Asia : Middle East : Israel : Israeli North Coast : Haifa
Haifa  (Hebrew חֵיפָה Ḥefa; Arabic حَيْفَا Ḥayfā) is the third largest city in Israel and the major city in the north of the country with a population close to 300,000. It is a seaport located on Israel's Mediterranean shoreline, below scenic Mount Carmel.
Haifa is first mentioned historically around the 3rd century CE as a small town near Shikmona, the main Jewish town in the area at that time and a center for making the traditional Tekhelet dye used for Jewish Priests' temple cloth. The archaeological site of Shikmona lies southwest of the modern Bat Galim neighborhood. The Byzantine ruled there until the 7th century, when the city was conquered — first by the Persians, then by the Arabs. In 1100, it was conquered again by the Crusaders after a fierce battle with its Jewish and Muslim inhabitants. Under Crusader rule, the city was a part of the Principality of Galilee until the Muslim Mameluks captured it in 1265.
In 1761 Daher El-Omar, Bedouin ruler of Acre and Galilee, destroyed and rebuilt the town in a new location, surrounding it with a thin wall. This event is marked as the beginning of the town's modern era. After El-Omar's death in 1775, the town was under Ottoman rule until 1918, except for two brief periods. In the years following, Haifa grew in terms of traffic, population and importance, as Akko suffered a decline. The development of Haifa increased further with the arrival of members of the German Protestant Temple Society in 1868, who settled a modern neighbourhood near the city, now known as the "German Colony". The Templers greatly contributed to the town's commerce and industry, playing an important role in its modernization.
By the beginning of the 20th Century, Haifa had emerged as an industrial port city and growing population center, reflected by the establishment of facilities like the Hejaz railway and Technion. At that time Haifa District was home to approximately 20,000 inhabitants, comprised of 82% Muslim Arab, 14% Christian Arabs, and 4% Jewish residents. The Jewish population increased steadily with immigration primarily from Europe, and by 1945 the population had shifted to 38% Muslim, 13% Christian and 47% Jewish.
Today, Haifa is home to Jews, Muslim and Christian Arabs, as well as small communities of Ahmadis (in Kababir), Druze (in nearby Isfiya and Daliyat al-Karmel), Bahá'ís, and others. Haifa is characterised as a mosaic of peaceful coexistence between the communities.
The phrase "Haifa works, Jerusalem prays, and Tel Aviv plays" refers to Haifa's reputation as a city of workers. A generation ago Haifa's image was that of a serious-- and somewhat dull-- labor city because of its many factories. It still has an industrial area to its north, where one of Israel's two oil refineries is located. But it also has a world-class high-tech strip in its south, in the "Matam" technology park along the beach. The park includes blue-chip tech firms such as Intel, Philips, Microsoft, and Google as well as some of Israel's largest tech firms, Elbit, Zoran, and Amdocs. IBM has an R&D center on the top of Mount Carmel at Haifa University and HP has a lab at the Technion, Israel's leading technological university.
Haifa has its own airport, Haifa Airport which serves flights to Tel Aviv and Eilat, although the closest and only international airport is Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, where flights arrive from all over the world. From Ben Gurion, you could connect on a flight to Haifa, although, chances are you'll have to transfer between terminals, or even airports, to Sde Dov Airport. The better option is to travel straight on to Haifa. It's less than two hours to drive, and buses, trains, taxis, and shuttles, operate on this route. The best way to get there from the airport is to take the train leaving from the airport terminal.
Haifa is well connected to Tel Aviv, Akko (Acre), Beer Sheva, Nahariyah and the Ben Gurion International Airport by a train line. The trip takes a little over an hour and during peak hours there are as many as 3-4 services hourly. There are 4 train stations in Haifa 3 of which are open 24 hours excluding Sabbath (Friday night & Saturday daytime):
From the south, route 2 is the coastal highway which links Haifa with Tel Aviv. This journey takes up to one and a half hours. Other more minor roads link Haifa to the East and North, although chances are, if you're up there, you've come close to or past Haifa to get there in the first place.
