Northern Israel is a blend of spectacular landscapes, ancient history, ethnic diversity, thriving cities and enchanting towns. While Tel Aviv and Jerusalem may steal most of the attention, Israel’s northern regions deserve to be explored – here are five of the best places to get you started!
Israel’s third largest city and the so-called ‘capital of the north’, Haifa is a mountainous port city with a beautiful stretch of Mediterranean coastline. Traditionally seen as a working class and relatively unappealing place for tourists to visit, Haifa has undergone somewhat of an image transformation in recent years. With a large student population, lively nightlife and thriving culinary and cultural scene, Haifa is now well and truly on the map in terms of tourism in Israel. Add to that its beach and attractions, such as the pristine Bahai Gardens, and you’ll understand its surge in popularity. Often referred to as a city of coexistence, it is home to a thoroughly diverse population that includes a sizeable Arab community, who live and work side by side with the Jewish community. Notable events include its annual International Film Festival, the A-Sham Arab Food Festival and the Holiday of Holidays, a festival that takes place every December that celebrates Hanukkah, Christmas and Ramadan – a reflection of the religious diversity and tolerance of the city. For one of the best-rated shawarmas in Israel, head to Shawarma Hazan in the Lower City for a juicy, meat-heavy pita that will leave you nodding your head in delight.
Akko (Acre) is one of the jewels of Israel’s north. Situated on the Mediterranean coastline just 90 minutes by train from Tel Aviv, it is home to an ancient and enchanting Old City that attracts locals and tourists alike throughout the year. Synonymous with its extraordinarily well-preserved Crusader walls, which were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, the Old City features a vibrant Arab shuk, charming cobbled streets and fascinating historical sites that reflect its long and tumultuous past. It is also a foodie paradise, with an array of fabulous restaurants, from hummus joints (Hummus Said is a must) to gourmet seafood (such as Uri Buri).
This biblical city is rich in history – and delicious food. Known as Jesus’ childhood home, Nazareth is Israel’s largest Arab city and is a significant one for Christians. It has numerous churches, the most famous of which is the Basilica of the Annunciation, a two-storey building built over Byzantine and Crusader remains that, upon its completion in 1969, became the largest Christian church in the Middle East. This church is believed to stand over the spot where Mary’s house once stood. Those who don’t believe in God may well connect to a higher power after tasting Nazareth’s culinary delights. Labelled by Israeli newspaper Ha’aretzas the capital of Israeli street food, Nazareth offers scrumptious Middle Eastern delicacies, such as baklavaand knaffe,arayes(a meat-filled sandwich with Lebanese roots) and some of the best hummus in Israel (Imad Hummus is a must). Nazareth is also a special place to experience Christmas in Israel.
The Golan Heights is a large mountainous region (relatively speaking) that Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and has kept ever since. It is characterized by its spectacular views and natural landscapes, superb hiking trails and outdoor adventures, and its plethora of wineries. Not to be missed is Mount Hermon, home to Israel’s only ski resort; the awesome Nimrod Fortress, Israel’s largest Crusader fortress nestled in the Golan’s lush mountains; Hamat Gader, the therapeutic natural hot springs that have been used for over two millennia; Banias Waterfall, Israel’s largest waterfall; and the Golan Heights Winery, the most established winery in the region.
It is easy to fall in love with this picturesque town nestled in the Carmel Mountain range. Founded in 1882 by Romanian Zionist pioneers, and developed thereafter by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, today, Zichron Ya’akov is known for its quaint streets, wineries, boutique hotels and stunning views over the Mediterranean. There is more to it than this, however, Zichron Ya’akov is also a town with an intriguing history. The First Aliyah Museum is a must for those interested in the story of the Romanian pioneers, as is the Aaronsohn House, which tells the fascinating and tragic story of the Jewish spy ring, NILI, which provided intelligence to the British during World War I.