I visited Acre last month and didn’t have time to write down what I think of it. Now I have a few minutes, so… Acre is amazing! I have visited Acre (called Akko in Hebrew) a few times in the past, but this time I was truly astonished by its beauty. This small city, sitting on the tip of Acre Bay, has one of the most beautiful old cities in Israel, with enchanting alleyways, historical structures and impressive mosques.
Here’s a really cool short video I found on YouTube (published by Ruslan Paul):
Before I begin with the top FREE things to do in Acre, let me tell you a few interesting facts about the city.
Did You Know?
- Acre’s Old City was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2001, due to the amazing preservation of Crusader-era buildings beneath the Ottoman-era buildings of the Old City. When you walk around the Old City, remember there’s a 900 years old city beneath your feet!
- Acre is home to another World Heritage Site – the Bahai Gardens of Acre, which I’ll talk about later in this post…
- Acre’s port is over 700 years old and was one of the most important ports in the Land of Israel. Since the 19th century, following the opening of the port in Haifa, Acre’s port became less important and today it is mostly touristic.
- When Napoleon came to the city in 1799, he was unable to capture it.
- Old Acre is surrounded by the sea from three sides – the west, the south and the east. So there’s a big chance you’ll see the Mediterranean Sea when touring around the city!
- In Acre live about 48 thousand people, most of them Jewish people. Inside the Old City of Acre live around 5,000 people, almost all of them Arabs. I have met some Jewish families who live inside the Old City and say they have good relationship with their Arab neighbors.
How to Get to Acre?
From Jerusalem: To get to Acre by public transportation, you will need to first get to Haifa. From Jerusalem Central Bus Station, take line number 960 to Haifa HaMifratz Central Station. From there, take one of the lines going to Acre (for example: 271, 251) and ask the driver to let you know where the nearest station to the Old City is. The whole ride from Jerusalem will take around two and a half hours and cost around 50 ILS. Another option is to take the ferry from Haifa to Acre. It leaves Haifa Port (Gate 5) every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday (at 11 AM and 4 PM) and Saturday (at 11:00 AM, 1:30 PM, 5:30 PM), unless the weather does not permit. The cost of the ferry is 30 ILS (drive from Jerusalem to Haifa is around 37 ILS).
From Tel Aviv: The easiest way would be to take the Train from one of the Tel Aviv stations to Acre Station. Cost will be around 35 ILS and the ride will take around one hour and a half. Then, you will need to walk about 25 minutes to the Old City of Acre or take a taxi/ bus.
And if you haven’t read about the Rav Kav Card yet – read this post.
Top Free Things to Do in Acre:
Explore the Old City’s Magical Alleyways
I could spend days strolling around the enchanting alleyways of Old Acre. No matter where you go, you’ll find something amazing. Look upwards once in a while to see a beautiful stone relief or an interesting architectural feature, and always remember that you’re walking inside a city that’s built upon a beautifully preserved Crusader city from the 12th century. To see the Crusader buildings, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee to the Hospitaller Fortress. It’s worth it, especially if you’re interested in history and archeology!
Some of the most interesting things to see in the Old City include the el-Jazzar Mosque, which is the most dominant mosque in Acre, with the big green dome. This is the third largest mosque outside of Jerusalem (the second largest is the new mosque in Abu Gosh). After taking a look at the mosque, you can take a walk through the marketplace of Old Acre, where they sell different products along with different kinds of food. When you find your way to the port area, you might be able to spot a clocktower.
This clocktower was built by the last Ottoman Sultan, Abdul Hamid II, in honor of his 25 years of reign in the early 20th century. He built hundreds of clocktowers throughout the Ottoman empire and six clocktowers within the Land of Israel, in Acre, Haifa, Damascus, Safed, Jaffa and Jerusalem. The clocktower stands next to Khan al-Umdan, the largest khan in Israel, which is currently under preservation works and therefore is closed to the public (December 2018), but you can still admire the outside of the building.
Visit the Amazing Tunisian Synagogue
I’ve been to many different synagogues in Israel and the world and this is without a doubt the most beautiful! The whole synagogue is covered amazing mosaics depicting stories from the Bible, the history of the Jewish people and different landscapes and landmarks from the Land of Israel. There are also amazing stained-glass windows. My words can’t really describe their beauty, so I highly recommend you go see it yourselves!