By bus or taxi
Alternatively, you can take Egged buses from Tel Aviv (910), Jerusalem (940,947), Afula (301) or almost any city in the region to Haifa. During the Sabbath, you'll have to resort to a shared taxi (sherut), most of which leave from near Tel Aviv's central bus station.
Haifa is gradually becoming a popular destination for many major international cruise lines and is the home to local Budget cruise line Mano  serving Southern Europe and other Mediterranean destinations. Periodically, there are also ferry boats from Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey.
Unlike other major cities in Israel, local buses (but not the Carmelit subway) run on Friday nights (between 10.30PM and 5AM) Saturdays and other Jewish holy days; however, they only operate minimal and highly infrequent services during these hours. The "sherut" (taxi van with fixed routes and prices) also runs on Saturdays in parallel with some bus routes, and is much more frequent.
Haifa has two main bus terminals where passengers can switch between inter-city buses and trains to the local routes operated by Egged bus company .
The two stations are:
Bus in Haifa run regularly between 5AM and midnight Sunday to Thursday (stops at around 4PM on Friday) and cost 6.60 NIS per journey. Connecting bus fare is included if used within an hour and twenty minutes (ask for "kartis ma'avar").
A night bus route runs from midnight-5AM and on Fridays and Saturdays from 10.30PM-5AM. During the peak period (summertime) this route runs every night, but in the off-peak season it only runs on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.
If you intend to use the bus regularly ask the driver for a "Cartisiyah" punch ticket (51.20 nis) which gives you 10 journeys for the price of 8. There are also monthly passes available if purchased during the first few days of the month, but there are no week or day passes.
Haifa has a subway: the Carmelit funicular. It is the only subway in Israel. It is useful for getting up or down the mountain from downtown, but it only extends to a small part of Haifa. If you need to go further, you can buy a ticket which includes a transfer to a bus for the remainder of your journey, though it's probably more convenient to just take a bus the whole way. However, the Carmelit is worth taking for fun, to see its weird angled structure (steps in the stations and train cars, made necessary by the steepness of the mountain). The Carmelit has few riders, so you'll always find a seat.
The Carmelit has six stations listed here as they go downhill:
Haifa is largely a modern city.
Museums and Galleries
The beach. The best beaches are right next to the Hof Hacarmel bus and train stations. Just get off the train/ bus and walk straight onto the beach. Haifa has many kilometers of beautiful beach on its southwest side. Part of the beach has a boardwalk with cafes and restaurants that are always bustling -- day or evening. The beach has its own unwritten segments. Families with kids come to the area along the boardwalk. Younger singles hang in the strip just south of there (with no boardwalk, stores). The locals call it "Students' Beach."
Haifa's mountainous location makes it quite unfriendly for the pedestrian, therefore shopping avenues are not as common, though there are a few, such as the Hadar area and the Carmel Centre. In the old downtown/ city center, where it is flat, there are inexpensive shops. Of course, Haifa also has shopping malls. These include the Kiryon, Horev Center, Kastra Center, City Centre Mall (Lev HaIr), Kanyon Haifa and Cinemall. In addition, the 'Grand Canyon' is the newest and biggest mall. It has international brand names such as Armani, Lacoste, Benetton and Zara as well as local brands and a large food court. "Kanyon" is Hebrew for mall, and the "Grand Canyon" is in a deep valley in central Haifa, hence the pun in its name.
Haifa is not a gourmet center like greater Tel Aviv, but it still has plenty to offer.
There is a huge concentration of falafel and shawarma stands downtown on Yafo Street, near the old Bat Galim Central Bus Terminal building (about 400m from it). The food is cheap and authentic (about 10-15 Nis for a falafel, and around 20-22 for a shawarma in a pita).
