Haifa – Israel’s 3 Largest City & Probably One of the Prettiest!

Welcome to beautiful Haifa, Israel’s third largest city and the major urban centre of the country’s north region, boasting a population of more than two hundred and seventy thousand inhabitants making their homes in possibly one of the most attractive cities and holiday destinations in Israel.

At the beach

At the beach

This picturesque city is a seaport resting upon Israel’s Mediterranean shoreline, located below the popular UNESCO biosphere reserve Mount Carmel.

Just a generation ago, Haifa’s image was one of a serious, hardworking, and frankly rather dull city, while Jerusalem was a holy city and Tel Aviv was more laid back – hence the phrase “Haifa works, Jerusalem prays, and Tel Aviv plays!

In more recent years, Haifa has been turning this image on its head by incorporating beautifying and recreational features. While the city still maintains its industrial status, given its two oil refineries to the city’s north side, there’s still more to do in Haifa than work all day. Haifa boasts a lovely beachfront. The city’s best beaches can be found right next to the Hof Hacarmel bus and train stations, making them easily accessible and a very convenient way to spend the day. Just hop off the train or the city bus and walk straight out onto the beach. Haifa offers several kilometers of stunning beach along its southwest side. No matter the time of day, you’ll be able to find lots of socializing spots along the busy boardwalk, which features a variety of cafés and restaurants. The boardwalk tends to be a more popular destination for tourists, families with younger children, and people seeking out a relaxing meal. Younger singles and students like to head to the strip just south of the boardwalk. The space is more open, there aren’t any shops, and it’s been dubbed the Students’ Beach.

Since Haifa was settled in a rather mountainous location, it makes the city a little bit more difficult to get around on foot. For this reason, traditional shopping avenues and long stretches of shops are not as popular in Haifa – but there are still several of them you can check out, like the shopping region in the Hadar area as well as the Carmel Centre. In the city’s old downtown city center area, it’s flatter and there are quite a bit more shops. What Haifa lacks in an abundance of shopping strips it makes up for in shopping malls. These malls include the Kiryon, Horev Center, Kastra Center, City Centre Mall (Lev HaIr), Kanyon Haifa and the Cinemall. Additionally, the Grand Canyon is the city’s newest and biggest shopping mall. Here you can find a mix of local brands and well known international brand names such as Armani, Lacoste, Benetton and Zara. There’s a large food court where you can recharge, and an interesting cluster of food stalls in a market each Friday morning. “Kanyon” is actually a Hebrew term used for the word “mall”, therefore the “Grand Canyon” is a play on words. This mall is located in a deep valley in the middle of Haifa – get it?

Haifa is not generally thought of as a gourmet center the way Tel Aviv is, but it actually has a lot to offer off the beaten path. Falafel and other street food can of course be found in the Wadi Nisnas area at Falafel Michel and Falafel HaZkenim. Falafel HaNasi has locations in the Carmel Center and Horev Center, as well as Paris Square, which is the lowest Carmelit station. Upon exploring the Wadi Nisnas are you’ll see that this place has many different kinds of restaurants and food stalls for authentic and delicious shawarma, falafel, and Middle Eastern treats such as baklava and knafe.
You’ll happen upon a rather large number of falafel and shawarma stands when you cruise around downtown Haifa via Yafo Street, close to the old Bat Galim Central Bus Terminal building. The food is both cheap and authentic, averaging about ₪10-15 for a falafel, and about ₪20-22 for a shawarma in a pita.
One of the other cheaper street food options is the Bureka, a Turkish filled pastry made with phyllo dough, which is almost as popular as the local falafel. It’s an affordable food you can get on the go, and it typically comes stuffed with meat or cheese, potatoes, or spinach and feta. It’s the perfect middle eastern food to keep you going as you’re exploring Haifa.
If you’re craving something a little more substantial, you can seek out one of many Middle Eastern and Arabic restaurants located in downtown Haifa. There are two different Abu-Yousef restaurants of no relation to each other, other than the fact that they both serve delicious fare. Hummus Faraj, Hummus Abu-Shaker on HaMeginim Street, Abu Maroun in the city’s flea market, Matza which can be found approximately ten minutes walking distance from the “Grand Canyon” shopping mall, among many others. The majority of these establishments are well known for good quality hummus, which is a must-try while you’re in Israel. You can expect to pay about ₪50-80 per person for a complete meal while you’re out and about in Haifa.

Don’t miss the Romanian-style restaurants Haifa has to offer, which in Haifa are a hybrid of Romanian and Middle Eastern dishes. Most of these establishments are located in downtown Haifa and you would pay about ₪50-100 per person for a complete meal. Remember, while in Haifa, that tipping is customary. The normal rate for a tip is 10% at all places where you sit down and are served. If you feel the service was poor, you tip less, and if it was terrific service tip a little more.

