Traveling to Israel and wondering whether Akko should be in your trip itinerary? We've been to Akko (aka Acre) many times and I can assure you it should be. Let me walk you through this amazing ancient city and show you all the fantastic things there are to see and do in Akko.
In this post, I'll tell you a bit about the history of Akko, and then walk you through the nine main attractions this city has to offer. By the time we'll finish the list, I promise you that you'll want to incorporate this unique travel destination in your itinerary.
- So, what is Akko anyway?
- 9 Awesome Things to Do in Akko, Israel
- 1. Walk through the Halls of the Knights
- 2. Visit the Medieval Market
- 3. Follow the underground Templar tunnel
- 4. Breath in the sea air on the city walls
- 5. Taste the local food in the market
- 6. Visit the Hammam
- 7. Enjoy a break next to the fountain
- 8. Climb the Ottoman cannons
- 9. See a museum
- 10. Enjoy the Akko Festival
- When to visit Akko
- How to get to and around Akko
- What to wear in Akko
- Where to stay in Akko
- Suggested itinerary for one day in Akko (and a map)
So, what is Akko anyway?
Akko is a city along the shores of the Mediterranean, home to about 55,000 residents. This is one of the few cities in Israel with a mixed population of Arabs and Jews. According to the city's website (in Hebrew), 72% of the population is Jewish and 28% Arab. However, you'll be visiting the Old City of Akko where almost all of the residents are Arab.
The Old City of Akko is a UNESCO World Heritage site and for good reason: The city is over four thousand years old! Archeologists keep discovering more and more of the awesomeness of that history - and you get to see it all when visiting.
Akko offers a thrilling mix of archeology, authentic Middle Eastern markets, the blue mediterranean sea, and some delicious ethnic food. It's a lot like the Old City of Jerusalem, only with a view to the sea. Let's start exploring what there is to do in Akko.
Is it Acre or Akko?
In English, it's known as Acre. Why? As far as my research shows, no one really knows. I can tell you that the name in Hebrew is Akko and in Arabic Akka. Some suggest that Acre is some version derived from the Canaanite word Adco which apparently means "border", possibly because this area was the northern border of the Canaanite territory.
But that was literally millennia ago. These days, you'll still see the name "Acre" in travel books and in signs in the city itself, so the word is certainly in use. However, if you're traveling via public transportation and need to ask a local about your destination, you should really use "Akko" (or "Akka" if asking a native speaker of Arabic).
9 Awesome Things to Do in Akko, Israel
If you're looking to create an itinerary, let's kick off the list of things to do. Make sure you read through for more tips that will help you plan the best possible visit to Akko.
1. Walk through the Halls of the Knights
A thousand years ago the crusaders invaded the Holy Land to conquer Jerusalem back from the hands of "the Saracens" - the term used at the time to describe the local muslim population. This was an age of romance and chivalry, when a knight in shining armour was a very real thing.
These knights built their own small town in Akko, complete with lively streets, thriving markets and a majestic fortress. They lived in Akko for a couple of centuries until the Saracens - lead by Sallah A Din - sent them back to Europe. Their cherished settlement was then covered in dirt and remained hidden from sight for centuries. It was only in 1990 that archeologists began to excavate the ancient town and bring it back to light. This ever-continuing extensive excavation and preservation project allows us to experience the amazing medieval town of the crusaders in a truly thrilling way.
Armed with an audio guide and a map, you are free to roam the excavated streets and alleys. Sounds and colorful moving images bring the streets back to life all around you for a unique multimedia experience.
One of the tour highlights is seeing the great Dining Halls of the knights. You can actually have a wedding here these days, hence the huge tables and benches, medieval style. The original stone pillars and the colorful banners of the knights that surround you make it easy to imagine you've traveled back in time. Kids and grownups alike love these halls!
2. Visit the Medieval Market
Your visit to the Crusaders' Fortress will take you to a beautiful reconstructed market area where artisans engage in medieval crafts and arts. You can buy their art or just spend some time looking at them work. You are within the excavated city so the location couldn't be more perfect.
They even have game boards (rather than board games!) for the complete medieval market experience!
3. Follow the underground Templar tunnel
Indiana Jones meets the Da Vinci Code!
Have you heard about the secret order of the Templars? They too were here during the crusades and true to their secretive heritage they left their mark in the form of an underground tunnel connecting the fortress with the beach.
The tunnel was discovered in the 1990's and has since been fully excavated and made safe for visiting. There is sea water in the tunnel but fortunately they put in a wooden deck so you don't have to get your feet wet. You enter one end near the fortress and walk along the tunnel -
Coming out to this view -
Which brings me to the next recommendation -
4. Breath in the sea air on the city walls
Akko was a historic port city of strategic importance. During the 18th and 19th century, its Ottoman rulers fortified the city with a strong stone wall built around it. Today you can walk along the wall for amazing views of the Mediterranean. It's not always very clean but the breeze and views are worth it.
