Category Archives: Art Museums

Herzliya Beaches, Marina, Seafront Cafes and Restaurants

Just 12km north of central Tel Aviv, Herzliya is popular due to its fine, clean beaches, marina mall and string of seafront cafes. Named after Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, Herzliya started as a small farming community in 1924 and now consists of two main areas separated by Hwy 2. Map.

Herzliya beaches
Herzliya beaches

Middle-class, suburban central Herzliya, east of the highway, is mainly residential and commercial, while Herzliya Pituach (west of the highway) – a neighborhood of huge villas that’s home to some of Israel’s wealthiest residents – is where the beaches are. Herzliya  Pituach is also home to Israel’s blossoming high-tech industry; as a result, modern office blocks are rising up all over the area. Pituach, by the way, means ‘development’.

Herzliya
Herzliya

Apollonia National Park (03-903 3130; adult/student/child 22/19/10NIS; 8am-5pm Apr-Sep, to 4pm Oct-Mar, closes 1hr earlier Fri & holiday evenings)
This picturesque coastal park contains the ruins of a Crusader castle that becomes the venue for open-air concerts during summer weekends. There are some stunning views out over the Mediterranean and nearby you can see the remains of a Roman villa and the well-kept 13th-century Sidni Ali Mosque. The park can be reached by a fairly long walk up Wingate St or easily by car from the highway. It is about 3km north of Herzliya Pituach’s main beach, just beyond the small town of Nof Yam.

Arsur, Arsuf, Apollonia
Arsur, Arsuf, Apollonia

Herzliya Museum of Modern Art (09-950 0762; http://www.herzliyamuseum.co.il; 4 HaBanim St; admission 10NIS; h10am-2pm Mon, Wed, Fri & Sat, 4-8pm Tue & Thu)
Dedicated to Israeli and international contemporary art with an emphasis on political subject matter, this gallery aims to engage as well as entertain.

Herzliya Museum of Modern Art
Herzliya Museum of Modern Art

Food

As you would expect from such an affluent area, Herzliya accommodation consists of luxury spa hotels, but there are many restaurants for all budgets around the marina and on the beach.

Gelateria Siciliana (http://glideria.co.il; 14 Shenkar St; 1/2/3 scoops 15/20/25NIS; noon-midnight Sun-Thu, 11am-late Fri & Sat )
When at the beach, it’s almost obligatory to enjoy an ice cream. And in Herzliya, the best place to do this is at the local branch of the Tel Aviv gelateria.

Gelateria Siciliana
Gelateria Siciliana

Derby Bar (09-951 1818; http://derbybar.co.il; Arena Mall; pastas 69-89NIS, mains 99-135NIS; noon-midnight)
Attached to the Arena shopping mall next to the marina, this well-known restaurant has an expansive waterside terrace where it serves seafood, fish and pasta dishes. Beer is the usual accompaniment – there are six brands on tap.

Derby Bar
Derby Bar

Benedict (09-958 0701; http://www.benedict.co.il; 1 Haetzel St; breakfast 39-98NIS; h24hr)
The Herzliya branch of the popular Tel Aviv all-day breakfast joint is as popular as its inner-city equivalents. Diners can fill up on eggs Benedict, shakshuka or their choice from an enormous menu.

Benedict
Benedict

Agadir (09-951 6551; http://www.agadir.co.il; 9 Hamanofim St; hnoon-3am Sun-Thu, to 4am Fri, to 3am Sat )
A 20-minute walk from the Arena Mall, Agadir sticks with what it does best: tasty meat or veggie burgers with your choice of toppings and sides.

Agadir
Agadir

Transport

Egged buses 501, 502, 524, 525 and 531 run every 20 minutes to and from Tel Aviv (10.90NIS, 30 minutes). Trains run every 20 minutes (10NIS, 10 minutes). The station is quite a way from the beach, so take a taxi or bus 29 (6.60NIS) to the marina.

The Tour from Hell

This tour was the tour from hell … for me. For the group absolutely not, because they had loads of fun, costing me my hair of course. We are talking about a tour, which shows what Israel actually is, a mixture of culture, adventure, exploration and Israeli sights in all the major touristic centers of Israel. This article is part of the Tour Guide Diaries September 2016.

I’m working on whole range of new tours, like the so called low-budget tours and the tours, which mixes several things together in a more exciting tour then currently exists, and this tour is one of them (for example, we go on concert in the evening, visit festivals, workshops, join even a work camp to dig into the ground with the archeologists, visit the sights, do a little gem-touring, etc.). We were out for 12 days, our group was 50 (originally 30) strong from all over the United States, ages were between 17 and 63, and the group arrived at the airport 13 days ago (from the date of publishing)(so I’m recovering already for three days).

Welcome to Israel from the Ben Gurion Airport
Welcome to Israel from the Ben Gurion Airport

We went to the airport in a very good mood, I had my junior guides with me (Igor and Lena or together “the Juniors”), our new bus and the driver with the nickname “the Beast” (he’s small and overly polite and never shows any emotion, so his nickname is “the Beast” and his real name is Eddie) to pickup our new group for our new mixture tours.

One thing about nicknames! I really didn’t gave them their nicknames. I’ve no nickname … except ‘the Sheik’, because of some small misunderstanding last August, where some Bedouin men on the goat market of Be’er Sheba were advising me to take ten women as wives to drink coffee with me, but nobody remembers that, thank goodness for that.

I double checked my nice, sign-board (so people know it’s us) I was holding with our names on it to welcome our group. I really don’t want to repeat that prank from the last time where the driver changed the text into “Here’s the Idiot” or something like that. The board covered our names nicely.

When the people started to stream out of the checkout I held up my board and voila! People noticed and streamed to us with smiles on their faces. I spoke before their flight with them in a conference call over the Internet and I’m happy they were in such a good mood.

Hi Sheik! How are you?!” one yelled cheekily with a big grin on his face (someone has been talking)! And soon we were almost overwhelmed with the thirty people … and some … more? We moved our group from the hall to let them drink something and have maybe a bite to eat, but I realized that the group was much larger then 30! I was already upset about the Sheik thing and now this. Maybe some people they met during their flight? The Juniors were already suspiciously grinning.

It turned out that at the last moment they found more people who wanted to join this tour, but ‘forgot’ to tell me. So, suddenly instead of 30 people, we have now 45 people! And not to forget the payments. And the reservations. And the bus! And my heart! And what’s left of my hair! And not to forget my blood pressure.

You know, I’m just 56 years old and I’m old man and it’s really in those times that I’m thinking about going on pension. Maybe a pension on an island somewhere with nobody else then my wife. Well … when my wife comes with me, then she wants her cats also to come with us. And her aquarium with those bl**dy fish too. And the kids too and they have dogs.

I suddenly realize that we have a problem. The hotel reservation with our hotel is in Jerusalem and I know that they have no additional place; they are booked full (they had place for us of course, but with 30 people, not 45). One of my Juniors grabbed my hand, which was busy to pull out my hair (not joking). While the group was amusing themselves, five more people came in to join the group (they said ‘sorry, we’re late’, carrying large boxes with toys they bought at Duty Free). That’s 50!

I called a colleague, who must find us a hotel in or near Jerusalem, who can place a group of 53 people that same day. In high season! I quickly broke the connection with the swearing colleague (he’s called ‘The Pipe’, because he smokes … guess what? Correct, large cigars).

Feeling better, I processed the extra people, gave a pep talk to the Juniors and moved the army … eh … group to the Beast (to our bus). The poor man’s face lit up when he saw us coming. When the people started to enter his bus, slowly his expression turned from happy into confused … then shocked and was trying to find me … only I was at a safe distance looking at the scene and waiting for the expected eruption of ‘the beast’ soon to be … erupting.

‘The Beast’ came out of his bus and walked straight at me. I pointed at the Juniors with my thumb and blamed them for the problem of overcrowding his new and shiny bus. Before the juniors could react and recover from the shock, I was already moving quickly into the bus to tackle the next problem. That’s called strategical thinking. I don’t remember who advised something like that, but what I do remember was the advise “… never admit you’re wrong, always blame the one next to you …”. It never works with my wife though.

So in the bus, I started to bring the problem in front of our group. They came up right before they left to Israel with an additional 20 people for the group without telling us and we have only reservations for 30 people and the hotel is booked full. There will be no chance in hell that we would find another hotel for 50 people  within a couple of hours, then maybe a beach … but no beach in Jerusalem. And not to forget the damage for the hotel if we cancel at the last moment, the money would not be returned and the tour would be more expensive for all of us.

So the group decided that they would room together for this night. Not that they cared, because it was a rowdy group, who would be visiting a pop-concert that night after dinner in the old city and I saw already several girls checking out several gents. I felt my blood pressure going up when I also saw the expression of several of the people of this group who were already grinning mischievously.

