The hillside port city of Haifa starts from the northern slope of Mount Carmel with its steep cliffs that roll down to the Mediterranean Sea. Its most dominating feature is the beautiful terraced landscape of the Baha’i Gardens with its gold domed Shrine of Báb. Haifa is home not only to the Baha'i sect, it also has a mixed population of Jews and Arabs that are much less segregated compared to elsewhere in the country. The city is vibrant with a great array of restaurants, bustling cafés and an amazing street food scene.
The amazing Baha'i Gardens are the top of the must do list while in Haifa. The Baha'i Sect began in Iran in 1844, when Iranian Mirza Ali Mohammed declared himself 'Báb' (Gateway to God) and founded the faith. After his assassination in 1850 his successor Mirza Hussein Ali fled to the Ottoman Empire. He held the position of Bahá'u'lláh up until his death in 1892. After the death of Mirza Hussein Ali, Baha'i devotees secretly brought the remains of his predecessor, Mirza Ali Mohammed from Iran to Haifa and built his tomb, the Shrine of the Báb. Today the Baha’i Shrine and Gardens of 19 immaculately landscaped terraces are a UNESCO World Heritage Site for their cultural wealth, as well as natural beauty and panoramic views over the town and the harbour. For those of the Baha'i faith they are also an important place of pilgrimage.
At the foot of the gardens lies the old German Colony and Ben-Gurion Street with its art galleries, high end shops, pubs and restaurants all in 19th Century buildings. After visiting the area travel over to the adjacent neighbourhood of Wadi Nisnas also known as 'The Wadi' for some bartering amongst the winding streets and artisan stalls. The smell wafting from the falafel stands will also captivate you and awaken your appetite!
The 1836 Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery is renowned for its lush frescoes portraying St. Elijah. The interior contains paintings of scenes of the lives of the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel and has a cedar figurine of the Virgin known as the Madonna of Mt. Carmel. Many visitors like to come here for the views, which stretch across central Haifa and out to the sea. The Haifa cable car is the easiest way to get up the steep hill to the Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery and by far the most exciting. From the top you will be afforded some excellent panoramic views over the city and its major points of interest.
From the monastery there is a path that leads you down to the grotto known as Elijah's cave, believed to be either the one time dwelling place or tomb of Elijah. Believers hold that Prophet Elijah hid here after killing the priests of Ba'al. It is an important pilgrimage site for Jews, Muslims and Christians alike who all hold Elijah in high regard.
Haifa has some of the prettiest beaches in Israel to visit including Bat Galim Beach, a favourite for water sports enthusiasts, windsurfers and kite boarders. Hof HaCarmel Beach is more about relaxing and sunbathing and Dor Beach is another popular beach to visit and one of the most picturesque.
A visit to the Mane Katz Museum is a must for any art enthusiast as it contains the paintings and sculptures of Mane Katz, who was an influential 20th Century Jewish artist. As well as his expressionist art, Katz was a great collector and here you will find his personal collection of Judaica and antique furniture on display.
The attractive Ursula Malbin Sculpture Park is full of striking bronze statues and is a great place to relax after a morning of sightseeing. In the early evening, plenty of Haifa locals come here for a stroll as it is a great place for people watching and to check out local life.
A great day trip from Haifa is to travel to Mount Carmel. The historical attraction of the Carmelite Monastery of St. Elijah, where according to tradition, Elijah set up an altar during his conflict with the priests of Ba'al. The small settlements that speckle the slopes of the mountain are just as interesting as the Church. Make sure to stop off at Ein Hod, an artists' village riddled with galleries on your way through. Bet Oren, on the lower slopes, is where the remains of the 'Carmel Man', a Palaeolithic skeleton unearthed in caves six kilometres west of the actual village were found.