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. Although it is a religious destination for the Baha’i devotees, its tranquility and geometric beauty are breathtaking for all who visit.
The gardens are made up of 19 terraces built into the steep hillside of Mount Carmel. These gardens surround the tomb of the Báb (Siyyid ʻAlí-Muhammad of Shiraz), the founder, or herald, of the Baha’i 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 isolate the gardens from the noise and activity of Haifa. They are arranged in a sacred and spiritual way, as well as in a unique and functional pattern. Well-kept hedges and lawns, fountains and beautiful flowers delight at every turn. There are different themed gardens and the use of sunlight, shade and water is evident throughout.
1. Take the time to go to the gardens
Many tour groups that stop in Haifa on their way to the Galilee or Nazareth only stop for travelers to take photos of the iconic views from outside the gardens. These views are beautiful, but to really experience them, you have to spend time inside. Having peace and quiet amid the hustle and bustle of travel can give you a new perspective. We arrived a day early so we could walk around and explore the gardens.
2. Book a tour in advance
The best way to see the gardens and learn more about them is on a free 60-minute guided tour. During the visit, you will cross several levels of the terraces. If the Shrine of the Báb is open, you can get close to it and take pictures. We couldn’t book a tour last minute and had to take a self-guided walk through several terraces. You will need to book a tour well in advance of your trip. The gardens and sanctuary are closed for religious celebrations and other activities throughout the year.
3. Take a self-guided tour
If you are unable to book a tour, all is not lost. You can take a self-guided tour like us, but you can only enter through three specific terraces: at the very top (the balcony on Yefe Nof Street), in the middle (the main entrance on Hatzionut Avenue), and at the down (German Colony Plaza at HaGefen Street). It was a great experience walking around some of the terraces and seeing the geometric and beautiful gardens at our own pace. You will 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 upper balcony for a self-guided tour
The gardens have around 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 from the balcony (top) and went down as we were staying at a nearby hotel. If you are staying in central Haifa, you will most likely be leaving from the German Colony. We recommend taking the bus or a car to the balcony and down.
People on a self-guided tour are only allowed to explore the gardens a few levels from the gates. You will not be allowed to descend the terraces from the balcony to the lower level. If you enter the gardens from the balcony, you should only exit through the same gate that you entered through. There is a security checkpoint for your luggage at each entrance.
5. Be prepared to walk – a lot
There is a lot of walking to see the Bahai Gardens. It is worth it, although good walking shoes are a must. The peace, tranquility and geometric shapes of the gardens are different from many other gardens you have seen. We didn’t see many places to sit on our walk.
6. Ask about an accessible tour
With 600 steps, cobbled slabs and gravelled walkways, the Vertical Gardens are not easily accessible. There is an accessible tour for people with reduced mobility and other needs. We were told that viewing opportunities from an accessible deck were limited. Book well in advance to secure tickets for this tour.
7. Be sure to dress modestly
The Gardens are a holy place. Be 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’re visiting in late spring or summer when it’s very hot.
8. Different times give different points of view
We recommend that you visit the gardens at different times of the day. On the balcony you will have a breathtaking view of the bay of Haifa and on a clear day you can see as far as Akko (Acre). We loved standing on the balcony, looking out at the beautiful terraced gardens below us. Dusk is also a spectacular time to see the gardens enveloped in the golden evening glow of the setting sun for the day.
9. Book a hotel on HaNassi Boulevard
We stayed at the Haifa Bay View Hotel just a few steps from the upper balcony entrance to 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 upper balcony entrance. We were able to walk half way through the gardens to see and take pictures.
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 a large part of the Bahai Gardens to see, as well as sanitary facilities. If you’re short on time, the middle terrace is a priority if you want to stroll through the Gardens. The upper and lower entrances are more for views and iconic photos.
11. Be sure to enjoy the view from the German Colony
After exploring the main entrance (middle terrace near the spiritual shrine and dome), we returned to the gate and walked down the hill to the entrance of the German Colony Plaza. It was about a 20 minute walk. The Germany Colony Plaza has an amazing view of the sanctuary. This place is at the foot of Mount Carmel. You can stay in this area to admire the gardens in the morning and evening.
12. Take a break in the local sculpture garden
Between the balcony entrance and the main entrance is a small garden with sculptures by Ursula Malbin. We recommend stopping here for a short break if you are doing a self-guided tour. There are benches to sit on and some sculptures to admire. The entrance to the sculpture garden can easily be missed if you don’t specifically look for it on the way down.
13. Remember to take the bus between the terraces
If you’re doing a self-guided tour, you might want to take a bus to Ben Gurion Boulevard instead of walking like we did. Although the descent is on concrete pavement, it is long and winding, and on a hot day it can take a while to navigate. There are public bus stops near the entrance gates.
14. Download the Moovit App
We recommend downloading the Moovit app for local buses, trains and subways. It’s a very efficient way to get around Israel and useful for navigating Haifa since the city was built on a hill. It’s also wise to buy the Rav-Kav card – the Israeli transport card – when you’re in Israel, as it’s an easy way to get around using public transport.
15. Stroll along Louis Drive
One of the best views from the top of Mount Carmel is the Louis Drive Lookout. From our hotel we walked along the Louis Promenade and sat in the shade of the Tikotin Japanese Art Museum before meandering to the gate at the balcony entrance to 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 appreciate the Gardens even more.
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