During our talk, my disgruntled Juniors were already in the bus and my driver in his place. When he started the motor, I could hear how upset he was. The bus is exactly for 53 people and we always have a golden rule to have a larger bus then we there are people in the group. Well, technically we still have (three reserve places), but it was not ideal. They will suffer during the tour.

While we were on our way to Jerusalem, I got a phone call with a swearing Pipe (the guide my age checking out hotels) and he said he moved the reservations to another hotel the days after for 52 people and claimed that I could sleep outside and hung up. Funny boy. Oof. Two things down. Now a bigger bus and that would be even perfect. So instead of chatting with ‘the Beast’ myself, I sent him a SMS. Much more manly, not? I could have sent the Juniors, but they were angry at me for some reason.

American Colony Hotel
American Colony Hotel

All went well during our trip to our hotel in Jerusalem. We only had four bathroom stops, so nothing more then normal in such situation (never happened like that, but who cares at that point). We arrived at last at the American Colony Hotel.

We all got out of our bus and we moved into our hotel, with a smiling hotel manager who was looking at us happily and welcomed us in Israel with open arms. That continued – smiling and all – until he realized that there were not 30 of us, but the whole “g&^^%^$^%$%#$%d” US army!  Suddenly he was not smiling anymore and I saw him already looking for me. The cowards of a Juniors ran already in the hotel, so I was forced to confront the manager myself.

After calming the manager down (and pay a fortune to do that), he clearly didn’t care anymore to welcome us to his hotel, he disappeared posthaste. After everyone was checked in, and disappeared into the hotel, I could sit in one of those easy sofas at last.

That evening I discovered that I forgot to check myself in. “Well, sorry, no place!” But I arranged a bigger bus (the bus was called Fat Bertha, like that super gun), the Beast was happy again. The Juniors were alright after they found out I slept on the sofa. What else? Oh yes. One woman hurt her foot during wild dancing (is the Polkas a dance?), another one discovered that she’s pregnant, one man thought he lost his way and was in the wrong hotel, while he was wandering around at the back of our hotel and we experienced yesterday evening an example what Israeli rock sounded.

The concert hall was a cafe and the rock turned out to be House Music, but that was really great and everyone danced and had fun. They didn’t want to go back to the hotel at the end, but the bouncers almost kicked us out. We took Fat Bertha and went back to our hotel, still singing and dancing.

I had pain in my head and my back was hurting because of sleeping on the sofa. The Juniors had fun and were in a good mood, the Beast was still polishing Fat Bertha and our group was in a super good mood after a great breakfast (I ate chips). At the end we moved into Fat Bertha and drove to the Jerusalem markets and shopping streets. Why? We rented off a restaurant for the day, where everyone could demonstrate that they wanted to cook and we suppose to eat what the volunteers would prepare for us. The Chef of the restaurant refused to allow us ‘barbarians‘ in his kitchen alone, so he would stand guard (in the middle of his kitchen).

I skip a couple days of the tour and move to the 5th day, the day that we go to Be’er Sheba. But one more remark about the cooking in the restaurant. It was so much fun and we ate so well that evening after loads of shopping (we went back three times to the market and it was a fortune what they bought). The group didn’t burn down his kitchen nor the restaurant! And the cook hid the large knifes for some reason.

We arrived at our usual hotel in Be’er Sheba. Be’er Sheba is a very nice place, but the choice in hotels is limited and they can’t be compared with the hotels in Eilat, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. But this Be’er Sheba hotel would do. And who was there waiting for us while we were checking in the hotel? Right, the same worried looking manager from last August, who was confronted with the fact that there were two small goats running rampage in his hotel in the middle of the night in August and one totally destroyed (or better eaten) room.

Bedouin Goat Market
Bedouin Goat Market

The manager didn’t look pleased. He asked me though if we plan to go to the goat market today. Of course we would go to the goat market and not to forget the chicken market too. And this time I arranged also a small tour on camels and we would maybe see a small auction of buying and selling camels (and we have also chicken speed running organized). I told him that, and he really didn’t look pleased. I guaranteed him that we this time inspect everyone coming in and out of the bus for hidden goats, chickens and camels. The only thing he said was that he would do the same when we would come back to the hotel.

I was happy at that time, because we would only stay one night at his hotel, before we would spent two days in the desert with carts and camels. I really didn’t look forward to meet Fred the Camel again, so I could avoid having a camel tour in Eilat.

Market in Be’er Sheba
Market in Be’er Sheba

We indeed went to the markets in Be’er Sheba (the normal one, and the goat and chicken markets). Nothing exciting happened, except that our group was very hard to keep together (50 rowdy people in a very good mood with loads of energy) with three guides (the Juniors and I). We didn’t pickup any other group, they didn’t buy any goats or chickens, nobody got upset, but there were some people who bought some strange Bedouin dresses for women for some reason. We also tried the camels. That was so much fun that others have problems climbing on camels like I usual have. But no auction of camels, otherwise I could change my Juniors for a camel or three goats maybe, damn that manager.

Bedouin Goat Market
Bedouin Goat Market

We met those same Bedouin men who were asking about my 10 women and again explained to the group that I’ve a harem and 20 children, but I got my coffee. That reminded me about ordering the evening amusement and this time we had real Bedouin musicians not such phony flop of a so called d^&&*^*%&^$%^ magician and his sexy belly dancer like back in August during the goat disaster. The Juniors were giggling! I was highly suspicious seeing that, but at that moment my attention was drawn to my camel, who was trying to bite me. All camels in the world only try to bite me and nobody else.

In the evening back to the hotel, we met the manager, who was indeed inspecting everyone (I forgot to check anyone for hidden goats, chickens and camels), but he obviously not. After that, he insisted in inspecting Fat Bertha and when The Beast finally understood what the manager wanted, they together almost tore the bus apart for their ridiculous quest for goats, chickens and camels! Honestly, who do they think we are?

That evening there was no original Bedouin music, but that belly dancer and her bl**dy so called magician who was loudly calling me “The Sheik” again. I will get my revenge on my Juniors for that!

But thank goodness, I slept wonderful (even when the Beast was snoring loudly), no goats on the rampage, but I heard in the morning that the manager couldn’t sleep all night.

Ramon Crater
Ramon Crater

The next day we visited the Ramon Crater and met our Bedouins. Guess who? My old Bedouin man and his many children and camels and … Fred the Camel. Fred the Camel was the camel only for me, according the Bedouin. Damn him and his camel. The same for the Juniors. I will cook them and feed them to Fred the camel. Never met something so smelly and with such awful sounds he makes when he sees me. Always in a bad mood too. And he bites. And tries to throw me off when I finally manage to climb on his back.

Experience Eilat's Mountains

We moved to the desert with the group on the back of the camels. I knew that the Bedouin with his many children were waiting somewhere with jeeps. They suppose to pick us up tomorrow evening for a big party with the Bedouins. That evening we finally could sleep at 3 am, after I translated again the campfire stories of the old Bedouin. Instead of his usual horror theme, he was telling about the old caravans of ancient times, who were stranded in the middle of the desert and were forced to eat their own camels … and scorpions and other insects to survive.

Experience Eilat's Mountains

I changed the story and translation somewhat (the man speaks only Arabic) and told the group that camel meat tasted just like what we all ate that evening (we ate lamb). The woman who discovered (at the beginning of the tour) that she was pregnant started to puke and the Bedouin who didn’t understand English was looking at me and pointed threatening at Fred the camel and shook slowly his head, frowning and all that jazz.

So he was telling another story about the young Bedouin woman, who fell in love with a boy her age from another tribe, while her father promised her to someone else (three times her age). He translated dutifully, but every time I wanted to make his story sound more … juicy (?), the old Bedouin man (who didn’t understand English?) was pausing and frowning at me. No fun like that.

Under the stars of the desert, it would quiet anyone, so impressive it was. The old Bedouin suddenly had deep knowledge of the stars and demonstrated it. He was trying to explain to us how you could navigate in the desert and with only the stars.

The next morning was a disaster. Fred the camel managed to bite me straight in my behind and couldn’t sit very well any more after that. According Junior, Fred’s teeth were visible for days after that. It seems to be funny for the group though.

Eilat
Eilat

When we finally arrived at our hotel in Eilat, I could find relieve there. For whatever reason, the group tipped the Bedouin man extra! Not fair. They can’t handle some teasing? Especially when everyone was calling me Sheik.

Hilton Eilat Queen Of Sheba Hotel
Hilton Eilat Queen Of Sheba Hotel

I skip the tour here to the tenth day and we are in Jericho. Until then we survived, we didn’t pick additional guests up in our group, we didn’t loose anyone, neither additional goats or any other animals, my behind was alright again and could sit (tenderly). We still were using Fat Bertha the bus and the Beast our driver was still happy. I couldn’t exchange my juniors for camels or goats, so they were still there, looking wearily at me when I could prank them back.

