Mysticism, music, art, delicious food and history, all packed into one little town on top of a mountain. Safed – or Tsfat in Hebrew – where many houses are painted blue, to reflect the nearness of the sky, and where Jewish history has unfolded from at least 66 BCE until today.
Here’s our guide to the very best of what to see and do in this mystical little town…
Before you get started, check out this map of Safed / Tzfat to get yourself oriented.
We’ll start at the highest point in town, the Citadel (Metsudah). Lying in the center of Safed, the site was crucial in every effort to occupy the area, from 1102 CE to the War of Independence in 1948. The most important Crusader administrative post in the Middle East stood here. You can walk through the archeological digs and picnic on the grassy lawn where the knights’ hall once stood. Read here for more.
On Alkabetz Street is the office of Livnot U’Lehibanot, an experiential Jewish program offering local tours, hikes, seminars, and community volunteering for young people. Livnot is also a tourist information office and well worth stopping by before you delve further into Safed. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 972-4-6924427 for more info.
Not far from the Kadosh Dairy on Yud Alef street (mentioned below) is the Safed Candle Factory, a fairly new addition to the Old City of Safed where artwork in wax reaches unbelievable heights. Traditional Shabbat and Havdalah candles in beautiful colors are sold there, but the wax dioramas representing Biblical scenes – and possibly a whole menorah in wax – are unique. They don’t have a website, but you can contact them at email@example.com.
The Hameiri House museum is a must-see museum and documents Jewish life in Safed for the past 200 years, with preserved rooms, artifacts, and an extensive photo archive. Call 04-6971307 or 04-6921939 for more details.
Another little-known but worthwhile museum to visit is the Memorial Museum of Hungarian-Speaking Jewry. at the hilltop off Aliyah Bet Street. The museum is part of the Sarayah complex, which has many tales of Safed’s history to tell. Today it is known as the Isaac and Edith Community Center, and also hosts a former khan (traveler’s hostel) and the Noam synagogue – and watch out for the renovated charming Ottoman clock tower!
Across from the Sarayah is a grassy sculpture park dotted with ancient olive trees, where you might lounge and take a little break if the mysticism of Safed is already leaving you breathless…
Moving on from the secular and material to the spiritual, there are beautiful medieval synagogues still in use every day, like the Ari synagogue down from HaMeginim Square. They are worth visiting for their palpable aura of Jewish history and for their beauty. Not to mention for praying!
It might seem a little strange that one of the town’s major attractions is a cemetery, but Safed’s ancient cemetery vibrates to the presence of visitors every day. It houses the remains of famed Kabbalistic masters Rabbi Ari and Joseph Caro (d. 1573), among others. The famous mikvah (ritual bath) of the Ari stands to one side of the cemetery and is still in use by the hardy. Open to men only, the water is heart-stoppingly icy, even on the hottest summer day.
Go through the Artist’s Quarter for glimpses of beautiful old stone houses – and galleries in the homes of the artists. Cute little restaurants dot the picturesque alleys. The General Exhibition there houses a variety of galleries and shops. For buying gifts and more art, the Artist’s Market is one of the must-sees – there’s so much great jewelry, calligraphic art, paintings, ceramics, and much more to browse and buy. Our friends over at the Canaan Gallery have some awesome things for sale, including some of the finest hand woven Judaica in Israel…
The Doll Museum, around the corner from Avraham Sadeh Square, was founded in memory of a young soldier who brought her beloved doll collection from Russia as a little girl, and who died in a terrorist attack. Her mother has created a fantastic array of dolls in historically accurate costumes, every piece hand-sewn.
And finally, perhaps one of Safed’s best-loved tourist features is the yearly Klezmer festival. The kleizmerim take over the whole town, with live music in every nook and corner, food stands in the streets, everything open all night for three nights. This year the Klezmer festival runs from August 15th-17th. Go if you can, it’s fantastic fun.
If you’re hungry in Safed, and let’s face it, all that mysticism and walking is bound to give you an appetite, head down to Jerusalem Street and take your pick of casual pizza and falafel joints, or dine in one of the decent restaurants with a view of the Old City and across to the Meron hills. Or descend the stone stairs, built by the British to halve the town, to HaMeginim Square, where The Tree of Life Café serves excellent, American-style light food.
For a light meal or unusual snack, visit Ronen at Yemenite Pizza on Alkabetz Street.
If you’re in Safed on a Wednesday morning, the shuk (open-air market) is a lively place to pick up some great local food. You could snack out on olives, candy, or pastries while snapping away with your camera.
If you’re into cheese, and don’t find any at the shuk, Safed has two great dairies to check out: HaMeiri and Kadosh Cheese, both making delicious artisan cheeses from traditional recipes.
And if you stay overnight in Safed and fancy some entertainment, take a wander over to the Khan of the White Donkey, which has cool local musicians in every Thursday night. It’s connected to the Center for Healthy Living, which regularly offers a variety of eco- and health-related activities.
Safed is a town full of decent B&Bs and small hotels. On almost every street there are attractive options for a short-term stay. Check out some of the very best accommodation options in Safed here, and consult the map above to determine which one suits you best.
Local buses run regularly and there are several reliable taxi stands. Fixed-route taxis – sheruts – pick up passengers along bus routes and charge the same as buses, dropping you off wherever you want along the route. But come prepared with good walking shoes, because the most interesting places and the Old City are really only explorable on foot.
Nature lovers and hikers will enjoy trekking down the wadi, a gently-descending canyon that ultimately leads all the way to Tiberias. Just watch out for the herd of cows that roam the area. They’re gentle enough, but sort of surprising to bump into.
Enjoy your visit to Safed!