Haifa, the Forgotten City

View from Shikmona Nature Reserve along the Haifa Beach Promenade
Shikmona Nature Reserve along the Haifa Beach Promenade

Plan a trip to Israel and you’re sure to spend time bar hopping and hitting the beach in Tel Aviv, finding spiritual renewal in Jerusalem, and floating in the salted waters of the Dead Sea (You might even get a desert camel ride in if you are lucky!) After all, those are the exact things that should be on every tourist’s list of “must sees and dos” while in the Holy Land.  However, one has to beg the question-What about Haifa?

Our often forgotten city has gotten a bad rap, and from some of the harshest critics around-Israelis themselves.  The general sentiment of those who have not spent much time here in recent years is-There is not much to do in Haifa.  Maybe just to see the Bahaii Gardens, and grab a quick lunch on the way to Akko, Caesarea, or the Northern Galilee. However, as a proud Haifa resident of over 7 years now, I can definitively tell you that this idea couldn’t be more wrong, and I’m going to share with you why.

Here is my list of some of the great things to do in our lovely (and not so little!) green city,  that will more than warrant this weekend’s day trip:

Beach Going-If you think that Tel Aviv has great beaches, then you should come check out Haifa’s beach. No offense to Tel Avivim, but Haifa’s beach is a cleaner and more sport-oriented place than that of the “big city”. Not only do we have a great stretch of beaches (check out the newer Tortuga Beach down by the Leonardo Hotel for dreamy clear waters and sandbars), that feature all the good stuff-turquoise waters, cafes, fruit shake stands, and a spectacularly long and well-kept promenade, but keep walking, and  beyond that we have Shikmona and then Park Hecht.  This stretch of beach combines nature reserve with the stunning Mediterranean shoreline, while offering endless opportunities for families who like to walk, run, and play together in the great outdoors. Honestly, it stuns me each time I go there, and it reminds me that we live in our own little Mediterranean Riviera.

Food-Haifa was once known as a real city for hard working (aka Nitty-gritty) men and women. We’re not as polished as the other guys, and it shows (in a good way!) in some of the great Mom & Pop food establishments that have stood the test of time. We’ve got some of the best places to go for great and most importantly *fresh* street food in all of Israel, all under the unique backdrop of cultural diversity, that seeps out of every Ottoman era brick and newly renovated street. That’s not to say that we don’t have fine dining here. Our city has been working on an exciting cultural revival for the past 4 years, so we’ve got chef restaurants and hipster bars too. If you’re staying at one of the hotels up in Carmel Center, just take a short walk down the road to Moriah avenue to grab a drink and a great meal, or hop on the Carmelit and take our zany little “subway” the short ride down through the mountain to Paris Square.  From there you will find a variety of nightlife to go along with the many man-buns, and ironic beards you will undoubtedly encounter there.

Rennovated street in Downtown Haifa
Renovated street in Downtown Haifa

Culture- Like artist studios? We’ve got em’ in stride, along with some pretty awesome street art, and even a puppet factory in the newly renovated Downtown district and Port area. It’s all part of the city’s “area 21” project that encourages artists to settle in the lower city, and revive the once industrial area. We’ve got museums too, if you’re into that sort of thing. If not, you can check out this summer’s free street performances in the Turkish Market area on Thursday nights and Friday morning. You can also see the weekly outdoor film screening on Namal street each Wednesday, see what’s hopping at Shuk Talpiot at their Thursday “Shuk Nights”, or do Rikudei Am in Paris Square, or at the beach.  And the list literally goes on and on.

Greenery- How many cities in Israel (and around the world for that matter), can say that they are built nestled into natural forest? What’s even more amazing is that our warm and humid climate is perfect for nurturing fruit trees, as well as fresh herbs and flowers year-round. Take a walk in some of Haifa’s mountain top neighborhoods such as Neve Shaanan, Ahuza, or even Merkaz HaCarmel, and you’ll notice olive, orange, and fig trees, as pass by well-manicured round-abouts that are bursting with snap-dragons and palm trees.  If it is the right time of year, you could even be lucky enough to run into a hibiscus bush or find a spot to forage some unruly spearmint or fresh zaatar.

Have I convinced you yet? I could keep going, but then I’d be missing another opportunity to set out into the city to discover all the great stuff we’ve got going on here lately. I hope you’ll come too when you next get the chance.  And if you’re already coming, might as well bring some of your skeptical Israeli friends who are more familiar with the Haifa of the past.  It’s time they were let in on the secret that Haifa is an amazing place to spend time.  So amazing, that you might even forget to stop by those famed Bahaii Gardens this time around, and will probably need to come back and catch them on your next trip up North.

Check out downtown.co.il; and עריית חיפה  on Facebook to learn about the city-wide events happening in Haifa this summer. Or, check out Haifa Street Food Tours to learn about our exciting private culinary tours for tourists.

About the Author
Jessica Halfin is owner and operator of Haifa Street Food Tours, through which she gives culinary tours to tourists in the beautiful coastal city of Haifa. She is an American immigrant to Israel of 10 years, an Israeli-trained baker and gourmet cook, and self-proclaimed “foodie.”
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