Tel al-Sultan near Jericho
Tel al-Sultan near Jericho

But now we arrived in Jericho and that’s a special place in Israel. Not only it’s the oldest place you can find anywhere in Israel and surroundings, but also very mysterious. There were so many cultures and civilizations arriving and disappearing in Jericho over the many thousands of years, nobody really could even count them. There are hundreds of layers of different buildings built once in Jericho and the archeologists are still counting.

The Canaan were a bunch of wild people, who believed in all kind of gods, who are now classified as demons or devils. So everyone was interested in my horror stories and that I did. So they were already in the proper mood for the Mount of Temptation!

Mount of Temptation
Mount of Temptation

Then we came to the Mount of Temptation near Jericho, where everyone was highly impressed about my strange stories. They wanted to see proof and so we did. We didn’t take the cable cars but walked and climbed the mountain.

Mount of Temptation, the mountain and the monastery
Mount of Temptation, the mountain and the monastery

Half way some people were murmuring something bad of course, until we reached the promised caves and showed them the scratches the devil once had made thousands of years ago, when Jesus was tempted by the same devil to make bread from stone. I showed them the caves of the hermits of old, who dedicated their lives to live there and to pray, never talked to anyone else anymore for more then 40 years.

Or the Hermit who became mad after seven years in a narrow cave and who received food from people from Jericho. He became too fat to exit his cave and he died there. His spirit still haunts the cave, some believe.

Mount of Temptation, inside in the monastery
Mount of Temptation, inside in the monastery

When we finally arrived at the Monastery, everyone was looking a bit sketchy, especially my two Juniors. The Monastery is amazing where you can see the personal cells of the Monks still working there. It’s still not too late to allow the Juniors to dump them there for some month or so, I was joking of course, but one Junior thought I meant it. Ha!

At day 12 we said good bye to everyone. All went well after the disasters at the beginning when suddenly our group grew from 30 till 50. Nobody bought or smuggled any goat or camel, nobody destroyed or ate a room, I got finally my revenge on my Juniors and I had one happy large group of people who felt bad that they needed to go home.

I still have my hair (mostly), I will not see Fred the camel for at least one week and I’m dead on my feet. Now I go back home to see if my wife is still there.

I also discovered that Eddie (‘The Beast’) decided to sleep in Fat Bertha his new bus when I finally came home. My wife hid my phone after that, so I could not help him out. I discovered the day after that he changed our old new bus with Fat Bertha and the bus company was not happy.

Two days in Tsfat (Safed)

This is an article to spend your time in Tsfat, but instead of visiting this town for a couple of hours (like with most of the organized tours do), you spend two days at this ethereal place. Here I describe why and how. Here I talk about all the sights, neighborhoods, hotels, restaurants, prices, tips, entertainment, history, everything to make it possible to have your own tour without a guide. This is guide inside information shared with you. 

Print out this article or at least print the (embedded) maps. If you need more maps, click here for the maps about Tsfat.

Tzfat Old City & Artist Quarter
Tzfat Old City & Artist Quarter

The mountaintop city of Tsfat is an ethereal place to get lost for a day or two. A center of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) since the 16th century, it’s home to an otherworldly mixture of Hasidic Jews, artists and devout-but-mellow former hippies, a surprising number of them American immigrants.

Tzfat Old City & Artist Quarter
Tzfat Old City & Artist Quarter

In the old city’s labyrinth of cobbled alleys and steep stone stairways, you’ll come across ancient synagogues, crumbling stone houses with turquoise doorways, art galleries, artists’  studios and Yiddish-speaking little boys in black kaftans and bowler hats.

Tzfat Old City & Artist Quarter
Tzfat Old City & Artist Quarter

Parts of Tsfat look like a shtetl (ghetto) built of Jerusalem stone, but the presence of so many mystics and spiritual seekers creates a distinctly bohemian atmosphere.

On Shabbat (Friday night and Saturday until sundown), commerce completely shuts down. While this may be inconvenient if you’re looking for a bite to eat, the lack of traffic creates a meditative, spiritual atmosphere through which joyful Hasidic tunes waft from hidden synagogues and unseen dining rooms. Do not photograph observant Jews on Shabbat and holidays.

In July and August and during the Passover and Sukkot holidays, Tsfat is packed with tourists –both Israeli and foreign – and the city’s restaurants and cafes buzz until late at night. Winter, on the other hand, is very quiet, giving the city’s many artists a chance to get some work done.

Small History
Founded in the Roman period, Tsfat was fortified by Yosef ben Matityahu (later known as Josephus Flavius), commander of Jewish forces in the Galilee in the early years of the Great Jewish Revolt (66–70 CE). According to the Jerusalem Talmud, Tsfat was the site of one of the hilltop fire beacons used to convey news of the sighting of the new moon in Jerusalem.

The Crusaders, led by King Fulk of Anjou, built a vast citadel here to control the highway to Damascus. It was later captured by Saladin (1188), dismantled by the Ayyubids (1220), rebuilt by the Knights Templar (1240) and expanded by the Mamluk Sultan Beybars (after 1266).

During the late 15th and 16th centuries, Tsfat’s Jewish community increased in size and importance thanks to an influx of Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. Among the new arrivals were some of the Jewish world’s pre-eminent Kabbalists. During this period, Tsfat was an important stop on the trade route from Akko to Damascus and was known for its production of textiles. A Hebrew printing press – the first such device anywhere in the Middle East – was set up in Tsfat in 1577.

In the late 1700s, Tsfat welcomed an influx of Hasidim from Russia. Tsfat was decimated by the plague in 1742, 1812 and 1847, and devastated by earthquakes in 1759 and 1837. The latter disaster killed thousands and caused all but a handful of buildings to crumble.

In 1948 the departing British handed the town’s strategic assets over to Arab forces, but after a pitched battle Jewish forces prevailed and the Arab population fled – among them, 13-year-old Mahmoud Abbas, now president of the Palestinian Authority. These days, Tsfat’s residents include more than a few American Jews who turned to mysticism in a 1960s-inspired search for spirituality and transcendental meaning.

Map of Tsfat
Map of Tsfat
  1. Ashkenazi Ari Synagogue – Najara St; h9.30am-about 7pm Sun-Thu, 9.30am-1pm Fri, closed during prayers.
    Founded in the 16th century by Sephardic Jews from Greece, this synagogue was destroyed in the 1837 earthquake and rebuilt in the 1850s. It stands on the site where the great Kabbalist Yitzhak Luria (Isaac Luria; 1534–72; often known by the name Ari) used to greet the Sabbath. In the 18th century it came to serve Tsfat’s Ashkenazi Hasidic community, hence the synagogue’s name (the Jerusalem-born Ari had a Sephardic mother and an Ashkenazi father). High atop the 19th-century holy ark (where the Torah scrolls are kept), carved and elaborately painted according to the traditions of Galicia (Poland), the lion has a human-like face that worshippers speculate may be that of the Ari (the Hebrew word ari means ‘lion’). In 1948, the synagogue was packed with worshippers when an Arab mortar round slammed into the courtyard, sending shrapnel crashing into the side of the bimah (central platform) facing the door (the hole is still there). It was a miracle, say locals, that there were no casualties.

    Ashkenazi Ari Synagogue
    Ashkenazi Ari Synagogue
  2. Caro Synagogue. 04-692 3284, Eyal 050 855 0462; Beit Yosef St; 9am-5.30pm Sun-Thu, 9am-3pm or 4pm in winter, 9am-noon Fri).
    Named (like the street it’s on) in honour of the author of the Shulchan Aruch (the most authoritative codification of Jewish law), Toledo-born Rabbi Yosef Caro (1488–1575), this synagogue was founded as a house of study in the 1500s but rebuilt after the earthquakes of 1759 and 1837 – and again in 1903. To the right as you face the ark, hanging in one of the windows, you can see the twisted remains of a Katyusha rocket from Lebanon that landed just outside in 2006. In the 16th century, Caro, the head of Tsfat’s rabbinical court, was the most respected  rabbinical authority not only in Palestine but in many parts of the Jewish Diaspora as well. According to tradition, an angel revealed the secrets of Kabbalah to Caro in the house below the synagogue.

    Caro Synagogue
    Caro Synagogue
  3. Museum of Hungarian Speaking Jewry. 692 3880; http://www.hjm.org.il; HaAzma’ut Sq; admission 20NIS, incl tour 35NIS; h9am-2pm Sun-Thu, 9am-1pm Fri).
    Evocative artefacts, photographs and documents do a masterful job of evoking the lost world of pre-WWII Hungarian-speaking Jewry. A 17-minute film provides context. If you’re interested, museum co-founder (along with her husband) Chava Lustig will tell you about the Budapest ghetto, which she survived as a 14-year-old. The museum has extensive archives for those interested in doing family research. Signs are in Hebrew, Hungarian and English.

