Acre is an ancient coastal city in Northern Israel. And today, we will be visiting most of its attractions. Let’s begin!
Note: I visited Acre many times, but each time I visited only several attractions. In this post, I am combining most of those places. And visiting them together will make a lovely half to a full day trip.
Acre is a historic city in Northern Israel. It is located on the edge of Haifa Bay (on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea). Both land routes and sea paths (Acre has a natural harbor) made Acre a commercial standpoint. And it is one of the oldest cities in the world, continuously inhabited since the Middle Bronze Age (around 4,000 years ago).
Old Acre is the old part of the modern city of Acre. Furthermore, most of the tourist attractions are located within Old Acre. And most of this post will be dedicated to this small part of the city, where most attractions can be reached within a 5-minute walk.
Acre Or Akko?
Acre and Akko refer to the same city. Akko is the Hebrew name, and most road signs (except touristic ones) will say Akko. During this post, I will refer to the city both as Acre and Akko.
What Does Akko Mean?
The short answer is that we do not know. And here is the elaborated answer:
The source of its name is unknown, however presumably, it is not Semitic. The Egyptians were using it as long ago as the second millennium BCE, but since hieroglyphics only have two consonants, the name was written as CK, and there is no way of knowing how it was pronounced (the last syllable in particular).
In the letters of El-Amrana, which were written in Acadian, the letter H is used to signify the guttural Hebrew letters alef-hey-chet-ayin; accordingly, the name of the city could be written either as Haca or Aca. Had the name not been preserved, we would not have been able to associate it with the name appearing in the hieroglyphics clearly.
The AKK spelling was preserved in the Assyrian language.
Ancient Hebrew legend has it that the Mediterranean Sea flooded the world and when it reached the shore of Akko it stopped short, as written in the Book of Job (38:11) “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.” In the legend, the Hebrew words “Ad po” [hitherto] become “Ad ko” – hence, Akko [Akko].
Note: unless stated otherwise, all quotes were taken from the official site.
Map of the area:
- You can click on the map to enlarge it.
- You can also find a useful map here.
Acre And Napoleon
In many places around the city, you will see references to Napoleon Bonaparte. And for example at the movie in Turkish Bath – Hamam al-Basha, one of the characters mentions how they defeated Napoleon. And indeed, Acre is one of the fewer cities that withstood Napoleon’s siege.
After the siege and capture of Jaffa in 1799, Napoleon attacked Acre.
The Siege of Acre of 1799 was an unsuccessful French siege of the Ottoman-defended, walled city of Acre and was the turning point of Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt and Syria. It was Napoleon’s first strategic defeat as three years previously he had been tactically defeated at the Second Battle of Bassano.
UNESCO World Heritage List
The Old City of Acre was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List under the following criteria:
- Acre is an exceptional historic town in that it preserves the substantial remains of its medieval Crusader buildings beneath the existing Moslem fortified town dating from the 18th and 19th centuries.
- The remains of the Crusader town of Acre, both above and below the present-day street level, provide an exceptional picture of the layout and structures of the capital of the medieval Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.
- Present-day Acre is an important example of an Ottoman walled town, with typical urban components such as the citadel, mosques, khans, and baths well preserved, partly built on top of the underlying Crusader structures.
Before starting with the visit, I just wanted to mention that Acre is a touristic city. And many firms offer tours either only to the city or combined with other nearby attractions, like Haifa and Rosh HaNikra Grottoes. Therefore, if you love joining tours, consider this option.
How To Reach The City
Reaching Akko can be done in several ways. You can take the train to Akko station and walk from there. You can sail from Haifa (see Sails section below) or take a bus. Here is a link to Moovit with directions from Tel Aviv to Acre. You can change the starting point and get the updated directions.
You can also reach the city by car. I always park outside of Old Acre, i.e., in the new part of Acre. And I do not recommend entering the old city by car. The closer you get to the main attractions the less parking spots there will be (including paid parking). And since I do not mind a 5 min walk, this is not a problem for me. But if you want a closer parking lot, you can continue driving to the Land Gate, and just before the gate to the right, there is paid parking lot.
I usually park not far from the Tunisian Synagogue (Eliezer Kaplan street 20, Acre) and walk toward the Land Gate. Before entering the gate, you will see the sea to your left. If you continue in that direction for 20 meters that you will see Acre port and walls:
The Land Gate (number #2 on the attraction map above):
Old Acre Development Company
Most touristic sites in the city belong to Old Acre Development Company (official site). This allows them to sell combined tickets to various attractions in the city and outside.
