Haifa & The North Coast
Israel’s north coast is a tranquil stretch of the Mediterranean punctuated with old farms, quaint seaside towns and historic sites. The principal settlement is Haifa, a mixed Jewish-Arab city that often surprises visitors with its openness and tolerance. Sprawling across Mt Carmel, Haifa has stunning views, a wealth of museums and the magnificent Baha’i Gardens.
Lower Galilee & Sea of Galilee
Blessed with rugged hills cloaked in wildflowers in spring, ancient stone synagogues and archaeological sites from the early centuries of Christianity, the Lower Galilee – the part of northern Israel south of Rte 85 (linking Akko with the Sea of Galilee) – is hugely popular with hikers, cyclists, Jewish- and Arab-Israeli families on holiday, Tel Aviv epicureans and, of course.
Haifa is one of the Middle East's most picturesque cities. The views from the top of majestic Mt Carmel (546m) are breathtaking, especially from the Baha'i Gardens, but almost everywhere you look in the city there are interesting, if not always beautiful, urban landscapes, many from the late Ottoman and Mandate (Bauhaus) periods.
Tiberias is one of the four holy cities of Judaism, the burial place of venerated sages, and a very popular base for Christians visiting holy sites around the Sea of Galilee. It's also one of the most aesthetically challenged resort towns in Israel, its sunbaked lakeside strip marred by 1970s architectural monstrosities.
Nazareth has come a long way since its days as a quiet Jewish village in Roman-ruled Galilee, so if you’re expecting bucolic rusticity be prepared for a surprise. These days, Israel’s largest Arab city is a bustling mini-metropolis with shop-lined thoroughfares, blaring car horns, traffic jams and young men with a penchant for showing off at the wheel.
Marco Polo passed through Akko (Acre; Akka in Arabic) around 750 years ago and, quite frankly, much of the place hasn’t changed a lot since then. Today, old Akko – on a peninsula that pokes out into the Mediterranean – seduces visitors with towering ramparts, deep moats, green domes, slender minarets, church towers, secret passageways and subterranean vaults.
The mountaintop city of Tsfat is an ethereal place to get lost for a day or two. A centre of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) since the 16th century, it’s home to an otherworldly mixture of Hasidic Jews, artists and devout-but-mellow former hippies, a surprising number of them American immigrants.
You'll feel like an extra in a sci-fi movie when exploring the massive Makhtesh Ramon Nature Reserve. The landscape resembles Tatooine (the fictional desert planet in Star Wars) and the wide, open spaces, far from city lights and crowds, are equally suited to those seeking solitude or an activity-triggered adrenaline rush.
The Golan Heights
Offering commanding views of the Sea of Galilee and the Hula Valley, the volcanic Golan plateau is dry and tan in the summer, and lush, green and carpeted with wildflowers in the spring. Its fields of basalt boulders – and, on its western edge, deep canyons – are mixed with cattle ranches, orchards, vineyards and small, middle-class communities.