    Museum of Hungarian Speaking Jewry
    Museum of Hungarian Speaking Jewry
  4. Abuhav Synagogue. 04-692 3885; Abuhav St; husually 9am-5pm Sun-Thu, 9am-noon Fri).
    Named after the 15th-century Spanish scholar Rabbi Yitzhak Abuhav, this synagogue was founded in the 16th century but moved to its present location after the 1759 earthquake. The ornately carved courtyard, restored in the late 20th century, is often used for weddings. Inside, the four central pillars represent the four elements (earth, air, water and fire) that, according to Kabbalists (and ancient Greeks such as Aristotle), make up all of creation. The oval dome has 10 windows, one for each of the Ten Commandments; representations of the 12 Tribes of Israel; illustrations of musical instruments used in the Temple; pomegranates (said to  have the same number of seeds as there are Jewish commandments, 613); and the Dome of the Rock, a reminder of the Temple in Jerusalem.

    Abuhav Synagogue
    Abuhav Synagogue
  5. Ari’s Mikveh. South of the southern end of Ha’Ari St; 24hr.
    A boldface Hebrew sign on the gate reads ‘entry for men only’. The reason is not gynophobia but the fact that inside there are naked men taking a quick, ritually purifying dip in the icy waters of a natural spring. Once used by the Ari, the site is run by the Breslov (Bratzlav) Hassidic movement.

    Ari’s Mikveh
    Ari’s Mikveh
  6. Canaan Gallery. 04-697 4449; http://www.canaan-gallery.com; Fig Tree Courtyard, 28 Alkabetz St, Synagogue Quarter; 9am-7pm Sun-Thu Apr-Oct, 9am-5pm Sun-Thu Nov-Mar, 9am-2.30pm Fri).
    Continuing Tsfat’s centuries-old textile tradition, begun by Jews fleeing the Inquisition, Orna and Yair Moore’s studio produces richly textured tapestries, wall hangings and Jewish ritual objects (talitot, kippot, challah covers) made from cotton and chenille. You can see weavers at work at their upstairs studio.
  7. Citadel Park. Gan HaMetsuda; Chativat Yiftach St; 24hr.
    The highest point in central Tsfat (834m), now a breeze-cooled park, was once part of the largest Crusader fortress in the Middle East (its outer walls followed the line now marked by Jerusalem St). Near the park’s southern tip, the ruins of one of the inner walls can be seen along Chativat Yiftach St. From there, a path leads up the slope and under an old water pipe to a dark, flat, 30m-long tunnel that takes you into an ancient stone cistern. Stand in the middle and see what happens when you clap. Other footpaths lead up to the ridge line, which affords panoramic views in all directions.

    Citadel Park
    Citadel Park
  8. Citadel ruins. See the Citadel Park (7).
  9. Davidka Memorial. Jerusalem St.
    About 50m south of City Hall, the Davidka Memorial recalls the role played by the home-made, notoriously inaccurate Davidka mortar in sowing panic among the Arab population, possibly because of rumors that its incredibly loud 40kg warhead was an atomic bomb. About 3km to the left, a free audio guide tells the dramatic tale of the battle for Tsfat in 1947 and 1948 – from the Israeli perspective, of course.

    Davidka Memorial
    Davidka Memorial
  10. Fig Tree Courtyard. 28 Alkabetz St, Synagogue Quarter; h9am-7pm Sun-Thu Apr-Oct, 9am- 5pm Sun-Thu Nov-Mar, 9am-2pm or 3pm Fri.
    Set around a centenarian fig tree and a 9m-deep cistern (visible through a glass floor panel), this collection of galleries and silversmiths’ ateliers is one of Tsfat’s classiest. From the rooftop patio you can see half the Galilee, from Mt Meron all the way south to Mt Tabor, with the cliffs of Amud Stream (Nahal Amud) in the depths below. Restrooms available.

    Fig Tree Courtyard
    Fig Tree Courtyard
  11. Former British police station. Jerusalem St. 
    Across the Jerusalem street is the former British police station, riddled with bullet holes from 1948, which is now used by the Tsfat Academic College.
  12. General Safed Exhibition. 04-692 0087; 2 Arlozoroff St; 10am-5pm Sun-Thu, 10am-2pm Fri & Sat.
    Opened in 1952, this group gallery – housed in the white-domed, Ottoman-era Market Mosque –displays, sells and ships works by about 50 painters and 10 sculptors, including some very talented immigrants from the former Soviet Union. If you find yourself intrigued by a particular work, ask for directions to the artist’s studio.
  13. HaMeiri Dairy. Yaniv 052 372 1609; http://www.hameiri-cheese.co.il; Keren HaYesod St; 9am-3pm Sun-Thu, 9am-1.30pm Fri.
    Run by the same family for six generations, this small dairy takes about 50,000L of sheep’s milk a year and turns it into delicious cheeses, including soft, creamy Bulgarian cheese (aged for a full year) and a variety of gvina Tzfatit (Tsfat-style cheese; aged for six months) that’s harder, saltier and sheepier than the supermarket variety – both can be purchased at the tiny deli counter. To get there, go all the way to the bottom of the Ma’alot Olei HaGardom staircase, turn right and walk 50m. There are 45-minute tours (adult/child 20/15NIS, in Hebrew) at noon on Friday; a cafe is planned. Cheeses are made each Thursday.

    HaMeiri Dairy
    HaMeiri Dairy
  14. HaMeiri Museum. 04-697 1307; http://www.bhm.org.il; 158 Keren Ha-Yesod St; adult/child 6-18yr 20/13NIS; h8.30am-2.30pm Sun-Thu, 9.30am-1.30pm Fri.
    Housed in a 150-year-old building that once served as the seat of Tsfat’s rabbinical court, this museum illustrates Jewish life in Tsfat during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Exhibits include unique household and Jewish ritual objects made by local tinsmiths using empty kerosene cans (some even incorporate the Shell logo into the design). To get there, go all the way to the bottom of the Ma’alot Olei HaGardom staircase and turn right. Upstairs is a re-creation of a one-room apartment inhabited by a family with six children. The mother got to sleep in the one bed, and the shower consisted of a hanging bucket made of reused tin with a showerhead welded to the bottom. Visitors are asked to check in their backpacks so they don’t knock anything over. Signs are in English.
  15. Kabbalah Art. 04-697 2702; http://www.kosmic-kabbalah.com; 38 Bar Yochai St, Synagogue Quarter; h9am-7pm Sun-Thu, 9am-2hrs before sundown Fri.
    Denver-born David Friedman uses the mysteries of the Hebrew alphabet, Kabbalistic symbols such as the Tree of Life, and the universal language of color and geometry to create striking visual representations of Kabbalah, and is happy to give visitors a short introduction to Kabbalah. Situated about 100m northwest of HaMaginim Sq.
  16. Kadosh Dairy. Kadosh Cheese; 04-692 0326; 34 Yud Alef St; 8am-8pm Sun-Thu, 8am-1hr before sundown Fri.
    Run by the Kadosh family for seven generations, this microdairy produces minuscule quantities of deliciously sharp, salty gvina Tzfatit as well as a variety of other cheeses, including blue cheese, kashkaval (a semihard yellow sheep’s milk cheese) and pecorino. You can usually watch cheese being made on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday from 8am to 3pm. To get there from the Synagogue Quarter, follow the signs down the hill to ‘Safed Cheeze’ or ‘Zefat Cheeze’. The dairy sells cheeses, as well as halva made with honey, stuffed grape leaves and local wines. A sampler plate with about 10 cheeses and bread – enough for a meal – costs 40NIS.

    Kadosh Dairy
    Kadosh Dairy
  17. Safed Candles. Najara St, Synagogue Quarter; 9.15am-6.30pm Sun-Thu, 9.15am-12.30pm Fri, 9.15am-1.45pm Fri in summer.
    If you’ve ever wondered how Shabbat, Havdalah and Chanukah candles are braided and decorated, drop by this emporium to watch an expert candlemaker at work – she’s often here from noon to 4pm Sunday to Thursday. Other waxy highlights include the world’s largest braided Havdalah candle (it’s got 180 strands) and a gloriously gory mini-diorama showing David holding aloft the severed head of Goliath – a masterwork of kitsch! Situated 50m down an alley from the Ashkenazi Ari Synagogue.
  18. Safed Craft Pottery. 054 434 5206; http://www.haaripottery.blogspot.com; 63 Yud Alef St, Artists’ Quarter; h10am-6pm Sun-Thu, 10am-3hrs before sundown Fri.
    UK-born potter Daniel Flatauer works in the English studio pottery tradition, producing tableware, kitchenware and Judaica that is both functional and extraordinarily beautiful. He has the only salt kiln in Israel – if you’re not sure what that means, ask him!

