Haifa, a large port located in northern Israel, is the perfect setting off point for excursions of great interest, especially if you would like to learn more about the world’s three greatest religions during your voyage.
In Israel, the three Religions of the Book, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, encounter each other at every angle. Cruises offers, for example, a tour of places described in the Bible. After visiting places such as Bethlehem, Nazareth, Cana and Jerusalem, you will be able to truthfully say that you have tread on the same ground as the prophets, the disciples of Jesus and the Arab conquerors.
Or, if you are more interested in history and are not afraid of to get a little tired, an excursion to Massada will take you to the top of the mountain where the Jews took their last stand against the Romans. While docked at Haifa during your cruise, you will also get the chance to admire Israel’s nature at its most extreme. A short distance from Massada sits a landlocked lake that is so salty that it has been nicknamed the Dead Sea.
In Mt. Carmel Park, on the other hand, there are trails that wind between the natural beauties of the Middle East, the woods, archaeologic sites, and sacred places. A cruise in the Mediterranean Sea offers both must-see natural and historical excursions, and less demanding pass times; from Haifa, with another excursion, you will be able to reach the bubbling city of Tel Aviv.
It is considered, for good reason, the most modern city in Israel, not just for its skyscrapers but also for its way of life. During a comfortable bus tour that will take you through the city’s old quarter, you will also be able to admire Tel Aviv’s architectural heritage dating to the early 20th century.