Haifa is a multi-faceted city with several unique characteristics making it an attractive place to visit. Its proximity to the sea and its active port contribute to its importance. The bustling port area draws merchants, shoppers and tourists. The beautiful beaches are popular for sports and recreation, and are filled with people during summer weekends. In addition, because of their excellent surfing conditions, the beaches serve many of local’s top sailing enthusiasts and host sailing competitions and other sporting events.
With residents from the three largest monotheistic religions as well as from various minority faiths, Haifa is also a symbol of exceptional co-existence and tolerance. Nine present of the population consists of Arabs (Moslems and Christians) who reside mostly in three neighbourhoods: Khalisa, Abas and the famous Wadi Nisnas whose charming alleyways have turned it into a tourist spot. The annual Holiday of Holidays marking the city’s special lifestyle is held there.
The Christian presence in Haifa, with its many churches, also contributes to the city’s image. A Maronite church is located next to Kikar Paris (Paris Square); adjacent to that is the Carmelite church dedicated to the Prophet Elijah; and not far from there is Saint Mary’s Greek Orthodox Parish Church. The Sacre Coeur Catholic School on Allenby Street has a well-tended garden and building, in front of which are impressive statues of Saint Mary. Atop the Carmel, holy to Christians, is the Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery. In the monastery’s Baroque-style church is a cave considered by Christian tradition to be the grave of the Prophet Elijah, and in the monastery is a small museum dedicated to his life. On site is also a hostel which serves the many pilgrims who visit the city. This does not complete the city’s religious mosaic. Israel’s only Ahmadi Muslim community is based in Haifa’s Kababir neighbourhood. The Ahmadiyya is an Indian sect of Islam, founded in the late nineteenth century, which promotes peace among nations and opposes religious compulsion. Their large mosque houses a prayer hall and a first-floor exhibit of their history and significant contributions.
Haifa’s reputation for tolerance extends to the Bahai faith whose World Centre is located in the city. The Bahais originated in the Bab sect which separated from Iran’s Shi’ite Islam in 1844. The Bahai World Centre, an expansive and well-designed complex on the slope of the Carmel, is famous for its magnificent gardens. It includes the exquisitely landscaped “Hanging Gardens” which run about a kilometre along the Louis Promenade until Ha-Gefen Street. At the centre is the impressive, gold-domed Shrine of the Bab, the burial place of the Bab, the founder of the faith. One can enjoy some enchanting spots while strolling through the beautiful gardens by day, but with the special lighting, an evening visit provides equal pleasure and a peaceful, romantic atmosphere.
At the foot of the Bahai Gardens lies the picturesque German Colony, founded in the nineteenth century by German Templars who came to establish a Christian community in the Holy Land. The pretty stone houses lend charm and romance to the neighbourhood and reflect its special qualities. Some of the houses have been preserved, and some still have the names of the original residents etched onto them. The German Colony attracts many visitors, and it is worth wandering through it to enjoy its splendour and get a sense of its colourful past.
Those interested in experiencing the city by foot will enjoy one of the “Step Tours”, four marked walking routes which begin on Yefe Nof (Panorama) Street and proceed down to the beach area.