    Safed Craft Pottery
    Safed Craft Pottery
  19. Sephardic Ari Synagogue. Synagogue Ha’Ary Sefaradi; Ha’Ari St; 1-7pm Sun-Wed, 1-5pm Thu in summer, shorter hrs rest of yr.
    Tsfat’s oldest synagogue – it’s mentioned in documents from as far back as 1522 – was frequented by the Ari, who found inspiration in the panoramic views of Mt Meron and the tomb of Shimon bar Yochai. To the left of the raised bimah (platform) is the small room, glowing with candles, where he is said to have studied mystical texts with the prophet Elijah. The present structure is partly the result of rebuilding after the earthquake of 1837.
  20. Sheva Chaya Glassblowing Gallery. 058 714 7640; http://www.shevachaya.com; 7 Tet Vav St, Artists’ Quarter; 9am-6pm Sun-Thu, 9am-2pm or 3pm Fri.
    Kabbalistic concepts and women’s themes in Judaism are represented in the art of Denver-born painter and glass-blower Sheva Chaya Shaiman. She does glassblowing demonstrations on most days in July and August, and often the rest of the year. Situated across the street from the General Safed Exhibition.

    Sheva Chaya Glassblowing Gallery
    Sheva Chaya Glassblowing Gallery
  21. Tzfat Gallery of Mystical Art. 04-692 3051; http://www.kabbalahart.com; 35 Tet Vav St, Artists’ Quarter; Usually (call before) 9am-4pm Sun-Thu, 9am-noon Fri.
    Avraham Loewenthal, who hails from Detroit, is happy to explain the symbolism of his colorful, abstract works, which are based on Kabbalistic concepts. Call ahead  for a private viewing. Situated across the street from HaMa’ayan HaRadum Sq.

    Tzfat Gallery of Mystical Art
    Tzfat Gallery of Mystical Art
  22. Yehezkel HaMeiri Viewpoint. Ma’alot Olei HaGardom. Opened in 2014, affords views of the Kabbalists’ tombs and Mt Meron.

    Yehezkel HaMeiri House
    Yehezkel HaMeiri House

Sights

Central Tsfat’s main thoroughfare, lined with shops and eateries, is north–south Yerushalayim St (Jerusalem St). West of here, a broad staircase called Ma’alot Olei HaGardom divides the Synagogue Quarter (to the north) from the Artists’ Quarter (to the south). The main alley in the Synagogue Quarter, famous for its many art galleries, is called Alkabetz St and Beit Yosef St (Yosef Caro St). The Kabbalists’ tombs are further down the slope. Most of Tsfat’s sights are in the Synagogue Quarter and the adjacent Artists’ Quarter.

Tsfat’s Galleries

A retreat and inspiration for Israeli artists since the 1950s, Tsfat is home to one of Israel’s largest collections of artists’ studios and art galleries, making it the best place in the country (along with Jerusalem) to shop for Judaica (Jewish ritual objects).

You’ll find jaw-dropping original art, commercial semi-kitsch and everything in between, and almost all the works – menorahs, mezuzahs, illuminated Hebrew manuscripts, jewellery, glass work, sinuous modern sculpture, paintings – are imaginative and upliftingly colorful.

Most, in the mystical Hasidic tradition, are also joyous. In the Synagogue Quarter, dozens of galleries can be found along Alkabetz St, a stone-paved alleyway that stretches south from the Ashkenazi Ari Synagogue; further south it is known as Beit Yosef St (Yosef Caro St). More galleries, as well as artists’ studios, are hidden away in the Artists’ Quarter along the alleys around the General Exhibition, including Tet-Vav St.

This list of galleries are located from the north to the south:

  • Kabbalah Art 04-697 2702; http://www.kosmic-kabbalah.com; 38 Bar Yochai St, Synagogue Quarter; h9am-7pm Sun-Thu, 9am-2hrs before sundown Fri. Denver-born David Friedman uses the mysteries of the Hebrew alphabet, Kabbalistic symbols such as the Tree of Life, and the universal language of color and geometry to create striking visual representations of Kabbalah, and is happy to give visitors a short introduction to Kabbalah. Situated about 100m northwest of HaMaginim Sq.

    Kabbalah Art
    Kabbalah Art
  • Safed Candles Najara St, Synagogue Quarter; h9.15am-6.30pm Sun-Thu, 9.15am-12.30pm Fri, 9.15am-1.45pm Fri in summer) If you’ve ever wondered how Shabbat, Havdalah and Chanukah candles are braided and decorated, drop by this emporium to watch an expert candlemaker at work – she’s often here from noon to 4pm Sunday to Thursday. Other waxy highlights include the world’s largest braided Havdalah candle (it’s got 180 strands) and a gloriously gory mini-diorama showing David holding aloft the severed head of Goliath – a masterwork of kitsch! Situated 50m down an alley from the Ashkenazi Ari Synagogue.

    Safed Candles
    Safed Candles
  • Fig Tree Courtyard 28 Alkabetz St, Synagogue Quarter; h9am-7pm Sun-Thu Apr-Oct, 9am-5pm Sun-Thu Nov-Mar, 9am-2pm or 3pm Fri. Set around a centenarian fig tree and a 9m-deep cistern (visible through a glass floor panel), this collection of galleries and silversmiths’ ateliers is one of Tsfat’s classiest. From the rooftop patio you can see half the Galilee, from Mt Meron all the way south to Mt Tabor, with the cliffs of Amud Stream (Nahal Amud) in the depths below. Restrooms available.
  • Canaan Gallery 04-697 4449; http://www.canaan-gallery.com; Fig Tree Courtyard, 28 Alkabetz St, Synagogue Quarter; h9am-7pm Sun-Thu Apr-Oct, 9am-5pm Sun-Thu Nov-Mar, 9am-2.30pm Fri. Continuing Tsfat’s centuries-old textile tradition, begun by Jews fleeing the Inquisition, Orna and Yair Moore’s studio produces richly textured tapestries, wall hangings and Jewish ritual objects (talitot, kippot, challah covers) made from cotton and chenille. You can see weavers at work at their upstairs studio.

    Canaan Gallery
    Canaan Gallery
  • Safed Craft Pottery 054 434 5206; http://www.haaripottery.blogspot.com; 63 Yud Alef St, Artists’ Quarter; h10am-6pm Sun-Thu, 10am-3hrs before sundown Fri. UK-born potter Daniel Flatauer works in the English studio pottery tradition, producing tableware, kitchenware and Judaica that is both functional and extraordinarily beautiful. He has the only salt kiln in Israel – if you’re not sure what that means, ask him!

    Safed Craft Pottery
    Safed Craft Pottery
  • Sheva Chaya Glassblowing Gallery 058 714 7640; http://www.shevachaya.com; 7 Tet Vav St, Artists’ Quarter; h9am-6pm Sun-Thu, 9am-2pm or 3pm Fri. Kabbalistic concepts and women’s themes in Judaism are represented in the art of Denver-born painter and glass-blower Sheva Chaya Shaiman. She does glassblowing demonstrations on most days in July and August, and often the rest of the year. Situated across the street from the General Safed Exhibition.

    Sheva Chaya Glassblowing Gallery
    Sheva Chaya Glassblowing Gallery
  • Tzfat Gallery of Mystical Art 04-692 3051; http://www.kabbalahart.com; 35 Tet Vav St, Artists’Quarter; usually 9am-4pm Sun-Thu, 9am-noon Fri. Avraham Loewenthal, who hails from Detroit, is happy to explain the symbolism of his colorful, abstract works, which are based on Kabbalistic concepts. Call ahead for a private viewing. Situated across the street from HaMa’ayan HaRadum Sq.

Synagogue Quarter

Tsfat’s long-time Jewish neighborhood spills down the hillside from HaMaginim Sq (Kikar HaMaginim; Defenders’ Sq), which dates from 1777; all of Tsfat’s historic Kabbalist synagogues are a quick (if often confusing) walk from here. If you’re short on time, the two to visit are the Ashkenazi Ari and Caro synagogues. Galleries filled with exuberant art line the main alleyway, known as Alkabetz St and Beit Yosef St.

Synagogue hours tend to be irregular, especially in winter, and unannounced closings (eg for Monday and Thursday morning bar mitzvahs) are common. Visitors should wear modest clothing (no shorts or bare shoulders); kippas/yarmulkes are provided for men (or you can wear any hat). Caretakers appreciate a small donation (5NIS). Synagogues are closed to tourists on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

Ancient Jewish CemeteryThe weed-covered, rock-strewn jumble of sun-baked graves below the Synagogue Quarter doesn’t look like much, but for followers of Jewish mysticism, the spirits of the great 16th-century Kabbalists buried here make this hillside an exceptional place to connect with the divine spark through prayer and meditation. A wander through the area is a bit otherworldly at any time, but it’s particularly magical in the early evening, when you can walk in the flickering glow of memorial candles, often to the haunting echoes of chanted prayers and psalms.