If you’re looking for a great place to grab a drink with friends in Haifa, Central Mount Carmel has a good selection of mid-range cafés and bars, perfect for an easy going outing. Some of the area’s more popular cafés are Greg and Tut, which are found right beside each other in Kikar Sefer. If you find yourself closer to the Horev Center, Frangelico and Barbarossa are two of the most frequented bars in the city’s chic Carmel region. It’s worth noting that due to their popularity these bars can oftentimes be quite crowded, and there might be a chance that you aren’t able to get in. If you’re left out in the cold, don’t despair, there are many other bars in very close walking distance such as Brown, Maidler, and Duke. Another downtown Haifa establishment is the Syncopa bar.

Haifa’s lovely Yefe Nof street offers a handful of great pubs. You can also discover more pubs downtown, such as the popular old-fashioned Maayan HaBira, which is frequented mainly by the mature crowd; the Martef (Basement) which sometimes hosts an entertaining open-mic night, and up the street from Ha Martef is Jack and the Beanstalk – a quaint pub with am enticing selection of appetizers.

The view from the botanical gardens

The view from the botanical gardens

The Gardens in Haifa, the city’s lovely botanical garden area, draws people from far and wide to marvel at the city’s beautiful displays of flowers and plants of all colours, shapes and sizes. It’s impossible to spend an afternoon here and not leave feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, and it’s the perfect place for people of all ages – families, those with young children and babies, couples, and solo sight seers. There’s something that will catch the eye for anyone at these spectacular and vibrant gardens.

Named The Bahá’í Gardens, this wonderfully tranquil botanical garden area is a perfect place to stroll, take photographs, and enjoy a leisurely outing. The Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa are open seven days a week, from 9:00 am to 17:00 pm, keeping in mind that the inner gardens near the shrine close at 12:00 noon. The gardens also closed on Bahá’í holydays and Yom Kippur. In the chance of rainy weather, the gardens are sometimes closed temporarily as a safety precaution, due to the slippery walkways in wet weather.

There are several ways to visit the botanical gardens in Haifa. You have the option of showing up to the gardens at your leisure and explore them at your own pace by yourself. You can also make the most of the walking tours that are offered each day of the week other than Wednesdays – the walking group tours are free of charge, with no reservation required. It is suggested that if you are showing up as a large organized group, or if you have specific interests, to please make arrangements with the gardens ahead of time.

It’s important to note that the Bahá’í Gardens are religious sites. These religious sites are open to the general public free of charge, but it is requested that visitors help to keep the place beautiful and well taken care of by being mindful of litter and being aware of their activities. Take care not to cause any damage to the garden property and its plants.

Just like any of the other religious sites in Haifa, visitors are asked to please dress modestly, and to be considerate of others around you. Wear clothing that covers your shoulders and reaches down at least to your knees. Due to the pebbled walking paths and pavement, it’s a good idea to wear shoes with good traction. There’s quite a walkable area to enjoy, so make sure you don a pair of comfortable shoes too. Throughout Israel’s summer months, be sure to consider wearing sun screen and a hat while you’re out enjoying the great outdoors. A staircase of nineteen separate terraces make up part of this wonderful botanical garden paradise.

Shrine of Bab

Shrine of Bab

At the centre of the garden stands the golden-domed Shrine of the Báb. This is the final resting place of the Prophet-Herald of the Bahá’í Faith. While touring the botanical gardens, you’ll discover that different parts of the gardens offer a variety of different experiences, and all have graveled paths leading you from one place to the next, with hedges and well maintained flower beds cared for by expert gardeners. From the vantage point of the gardens, you’ll get photo-worthy panoramic views of the city, the Galilee Hills and the Mediterranean Sea.

Photography is permitted and encouraged in the lovely botanical gardens in Haifa, everywhere except for the interior of the Shrines. In order to keep the gardens clean and beautiful, food is not allowed to be brought into the are. You are allowed to bring in personal containers of water, but please keep all other drinks and chewing gum out of the gardens. Smoking is also not allowed within the botanical gardens, nor are weapons or animals.

Haifa is bustling with a wealth of museums such as the Israel National Museum of Science, the Israel Railway Museum, the Israeli National Maritime Museum and Hecht Museum; art galleries – including the outdoor art pieces, the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art, and the Haifa Museum of Art. There are of course the city’s extraordinary gardens, playful beach areas, and plenty of places to stop for a bite to eat and to watch the world go by.

Visit the Middle East destinations category to learn more about other tourism opportunities available in Middle East!