I’d barely gotten my bearings in Tel Aviv when a plan was hatched among my new group of hostel roommates. Two of us wanted to go check out Haifa, a city to the north, and decided to go the next day. But being the Queen of Dawdletown, I had a bit more work to finish that morning before I could go catch the train. I told him to go ahead and I’d catch up with him.
The main purpose of my visit was to see the Bahai Gardens, the massive terraced gardens on a hillside in northern Israel. I knew next to nothing about the faith that created it but had seen gorgeous images of the gardens. The Bahais date back to the 1800s and now have over 5 million adherents worldwide, especially in the Middle East. Its founder was banished to present-day Israel, making this part of the world significant to the believers and bringing in over half a million visitors annually. These gardens in Haifa are home to the Shrine of the Bab, dedicated to an early Islamic leader that inspired Bahai where he is buried.
But when I got off the bus at what I thought was my stop, I learned that I’d only cut to the middle. I missed that hour’s tour and would only be able to see the bottom half of the gardens on my own. So I decided to explore as much as I could when I ran into my friend Sebastian. He had made the same mistake I did, so we were left to wander on our own. But instead of walking all the way down the terraced gardens, we would see a bit before returning to the main road.
The intricate landscaping reminded me of the Bom Jesus gardens in Braga, Portugal. Upon reaching the bottom, we saw where we started as well as the part we missed. But I felt like I’d seen enough to enjoy it. Sebastian went off on his own to learn more about the German history of Haifa, and the Templar colony that settled here in the 1800s. A number of signs are placed around town to tell the story of the people who believed that living in the Holy Land would hasten the Second Coming. The rise of the Nazi party back in Germany led to the group’s expulsion.
I, on the other hand, had something important in mind: lunch. On the way up the hill, I’d noticed a cute cafe and made a beeline for it when my stomach started growling. Fattoush, named after an Israeli dish I’d order for lunch, had colorful chairs and outdoor dining. It was crowded, even late in the afternoon. I grabbed fattoush, a salad with crispy pieces of bread, a refreshing vegetarian meal, with one of their many types of tea. They also had a great gift shop where I picked up a few postcards.
After I was appropriately full and cultured, I caught the train back to Tel Aviv. Haifa was so easy to get to and I could have easily spent time near the water.
If You Go
The Bahai Gardens in Haifa are open daily, the shrine and inner gardens from 9 am to 12 pm and the outer gardens from 9 am to 5 pm. The shrine is only accessible from a guided tour, which is free and lasts 50 minutes. Reservations aren’t needed and it comes in multiple languages, but it starts at the very top at45 Yefe Nof Street. Conservative dress, covering knees and shoulders, is encouraged.
Haifa is accessible via direct train on Israel Railways from Tel Aviv’s HaShalom station, running frequently and lasting a little over an hour. I got off at the second Haifa stop, Haifa Center HaShmona, which was right down the hill from the city. This is where buses leave from as well, including Bus 23 to the top. You’ll see the gardens to your right, but keep going to the next stop. Expect to go through security at all train stations because this is Israel. Round trip tickets cost around $12 USD and can be purchased online in advance or at the station from a machine. For more info on traveling Israel by train, visit Seat 61.
Have you been to Haifa?