Ashkenazi Ari Synagogue – Founded in the 16th century by Sephardic Jews from Greece, this synagogue was destroyed in the 1837 earthquake and rebuilt in the 1850s. It stands on the site where the great Kabbalist Yitzhak Luria (Isaac Luria; 1534–72; often known by the name Ari) used to greet the Sabbath. In the 18th century it came to serve Tsfat’s Ashkenazi Hasidic community, hence the synagogue’s name (the Jerusalem-born Ari had a Sephardic mother and an Ashkenazi father). High atop the 19th-century holy ark (where the Torah scrolls are kept), carved and elaborately painted according to the traditions of Galicia (Poland), the lion has a human-like face that worshipers speculate may be that of  the Ari (the Hebrew word ari means ‘lion’). In 1948, the synagogue was packed with worshipers when an Arab mortar round slammed into the courtyard, sending shrapnel crashing into the side of the bimah (central platform) facing the door (the hole is still there). It was a miracle, say locals, that there were no casualties.

Caro SynagogueNamed (like the street it’s on) in honour of the author of the Shulchan Aruch (the most authoritative codification of Jewish law), Toledo-born Rabbi Yosef Caro (1488–1575), this synagogue was founded as a house of study in the 1500s but rebuilt after the earthquakes of 1759 and 1837 – and again in 1903. To the right as you face the ark, hanging in one of the windows, you can see the twisted remains of a Katyusha rocket from Lebanon that landed just outside in 2006. In the 16th century, Caro, the head of Tsfat’s rabbinical court, was the most respected rabbinical authority not only in Palestine but in many parts of the Jewish Diaspora as well. According to tradition, an angel revealed the secrets of Kabbalah to Caro in the house below the synagogue.

Abuhav SynagogueNamed after the 15th-century Spanish scholar Rabbi Yitzhak Abuhav, this synagogue was founded in the 16th century but moved to its present location after the 1759 earthquake. The ornately carved courtyard, restored in the late 20th century, is often used for weddings. Inside, the four central pillars represent the four elements (earth, air, water and fire) that, according to Kabbalists (and ancient Greeks such as Aristotle), make up all of creation. The oval dome has 10 windows, one for each of the Ten Commandments; representations of the 12 Tribes of Israel; illustrations of musical instruments used in the Temple; pomegranates (said to have the same number of seeds as there are Jewish commandments, 613); and the Dome of the Rock, a reminder of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Sephardic Ari SynagogueTsfat’s oldest synagogue – it’s mentioned in documents from as far back as 1522 – was frequented by the Ari, who found inspiration in the panoramic views of Mt Meron and the tomb of Shimon bar Yochai. To the left of the raised bimah (platform) is the small room, glowing with candles, where he is said to have studied mystical texts with the prophet Elijah. The present structure is partly the result of rebuilding after the earthquake of 1837.

HaMeiri MuseumHoused in a 150-year-old building that once served as the seat of Tsfat’s rabbinical court, this museum illustrates Jewish life in Tsfat during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Exhibits include unique household and Jewish ritual objects made by local tinsmiths using empty kerosene cans (some even incorporate the Shell logo into the design). To get there, go all the way to the bottom of the Ma’alot Olei HaGardom staircase and turn right. Upstairs is a re-creation of a one-room apartment inhabited by a family with six children. The mother got to sleep in the one bed, and the shower consisted of a hanging bucket made of reused tin with a shower head welded to the bottom. Visitors are asked to check in their backpacks so they don’t knock anything over. Signs are in English.

HaMeiri Dairy – Run by the same family for six generations, this small dairy takes about 50,000 liter of sheep’s milk a year and turns it into delicious cheeses, including soft, creamy Bulgarian cheese (aged for a full year) and a variety of gvina Tzfatit  (Tsfat-style cheese; aged for six months) that’s harder, saltier and sheepier than the supermarket variety – both can be purchased at the tiny deli counter. To get there, go all the way to the bottom of the Ma’alot Olei HaGardom staircase, turn right and walk 50m. There are 45-minute tours (adult/child 20/15NIS, in Hebrew) at noon on Friday; a cafe is planned. Cheeses are made each Thursday.

Kadosh DairyRun by the Kadosh family for seven generations, this microdairy produces minuscule quantities ofdeliciously sharp, salty gvina Tzfatit as well as a variety of other cheeses, including blue cheese,  kashkaval (a semihard yellow sheep’s milk cheese) and pecorino. You can usually watch cheese being made on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday from 8am to 3pm. To get there from the Synagogue Quarter, follow the signs down the hill to ‘Safed Cheeze’ or ‘Zefat Cheeze’. The dairy sells cheeses, as well as halva made with honey, stuffed grape leaves and local wines. A sampler plate with about 10 cheeses and bread – enough for a meal – costs 40NIS.


Artists’ Quarter

Artist Quarter
Artist Quarter

The neighborhood south of the Ma’alot Olei HaGardom stairway used to be Tsfat’s Arab quarter, as you can see from the minarets, but after the 1948 war the area was developed as an Israeli artists’ colony. To help things along, the government declared that any artist who was willing to live in Tsfat for at least 180 days a year would be given a free house and gallery.

In the ‘50s and ‘60s, some of the country’s most celebrated painters (Moshe Castel, Yitzhak Frenkel, Simcha Holtzman, Arieh Merzer and Menahem Shemi), inspired by Tsfat’s stunning landscapes and mystical traditions, opened studios and held exhibitions in the town.

Art-lovers escaped the heat of Tel Aviv and spent their summers holidaying in the city’s two dozen hotels. Most of the galleries and studios around the quarter are open to visitors, with many artists happy to talk about their work and even happier to make a sale.

General Safed ExhibitionOpened in 1952, this group gallery – housed in the white-domed, Ottoman-era Market Mosque –displays, sells and ships works by about 50 painters and 10 sculptors, including some very talented immigrants from the former Soviet Union. If you find yourself intrigued by a particular work, ask for directions to the artist’s studio.

Ancient Jewish CemeteryThe weed-covered, rock-strewn jumble of sun-baked graves below the Synagogue Quarter doesn’t look like much, but for followers of Jewish mysticism, the spirits of the great 16th-century Kabbalists buried here make this hillside an exceptional place to connect with the divine spark through prayer and meditation. A wander through the area is a bit otherworldly at any time, but it’s particularly magical in the early evening, when you can walk in the flickering glow of memorial candles, often to the haunting echoes of chanted prayers and psalms. Anyone who was remotely famous has had their stones painted ‘Tsfat blue’, a light hue that reminds passers-by that the Kabbalists’ spiritual role is to connect the heavens and the earth. To avoid impure thoughts among the pious men who come to pray in Tsfat’s ancient Jewish cemetery, Hebrew signs direct women to separate walkways and platforms. But it’s not always clear where you’re supposed to go, and even strictly Orthodox people often ignore the contradictory signage, which is part of a growing trend among some ultra-Orthodox groups to separate the sexes to a degree unprecedented in Jewish history. If you can’t read Hebrew, all you need to know to keep the signs straight is that the word for ‘women’ (nashim, written) includes the letter Shin, which looks like a three-branched candelabra. As at any holy site, visitors should dress modestly.

Ancient Jewish Cemetery
Ancient Jewish Cemetery

Ari’s MikvehA boldface Hebrew sign on the gate reads ‘entry for men only’. The reason is not gynophobia but the fact that inside there are naked men taking a quick, ritually purifying dip in the icy waters of a natural spring. Once used by the Ari, the site is run by the Breslov (Bratzlav) Hassidic movement.

Tombs of the KabbalistsThe graves of many of Tsfat’s greatest sages and Kabbalists are about one-third of the way down the slope, just below a solitary pine tree in an area where the converging double walkways are covered with transparent roofing. If you can’t read Hebrew, ask passers-by for help in finding the tombs of Yitzhak Luria (Isaac Luria; born in Jerusalem in 1534, died in Tsfat in 1572), aka HaAri, the father of modern Jewish mysticism (Lurianic Kabbalah). Near the tomb of Luria is that of Shlomo Alkabetz (born in Thessalonika c 1500, died in Tsfat in 1580), best known for composing the hymn ‘Lecha Dodi’. Yosef Caro (born in Toledo in 1488, died in Tsfat in 1575), the most important codifier of Jewish law, is buried about 100m further down the hill.

Tombs of the Kabbalists
Tombs of the Kabbalists

Elsewhere

Citadel Park – The highest point in central Tsfat (834m), now a breeze-cooled park, was once part of the largest Crusader fortress in the Middle East (its outer walls followed the line now marked by Jerusalem St). Near the park’s southern tip, the ruins of one of the inner walls can be seen along Chativat Yiftach St. From there, a path leads up the slope and under an old water pipe to a dark, flat, 30m-long tunnel that takes you into an ancient stone cistern. Stand in the middle and see what happens when you clap. Other footpaths lead up to the ridge line, which affords panoramic views in all directions.

