Acre – or Akko as it’s known in Hebrew and Arabic – a great little north coast town to check out, complete with ancient Crusader roots and no signs of entering the 21st century…
Acre’s rich history has meant a long list of cultures playing an important role, including Israelites, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders and Arabs. Acre is also a holy city in the Bahá’í Faith and can add recognition by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site to its impressive resume.
It’s not exactly on the main tourist trail, but there are plenty of awesome things to check out; definite must-sees in Acre include the Old City, with its shabby glamor and funky open-air market, the Hospitaller Fortress where you feel like you’re walking in a time warp C.E. 1230, and the marina, with its fishing port and lighthouse.
This excellent map shows Acre’s must-see attractions, but be warned: unless you have superhuman energy, you won’t be able to fit everything into one day of touring.
The most organized way to tour is to go to the Old Acre Visitors Center, located in the Old City at 1 Weizmann Street, in the Enchanted Garden area (or otherwise park in the main Lighthouse parking area, where you can enter the Old City via the underground Templars Tunnels). In the Visitors Center you can buy tickets combining the places that most attract you.
Not to be missed is the Hospitaller Fortress. There, you can wander through the enormous stone rooms with vaulted ceilings and perfect acoustics (try singing if you have a good voice!). The spectacular dining hall, dormitories and even ancient latrine are in good shape and worth visiting.
In the large open courtyard, you can almost hear knights practicing their swordplay, loaded donkeys being led into the stables, and servants bustling back and forth from the well. The well is there, a keyhole-shaped structure now wisely covered by netting. A thriving caper bush grows inside. The well fills up twice daily, when the rising tide pushes the fresh-water source back upland.
If you want a feel for a real person who lived and died in the fortress, visit Peter’s headstone on the way out. The Latin inscription and portrait of the knight etched onto the stone make you feel like you almost know this old Crusader.
At the end of the 12th century, the Templars built the Templar fortress, which was one of the strongest buildings in the city: they also built a 350-metre long tunnel, which leads from the fortress to the city port. It was only discovered in 1994 when some plumbing work was done in the area. The underground Templars Tunnel is great fun to walk through, as you hear the sea above and around you. If you’re claustrophobic and a beanpole, this place might be tricky to navigate because it’s dark and you have to bend over in some places.
The Turkish Bath House, one of the many layers of Acre history to walk through, is perfectly preserved. Colorful tiles walls enclose the space where all the important men came to steam their troubles away, while their wives held parties in a separate enclosure. There’s also an entertaining movie that explains the history of the Bath House, inseparable from the history of Acre itself.
The Old City market is a great little place to check out some local produce at local prices. Watch out for some of the amazing Arab pastries in the bakeries. Your camera might work overtime here, with a plethora of sights and colors to capture. The market is perfectly safe by day, but a little more dodgy for strangers at night. Women should not walk alone there at any time. If it’s an all-woman experience, come in a group of at least three. No need to be paranoid – just smart.
Once you’ve walked through the market, head down to the Acre marina for some sea breezes and a wander past some of the old fishing boats. If you’re feeling particularly touristy, be tempted by the hawkers selling you a ride on one of the tour boats. At ten shekels a person, it’s a great little ride out into the deeper waters where you get a terrific view of the Old City walls.
Outside the Turkish Bath House and down some old stone alleys, you’ll come to a street that has cafes, souvenir shops, a post office and an ATM. Art lovers will enjoy going through the nearby Okapi Art Museum. Return your audio equipment to the ticket office if you’ve rented some. Take a rest in the shade of a palm tree. Visit the Al-Jazeer Mosque, if you’re so inclined. Then you’ll be free to wander over through the colorful Old City and open-air market.
If you’re stuck for time and not sure what to squeeze in to your visit, get a guided tour. A friendly, well-informed guide makes the experience come more alive. Bring a battery-charged camera and extra batteries. Bring at least half a liter of water to drink. If you need a nosh every once in a while, put a couple of small snacks in your backpack.
The Old City locals are used to tourists, but they’re poor, conservative people, mostly Muslim. Respect their space and don’t wear outrageously immodest clothing (women), don’t snap photos in people’s faces, and don’t raise a lot of noise as you walk in their neighborhood.
Akko is fairly easy to get to as it lies just north of Haifa and is on the main rail route (which is perhaps the nicest of the travel options to Akko). Trains run every 20 minutes at peak hours, while buses are just as frequent, though you may need to change at major transit points Carmiel or Haifa, depending on where you are coming from. There are also service taxis from Haifa that are just as cheap as the bus; head to the Hadar neighborhood or Herzl Street to catch one.
There are hummus and falafel places all over the Old and new City, and these are probably your best bet for some quick, fun dining. The best-known hummus joint is Said, in the market of the Old City. At the marina there’s the famous Uri Buri fish restaurant and the Galileo Restaurant. Neither are cheap, but said to be very good. Kosher-keepers will have to taxi into town. At the time of this writing, you should pay no more than NIS14 to get from the marina into town.
Two good kosher restos: Ushpizin on 17 Hasapanim (04-981-0022), a Mediterranean meat grill place; and HaShalom for fish at 20 Haarba Road, Acre. We can recommend Ushpizin for high kashrut standards and cleanliness. Food good.
Hostels in the Old City and nearby are cheap but not known to be especially clean. For comfort, privacy and security, B&Bs outside of Acre are a better bet. There is one hotel, the Palm Beach, which boasts a spa and 4-star accommodation. Here’s a full list of the best options available.
Check out our clip of Akko below for a real taste of the city…