Make sure you stop in one of the many observation points along the wall. Originally made for soldiers to shoot through, they now provide perfect photo opportunities. Try this suggested route along the Walls of Akko.
5. Taste the local food in the market
Akko is famous for its Old City bazaar. It's absolutely worth a visit in its own right, so make sure to immerse yourself in the colors, sounds, and scents of this fishing port's market.
Sa'id's Hummus place is famous across the country and offers delicious fresh hummus with extras served with warm homemade pita bread. Yum! This is a popular lunch joint that can get crowded but that's part of the charm of this local experience. Don't be too late. Once they run out of hummus, they close for the day.
If you have a sweet tooth, you're in for a treat! Street vendors offer a variety of homemade authentic candy. These will preserve quite well so you can get a few pieces as gifts for your friends back home.
For a healthier option, try the variety of caramelized nut-based sweets. Every type of nut and seed is available, all baked in delicious caramel!
6. Visit the Hammam
The beautifully reconstructed Hammam is one of Akko's historic gems. Hammam means Turkish bath and this one was a center of local social life for centuries -
Yup, today the only ones enjoying a traditional back rub are these statues. The Hammam was turned into an interactive museum. A virtual guide takes you from one room to another telling you all about this establishment and the people who have operated it through the centuries.
7. Enjoy a break next to the fountain
Need a break from all the walking? Looking for a place where you can sit down in the shade and nibble on the sweets you got at the market? Try the magical garden right by the visitors center (near the entrance to the Crusaders' Halls).
This is where your tour of Akko will likely begin and end. Sit by the small fountain under the canopy of old trees and just relax. There's a small cafeteria, vending machines and bathrooms nearby too.
8. Climb the Ottoman cannons
Across the road from the visitor's center, you'll see another piece of the Old Wall. This one has real cannons too! Kids love climbing on these authentic cannons that date back to Napoleon's time. These metal weapons actually saved Akko from being taken over by the French emperor!
9. See a museum
Akko has several art museums and galleries that are well worth a visit. If you want to stick to the historic perspective, the Treasures In The Wall museum is your best bet. These rich collections of crafts and objects from various periods are on display literally within the old wall (hence the name of this museum). For modern art, try the Okashi Museum.
10. Enjoy the Akko Festival
Yes, I know, this post is supposed to offer you nine awesome things to do in Akko. Here's a bonus tenth item! This one is very seasonal, so maybe it should be numbered "nine and a half"?
Getting to the point, Akko is home to the Israeli Festival of Fringe Theatre. Every year during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, the city turns into a local Edinburgh. The shows themselves are usually in Hebrew but there are many street performances outside too. The exact dates change each year according to the Jewish holiday calendar but if you're planning on visiting Israel during September or October find out if you can catch this very special festival.
When to visit Akko
If you have some flexibility with your dates, try to pick a weekday for your visit to avoid the crowds. Remember that in Israel, Sunday is a weekday but Friday isn't. So anytime Sunday-Thursday is good.
Summertime can be hot but not unmanageable. Indoor attractions are fully air-conditioned and there's almost always good breeze once you get on the walls.
How to get to and around Akko
I hope you're convinced by now that you should add Akko to your itinerary! It's really easy to get here and to get around town.
Traveling by car?
Akko is a short half an hour drive from Haifa or an hour and a half from Tel Aviv. There's ample parking by the visitors center where your visit begins at a reasonable fee of $5 a day. There's some free parking in the area but you could find yourself driving in the alleys of the Old City - a slow and nerve wracking experience you probably want to avoid. The address for your GPS is: 1, Weizman street, Acre.
Using Public Transportation?
If you don't have a car, you'll find that Akko is one of the easiest places to get to using public transportation. Not only are there frequent busses coming in from Haifa, there's even a train station. You can easily board a train in Tel Aviv in the morning and be in Akko at around 10AM to start your fun filled day and return back to Tel Aviv in the late evening. The train station in Akko is about a mile away from the Old City. Easy enough to walk but you can also get bus or a taxi if you prefer.
And now, you can even take the ferry to Akko! The ferry can take you from Haifa to Akko and back. It goes out twice a day in each direction. At only 55 shekels (around $14) each way, it's a great way to sail the mediterranean too.
Getting around while in Akko
Once in the Old City, just use your legs! Distances are short and with so much to see and do on the way, there's no point in getting any transportation. Most visitors choose a round route, getting to the walls by the sea via Templar Tunnel and returning through the busy colorful bazaar. Start at the visitor's center where they'll give you a map and help you with instructions. Don't worry about getting lost a little, it's part of the fun!