The sites that under their management are: Hospitaller Fortress, Okashi Art Museum, Turkish Bath, Templars’ Tunnel, Visitors Center, and Ramchal Synagogue.
Sites that are managed by Old Acre Development Company are open seven days a week and their normal opening hours are from 9 am to 5 pm. The actual hours change a little depending on the site, day of the week and the season. For the exact list check out the official site.
The basic combined ticket includes Hospitaller Fortress, The Okashi Museum, The Templar Tunnel, and The ‘Treasures in the Walls’ Ethnographic Museum. It costs 40 NIS for adult and 34 NIS for a child. On top of the basic combination, you can add additional sites like the Turkish Bath, Rosh Hanikra, Haypark zoo, and others. So there is a variety of combo tickets. Moreover, you can buy specific tickets for each particular attraction. I am hoping that after reading this post, you will know what sites interest you and what ticket to buy.
Note: opening hours and ticket prices were updated in December 2018. In any case, recheck the official site before your visit. For instance, you can find the full entrance fee list here.
The White Market
About 200m meters after you pass through The Land Gate you can see The White Market on the right side:
The market’s walls and its sixty-four shops were whitewashed at the time they were built, hence the market’s name. The White Market is also filled with light, and perhaps that is why the attribute is often used by Acre’s inhabitants to this very day.
Unfortunately today The White Market is not that attractive. There are some restaurants, shops and storage rooms. So, it entirely lost its original charm, and the only thing worth looking is the roof, which I showed above.
Our first stop was Hospitaller Fortress.
I visited Hospitaller Fortress (also named the Citadel, and Knights’ Halls) about two years ago. And as in the previous trip, I bought a combined ticket to Hospitaller Fortress + Treasures in the Walls Museum + The Okashi Art Museum + The Templars’ Tunnel for 58 NIS.
The Enchanted Garden
The garden at the entrance to the Hospitaller Fortress:
The Enchanted Garden (also known as “the Festival Garden”) serves as the entrance courtyard to the Hospitaller Fortress. To the north you will find the towers; to the south – the Acre Development Company headquarters and facilities used for the Acre Theater Center.
The open space is impressive in its vegetation and the aura of hospitality it emits. As such it was converted into an entrance to the Hospitaller Compound and the Citadel. The courtyard houses the Visitors and Reservations Center for Acre, the Western Galilee, and the Upper Galilee.
Though the exterior has not changed, the interior has undergone renovations and rapid development. This exhibition is now called “THE KNIGHTS’ KINGDOM.” And if you have not been there for a couple of years, then it is worth revisiting.
The Kingdom of Jerusalem was founded in 1099 following the First Crusade and the conquest of the Land of Israel. Jerusalem became the capital of the Kingdom and Acre subsequently developed into the port city and the main gate to the Holy Land. Following the battle of Hattin in 1187 and the defeat of the Crusader army, Salah ad-Din, who headed the Muslim armies, conquered the Kingdom. He ruled in Jerusalem and Acre for about four years. In 1191, following a two-year siege, King Richard the Lionhearted – who headed the Christian armies – re-conquered Acre. During this journey, which became the Third Crusade, the Christians were unable to free Jerusalem and established their new kingdom along the shoreline between Tzur and Ashkelon. Acre, the second most important city in the Crusader Kingdom, became the capital of the second kingdom.The Hospitaller Order, which thrived in Jerusalem during the First Crusader Kingdom (1187-1099) transferred its headquarters to Acre during the Second Crusader Kingdom (1291-1191). The Hospitallers, who had a quarter there during the First Kingdom, returned to Acre, expanded their headquarters and rebuilt the site, which consisted of two to three floors around a central court as well as underground sections – water reservoirs and a sewage system. It was not the entire site that was excavated. To date, an area of about 5000 m2 was excavated, which encompasses the central court and the northern, eastern and southern wings. The western wing has yet to be excavated.
The Knights’ Kingdom
You start with an entirely new hall (the organizers opened it as a part of The Knights’ Kingdom exhibition.
A 4,000-year old story unfolds inside the halls of the citadel – the museum displays and films projected on the walls tell the story of the Crusades and offer vast historical information regarding the various eras.
During this tour, each visitor receives a headset, in one of 10 different languages, with which to operate the displays.
During the day, visit the streets, chapel, stores, and an arts and crafts market, featuring artisans from the Crusades era, offering their wares: blacksmiths, glass blowers, potters, weavers, embroiderers, leather craftsmen, basket weavers, perfume and oil artisans, etc.
