The Old City of Akko (Acre) on Israel’s northern Mediterranean coastline is an enchanting mix of cobbled streets that have seen Byzantine, Crusader, Islamic and Ottoman rulers come and go; a vibrant Arab shuk; stunning boutique hotels; renowned hummus joints and even better fish restaurants. Just 90 minutes by train from Tel Aviv, Akko’s Old City is a gem that is not to be missed.
Get lost in the Old City’s main market
Surrounded by the fascinating ancient architecture of the Old City, the main market can be an assault on the senses with its colourful spices and produce, freshly caught fish, scrumptious Arab pastries and the lingering smell of hookah. No plan or route is necessary; simply amble through, explore its charming alleyways and see where your senses take you! Stop off along the way for some freshly squeezed pomegranate juice followed by a bowl of hummus at the legendary Humus Said.
Humus Said, Old City Market, Akko, Israel, +972 4 991 3945
Treat your taste buds in the Turkish Bazaar
Built in the later stages of the 1700s, the Turkish Bazaar was restored in 2011 and is now a charming attraction in the Old City. Here you will find small galleries and shops selling artsy, hand-made souvenirs, coffee shops and great food. According to its website, the bazaar is one of the oldest covered art and dining markets in the world, with over 400,000 visitors a year. Make sure you stop off at Mercato, an intimate and highly rated spot serving up delicious Italian dishes with a touch of Middle Eastern flavour.
Walk along the city’s walls
These remarkably well-preserved walls surround the Old City and are one of its defining features, reflecting the city’s long and tumultuous history. First built by the Cairo-based Fatimid Islamic Caliphate in 950, the walls have been destroyed and rebuilt on several occasions, most recently by the Ottomans in the early nineteenth century. Amble along the ramparts and take in the stunning views of the Akko skyline and the Mediterranean.
The Templars’ Tunnel
What was once a strategic underground passageway connecting the Templar palace to the port, this extraordinary 350-metre long tunnel was built by the Templars, who established themselves in Akko in 1187. Discovered unintentionally in 1994, this is one of the city’s key attractions and should not be missed.
The Templars’ Tunnel, Ha-Hagana St, Akko, Israel, +972 4 981 3651
Built by the Ottomans in 1781, this is the largest mosque in Israel outside Jerusalem (and one of the most beautiful), dominating the city’s skyline with its green dome. Dress modestly – shoulders to knees should be covered while women must cover their hair with a shawl, and note that the mosque closes five times a day for prayers.
Ghattas Turkish Bath
Located in an original Ottoman building, this beautiful and luxurious spa sits in the heart of ancient Akko. For owner Emil Ghattas, born and bred in Akko, it took six years of hard work to transform this spot into an authentic bathhouse. With two floors that include a steam room, a traditional seating area, a massage table, a dry sauna and a jacuzzi, you are sure to leave Ghattas feeling rejuvenated and pampered.
Dine at Uri Buri
Uri Buri is widely considered one of the finest fish restaurants in Israel. Located a stone’s throw from the sea inside an unpretentious Ottoman-era building, it serves fresh fish and creative seafood dishes along with over 100 different kinds of fine Israeli wines. Owned by Uri Jeremias, a cult figure in Israel’s culinary scene, this restaurant is a must for fish lovers.
Uri Buri, Ha-Hagana Street, Akko, 24315, Israel, +972 4 955 2212
Last but by no means least, the Knights Halls, also known as the Citadel of Akko, is a hugely impressive complex that dates back to the Hellenist Period, some 2,300 years ago. Featuring a crypt, multiple halls, a courtyard and a dining room, what visitors see today is largely the remains of Crusader rule. Characterised by its stone walls and towering arches, the citadel has been used for a variety of purposes throughout its history, including as a prison for Jewish resistance fighters during the British mandate period.