Yerushalayim StreetAbout 50m south of City Hall, the Davidka Memorial recalls the role played by the home-made, notoriously inaccurate Davidka mortar in sowing panic among the Arab population, possibly because of rumors that its incredibly loud 40kg warhead was an atomic bomb. About 3km to the left, a free audio guide tells the dramatic tale of the battle for Tsfat in 1947 and 1948 – from the Israeli perspective, of course. Across the street is the former British police station, riddled with bullet holes from 1948, which is now used by the Tsfat Academic College.

Yerushalayim Street
Yerushalayim Street

Museum of Hungarian Speaking JewryEvocative artifacts, photographs and documents do a masterful job of evoking the lost world of pre-WWII Hungarian-speaking Jewry. A 17-minute film provides context. If you’re interested, museum co-founder (along with her husband) Chava Lustig will tell you about the Budapest ghetto, which she survived as a 14-year-old. The museum has extensive archives for those interested in doing family research. Signs are in Hebrew, Hungarian and English.

Tours

While it’s easy to float around Tsfat on your own little trip, it’s a town where stories and secrets run deep.

  • Baruch Emanuel Erdstein (052 251 5134; http://www.safedexperience.com; per hr 180NIS)
    Offers spiritual walking tours, generally of three to five hours. Baruch, a storyteller and musician who grew up near Detroit, describes Tsfat as having a ‘tremendous gift’ to offer, that it’s a place that ‘opens people up to themselves, to their potential and to beginning to understand the meaning of their lives and of creation’.
  • Path of the Heart (B’Shvil HaLev, Tzfat Experience; 050 750 5695, 04-682 6489; http://www.shvilhalev.co.il; 7 Tet-Vav St, Artists’ Quarter; 2hr tour up to 8 people 350NIS)
    Runs experiential walking tours of the old city accompanied by Hasidic guitar melodies, tales of the Kabbalists and an exploration of their spiritual message.

    Path of the Heart
    Path of the Heart

Sleeping

Tsfat has lots of B&Bs and holiday apartments, some rented out by artists. Because most places keep Shabbat, some B&Bs have a two-night weekend minimum; it’s not usually possible to check-in on Saturday until after sundown.

Room prices rise precipitously during the Tsfat Klezmer Festival (mid-August) and around the Jewish holiday of Lag BaOmer (33 days after Passover); at these times, reserve many months ahead.

Back before air-conditioning, 950m-high Mt Canaan (Har Kna’an) – now a neighborhood of Tsfat – offered a welcome ‘hill station’ escape from the summer heat. The area is about 4.5km northeast of the city center.

  • Adler Apartments – 052 344 7766; adler1.4u@gmail.com; office in Adler’s Change, 88 Yerushalayim St; d without breakfast 300NIS, Fri night & all day Sat 350NIS, additional bed 100NIS. Has 10 clean, practical, simply furnished apartments with kitchenette, in or near the center of town. If you’re arriving on Saturday, easy-going Baruch can arrange key pickup.
  • Safed Inn – Ruckenstein B&B; %04-697 1007; http://www.safedinn.com; 1 Merom Kna’an St; dm/s/d/q without breakfast US$29/100/129/158, cheaper Sun-Wed, additional person US$29; reception 8am-8pm. Opened in 1936, this garden guesthouse has comfortable rooms ‘untouched by interior design theories‘, a sauna, an outdoor hot tub (open 8pm to 11pm) and washing machines (15NIS). Riki and Dov get rave reviews for their local knowledge and tasty Continental/Israeli breakfasts (30/60NIS). Call ahead if you’ll be arriving after 8pm. To get there, turn off Rte 8900 onto HaGdud HaShlishi St 250m towards Rosh Pina from the Tsfat police station (in a Tegart Fort built by the British in the late 1930s). Served by local bus 3 (4.80NIS, 22 minutes, twice an hour until 9pm Sunday to Thursday and to 2.30pm Friday) from the central bus station, or you can take a taxi (25NIS during the day).

    Safed inn
    Safed inn
  • Carmel Hotel – 050 242 1092, 04-692 0053; 8 Ha’Ari St, ie 8 Ya’avetz St; s/d/q without breakfast US$75/100/150. Thanks to owner Shlomo – who is likely to insist that you try his limon cello – staying here is like having the run of a big, old family house. Some of the 12, simply furnished rooms are romantic and some aren’t but they’re all clean and practical and some have fantastic views.

    Carmel Hotel
    Carmel Hotel
  • Artist Quarter Guest House – 054 776 4877, 077-524 0235; http://www.artistquarterguesthouse.com; 43 Yud Zayin Alley, Artists’ Quarter;  600-750NIS, additional person 100NIS. Northern Californians Joy and Evan warmly welcome guests to their two spacious, Ottoman-era rooms, both with high, vaulted stone ceilings and Moroccan-style furnishings. Swedish massage available for women.

    Artist Quarter Guest House
    Artist Quarter Guest House
  • Beit Yosef Suites – 04-692 2515; http://www.beityosef.co.il; 650NIS, additional person 175NIS. Rents out nine one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, with cosy, eclectic decor, in old stone buildings in the Artists’ Quarter. The same family, originally from Los Angeles, runs a cafe, which is where breakfast is served. Reserve by phone or online; when you arrive, Sharon will meet you with the key.

    Beit Yosef Suites
    Beit Yosef Suites
  • Ruth Rimonim – 04-699 4666, reservations 03-675 4591; http://www.rimonim.com; Tet-Zayin St, Artists’ Quarter; 700-800NIS. Housed in part in a one-time Ottoman-era post house, this veteran hotel has stone-walled common areas with wrought iron furnishings and fresh-cut flowers, expansive gardens, a spa and 76 elegant, modern rooms with sparkling marble bathrooms. Wi-fi costs 10/40NIS per two/24 hours.

    Ruth Rimonim
    Ruth Rimonim

Eating

Places selling pizza, felafel and shwarma can be found along Yerushalayim St and on the edge of the Synagogue Quarter, at HaMaginim Sq. All of central Tsfat’s restaurants close on Shabbat. If you decide not to drive to nearby settlements such as Rosh Pina, Jish and Amirim to dine, you can order ready-made food from several places on Yerushalayim St, with pick-up on Friday in the early afternoon – ask your B&B for details.

Coöp Shop Supermarket
Coöp Shop Supermarket

Another option is to self-cater at Coöp Shop Supermarket, 102 Arlozoroff St; 7.30am- 9pm Sun-Wed, 7.30am-10pm Thu, 7.30am-1pm or 2pm Fri. At Ruth Rimonim Hotel, a kosher buffet lunch or dinner on Shabbat costs 140NIS; reserve and pay in advance.

Entertainment

Back in the 1970s Tsfat had half-a-dozen nightclubs, but these days the increasingly Haredi city goes to bed fairly early, except in summer when tourists keep the old city’s streets and cafes lively until late. Almost everything is closed on Shabbat – except, of course, for the synagogues, some of which sing their prayers, such as Shlomo Carlebach (054 804 8602; http://carlebach.intzfat.info), or hold Hassidic farbrengen (joyous community gatherings).

Khan of the White Donkey
Khan of the White Donkey

Khan of the White Donkey – 077-234 5719, Maxim 054 449 4521; http://www.thekhan.org; 5 Tzvi Levanon Alley, Artists’ Quarter; h9am-4pm Sun-Thu. This pluralistic cultural center hosts a variety of cultural, environmental and health-oriented community activities, including concerts (50NIS to 70NIS), open-mic jam sessions (20NIS, on some Thursdays at 9pm) and a low-cost holistic medicine clinic (Sunday from 8am to 4pm). The alternative vibe attracts a mix of hippies, backpackers and strictly observant Jews. The center occupies a 700- year-old khan (caravanserai), beautifully restored with all-natural materials. Rents out three B&B rooms.

Getting there

The central bus station (www.bus.co.il; HaAtzma’ut St), situated about 700m west of the Synagogue Quarter, has services linked to the following destinations:

  1. Tiberias (Afikim bus 450; 16.50NIS, 40 minutes, hourly Sunday to Friday afternoon, one Saturday night)
  2. Jerusalem (Nateev Express bus 982; 40NIS, 3¼ hours, eight daily Sunday to Thursday, five Friday, at least three Saturday night)
  3. Haifa-Mercazit HaMifratz (Nateev Express bus 361; 1¾ hours, twice an hour) Goes via Akko (one hour).
  4. Kiryat Shmona (Nateev Express bus 511; 20.70NIS, one hour, hourly) Goes via Rosh Pina (10.20NIS, five minutes) and the Hula Valley.
  5. You need to know that there are a lot more direct buses to the ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak than to Tel Aviv itself (Egged bus 846; 49.50NIS, 3½ hours, one or two daily Sunday to Friday). In fact, to get to Tel Aviv it’s faster to take Egged bus 361 to Akko and then hop on a train.

