Acre is a beautiful historic city situated in a natural harbour on Haifa Bay, jutting out into the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Also known as Akko in Hebrew and Akka in Arabic, this northern gem in Israel’s crown has roots that date back thousands of years – and all just a stone’s throw from present-day Lebanon.
Much of the city has UNESCO World Heritage Site status, with numerous attractions and fascinating hotspots to hit up on your trip to the city. The ancient port city may be small, but is endlessly intriguing for curious travelers. And though it may sound like an open-air museum, it’s very much still alive and filled with colorful markets, modern life and delicious cuisine.
The History Of Acre, Israel
Acre’s history stretches back over millennia. First settled in the early Bronze Age, around 3,000 BC, it has been continuously inhabited since the middle Bronze Age. This makes Acre one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth.
For a place so ancient, of course there have been a number of civilizations and people who have conquered and settled in Acre and its surrounding area. Phonecians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Ottomans, the British, and, of course, Jewish communities. It was even destroyed several times.
Acre became most famous during the Crusades, when a selection of battles were fought there.
It was the last city to be held by the Christian armies of Europe in the Levant region, finally falling to the Mamluks in 1291 in a lengthy siege – cited as one of the most important battles of that time. It actually marked the end of the Crusades in the Levant.
Rulers have changed through the centuries, each leaving a bit of their own culture and tradition, allowing Acre to remain the melting pot it always has been.
The Best Places To Visit In Acre, Israel
With all of that history, there are a whole lot of different places to check out when you’re in Acre. Here are some of the best sights and attractions that you shouldn’t miss.
Acre’s fortifications and defenses have been standing throughout its long history, but not continuously! First constructed by 950 by its ruler Ahhmad Ibn Tulun, in 1071 they were renovated to protect against the Seljuks; and then again against the Crusaders in 1099, who made the walls higher and built additional towers in the 13th century.
Then in 1291, the Mamluks completely destroyed it. It wasn’t until 1750 when Bedouin ruler Daha el Omar restored the walls. They were also severely damaged by Napoleon during a siege. Then new walls were built in the early 19th century. Acre’s walls really reflect the history of the city, and offer a great place to walk and get glimpses across the old rooftops.
Ahmed Al Jazzar Mosque
Known in Arabaic as Jama el Basha – the Pasha’s Mosque – this stunning religious building has been wowing visitors to Acre since 1781. It’s the largest mosque in Israel, outside of Jerusalem.
Its white walls and shining green domes are an example of Ottoman Empire architecture, reflecting both Byzantine and Persian styles. Built over former Muslim and Christian buildings in the Crusader city, today it dominates the skyline.
The Citadel, officially the Hospitaller commandery of Saint-Jean-d’Acre, was once the center of Crusader operations in the city. The Knights Hospitallers were a religious military order, founded in the 11th century in Jerusalem.
Described by a pilgrim in 1169 as “a very impressive fortified building”, the former Crusader stronghold itself remains so to this day. Here you can explore colonnades and passageways, courtyards, cooling pools and Frankish-era vaulted rooms. It’s easy to spend the whole day here – just get an audio guide and follow your feet.
Not only did the Knights Hospitaller have a presence in Crusader-era Acre, so did the more famous Knights Templar. This monastic military order first settled on Temple Mount in Jerusalem, giving the order its name.
They then found a home in Acre and built their base in the southwest of the city, with the sea as part of its defenses. It consisted of thick walls and towers topped with golden lions – and also a tunnel, which remains to this day.
Only discovered in 1994, the strategic tunnel runs for 100 yards, and connects the fortress to the port in the east. The entire length of the tunnel is available to stroll through today.
Khan Al Umdan
The oldest caravanserai (a huge inn where travelers could rest) in Israel, this was first built in 1784 during the rule of Ahmad Jazzar Pasha, when Acre was part of the Ottoman Empire. At the time, it was one of four caravanserai in Acre, but this one was known as Khan Al Umdan or “Inn of the Columns.”
Its location close to the port meant that it was a hub of trade, and was used as a warehouse with a hostel for merchants and travelers on the second floor. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a popular place to visit in the city to learn about Acre’s long history of trade. The courtyard is open 24 hours a day – much as it would have been centuries ago!
St John’s Church
This Catholic church was built by Franciscans of the Holy Land of Custody in 1737 on the site of an older church. It’s somewhat unique: There are no other Latin churches such as this in the city. Renovated in 1947, the church is a Greek-style structure with white washed exterior walls and a bell tower with a red roof. Inside, the natural stone vaulted ceilings easily whisk you back further than its founding, recalling the earlier Crusader days.
Acre’s harbor has been welcoming trade and travelers throughout the centuries. Known as the Gateway to the Holy Land, here is where ships would bring goods such as spices, pilgrims, international dignitaries and information from afar to the storied city.
Today it’s not as thriving, but it still bobs with fishing boats and is edged by the city’s ancient walls. The old marina is an attractive place to stroll, but for 10 shekels a boat can take you out on the water for a view of the city from the sea.
If you want to buy some bright and colorful souvenirs, or enjoy sampling some local produce, then you should head down to the old city market. Even if you’re not here to buy anything, this vibrant hub of trade is a fantastic place to soak up the local life of Acre, surrounded by ancient architecture.
Foodies take note: there is an attractive array of food to sample at Acre’s market, from Arab pastries and desserts, all the way to fresh herbs and spices. And if you want a break from the heat there are plenty of cafes tucked away down side streets leading off from the market itself.