Archaeological items display:
The Eastern Street:
As you buy tickets, you can get an audio guide for free (included in ticket price). The unusual part is that these are electronic audio guides. How they know what track you should hear. As you go through the exhibition, you pass next to WiFi spots. As soon as you come close to one, it plays the right track.
Overall, this system works. But in many cases, you should not move too much while listening to a track. A couple of steps in the wrong direction and the audio guide automatically skip to another track. Also, there were two spots where you could not hear the explanations since audio guide kept jumping from one track to another. But overall, they did pretty good work.
They also added numbers to points of interest and arrows showing in which direction you should move. Most of them were clear, except this one.
The Beautiful Hall
One of the corridors:
The crypt of Saint John church:
Here is one of the new exposition telling about the sugar industry. I had no idea that there was an advanced sugar industry in Israel and it was exported to Europe:
One of the most beautiful halls, The Crusader’s dining room:
Another new place is the pillars Hall:
Besides the excavations that you can see in the photo above, the pillars Hall also holds the artists market:
When we visited the artists market, only about half of the stores were opened. And in some of them, we saw artists at work. For example, a woman was making a sculpture.
Hospitaller Fortress – Summary
That is it for Hospitaller Fortress. Overall, it changed significantly in the last years. Thus, if you have not visited it for several years, then I would recommend paying a visit. It was greatly improved.
Within several minutes walk from the Hospitaller Fortress you can find the Jezzar Pasha Mosque, AKA the White Mosque.
But, it was closed for prayer (you can see the sign that they put on the entrance). So, we will come back later.
Meanwhile, through the alleys of Old Acre, we headed to The Templars’ Tunnel.
Here we are passing next to El-Zeituna Mosque.
Old Acre alleys:
The Templars’ Tunnel
The tunnel is 350 meters long, and it extends from the Templars fortress in the west to the city’s port in the east. It crosses Pisan quarter and in the past, served as a strategic underground passageway that connected the palace to the port. The lower part of the tunnel is carved in the natural stone, and its upper part made of hewn rocks covered with a semi-barreled dome. The shaft was discovered in 1994. The Acre Development Company, in collaboration with the Antiquities Authority, cleared away the dirt and made the tunnel available to visitors. The tunnel’s western section was opened to the public at large in August 1999.
Inside the tunnel:
You can enter The Templars’ Tunnel either next to the sea or in the old city. We walked through the old town entrance and exited next to the sea (not far from the lighthouse).
Also, I should mention that while you inside, you can watch a short movie (around 10 minutes) telling us about the tunnel and the history of the city.
We exited the tunnel next to the sea and headed along the wall towards the lighthouse. Here is the lighthouse during windy weather.
Not far from the tower there is usually this picturesque juice stand.
Old Acre lighthouse:
Saint John’s Church
We headed back to the Jezzar Pasha Mosque. We walked not through the city but along the sea. On our way we passed next to Saint John Church:
Saint John’s Church, which currently stands next to Acre’s lighthouse, belongs to the Latin community (the Franciscans).
It is unclear as to when the church was built, although several years ago, the year 1737 was found engraved in the northern wall of the building. The church was renovated in 1947 and now serves as the only church of Acre’s Latin-Catholic community.
Source: official website
On the warmer days, teenagers jump from the Old Acre walls into the sea:
Their favorite spot is next to Saint John Church since there are stairs on the outer side of the barrier there:
Getting ready for the next jump:
Prayer time finished, and we headed back to The White Mosque.
Jezzar Pasha Mosque – The White Mosque
Al-Jazzar Mosque, which is known in Arabic as Jama El-Basha (the Pasha’s Mosque), was also formerly known as Jama El-Anwar (the Mosque of Lights), according to the Vakfiye of Ahmed Al-Jazzar Pasha. It is Israel’s largest mosque outside of Jerusalem and the largest one among the mosques built in Israel during the Turkish period. The building dominates Acre’s skyline to this very day.
Entrance to Jezzar Pasha Mosque costs 10 NIS, and you buy the ticket at the gate. It is not part of the Old Acre Development Company. Thus it is not included in the combined ticket we purchased at the beginning of the day.
The map of Jezzar Pasha Mosque compound:
Another exterior photo:
And the interior of Jezzar Pasha Mosque:
The compound around Jezzar Pasha Mosque has these lovely passageways:
On one of our visits to the Al-Jazzar Mosque, a local man approached us and offered some guidance. Since it was not my first time and it was a family visit, we refused. You can also say yes, keep in mind that he will be expecting a tip.