Family and Children Tour 12 Days

For this (multiple day) tour, you need to have the following:

  1. Wim Vincken
    Wim Vincken, Guide

    An itinerary (this one for example. Click here to customize this tour for you). This is very important, especially for this tour, because it’s possible that the kids have already visited or seen the sights and excitement in this tour. And in Israel there is so much choice, it’s not normal. Customizing this tour for you is easy, quick and very rewarding.

  2. A guide. You can use the information here instead of renting a guide, but in the end it’s more expensive and a huge hassle. I can imagine that having a guide with this tour is not so much needed as with other tours, but still he can be of high value for you and your family.
  3. Transport. Transports can be that you hire a mini-bus with driver, or you rent a car or let your guide do it for you (click here for more info).
  4. Hotels. You can use the info here, or on bookings.com or generally the Internet or let your guide negotiate the best deals for hotels for you.
  5. Food. You can use the restaurants here in this itinerary or ask the guide.
  6. What you need to supply is
    1. Airplane tickets
    2. Visa and insurance

For costs, questions, queries and other related information, click here.

This tour is for families and their children. It will bring you to Tel Aviv, Caesarea, Acre, Sea of Galilee, Golan, Safed, Jerusalem, Dead Sea, Qumran, Masada, Negev and Eilat. The tour is designed for the individual, as for groups, with or without a professional guide. The guide can speak English, German, and Dutch.

You will visit the following cities or places in this tour:

  1. Tel Aviv
  2. Caesarea
  3. Acre
  4. Sea of Galilee
  5. Golan
  6. Safed
  7. Jerusalem
  8. Dead Sea
  9. Qumran
  10. Ein Gedi
  11. Masada
  12. Negev
  13. Eilat

Click on More Info or Things to do behind the sigh. Restaurants in the neighborhood of the sights are available in this itinerary each day. Click on Restaurants.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Tour will run with a minimum of 8 participants.

And what are we going to do in this tour?

  1. Amusement parks
  2. Boat tours
  3. Botanic gardens
  4. Cable cars
  5. Caves
  6. Cinema
  7. City-bus tour
  8. Dancing
  9. Dolphin beach
  10. Fortresses
  11. Hiking
  12. Kayaking
  13. Luna park
  14. Museums
  15. Music
  16. National Parks
  17. Oasis
  18. Rafting
  19. Scavenger hunts
  20. Shopping
  21. Spa
  22. Swimming
  23. Theater
  24. Water parks
  25. Water tunnels
  26. Zoo

And for sure we forgot to mention something here. And that is not all. Each evening, when you are tired of the day activities, we organize something different.

  1. A boat cruise
  2. A movies evening
  3. A small city tour
  4. Bowling
  5. Cooking
  6. Dancing
  7. Light shows
  8. Promenade wandering
  9. Singing

So far the activities (we let you in rest at night, because we assume you want to sleep). The tour includes:

  • Breakfast (buffet). The breakfast is with your hotel.
  • Lunch. The lunch varies on the day of the tour; mostly a local restaurant, but there are days we bring lunch packages and even picnics with us.
  • Dinner.  We eat in restaurants and barbecues.

When there are requirements of a special diet, please indicate this when you register the tour. There will be no additional costs required for such diets.

Tour itinerary

There are twelve days you spend touring Israel with the family theme for this tour. This tour starts with Tel Aviv and it ends with Eilat. The designers of this tour wanted different aspects integrated here and they succeeded with that. Because we are talking about a family tour, that means actually for this tour one thing: Having fun with your family. And having fun means that everyone will enjoy the tour. So, no boring things, no overly conventional museums, digging sites, another church or desert. No, this tour is a careful combination of fun in several levels from amusement parks to doing something fun yourself. And we are not talking about what this tour will do for the family bonding.

Another thing about this tour. We don’t think that children younger then 8 years old can join this tour. Many of the activities are specially designed for kids eight years and older and teenagers and with kids younger then eight means that one of the family members will be hold back, and that is not fair, not? That said, we have special programs for those younger kids (you need to pay a surcharge for that per family). For details, please contact us and we email you such programs.

Day 1     Arrival – Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv Promenade
Tel Aviv Promenade
  1. Tel Aviv promenade
  2. Beaches
  3. Evening: Tel Aviv night life
  • Hotel in: Tel Aviv

Day 2     Have Fun in the White City – Tel Aviv

Ramat Gan Safari
Ramat Gan Safari
  1. Ramat Gan Safari
  2. Luna Park
  3. Evening: Tel Aviv Port
  • Hotel in: Tel Aviv

Day 3     From Caesarea via Acre to the Sea of Galilee – Tiberias

Nahal Kziv
Nahal Kziv
  1. Caesarea
  2. Acre
  3. Knights Halls
  4. Al-Jazaar Mosque and The bathhouse (Hamam al-Basha)
  5. Montfort
  6. Rosh Hanikra Grottoes & Cable Car
  7. Nahal Kziv (water nature reserve) (optional)
  8. Evening: Boat trip on Sea of Galilee
  • Hotel in: Tiberias

Day 4     From Sea of Galilee to the Golan and back – Tiberias

Hof Tzemach
Hof Tzemach
  1. Hof Tzemach, water park near Sea of Galilee
  2. Manara Cliff, Cable-car ride, Mountain-slide coaster cars, Rappelling, Zip-line
  3. Mey Kedem Water Tunnel
  4. Katsrin (optional)
  5. Evening: Old-Tiberias city tour
  • Hotel in: Tiberias

Day 5     From the Sea of Galilee via Safed to Jerusalem –    Jerusalem

Bloomfield Science Museum
Bloomfield Science Museum
  1. Safed (artist-colony)
  2. Otzar Hastam (amusement park in Safed)
  3. Sorek (Avshalom) Cave or Bell Cave or Hariton Cave
  4. Bloomfield Science Museum (optional)
  5. Evening: Theater
  • Hotel in: Jerusalem

Day 6     The Exciting Holy City – Jerusalem

Jerusalem Time Elevator Show
Jerusalem Time Elevator Show
  1. Biblical Zoo
  2. Time Elevator
  3. Jerusalem Botanical Gardens
  4. Wohl Rose Garden, Jerusalem (optional)
  5. Evening: City of David (light show)
  • Hotel in: Jerusalem

Day 7     Jerusalem blues – Jerusalem

Mahane Yehuda Market
Mahane Yehuda Market
  1. Yad Vashem and Children’s Memorial
  2. Hop-On Hop-Off Tour Bus 99
  3. Mahane Yehuda Market
  4. Israel Museum and Bible Lands Museum (optional)
  5. Evening: Evening city tour
  • Hotel in: Jerusalem

Day 8     The New Jerusalem – Jerusalem

Jerusalem Scavenger Hunt
Jerusalem Scavenger Hunt
  1. Old City Scavenger Hunt
  2. First Railway Station
  3. Haas Promenade
  4. Herzl Museum (optional)
  5. Evening: Cinema City Jerusalem
  • Hotel in: Jerusalem

Day 9     Judean Pleasures in Dust, Water and Flowers – Dead Sea area

Dead Sea
Dead Sea
  1. Dead Sea
  2. Qumran
  3. Ein Gedi and Ein Gedi Botanical Garden
  4. Evening: Desert amusement
  • Hotel in: Near Dead Sea

Day 10     From Masada via Timna to Eilat – Eilat

Timna National Park
Timna National Park
  1. Masada
  2. Timna Park
  3. Evening: Bowling at Eilat
  • Hotel in: Eilat

Day 11     Paradise near the Red Sea – Eilat

Nightmare Eilat
Nightmare Eilat
  1. Eilat’s Camel Ranch
  2. Dolphin beach
  3. Nightmare Eilat (optional)
  4. Evening: Eilat’s Isrotel Theater
  • Hotel in: Eilat

Day 12     Departure

Ice Space
Ice Space
  1. Ice Space (optional)

SERVICES INCLUDED
Ensuring that your visit is easy, comfortable, and fun!

  1. Welcome & Assist at Ben Gurion Airport
  2. Arrival & Departure Airport Transfers
  3. 12 Days Touring in an Air-Conditioned Coach
  4. All Touring with a Professional Licensed Guide
  5. Tour Hats/Israel Maps/ Bottle Carriers
  6. All Group Touring & Sites

IMPORTANT NOTE: Tour will run with a minimum of 8 participants. In the event that there are no confirmed participants 8 weeks prior to the departure date the tour will be cancelled without notice.