If you would like to take pictures inside the synagogue, please make sure you come here NOT on Shabbat (between Friday evening and Saturday evening), as taking pictures during Shabbat is not allowed inside the synagogue. I’ve come to the synagogue on Shabbat, so I can only share with you the picture of the synagogue’s façade and not its interior.
The synagogue is open every day during the prayer hours. Check with your hostel when is the best time to go. During Shabbat, the synagogue is open for longer hours, but again – you won’t be able to take pictures to show your friends back home.
To get to the synagogue, you will need to exit the Old City from the Land Gate (עשר היבשה) and walk along Yehonatan ha-Khashmonai Street until it turns left to Yehoshafat Street. Keep on walking on that street until you reach the right turn to Eliezer Kaplan Street, which is the synagogue’s street. It takes about 10 minutes to get there.
Walk Upon the Old City Walls
Acre is one of the only cities in the world where the ancient city walls are still standing, so it’s a great opportunity to walk upon some more history! The walls of Acre’s Old City are a bit more than 200 years old, but they have a much longer history. The first walls were built around 950 CE by the Islamic ruler, Ibn Tulun. Later, those walls were demolished and replaced by much more massive walls built by the Crusaders, who arrived in Acre in the 12th century. But their walls couldn’t stand against the Mamluk army, which arrived in the late 13th century and destroyed the walls and the city. On the ruins of the Crusader city, the Bedouin ruler, Dahar el-Omar, restored the city walls around 1750. And then comes the interesting part…
In 1775 el-Jazzar took over Acre and became the ruler of the Galilee instead of Dahar el-Omar. In 1799, the French military leader, Napoleon, stood in front of Acre’s walls. He thought that it would be easy to capture the city, like he did in Jaffa and other cities in the Land of Israel. At the end of the siege he imposed on Acre, his soldiers were able to break through the wall built by Dahar el-Omar, but then found themselves trapped in front of another wall, which they were not aware of. That wall was built by el-Jazzar’s people DURING the siege! Napoleon’s soldiers were slaughtered in between the two walls and Napoleon had to give up and make his way back to Egypt and from there, back to France.
The wall that was built during the siege was destroyed at some point of the history, but you can still see some of Dahar el-Omar’s walls. When you climb the walls next to the Land Gate, you’re actually standing on the massive walls that were built after Napoleon’s siege, between 1800 and 1814, by el-Jazzar. And if you’re asking what those cannons along the walls are, those also aren’t connected to Napoleon. They were places there after the siege in order to enhance the protection of Acre. But they are still worth a pic 😊
Visit the Beautiful Bahai Gardens of Acre
The Bahai Gardens of Haifa are well known around the world. Many people come to Haifa just to see the gardens, which are beautifully lit during the evening. But few people know about the Bahai Gardens of Acre. I didn’t know about them up until about a year ago! Like the Old City of Acre, the Bahai Gardens of Acre (and of Haifa) are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Bahai faith was founded in the mid-19th century by a man called Bahá’u’lláh in 1863. This faith is based on the Bayání faith, that was founded in Persia about 20 years beforehand by a man who called himself “the Bab” (“the Gate”). Some of the Bahai faith’s main principles are unity of God, unity of religion, unity of humanity, Equality between women and men and world peace. They believe that the most important thing is that people will be in peace and that is why their gardens are so peaceful.
The gardens in Haifa might be more popular among the tourists, but the Bahai Gardens of Acre are more important to the Bahai believers. In Acre is buried the founder of the young religion, Bahá’u’lláh, and the believers come from all over the world to pay their respect to him. To reach the place where Bahá’u’lláh is buried, you will need to walk along a very long path surrounded by greenery, which slowly pulls you into the calm atmosphere.
The entrance to the gardens is completely free, and you even get a short explanation about the faith and the gardens from one of the Bahai volunteers. To be able to visit all parts of the gardens, you should come here on a Sunday, Monday, Friday or Saturday from 9:00 AM to noon. I recommend coming exactly when they open the gates at 9:00 AM so you will be able to experience the gardens when they are completely empty (and also get the first explanation from the Bahai guide).
If you’re looking for a place to stay in Acre, I totally recommend Eco Akko Hostel. Read my review on Eco Akko Hostel here.
And if you’re looking for something sweet, check out the bakery on Salah ad Din Street, between the hostel and the Land Gate. It’s called Nazareth Sweets and they have delicious kanafeh.
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