The Haifa festival of festivals or holiday of holidays - an annual celebration
Hebrew: חג החגים
What's on in Haifa? Sometimes referred to as the Festival of Festivals and sometimes the Holiday of Holidays Festival (HEB - חג החגים), this annual event takes place in Haifa in December. Although it's much needed, we all pray the rain will stay away and the winter weather be pleasant enough for this unique outdoor event not to be interrupted in any way.
Two weeks of festivities, cultural activities, markets and fun and events celebrate the three monotheistic religions that live in mutual harmony, cooperation, tolerance and respect in Haifa. Jews around the world are celebrating Hannukah, Christians are celebrating Christmas and Moslems are celebrating their holy days. In Haifa, everyone puts their religious and cultural differences aside, and we get together to enjoy this fun-filled event.
The Festival of Festival was initiated in 1914 by the first Mayor of Haifa - Hassan Shukri. Since then it has grown in size and popularity. This festival hi-lights the unique flavour of Haifa and its residents. Mayor of Haifa - Yona Yahav - aptly describes the Festival as one "without boundaries of culture and religion. Show up and rejoice".
The Festival of Festivals is held in the Wadi NisNas neighborhood of Haifa nestled between the Hadar neighborhood and downtown. Rechov Khoury, the lower half of Sderot Hazionut, Rechov Shabbtai Levi and Rechov HaWadi are the main venues.
- The Rappaport Center at the Haifa Auditorium
- The Tikotin Japanese Museum
- The Studio Theater at Bet Hecht
- The St. Johns Church.
- Haifa Art Museum
- Haifa City Museum
Guide to getting there
By foot, by car, by bus or by taxi:
Walk through Haifa's many alleys and stairways that run from Mount Carmel down to Wadi NisNas. Starting from Yefe Nof Street in the Central Carmel the Gadera stairs, near the Dan Panorama Hotel,descend the stairs and walk down the mountain to the Wadi and beyond. It's about a half hour walk to the Festival of Festivals from the Central Carmel. There are hundreds of stairs - do'nt do this if you have knee problems but it's a wonderful way for you to take in the views, see the suburbs and feel the Haifa vibe. Follow the stairs from Yefe Nof, Rechov Henrietta Szold, HaHashmonaim, Golomb, Hess, Arlozorov, Hillel, Massada, Herzliya and Shabbtai Levi Streets.
Parking is available on Shabbtai Levi, Y.L. Peretz, Ashkelon and Al Isfahani Streets. Parking is in serious demand during the festival. You might have luck and find a spot in one of the side streets but remember, the streets are narrow and it's a residential area so make sure you are not blocking the entrance of a home or thoroughfare.
All buses going to the old Egged bus station or Rambam hospital from the Carmel Center go near the Wadi. Buses that stop in the Hadar neighborhood, on Hehalutz or Haneviim are close by - it's a 5 minute walk from there. Haifa runs a limited bus service on Saturdays so check on the Egged website or apps like Efobus and Moovit.
What you can expect to see at the festival
On the Emile Toma stage on HaWadi Street you might see Dabka and Sufi twirling dances. HaWadi Street is the the focus of activities. Market and food stalls flank the road. Live performances on the Main and Family stage feature local and visiting international artists. Walk through the streets and alleys of Wadi NisNas to discover an outdoor art museum where paintings and sculptures adorn the buildings and sidewalks and are permanently exhibited.
Bet Hageffen - the Jewish Arab Center hosts numerous performances and exhibitions (see program of events).
Wadi NisNas is the place to eat felafel in Haifa. If you have the patience to stand in a long queue, Felafel Hazkaynim, Felafel Michel and Felafel George have a reputation for the best felafel in Haifa. These 'felafelerias" have been battling for the crown for years They have been featured on Travel-Israel television and culinary programs with Yishai Golan, Yisrael Aharoni and Hila Alpert. Felafel Orion on Hertzliya street serves a great felafel too. If you're into hummus, Abu Shakker, Hummus Abu Marwan are just a few of the very best local 'hummuserias'.
In the Wadi restaurants offering a variety of Middle Eastern cuisine are abundant. Food stalls along Rechov HaWadi sell home made pita, labane, koubbeh, kebabs, zaatar, mejadra and tabbouleh. Sample the delicious home made nougats, peanut brittle, halva and knafeh. For the kids, sticky toffee apples are a must. Hot legumes, corn on the cob and roasted chestnuts are also on sale. A glass of freshly squeezed pomegranate, orange or carrot juice will quench your thirst for about 5 shekels. You might be welcomed by some of the locals who could offer you a free cup of Turkish coffee, a baked delight or even invite you into their homes.
Lots of handmade jewelry, items of clothing, cheap toys and other typical flea-market goods are on sale. The fruit and vegetable market in the Wadi is open on the weekends. Fruit, vegetables and interesting greens traditionally used in Arab cuisine are on sale.
The bakery on the corner of HaWadi and Khoury (not sure of the name or if it even has one) is the best place to buy pita and other freshly baked breads. The shop is so tiny that people queue on the sidewalk waiting their turn. Just ask anyone for the Ma'afiah (bakery) and they'll point you in the right direction. Along that street you will see delicatessens and dealers selling imported foods and stuff we love from home.
Top Festival Tips
- Don't be shy to bargain - it's part of the Middle Eastern culture
- Keep your wallet and mobile phone in a safe place
- Take an umbrella with you
- Wear comfortable shoes - plenty of walking on cobbled stone.
- Some stalls will take credit cards but not all, so bring plenty of cash
If the weather is fine and you're coming to Haifa for the day, you might want to combine your visit to the Festival with other activities. Haifa's beaches stretch for miles and while it might be too cold for a dip in the ocean a walk along the promenade and newly opened Park Hecht, a selection of cafes and restaurants area great way to relax and enjoy the day. Take in a visit to the Druze Villages or the Haifa Zoological Gardens.
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