Okashi Art Museum
The entrance to Okashi Art Museum is about 20 meters from the entry to the Al-Jazzar Mosque. Okashi Art Museum is a small gallery, and due to its size, it can show works of only several artists. I visited it twice, and on both occasions, it showed modern style paintings. If the entrance to Okashi Art Museum was not included in the combined ticket, I probably would not visit it, but since the display is changing, it is hard to know what to expect in advance.
Turkish Bath – Hamam al-Basha
Not far from the Al-Jazzar Mosque you can find the Turkish Bath.
“Hamam al-Basha” was built at the end of the 18th century by Governor of Acre, Jazzar Pasha. At first, it was called “Hama al-Jadid” (the new Hamam), but its name was subsequently changed to Hamam al-Basha (the Pasha’s hamam), in honor of el-Jazzar. The Turkish bath’s construction was part of the transformation of Acre during the Ottoman Period from a small fishing village (primarily at the hands of al-Jazzar Pasha) into a teeming port city and a major construction and trade center. During his reign, el-Jazzar strove to further the city in many and varied ways. Among his accomplishments is the aqueduct which led the well water to the city, the breakwater for safe docking at the port and major buildings such as the Khan el-Umdan – Acre’s largest mosque – his luxurious palace and of course, the Turkish bath.
The Turkish Bath compound consists of only several halls. There is the summer dressing room, four intermediary rooms, and the hot room. In those chambers you will learn about the history of this place, the people that lived here and you will also see a short movie. The whole visit will take about an hour.
Note: I visited it only once several years ago, and for some reason, I can not find the photos. I guess I will have to visit again 😉
The market is located in the old city, close to the port at Al-Jazzar Mosque. It is not a big one, and you can pass it within 10 – 15 minutes. Though I love markets, and there is a variety of good markets in Israel, for me the Acre market lost its authenticity. The main reason is that many stands offer cheap Chinese goods. One of the only original remaining things is food. You can find fresh fish and traditional sweets. And if you are hungry, you can check out Hummus Said. It is a small hummus place that looks like a simple dining room and offers simple yet tasty dishes. It is located in the marketplace and the opening hours are Sunday to Friday from 6 am till they run out of hummus, which is typically 2:30 pm.
From the market, we headed back toward the land gate (the gate we entered Old Acre through).
Not far from the gate, you will see this inclined road which allows you to climb to the top of Old Acre wall:
We climbed to the top of the wall since we wanted to visit the last attraction from the combo ticket:
Treasures In The Walls Museum
When you walk on top of Old Acre wall you will see the museum’s sign:
The museum is located on the north-eastern walls of old Acre. The walls were initially built by the Ottoman ruler of the area Ahmed Al-Jazzar Pasha after Napoleon´s attempt to conquer the city in-1779. The commander´s tower “Burge-el-commander” is divided into arched halls which were used to hold the Ottomans garrison and now hold a beautiful and rare collection which gives an insight into the fabric of life in the Galilee during the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries.
Treasures in the Walls Museum holds several rooms with antique furniture like this:
There are also many antique items and decorated kitchenware.
That is quite an impressive clock. I have seen watches with Hebrew letters instead of numbers, but this one also has the signs of the twelve tribes of Israel:
Not sure I can even call this as furniture, it is art:
You can also find different craftsmen corners. In these corners, you can see the tools and other items these craftsmen used. That is the hat maker corner:
Photo at locksmith corner:
The pre-washing machine era:
Treasures in the Walls Museum is a lovely small place, and you can cover it within 60-90 minutes.
It was getting late, so we decided to make a short stroll in the alleys of Old Acre on our way back to the car.
We wanted to visit Khan al-Umdan:
Khan al-Umdan is the largest and best-preserved khan in Israel. But, unfortunately, it was closed. For years it stood abandoned. Maybe they closed it for restoration or for building a hotel inside it. Here is a photo of Khan al-Umdan’s interior I took back in 2014.
You can see Khan al-Umdan from the port.
At the port, you can take a short sail along Old Acre walls. I was curious, and I made once a sail from the port. It costs 10 NIS, and the sail itself is a concise one and lasts about 10 minutes. Recently, they opened a new sailing route. The Haifa – Acre route. There are several sails during the day in each direction, and it is suitable for somebody that stays in Haifa or Acre and wants a day trip to the other city. I have not taken such a sail yet.
For more photos of the Acre’s port check this post.
