The Bahai Gardens in Haifa are a unique experience in Israel. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, the Gardens are one of the holiest sites for people who practice the Bahai religion. While it is a religious destination for the Bahai faithful, its tranquility and geometric beauty are breathtaking for anyone who visits.
The Gardens are comprised of 19 terraces built into the steep hill of Mount Carmel. These gardens surround the Shrine of the Báb (Siyyid ʻAlí-Muhammad of Shiraz), the founder, or herald, of the Bahai faith. He was executed in Iran in 1850 and his remains were secretly brought from Iran and placed in the Bahai Gardens.
The concept of the Bahai Gardens was to create tranquility around the religious buildings and to insulate the Gardens from the noise and activity of Haifa. They are laid out in a sacred and spiritual manner, as well as a unique and functional pattern. Manicured hedges and lawns, fountains, and beautiful flowers delight at every turn. There are different themed Gardens, and the use of sunlight, shade, and water are evident throughout.
1. Make Time To Go Into The Gardens
Many tour groups that stop in Haifa on the way to Galilee or Nazareth only stop for travelers to take photos of the iconic views from outside of the Gardens. These views are stunning but to truly experience them, you need to spend some time inside. Having peace and tranquility in the midst of the hustle and bustle of travel can give you a new perspective. We arrived a day early so that we could walk through and experience the Gardens.
2. Book A Tour In Advance
The best way to see the Gardens and learn more about them is to take a free, 60-minute guided tour. On the tour, you will walk through several levels of the terraces. If the Shrine of the Báb is open, you can closely approach it and take photos. We couldn’t book a tour at the last minute and had to do a self-guided walk through several terraces. You’ll need to book a tour well in advance of your trip. The Gardens and Shrine are closed for religious observances and other activities throughout the year.
3. Taking A Self-Guided Tour
If you are unable to book a tour, all is not lost. You can do a self-guided tour like us, but you will only be able to enter at three specific terraces: the very top (the balcony located on Yefe Nof Street), in the middle (the main entrance on Hatzionut Avenue), and at the bottom (German Colony Plaza at HaGefen Street). It was a lovely experience to walk through some of the terraces and to see the geometric and beautiful gardens at our own pace. You’ll be able to see the Shrine from a distance, but you won’t be able to take a very good photo of it. The gardens are free to enter.
4. Start From The Top Balcony For A Self-Guided Tour
The Gardens have about 600 steps from top to bottom. There are three main entrances positioned at different vertical levels of these terraces: the balcony, the main entrance, and the German Colony Plaza (lowest level).
We started at the balcony (top) and worked our way down as we were staying in a hotel nearby. If you’re staying in central Haifa, you’ll probably start from the German Colony. We would recommend taking the bus or a car to the balcony and working your way down.
People on a self-guided tour are allowed to explore only the Gardens within a few levels of the gates. You will not be allowed to walk down the terraces all the way from the balcony to the bottom level. If you enter the gardens on the balcony, you must exit only through the same gate that you entered. There is a security checkpoint for your bags at every entrance.
5. Be Prepared To Walk — A Lot
There is a lot of walking involved in seeing the Bahai Gardens. It is worth the effort, although, good walking shoes are a must. The peace, tranquility, and geometric shapes of the Gardens are unlike many other gardens that you’ve seen. We did not see many places to sit down during our walk.
6. Inquire About An Accessible Tour
With 600 steps, paved flagstones, and graveled paths, the vertical Gardens are not easily accessible. There is an accessible tour for people with mobility issues and other needs. We were told that there are limited viewing opportunities from an accessible terrace. Book well in advance to secure tickets for this tour.
7. Make Sure To Dress Modestly
The Gardens are a holy site. Make sure to cover your shoulders and knees as a sign of respect. You’ll also need to bring sunscreen, a hat, and water, especially if you are visiting in the late spring or summer when it is very hot.
8. Different Times Give Different Views
We recommend visiting the Gardens at different times of the day. On the balcony, you’ll have excellent views of the Bay of Haifa, and on a clear day, you can see all the way to Akko (Acre). We loved standing on the balcony, looking down at the beautiful, terraced Gardens below us. Dusk is also a spectacular time to see the Gardens enshrouded in the golden evening glow of the sun setting for the day.
9. Book A Hotel On HaNassi Boulevard
We stayed at the Haifa Bay View Hotel only steps from the top balcony entrance of the Bahai Gardens. We were able to see the iconic top view of the Gardens every day. We started our own self-guided tour by taking the top balcony entrance. We were able to walk part-way into the Gardens to view and take photos.
10. If You Have Limited Time, Start At The Main Gate
We also walked down the hill and entered the Gardens at the main gate on Hatzionut Avenue. It was about a 20-minute walk from the balcony level. At this entrance, there is much of the Bahai Gardens to view, as well as bathroom facilities. If you are short on time, the middle terrace is a priority if you want to walk through the Gardens. The top and bottom entrances are more for the iconic views and photos.
11. Make Sure To Catch The View From The Germany Colony
After exploring the main entrance (middle terrace near the Spiritual Shrine and Dome), we returned to the gate and proceeded to walk down the hill to the German Colony Plaza entrance. It was about another 20-minute walk. The Germany Colony Plaza has a breathtaking view up to the Shrine. This location is at the bottom of Mount Carmel. You can stay in that area for morning and evening views of the Gardens.
12. Take A Break In The Local Sculpture Garden
Between the balcony entrance and main entrance is a small garden with sculptures by Ursula Malbin. We recommend stopping there for a short break if you are doing a self-guided tour. There are benches for sitting and some sculptures to admire. The entrance to the sculpture garden can be easily missed if you are not specifically looking out for it while walking downhill.
13. Consider Taking The Bus Between Terraces
If you are doing a self-guided tour, you may want to take a bus down to Ben Gurion Boulevard instead of walking as we did. While the walk downhill is on a concrete pavement, it is long and winding, and on a hot day, can take quite a bit to navigate. There are public bus stops near the entry gates.
14. Download The Moovit App
We recommend downloading the Moovit app for the local buses, trains, and subway. It is a very efficient way to get around Israel and helpful for navigating Haifa since the city was built on a hill. It is also wise to purchase the Rav-Kav card — the Israeli transportation card — when in Israel as an easy way to get around using public transport.
15. Take A Walk Along Louis Promenade
One of the best views from the top of Mount Carmel is the overlook at Louis Promenade. From our hotel, we would walk along the Louis Promenade and sit in the shade of the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art before meandering to the gate at the balcony entrance of the Bahai Gardens.
We really enjoyed our visit to the Bahai Gardens. They are one of the most spectacular and unique creations. And if symmetry and color appeal to your aesthetic senses, you will especially enjoy the Gardens even more.
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