Another cheap street food is the Bureka--a Turkish phyllo dough, filled pastry--which is almost as common as falafel. Price is also cheap, and it usually comes filled with cheese, potatoes, spinach and feta, or meat.
Further up the food chain are the Middle Eastern/Arabic restaurants. Most are located downtown: Abu-Yousef (there are two with no relation ), Hummus Faraj, Hummus Abu-Shaker (on HaMeginim St.), Abu Maroun (in the flea market), Matza (a good place 10 minutes walking distance from the shopping mall "Grand Canyon"). They are all famous for their high quality hummus (which is regarded as the "best of the best" in Israel). Expect to pay 50-80NIS per person for a complete meal.
There are several Romanian-style restaurants; in actuality this is a hybrid of Middle Eastern and Romanian cuisine. Most are located downtown: Ma'ayan HaBira (beer fountain), Cafe (coffee) Glida (icecream) Younek. Expect to pay 50-100NIS per person for a meal.
Jacko - one of the best fish restaurants (on Moriah Street and downtown near Natanson Street). It was a working-class restaurant until it became famous, and increased its prices a bit (80-120NIS per person).
Isabella is a restaurant at the entrance of the German Colony. Isabella provides great seafood that caters to a western palate at a mid-range price. Their house wine is pretty good and overall the service is good.
Restaurant and cafe clusters
Moriah Avenue, starting from Horev center (shopping center) all the way to the Carmel center along Moriah Avenue. Some good places alongside this 3km stretch include:
You can find good food in the local bars around Moriah Avenue, for example: the Duke, Brown, Barbarosa. Good traditional restaurant is Ma'ayan Habira, where home style dishes are served.
Ben-Gurion Avenue, right below the Bahai Gardens. (at a straight line below it, thus completing an imaginary line from the Gardens into the sea. The street is downtown near the port). This cluster holds some good restaurants,including:
Stella Maris, at the San Francisco Observatory. Several restaurants with spectacular views:
HaNamal, the Port.
Dado Beach. Last but not least is the beach strip cluster which has several restaurants. The food is OK, but the real reason to go there is to relax while enjoying views of the beach (only 15 meters away), or for people-watching.
All these clusters of restaurants are very vibrant with youth at about 9PM further into the small hours of the night, almost at any day of the week, but on Fridays, it may get too crowded on the most popular places. Unfortunately the medium priced places usually take the 'all the people you can squeeze in' approach, thus you might get a noisy crowded place, and service may not be as good.
Tipping is customary. The normal rate is 10% at all places that you sit down and are served. Don't tip at falafel, shawarma, and bureka stands. If you feel the service was poor, tip less, if it was outstanding tip a little more.
Central Mount Carmel offers a decent selection of mid-class cafes and bars. Popular cafes are Greg and Tut (Strawberry), which are right next to each other in Kikar Sefer, and closer to the Horev Center, 'Frangelico' and 'Barbarossa' are considered to be the most popular bars in the city's chic Carmel area. They are often very crowded, but if one can't get in, there are many other bars in close walking distance, such as Brown, Levinsky, Maidler, and Duke. The beautiful street of Yefe Nof also boasts a cluster of pubs including a popular Irish-style pub. Downtown there are some more pubs, including the legendary old-fashioned 'Maayan HaBira', which is more popular among adult crowd; the "Martef" (Basement), where you might also catch an open-mic night; and up the street from HaMartef is Jack and the Beanstalk, a more intimate pub with a great selection of appetizers. Another downtown happening place is the Syncopa bar.
Haifa is the gateway to Israel's north. Take a few hours in Akko, just north and on the other side of Haifa Bay. Explore the Galilee: Nazareth is just 40 minutes away. Druze Villages: 30min by service taxi (monit sherut) or longer by bus, line number 37א, to the closer village of Isifya or the more distant village of Daliyat el-Carmel. The tourist-oriented bazaar has inexpensive shops and you can top off the visit in one of the excellent Mid-Eastern restaurants.