If you are like most tourists visiting Israel, you've been up and down the streets of Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher? Check. Garden of Gethsemane? Sure. You've probably even spent time down in Tel Aviv seeing all the culture this vibrant and modern country has to offer. But have you spent some time seeing Israel's third city, Haifa?
Haifa is famous for a variety of reasons. Besides being another city that existed at the time of Jesus and where He may have spent significant amounts of time, it's also a quiet giant with some wonderful things to see all its own.
Start with the most unusual tourist attraction you're likely to ever visit in Israel - The one and only subway in the country, the Carmelit. The Carmelit is a funicular, i.e., a subway that climbs up and down the side of a mountain. Those old enough to remember the reference will be forgiven for wondering if the stations were designed by someone from Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory (the original, not the remake), or perhaps the designers of KAOS headquarters were involved. The tiling on the wall is quite loud and the stations, since they are all on the side of a mountain run diagonally up and down. The cars themselves are slanted to accommodate the unique design of the system and as such the doors tend to look completely off kilter from the station.
At the top of the Carmelit (and the top of Mount Carmel), walk a few blocks down Hanassi street and you can visit the world famous Bahai Gardens. The Bahai believe in accepting people of all faiths and they worship Jesus as being another teller of truth. The gardens are a UNESCO world heritage site and they extend all the way up the north side of Mount Carmel. You can walk down the side of the mountain or just enjoy the amazing view from the promenade while you relax in the warm Mediterranean sun.
If you choose to stay up on top of the mountain, walk a few more blocks down Hannassi Street and you can pay a visit to the Tikotin Museum of Japanese art. This museum, while small, is unique in Israel as the only place you can go to see artistic expression from the Japanese people.
When you go, be sure to ask for a multi-museum ticket. As of April 2010, a standard ticket costs 30 shekels (about $8.00) while a combined ticket is 45 shekels (around $12). However, by buying the combined ticket you gain access to four museums all around Haifa for one price. The museums included in your price are:
•The Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art
•The Haifa Museum of Art
•The National Maritime Museum
•The Haifa City Museum
The Haifa Museum of Art is also available off the Carmelit, while the Haifa City Museum and the National Maritime Museum are accessible by using public buses in the city.
Those visiting with children should definitely check out the National Museum of Science. While the entrance fee is somewhat pricey at 60 shekels per person (around $17), the entire museum is devoted to telling the story of science to children with hundreds of "please touch" exhibits for them to see. Those with families can get a family admission for up to five people at a cost of 190 shekels (around $50).
There are also some Christian sites in Haifa, such as the Cave of Elijah, holy to both Jews and Christians, where the prophet Elijah is said to have ascended to heaven and the Stella Maris, named for Mary by a small sect known as the Carmelites.
Over-all, this is a city well worth spending a few days in and where you can really enjoy a more relaxed side of Israel.
Haifa Museum of Art
26 Shabbetai Levi Street, Haifa
Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art
89 Hanassi Ave., Haifa
National Maritime Museum
198 Allenby Rd, Haifa
Haifa City Museum
11 Ben Gurion Ave., Haifa
National Science Museum
25 Shmariyahu Levine St. / 12 Balfour St