Old Acre

Wander the ancient city’s narrow streets, where there is so much to learn and experience.

The old walls of Acre (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
The old walls of Acre
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
Location: Old Acre.
Type of outing: Easy, appropriate for the whole family.
Length: Half-day.
Season: All year long.
Directions: Follow signs for Acre’s Old City. Park in the Abirim (near the port) or Migdal Or (center of Old City) parking lots.
Contrary to popular belief, winter in Israel is an excellent time to go for a nature hike.
Everything is bright green, many flowers are blooming and trails that are hot and dusty the rest of the year can be traversed much more comfortably. Even if it’s too cool to wade in the water, you can still enjoy the gushing streams full from the rains.
Nonetheless, many families choose not to go on long hikes in the winter, preferring to instead stick to shorter jaunts and then spend the rest of the day indoors and out of the cold. Fortunately, many cities around the country are ready for just such people – with attractions combined with lovely walks, a bit of history and fantastic views.
One such Israeli city I love exploring is Old Acre, an incredibly dynamic place that attracts tourists of many religions. It’s a unique combination of an ancient port with a beautiful bay where one can hang out for hours, and an inland metropolis where houses built in the style of years gone by invite you to dream of its previous incarnation as a bustling transit station.
Acre played a key role in Israel’s ancient history, and there is so much to learn and experience.
If you’re a history buff, or just looking to spend Shabbat doing something a little out of the ordinary, I recommend coming to Acre and letting yourself wander around and get lost on the city’s narrow streets. You’ll find vendors selling treats and in the old outdoor market, you can taste a variety of local delicacies. If you’re interested in investigating the port, you can follow signs for sites maintained by the Acre Municipality, such as the Templar Tunnel, Knights Hall, and the al-Jazzar Mosque and hamam (Turkish bath). Purchase a combo ticket to gain entry to all these sites.
There is no right or wrong way to tour Old Acre; it all depends on where you parked your car, how many sites you want to visit and what kind of outing you were planning.
I usually start my tour near the eastern walls, remnants from the Crusader period.
Acre is surrounded by a number of walls, and there is a great view from atop them.
When you’re up high looking out over the city, you can just imagine the struggles that took place on both sides, inside and outside the Old City. In fact, these very walls stopped the advance of Napoleon.
The Templar Tunnel is probably the first place to see if you’re short on time. The 350-meter-long tunnel leads from the port all the way to the Templar Fortress, located on the west side of the Old City. People living in the fortress used this underground passage as a strategic way to get to the port without being seen. This is also a wonderful opportunity to see another structure built by the Templars, a German sect expelled from the church in 1858 due to its apocalyptic visions in the Holy Land.
The Templars were expert builders, as you can see in the arches of the exceptionally high ceiling of the tunnel, first discovered in 1994 and opened to the public five years later. There are two entrances to the tunnel: one is near the Acre lighthouse parking lot, the second in the covered area connecting Khan el-Umdan to Khan a-Shuna. The latter has accessibility for the disabled.
Another site not to be missed is the Knights’ Hall, otherwise known as the Hospitaller Fortress. Its large rooms are part of a huge structure where Crusaders slept and ate on their way to Jerusalem during the 12th and 13th centuries; the fortress has four wings surrounding a central courtyard. You can watch a short clip at the entrance describing how Acre developed and the changes the city underwent throughout history. Afterwards, I recommend walking through the corridors of this excavated historical structure, uncovered just 50 years ago.
The reason the Templar Fortress was not discovered earlier was that it was hidden under the floor of the Acre Fortress – used by Israel’s Ottoman regime and today housing the Underground Prisoners Museum. As you walk through the fortress, notice the distinct architecture that was popular during the Crusader period; there are bedrooms and larger halls that were used for ceremonies.
When you are finished, continue along the tunnel towards the port; when you alight from the tunnel, walk towards our next stop: the Turkish bath. The restored site, originally known as Hamam al-Basha, is a charming and unique public bathhouse built in 1795 by Pasha al-Jazzar, to provide public access to the style of bathing popular during the height of the Ottoman Empire. The hamam consists of a number of rooms, at the heart of which is the “hot room” (an octagonal steam room).
At the hamam’s entrance, there is a foyer that once served as a dressing room for visitors, with a stunning marble fountain at its center. From this room, you can enter directly into the intermediate treatment rooms and then into the most impressive room of all: the hot room, which had a heated pool and steam bath where guests were scrubbed, soaped and massaged. The curved ceiling and marble columns add to its dramatic feeling.
Nowadays, the intermediate rooms are available for private use. In addition, you can experience a unique audio-visual presentation that’s very popular among Israeli and foreign tourists. Titled “The Story of the Last Bath Attendant,” it tells the tale of an imaginary dynasty of bath attendants who supposedly ran the bathhouse, showing how the hamam functioned as a cultural and social gathering place for people from all walks of life.
When you’ve finished your hamam visit, wind your way back through the narrow streets of the Old City. Stop for a light meal in a restaurant, or buy some treats in the market to give your day in Acre a sweet ending.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.