Tuesday, 20 November 2018

A visitor's guide to the city of Acre/Akko.  One of Israel's gems.

Acre (Akko - עכו) is a port city in northwest Israel on the Mediterranean coast.

The Old City of Acre (Akko) in Israel is a quaint place, a true sea city, well known for its well-preserved old city walls. Acre is one of the most ancient cities in the world with archeological findings dating back to the early bronze age (~3,000 BCE) and is also a UNESCO world heritage site. Seasoned fisherman sit on the ramparts of the walls of the Old City gazing at the views and listening to the sound of the waves endlessly pounding on the rocks.  In the market you will find culinary treasures, fabulous flavors,  aromas and colors.  

Sight seeing, boutique hotels, fine fish and sea-food restaurants, cultural festivals in ancient Acre and close proximity to the Galilee has made it a popular destination for both Israelis and tourists in recent years.  There is good reason to visit Acre - there are awesome things to do.

Religious life in Akko

Acre is  a mixed city that includes Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and Baha'is. It is holy to members of the Bahá'í Faith and many Baha'i pilgrims visit  the Mansion of Bahjí  whre Bahá'u'lláh's spent the final years of his life. 

The mosaic-covered Or Torah (Tunisian) Synagogue is breathtakingly beautiful with 7 torah arks, stained glass and murals.

The 18th-century Al-Jazzar Mosque has marble pillars and underground pools. 

Favorite things to do in Akko

acre akko israel spice market

Spices in the Akko market (Image credit: Unsplash)

1. The Shuk

The Shuk or market in the Old City of Akko is a charming place.  A relatively small market, it offers a wonderful selection of authentic Middle Eastern goods, fresh fish, spices and traditional pastries and desserts. As you explore the stalls, be on the lookout for hummus joints tucked away in the alleyways and bakeries selling knaffeh - a sweet cheese pastry flavored with rose water and pistachio nuts.

2. Best restaurants and dining out in Akko

You can enjoy delicious hummus dishes at various restaurants throughout Acre's old bazaar. Expect a long queue and waiting time at Hummus Said (one of the best hummus places in Israel) and remember closing time at Said's is 2:30pm (yup!). Akko is known for its excellent fish restaurants and some of the city's best fish restaurants are located in the port area. Try Donné and Abu Cristo restaurants - great locations overlooking the sea.

3. Annual events and festivals

Affectionately known as the Acre Festival, the "Festival of Alternative Theater" has been held in Old Acre, since 1979, during the intermediate days of the Jewish festival of Sukkot.  The festival is Israel's biggest theater festival and is known worldwide and hosts theater companies from the world over.  
In addition to plays, other colorful festival events including street performances, bazaars and all sorts of festival activities for all ages, take place.

4. The Tunisian Synagogue

A trip to Acre is not complete without a visit to the Tunisian Shul (Synagogue). A 4 story building is covered with mosaics from floor to ceiling. Scenes of ancient Israel, the Twelve Tribes, Jewish symbols and more decorate every surface; walls, floors, ceilings, stairwells and handrails.  Panel after panel of mosaics!  The doors to the main Ark (on the second floor), are made of silver and engraved with text and blessings

5. The Marina

From ancient and medieval times the Akko harbor was a bustling and strategically located port.  Today it is lined with fishing boats and yachts and for a small sum you can enjoy a boat ride and a tour.

6. The Museum of Underground Prisoners

The Museum of Underground Prisoners traces the history of the Jewish resistance fighters who were imprisoned or executed here. The museum features an interactive display with original and reconstructed exhibits, a tour of the prison cells and an account of the prison’s history. Some of the prisoners held here were Zeev Jabotinksy and Moshe Dayan. On May 4, 1947, forces broke into the prison in a daring action coordinated with some of the prisoners and forty-one prisoners were freed.

7. The Templar's Tunnel

The Templar's Tunnel extends from the Templars fortress in the west to the city's port in the east. In the past, it served as a strategic, secret underground escape route that connected the palace to the port. The tunnel was discovered in 1994.

How to get to and around Akko

Akko is about 25km north of Haifa. It's a comfortable 30 minute car journey on the highway Route 22.   Akko is accessible by train from all over Israel and also by bus from the Lev Hamifratz central bus station.  You can also pick up a sherut - a shared taxi for about $5.  Akko is small and flat and walking is easy.

Akko travel tips

The streets in the Old City of Akko are made up of cobbled stone.  Wear comfortable thick sole shoes that give you adequate support.

Expect rain in December and January.  If you didn't pack an umbrella, you can easily pick one up in the shuk for about 10 shekels.

If you are planning to visit any of the religious sites, the mosques, churches or synagogues or Bahai holy sites, remember to dress respectfully and modestly. No mini-skirts, short pants or sleeveless shirts.

If you are traveling in the summer months, remember to drink plenty of water.  Tap water in Israel is safe to drink.

Did you know?

Some scenes from the movie Exodus, starring Paul Newman, were filmed in Akko