Bahji Baha’i Center
Acre could be said to be something of a pilgrim city for adherents of the Baha’i faith, and it’s all centered around Bahji Mansion, around two miles north of the city. This is where the religion’s founder, Baháʼu’lláh, lived for the final years of his life, and where he died in 1892. There is a shrine next to the house.
Alongside the large mansion, there are sprawling sculpted gardens. A blend of Western and Eastern elements, the geometric design and terraces of the garden are a must-visit in themselves. These were originally planted by Sulaman Pasha, the ruler of Acre, for his daughter in the 19th century. Visit on the weekend, when you’ll be able to access the inner garden and the shrine.
Lohamei HaGetaot Holocaust Center
Also known as the Ghetto Fighters’ House – or officially Itzhak Katzenelson Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Heritage Museum, Documentation and Study Center – this important museum is located two miles north of Akko. It was founded by a community of Holocaust survivors, Jewish partisans and resistance fighters from Poland and Lithuania in 1949.
Taking its name from Polish-Jewish poet Itzhak Katzenelson, who died in Auschwitz in 1944, it is actually the first museum in the world to commemorate the Holocaust – and the only one founded by Holocaust survivors.
Lohamei HaGetaot Holocaust Center tells the story of Jewish people in the 20th century, with a focus on World War II and the Holocaust. There are many personal accounts and narratives of resistance in the ghettos of Europe, as well as experiences of the concentration camps.
Practical Tips For Visiting Acre, Israel
Now that you know just why you should be visiting Acre in the first place, it’s time to figure out the best ways to experience it all. So here are some of the logistical details you’ll need on your trip to the ancient city of Acre…
How to get to Acre
Acre is not that difficult to get to as it is located just north of the city of Haifa, less than 20 km (12.5 miles) from the border with Lebanon. It’s well connected by public transport.
Here are the best options to get there.
How to get to Acre from Haifa
Driving from Haifa to Acre takes about 20 minutes. The train runs around every 20 minutes from Haifa and is the quickest way to get to Acre, taking also around 30 minutes. Finally, there’s also the option to get the bus. Take bus 251 (they depart frequently); this takes around 45 minutes.
How to get to Acre from Tel Aviv
If you have your own car, you can easily drive from Tel Aviv to Acre. It takes about an hour and a half along the coast from Tel Aviv. You can also catch the train to Acre from Tel Aviv. It takes an hour and a half. There are buses too: the trip takes around two hours, with buses leaving only twice daily.
On day trips from Tel Aviv
Due to its proximity to both Haifa and Tel Aviv, it’s possible to visit Acre on a day trip or day tour. Some tours from Tel Aviv will also stop by at Haifa, Rosh Hanikra and maybe (sometimes) Cesarea, too.
For information on guided tours from Tel Aviv to Acre, click here.
Get a guide if you’re short on time
If you’ve just got the day in Acre, a guided tour will mean that you’ll be able to hit up the city’s most prominent sights in a short amount of time. The guide will also be able to get you around the city much more efficiently than you would (they know the city, obviously), and will also be full of information to tell you about Acre.
For information on guided tours of Akko, click here.
Get around on foot
Acre is a small, compact city. The streets are narrow and winding, and definitely were not built for vehicles. That means that, for the most part, the best way is to get around on foot. That way you can really soak up the historic streets, and get up close and personal to its architectural heritage. Grab a map of the city from the Old Acre Visitor Center and head off on your own adventures.
Make sure you bring refreshments: Acre can become unbearably hot in the summer, and if you’re walking around all day in the city, you’ll really need to stay hydrated. Bring lots of water and keep topped up throughout the day.
Know what to wear
Acre has a very mild winter, and terribly hot summer, but it’s also a historic city with many holy sites. It’s predominantly Muslim, and quite traditional, so it is best to err on the side of modesty when you’re wandering around. When it’s hot, you should opt for light-colored, loose-fitting clothing that will cover you from the sun’s rays anyway.
Bring a sunhat to protect against the sun, too, and wear comfortable shoes – sandals or walking shoes – as you’ll probably be doing a lot of walking.
Places To Stay In Acre, Israel
If you’ve got more time, and you’re already thinking that a day trip won’t cut it, don’t worry: there are plenty of places to stay in Acre. Here are just a few options to get your imagination fired up!
Budget accommodation in Acre
It’s not always easy to find affordable accommodation in Acre (or Israel for that matter), but The Grape House provides a clean, value-for-money place to stay. Located less than a half a mile from Akko Beach, these apartments have everything you need for a convenient, budget-friendly stay for an independent traveler, including a small-kitchen and outdoor area. You’ll find The Grape House right in the middle of the Old City, which makes exploring very easy. It’s still quiet though, thankfully.
Mid-range accommodation in Acre
Staying at Akkotel-Boutique Hotel means quite literally staying in a slice of the city’s history: The hotel is stunningly set into Acre’s old city walls! The building itself is a 250-year-old house that has been lovingly transformed into a boutique hotel.
As well as stylish decor throughout, guest rooms are full of character with old stone walls mingling with comfortable modern furnishings. It’s 50 yards from the seafront, and comes complete with a rooftop terrace where you can get great views of the sea and the city.
Luxury accommodation in Acre
Set across two buildings, the Efendi Hotel Akko is really the place to stay in Acre for anybody looking for luxury. It’s actually situated in former Ottoman palaces that overlook the Mediterranean Sea, both of which have been beautifully restored. Think high ceilings, marble floors and elegant finishes.
There are just 12 rooms, some of which have murals adorning the ceilings and particularly ornate decor; many have sea views, too. The hotel also comes complete with a classy restaurant that serves up local cuisine, a wine bar and a terrace where you can unwind after a day exploring Acre.
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