Planning a Trip
Haifa's intercity bus and train transportation center is at its northernmost tip, in the district called Bat Galim, about 2km (1 1/2 miles) northwest of the downtown port area.
By Plane -- Unless you have a specific reason for going there, Haifa is not generally the first destination travelers head for on arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport. Trains leave Ben-Gurion Airport Station for Haifa approximately once or twice an hour from 4:50am to 11:15pm on weekdays, depending on the day of the week. Friday and Saturday schedules are limited to before and after Shabbat. To check train schedules that will coordinate with your plane's arrival, go to www.israrail.org.il/english/index.html. The trip is approximately 1 1/2 hours, and the fare is approximately NIS 40 ($10/£5). Check with your hotel as to which station in Haifa is best for your destination.
For sheruts or taxis from Ben-Gurion Airport to Haifa, contact the Haifa Tourist Information Desk. The trip is approximately 1 1/2 hours. The fare for a sherut (shared taxi or van) should be about NIS 70 ($18£8.75) per person; however, sherut service to Haifa and the north depends on how many travelers happen to want it, and is not as frequent as service to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. If no one else is going on to Haifa when you arrive, shared service may not be available. The plus is that a sherut will deliver you right to the door of your destination in Haifa, so there will be no local taxi fare. Private taxi to Haifa will run at least NIS 260 ($65/£33) with a surcharge for Shabbat and nighttime service.
Sherut service from Haifa to Ben-Gurion Airport can be arranged through Amal Taxi (tel. 04/866-2324). Fare is approximately NIS 65 ($16/£8.10) one-way per person. Another sherut service to Ben-Gurion is Kavei Ha-Galil, 11 Berwarld St. (tel. 04/866-4444, -4445, -4446).
By Train -- The New Central Railway Station is in Bat Galim, near the Central Bus Station. In the station you'll find a simple air-conditioned restaurant with set-price breakfasts and lunches, open Sunday through Thursday from 5am to 7pm, closing early on Friday and all day Saturday.
From Tel Aviv: Trains along the coast to Netanya and Haifa leave approximately every hour from 5:45am to 7pm, Sunday through Thursday; the last Friday train leaves at 2pm; there's no Saturday service. The trip on the express train to Haifa takes 1 hour; the local train takes 20 minutes longer. The fare is NIS 28 ($7/£3.50). Less frequent service from Haifa to Akko and Nahariya is available. Train information can be obtained by calling tel. 04/856-4564, or going to www.israrail.org.il/english/index.html.
By Bus -- The Egged Bus Terminal, with intercity buses to and from all points in Israel, is next to the Central Railway Station in Bat Galim. From here, you'll have to take a city bus to either of my recommended hotel districts, in Hadar or Central Carmel. For Hadar, catch bus no. 10 or 12; for Central Carmel and the top of the mountain, you want bus no. 3, 22, or 24. Interurban bus information can be obtained by calling tel. 04/854-9555. For buses within Haifa, call tel. 04/854-9131.
By Car -- Major highway networks connect Haifa with Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the Galilee. The main routes are Hwy. 2 and Hwy. 4 along the coast from Tel Aviv.
By Ferry -- At press time, passenger ferry service from Cyprus and other ports in Europe had been suspended due to security concerns. When passenger service to Haifa resumes, ships will dock right in the port at the Maritime Passenger Terminal. It's only a short walk to the Paris Square (Kikar Paris) station of the Carmelit subway that climbs the mountain to Hadar and Central Carmel.
The Haifa Information and Visitors Center, 48 Ben-Gurion Blvd. (tel. 04/853-5606; www.tour-haifa.co.il), is open Sunday to Thursday 9am to 5pm, Friday 9am to 1pm, and Saturday 10am to 3pm. It's located on the main street of the German Colony neighborhood far from most hotels, but it's well organized and worth visiting. From the hotel district in Central Carmel, you can catch a taxi, take the Carmelit down to Paris Square, and then walk over to the German Colony; or check with the desk at your hotel about the best bus route to the center.
Of all its graces, Haifa is richest in panoramic views. For purposes of orientation, you might think of Haifa as a city built on three levels. Whether you come by ship, bus, or train, you will arrive on the lower, or port, level of the city. The second level, Hadar Ha-Carmel, meaning "Glory of the Carmel," is referred to simply as Hadar. This is the downtown business section as well as the home of the contemporary art section of the Haifa Museum and some restaurants and budget hotels. At the top of the hills is the Carmel District, a patchwork of verdant residential neighborhoods with its own small but busy commercial center called Central Carmel, numerous hotels and pensions, restaurants, small museums, and two of Haifa's brightest cultural beacons: Haifa Auditorium and Bet Rothschild (the James de Rothschild Cultural Center).
Because Haifa is built all the way up the side of a mountain, many of its main streets are sinuous switchbacks, curving and recurving like spaghetti to accommodate the steep slopes of Mount Carmel. If you're driving, the streets are always bewildering, and you will find it hard to orient yourself: Just remember, in Haifa, don't think in terms of north, south, east, or west. The two directions are up or down. About the only straight road in Haifa is the one that climbs the slopes of Carmel's underground: the Carmelit subway.
By Subway -- The Carmelit is a fast, efficient, and amazing means of getting up and down Haifa's various levels. Its lower terminal station is located on Jaffa Road, a few blocks north of the port entrance and not far from the old (Merkaz) railway station. The Carmelit's upper terminal is at the Carmel Center.
Pulled on a long cable up and down the steep hill, the Carmelit resembles a sort of scale-model Métro. From bottom to the top, the stops are: (1) Paris Square (Kikar Paris, lower terminus, port area); (2) Solel Boneh (Hassan Shukri St.); (3) Ha-Nevi'im (Hadar business district, tourist center); (4) Masada (Masada St.); (5) Eliezer Golomb (Eliezer Golomb St.); (6) Gan Ha-Em (Central Carmel business district, upper terminus). When you take the Carmelit, don't panic -- the incline is so great that the floors of the cars break into escalator-like steps.
Trains run every 10 minutes. The Carmelit operates Sunday through Thursday from 6:30am to midnight, Friday from 6:30am to 3pm, and resumes service on Saturday from 30 minutes after the end of Shabbat until midnight; it is closed during Shabbat. Ticket machines have English as well as Hebrew instructions. The fare is NIS 5.50 ($1.40/70p).
By Bus -- Bus fares are charged according to your destination, so you must tell the driver where you're going. Most fares to places inside Haifa itself are NIS 5.60 ($1.40/70p). Haifa's municipal buses operate from 5am to 11:30pm Sunday through Thursday; on Friday, bus service halts around 4:30pm; there is limited Saturday service from 9am to midnight on some lines. For information on buses inside Haifa, check with your hotel, the Haifa Information and Visitors Center, or call tel. 04/854-9131. For interurban lines, call tel. 04/854-9555.