We first experienced Haifa’s “Festival of Festivals” last year at the tail end of Covid 19 opening up. The idea of the city of coexistence celebrating the coming together of the three monotheistic religions in a light extravaganza was most attractive. Actually on the municipal Facebook page it is billed as “the values of coexistence, living together in peace and harmony, and mutual respect of all six religions in the city, joining the residents’ lives and fate together.” This may actually be a bit bombastic but it’s the thought that counts. In any case, we like Haifa, mainly because it is not Jerusalem or Tel Aviv but its own unique self. Let’s see.. what do I mean by that? Well, Jerusalem is of course chock full of history and religious import, and this is what makes it rather heavy and sometimes stressful, and not always the most relaxing of places to visit. Tel Aviv has the advantage of being younger and more zany and with the added attraction of the beach. But Tel Aviv, as the “city that never sleeps” can be exhausting and a bit frenetic. I feel that Haifa has its own special vibe. Not only is it multicultural and more secular, but it also has the sea, and a very special topography which means that the three separate bits of the town stretch up the Carmel Mountain, giving you incredible views at every twist and turn. You are continually climbing up and down. And that is really unique. Haifa is comprised of the wooded Carmel mountain, topped by the Technion University area, midtown Hadar, and the downtown area where the port is located. Just above downtown is the wonderful German Colony area reminiscent of the Jerusalem German Colony, both dating from the Templar period featuring picturesque balconied historic stone houses with lovely gardens. Stretching down from the Carmel to the German Colony are the wondrous Bahai Shrine of the Bab and Gardens, the iconic view of Haifa.
We started our trip by parking just off Ben Gurion st, the main drag of the German Colony, where all the restaurants are located and the illuminations would be. We decided we would spend the day walking around town and finish up with dinner in the Colony and then have a look at the illuminations. This proved to be a very smart move as I will explain later. So having parked we set off to have a look at the immaculate Bahai Shrine gardens. You can walk around the gardens for free. There is a lower entrance from the German Colony and an upper one from the Carmel. However you cannot enter from one and exit from the other without taking a guided tour. We met a lovely young Chinese couple who asked us to take their photo- she is studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and he at Leeds University in England. As you can see the Shrine is stunning and the gardens are lovingly tended.
From the Shrine we began walking up in the direction of the Carmel. On the way, walking through the Wadi Nisnas area, we found the wonderful Artists’ House ( on map appears as Bet Omanim Shagall no idea what that means ) – free entry and wonder of wonders, a clean toilet. There was an exhibition of two local artists, one Jewish and one Arab.
We continued on, feeling suddenly disorientated we asked a woman how to get to the Carmel. We thought we would head to a garden called “Gan HaEm” (the Mother’s garden) . She thought we meant kindergarten, but anyway we had to continue upwards, meaning hundreds and hundreds of stairs ( I kid you not) We bravely battled on upwards, each street on the map being labelled “street” but turning out to be another stairway. One of these stairways housed a street gallery of wonderful murals.
Finally we reached Yafe Nof ( meaning “beautiful view” ) street and a little further along we reached the Centre of the Carmel and the gardens where we ate our sandwiches. From here the only way is down, so we walked back down, this time using the road and not the little stairs, as our knees were not feeling their best. The gentle downward slope of the boulevard was pleasant and afforded the occasional view of the port.
We then continued back on down to the German Colony which was beginning to get dark. We returned to the same restaurant which we had enjoyed last year, Garden, where we had a splendid spinach and ricotta tortellini. When we came back out at 6pm the street was heaving with people, some wearing Christmas flashing lights or hats, and all the illuminations had been turned out. It was quite impressive. There was a small Xmas market selling candy floss, fast food and other Xmas tat. It was all quite fun but very very crowded and hard to walk down the street. The atmosphere was great, lots of families of all denominations.
All in all, I highly recommend checking out the Festival of Festivals if you are passing through this area. I have heard that Nazareth is also good but last time we tried to get there the entrance to the town was choked with traffic and we could not even get in there, so we gave up. Of course Israel is not Northern Europe when it comes to the season’s celebrations, but in a way ,the modest show here is rather touching.
Stay tuned for more adventures…