And this is Haifa view from Old Acre port:
Napoleon Hill – Tel Akko
On another occasion, we visited Napoleon Hill AKA Tel Akko. Tel Akko is located on a hill in the eastern part of the city near road #85. The height of the Tel is thirty meters, and it is quite small, 600 meters on 350 meters at the widest part.
During the spring the hill has many flowers at it makes the walk enjoyable.
Here is a view from the hill towards the city center. On the left, you can see part of a soccer stadium with parking nearby (there are two trucks there). We parked our car there and used the stairs on the right to climb the hill.
In 2009, the touristic project of Tel Akko was introduced. In that project, paved roads for pedestrians and cyclists were created. And watchpoints, like the following one, were installed.
I was particularly interested in Tel Akko from a photography standpoint. Besides the regular walk, it was also a scouting mission. And this is how Old Acre looks like from Napoleon Hill.
I took that shot with a 70mm lens on a full frame body. And as it turns out, the Tel is not a good point for photographers.
View to the East:
Napoleon At Acre
This Tel is also called Napoleon Hill with a big statue was installed at the top. It perpetuates Napoleon’s quest in 1799. During that quest, he tried to conquer old Acre. And despite a long siege, the city has not fallen.
Near the statue, you can see an archeological site. That is a Tel. And you might think that the city of Acre was always in the same spot. But, it started at this location. The town was at the same site till the beginning of the Hellenistic period, when it moved to the west, closer to the sea.
There are several routes around and near this Tel. We took the round one along the circumference of the top. That walk, with several stops, took us about an hour.
Overall, the routes at the Tel are nice and short, but I would not consider them as top attractions in Acre.
Bahai Gardens In Akko
Bahaullah, the Prophet-Founder of the Bahai faith, resided during the final years at a mansion in Akko. His remains were laid to rest at a shrine, and today there is a big garden surrounding the area.
The Bahai Gardens in Akko are open from 9:00 to 16:00, seven days a week, but they are closed on Bahai holy days and Yom Kippur. There is no charge for entry and no need for a reservation.
For the complete experience, we suggest you visit on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday between 9:00 and 12:00 noon. During these times, you can enter the inner garden and visit the shrine.
Source: Official Site
Bahai gardens both in Haifa and Akko are stunning. But, from my experience, after visiting both, the ones in Haifa are more impressive (probably because they are located on the slope of Mount Carmel). Thus, if you can visit only one, I would recommend visiting the Bahai Gardens In Haifa.
At the south of Akko, you can find a short a lovely beach strip. You can easily spend half a day at these sandy beaches, that provides a nice view of old Acre. For additional information check out Akko beach post.
Where To Stay
The place of your stay depends on your route and where you decide to make your base. You can either stay at Acre (check prices and availability of both apartments and hotels on booking.com). Or you can stay at Haifa (Haifa district on booking.com) and reach the city by public transport. Another alternative would be staying somewhere in the area and reach Akko by car for a day visit (North district on booking.com).
Old Acre offers many attractions, and you can easily spend the whole day there. Moreover, keep in mind that I did not cover all touristic attractions (check out Akko’s official site for additional information). But, we did go over all the main ones, and it is more than most tourists visit. Hence, after reading this post, you might ask which of the mentioned attractions above should you visit. And the next paragraph will answer this question.
What To Do In Acre?
What sites should you visit depends on several factors that include your interests and how much time do you have. I will answer this question using common interests, i.e., what most people do.
Things to do according to available time:
- 2 – 3 hours: I would suggest visiting the Hospitaller Fortress. It will take most (if not all) of your time. And if in the end you will have some time then walk in the old city. Visit the alleys, the port, and the market.
- 3 – 4 hours: in additions to the mentioned POI above, visit Jezzar Pasha Mosque or The Templars Tunnel. You probably will not have enough time to visit both.
- 5 – 7 hours: this is probably the optimal duration, and it will allow you to visit the Hospitaller Fortress, Jezzar Pasha Mosque, The Templars Tunnel, walk in the old city, and even grab something to eat.
- full day: to the places mentioned above you can add the Turkish Bath and the lovely Treasures In The Walls Museum.
Attractions Near Acre
If you are thinking about making Acre about your base, then you can easily spend several nights there. One day for exploring Acre, another day exploring Haifa (you can use the new sailing route I mentioned above) and one or several days exploring other attractions in this area. Here are several examples: Yehiam Fortress National Park and Rosh HaNikra grottoes. You can use the map at the beginning of this post to find additional POI.
What is your favorite place in Akko? Tell us in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!
For additional attractions nearby see Things To Do In Haifa.