Some compare Haifa, beautifully situated on a hill overlooking a broad bay, to San Francisco or Naples. Israel's third-largest metropolitan area (pop. 300,000) and the capital of the north, Haifa is like a triple-decker sandwich -- the industrial area that comprises Israel's most important port is the lowest tier; the business district (Hadar), higher up, is the second; and the Carmel district, with its panoramic vistas, nestled even higher on the upper pine slopes, constitutes the third. Just to the south of Haifa are magnificent beaches that locals flock to but few tourists know about. Plans are now in progress to convert these unspoiled beach areas into Haifa's own "Riviera"; you'll see a great deal of hotel, apartment, and marina construction underway along the shoreline during the next few years. Like much of the intensive development going on along Israel's Mediterranean coast, this project is controversial, with environmentalists and beach lovers who had wanted to turn the area into a national park opposing the loss of Israel's most accessible stretch of natural shoreline.
Haifa Today -- Very different from either Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, the city is a pleasure to visit just to get a sense of its beauty and lifestyle. In a society unlike any other in the Middle East, Jews and Arabs live and work side by side; 25% of Haifa's population is either Muslim or Christian. In 1898, Theodore Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, wrote his prophecy of the Jewish homeland that would one day be reborn: "Next to our temples, you find Christian, Mohammedan, Buddhist, and Brahmin houses of divine worship . . . my comrades and I make no distinction between people. We ask for no one's religion or race but let him be a Man, that is enough." With its Baha'i Center, churches, synagogues, and mosques, as well as its politically progressive, hardworking Jewish and Arabic population, Haifa, more than any other city in Israel, has come to fit that vision.
Haifa is a good base for exploring the northwestern part of Israel. You won't need to rent a car if you base yourself here; many organized day tours originate in Haifa or, because Haifa is a major transportation hub, you can just use public transportation to explore cities such as Akko or even Safed on your own. In the evening, after a day of touring the area, Haifa offers a good choice of restaurants, films, concerts, and urban strolling to keep you busy.