Tel Aviv, Acre, Haifa or maybe something else? What to see on the Israeli Mediterranean coast? Where to sleep? Answers in today’s post!
I admit that the Mediterranean Sea has never been my favorite. Granted, the architecture of Mediterranean towns is charming and landscapes in some places are beautiful. But for me there was something too European, predictable, clean. Something not exotic enough. But when I visited Tel Aviv, Acreo and Caesarea Maritima, oh!… Shortly – the Mediterranean coast of Israel has won my heart!
Looking at the country from north to south (to the border of the Gaza Strip), you can mark on the map a few places on the Mediterranean coast, which you must visit in Israel. With good organization one day is enough there! And if you don’t have a car and want to save time, I recommend a day trip with the Israel Tourist Tours!
It is a must-see for nature lovers. The beautiful limestone caves washed by sea water. The only downside are single garbage drifting in some places… luckily not many.
Grottoes Rosh Hanikra are quite exotic. Firstly, because of the colour of the water – limestone bottom gives it a very light blue color. It looks really beautiful!
Secondly, because of the location. You can only get to the caves by cable car. But that’s not what I mean, however, the views are really beautiful (the colours of water near the shore!). But what I mean is… the border. Rosh Hanikra grottoes lie at the (closed) border crossing between Israel and Lebanon. During World War II a railway line connecting Haifa with Beirut was built here, but it was blown up during the civil war in Palestine Mandate in 1948, a railway tunnel was also destroyed. You can still see the entrance, but there are no tracks, and you cannot go in there. You also cannot take pictures yourself near the border crossing, but you can shoot a selfie with a sign, which shows that Beirut is from here closer than Jerusalem. 😉
It’s a place really worth visiting because the landscape is truly beautiful and it can be something very unique in your itinerary.
Acre (Acco, Akko)
The first time I’ve been here, I hated it. There was a festival, funfair and loud Arabic disco. As it turned out, the Arabs celebrated the end of Ramadan, and when I came to Acre for a second time a month later, I have to admit that I fell in love.
Acre is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the region. It is known that there was a port here already 3000 years before Christ, and there are also Egyptian documents from the 15th century BC which mention the port Aak. But Acre is best known as the last stronghold of the Crusaders.
At the time of the Crusades in the Middle Ages it was the first port to which ships sailed with knights and their families (as many came here on a permanent basis). The city was captured in 1104 during the First Crusade. The bonus of the city was the location on the trade route linking the Mediterranean region with the Middle East. In 1170 Acre was the second largest city after Jerusalem in the Crusader kingdom. It was their last claim, captured in 1291 by the Mamluks, who have taken the entire coast of the Levant.
Old City of Acre was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 and that’s when it began to attract tourists, but until the beginning of the 90s nothing happened here. Throughout the last century the Citadel was used as a partially ruined prison (depicted in the film Exodus from 1960 with Paul Newman). Only archaeological research in 90s carried out in the Old Town showed its (not only Citadel’s but also the Old Town’s) fascinating details, such as underground Templar Tunnels (there are suspicions that there may be more, but they are well hidden) and the dark dungeons of the Citadel.
The restored Citadel houses today a very interesting interactive museum dedicated to the history of the city. I admit, it’s one of the best I’ve ever visited! You can safely spend there 2-3 hours listening and watching materials concerning not only knights, but life in the city. Highly recommended!
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Haifa is famous for two things, but for us, the visitors, only one is important.
The first one is a public transport normally working during Shabbat. In the other Jewish parts of the country practically nothing works. (Non-Jewish companies work normally.) Haifa, however, is has a very loose approach to it.
While the other are the famous Bahá’í Gardens. Beautiful, symmetrical gardens situated on a hill with a wonderful view over the city and harbor. However, I am sure that 90% of people visiting Israel or reading about it does not know who the Bahá’í are or what are the gardens exactly. In fact, you can google it of course, but since you are reading this text I’ll try to explain it as simply as possible:
Bahá’í are followers of monotheistic religion, the Bahá’í Faith, which was created in the 19th century in Persia (now Iran). Shortly speaking, the religion focuses on the spiritual unity of all humanity and the abolition of all prejudice. The diversity of races and cultures should be admired, and racism, nationalism, the division of social classes, patriarchy or matriarchy, are artificial, invented by people and destroys whole unity. It is interesting that Bahá’í believe that God sent down to earth his messengers as teachers, and they created religions adapted to the times and places in which they were sent. Among them were Krishna, Abraham, Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed, so Bahá’í Faith combines elements of all religions.
The first spiritual leader of the Bahá’í Faith was Bab, who was persecuted and executed in Persia for his teachings. His remains were brought to Haifa and buried in a mausoleum in gardens, which appearance has symbolic significance: at their base is the center of worship – a temple with a gold dome. While, In the gardens there are features from both the cultures of East and West, and symmetry symbolizes the unity, balance and harmony.
Bahá’í’s worship centers in Haifa and Acre were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008.