What to wear in Akko
Basically, whatever you want. You'll be walking in an area that's a bit more conservative than others in Israel but no one expect you to dress as a local. It can be hot during summertime so short sleeves and shorts are perfectly fine.
The one exception would be if you visit one of the mosques. Old Akko has several of them, the most famous one being the Al Jazzar mosque. These are working houses or prayer so if you're thinking of visiting, you'll have to find the right time slot (it changes daily). Your best bet would be to just get to Al Jazzar in the morning and ask about visiting hours for that day. Then walk around and return in time for your visit.
I'm mentioning all of this here because if you wish to visit a mosque, you need to dress accordingly. Long pants or skirt (covering the knees) and a long sleeve shirt or a shawl. No need for head covers, just to make sure your knees and elbows are covered.
And if you're still worried about dress codes, check out my 9 tips on what to wear while visiting Israel.
Where to stay in Akko
Your first question is whether or not to stay in Akko. It's a great day trip destination from Haifa and even from Tel Aviv. It can also be worked into any itinerary of the Western Galilee. That said, it's entirely possible to spend two or three days in the city to really soak up the atmosphere and add more museums and other attractions to your Akko trip.
If you decide to stay in Akko, there are many options to choose from. Backpackers and low-budget travelers should check out the Akko youth hostel that's perfectly located right by the visitors center. It's clean, spacious and comes highly recommended. If you can't find a room there, try the Akko Gate Hostel as another affordable option.
For families or couples, look into getting a vacation rental. They're a whole lot cheaper than what you might think and many are now available through Booking.com. I prefer working with Booking, as it allows me to keep my reservations in one place and work directly with a reputable company.
Here are some fantastic vacation rental options in Akko. Click through to see images, reviews, and prices for your dates. Or just search Booking on your own.
Sweet Little House - Located less than half a mile away from the Old City, yet in a quiet residential neighborhood, this small vacation rental gets excellent reviews.
Acre Two Wells Zimmer - A romantic place for couples within the Old City, right by the walls and the seaside. Modern amenities along with a fully renovated authentic interior - complete with two wells!
Four Hearts - Acre's Sea Side Suite - A magnificent rooftop apartment with a luxurious interior complemented by amazing views of the Mediterranean.
Suggested itinerary for one day in Akko (and a map)
So, how to visit Akko in a day? I added the places mentioned in this blog to a map, so you can see what it looks like. I tried to create a full walking path but that wasn't easy. Google Maps doesn't seem to take you through the Templar Tunnel or the Walls. If you zoom in here, you should be able to see the Walls right along the shore. Don't worry, it's easy to find everything once you're there and locals will be happy to help you find anything you need (most speak English).
Here's a textual description of your day in Akko. I'm going to assume arrival at around 9AM. If you think that's too early, I would suggest arriving the day before and spending the night there. Of you could just start your day later and adjust the itinerary accordingly.
9 AM Arrive at the Visitor Center (there's parking nearby if you're coming with a car). Get a map and buy your ticket for visiting the various locations. They offer a discounted rate if you buy everything in advance. There's a short introductory film at the Visitors Center that's worth watching. You can get a coffee while waiting for the film to start and sip it next the old fountain.
10 AM-Noon Visit the Halls and the Medieval market (plenty to see there)
Noon-1 PM Visit the Hammam and watch the show there
1 PM-3 PM Stroll in the market streets. This is a great time to grab lunch and I marked Hummus Said for you in the map if that's what you feel like eating. Plenty of other places to buy snacks, falafel or sit down for lunch.
3 PM Enter the Templar Tunnel from the market entrance. It's open until 6:30 so you have plenty of time (just note that if you didn't get your ticket in advance, you can get your ticket here until 5:30. Follow in the footsteps of the knights and cross the tunnel to the other side. You'll emerge right in front of the beautiful blue mediterranean sea.
3:30-4:30 Stroll along the walls. As you leave the tunnel, turn left and you'll see the steps that take you up the walls. Walk on the wall for fantastic views of the sea and city.
17:00 Visit the cannons. From the walls, you can choose to walk through the market area again, or just outside it (plenty of stalls everywhere, don't worry), to the old cannons on the hill.
If you happened to be super fast, you may get to the cannons at around 4 PM, leaving you with just enough time to visit the nearby Treasures in the Walls Museum which closes at 5.
You're not back where you started. If you've had enough, you can start heading back. Otherwise, keep exploring and enjoy the Old City of Akko at night. I would suggest an early dinner in one of the restaurants overlooking the sea for a great sunset!
There's a lot to see and do in Akko and even more around it. If you have any questions I'd love to try and help - leave me a comment here. Or just let me know what you think of Akko if you would like to visit someday or have visited and have your own tips to share!
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