It’s definitely one of my favorite places because it combines my two passions: history and sea.
In Caesarea there are ruins of the ancient port city, once the largest one in the Mediterranean region. It is worth to spend here even two hours walking!
Caesarea was founded by Herod the Great in the 1st century BC and named in honor of Caesar Octavian Augustus. As it was a popular tradition to name new cities in honor of the rulers, Caesarea was given the nickname Maritima.
During its golden era it was the largest city in Judea, which had a population of 50-100 thousand residents (according to various sources). At Caesarea there was the biggest ancient port built on the open sea and its importance was so great that the city allowed to compete with the Egyptian Alexandria. Caesarea was gradually losing its importance; during the crusades it survived a violent fall and in 1265 it was completely destroyed by the Egyptian Mamluks.
Caesarea Maritima was inscribed in the UNESCO List in 2000. You can find here a Roman theater for 4000 viewers (concerts are held here in summer), fragments of the city walls, the ruins of the largest Roman hippodrome, the Crusader citadel, sunken ruins of the ancient port, which can be seen at the Underwater Archaeological Park. The city was so big that excavations have revealed only a small part of it.
It’s a village (with 14000 residents, but in Israel there are only kibbutzim, villages and cities, so Zarka counts as a village) located a 45 minute walk north of Caesarea. This is the last Arab village on the coast of Israel and one of the poorest villages in the country. Ironically, it is located between Caesarea (city) and kibbutz Maagan Michael, which are very rich (in Caesarea there’s even a golf field). Meanwhile, residents of Jisr are poor and discriminated. There is no hospital, the kids at school didn’t learn English, there is no possibility of leisure, cultural institutions etc. The people were completely isolated from the world.
Somehow, a Jewish girl, Neta found this place and together with Ahmad Juha (Yuha), an Arab from Jisr, opened the first guesthoust – Juha’s Guesthouse. At the beginning it was hard, because the inhabitants of Jisr were not used to strangers, who came up with ideas to improve the situation of the village. Even the kids were looking at Neta as at an intruder, nobody greeted and often treated her like air.
Today, almost two years later, the villagers greet the newcomers. The kids will be happy to shout for them “Hello” or in Hebrew “Shalom!” In Juha’s Guesthouse can buy local handicraft products that make up the women. Volunteers in the pension teach children English, organize their various activities. You can see the changes, you can see that the newcomers helped residents of Jisr to open to the world and slowly the isolation of the local community disappears.
I fell in love with Jisr az Zarqa. It’s quiet, small town located just 10 minutes walk from the almost deserted beach. Well, not in the evening, because everybody comes here to see the sunset. ‘Everybody’ means probably the whole area. 🙂
Although I admit that this is not a perfect place. A little messy and chaotic … (but honestly? You’re going to the Middle East and you don’t expect?) While you just have to get used to the chaos, I know that the garbage thing is a matter of education and awareness. I believe that this will improve with time!
If you are looking for excitement, adrenaline and order, Jisr is not for you. But if you want to throw a brick to the development of the local community please, please come right here. Stay in Juha’s Guesthouse. Eat fresh fish in a restaurant on the beach, buy some local handicrafts. Learn a few words in Arabic, go for a walk around the town and just smile to people. Jisr az Zarqa and children especially need that!
State within a state, the State of Tel Aviv. It’s called like that because the pricesthere are much higher than in other parts of Israel (which is still quite expensive), and also because Tel Aviv live its own way of life. It is modern and relaxed. You can see that people here really enjoy life. They go out with friends to pubs, bars and on the beach. They go to clubs and exhibitions, and it’s plenty of them here – Tel Aviv boasts a very rich artistic scene. You say that it’s like this in every city? Well, you should really come to Tel Aviv then! Here restaurants are full of people all the time, during the day and night! There is simply always something going on here. If you like cities like that – I highly recommend it!
Ah, I would forget! In Tel Aviv, be sure to eat the best hummus in Israel – in Abu Hassan! Necessarily!!! 🙂
Personally, in the city I like the beach the most, because with the skyscrappers above it looks a bit like Copacabana 😉 It’s considered as one of the best urban beaches in the world. In addition, the city is not only Tel Aviv, but also Jaffa (Yafo), the old Arabic quarter (also my favorite). While the port in Jaffa existed in ancient times, Tel Aviv is a very young city, founded only in 1909. Moreover, Tel Aviv’s one district is inscribed on the UNESCO List! The White City is a district built in the 30s in the modernist Bauhaus and International styles.
As I mentioned at the beginning – I loved the Mediterranean Coast, here in Israel. For me it is exotic and extremely varied. Moreover, it’s perfect for a day trip! I highly recommend it!
Which place of the Mediterranean coast of Israel do you like the most? Modern Tel Aviv, medieval Acre or ancient Caesarea? Or maybe you prefer something less chosen by tourists and your taste goes to Jisr az Zarqa and Rosh Hanikra Grottoes? Share your answers in the comment box below!