Perhaps one of Israel’s most underrated tourist destinations, the port city of Akko is a true delight. Abounding in history, bedecked in authentic architecture, and boasting a stunning view of the Mediterranean. It is an experience not to be missed. Whether you are looking for the perfect day trip outside of Tel Aviv or for unique places to visit in Israel, Akko is the perfect destination.
Is it Akko, Acre, Acco?
The technical name for this city in English is Acre. However, the Hebrew name, pronounced Akko is most commonly used. No one is quite sure of the origin of this unique name as it has no real meaning in any of the languages of its rulers throughout history. An ancient Hebrew legend, with Biblical origins, explains that when the ocean was created and expanded to flood the entire earth, it only stopped once it reached Akko. “Ad Po” in Hebrew means “Until Here”, hence “Ad Po” became “Akko” to say the ocean rose “Until here”.
History of Akko
Wandering through the narrow and windy cobblestone streets of Akko, it’s difficult not to feel the history surrounding you on every corner. The Old City of Akko is not a particularly large place and it would be nearly impossible to visit without relishing in the diverse history. Among the oldest continuously inhabited settlements on Earth, this strategically located port city has a history dating back to the Early Bronze Age. Predominantly used for coastal trading, its location on a natural harbor south of Haifa makes it a natural fit. Fought over by countless empires, it served as one of the most important Crusader cities. The last Crusader city held in the Middle East, the Mamluks overtook Akko in 1291. Ancient Israelites, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, and Ottomans also ruled here at different points in history.
Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze, and Baháʼí make up the unique tapestry of modern-day Akko. Churches, synagogues stand next to mosques and holy Baháʼí gardens. An ancient wall, incredibly preserved throughout the centuries wraps around the Old City of Akko. First built by the Fatimid Islamic Caliphate in 950 CE, it has been destroyed and rebuilt countless times as different empires fought over the city. Well-preserved citadels, crusader cities, and khans (caravanserais) speckle the city, attesting to its multi-cultural and long history.
Top 6 Things to Do in Akko
Whether you are a history buff, a boat lover, a culture seeker, or just looking for a fun, new place to visit….Akko is the perfect destination for you. Dappling in a little bit of everything this diverse city is an adventure and a delight.
1. Akko Port & Speed Boat Ride
What is the one thing that keeps pulling me back to Akko time and time again? One of Israel’s best and most inexpensive activities. The tornado boat – a ten or fifteen minute speed boat road around the outskirts of Akko and the port area. Riding recklessly on the waves, turning frantically, splashing in the waves. And the best part? It costs only 20 shekels (about 5 USD)! I can’t even count how many times we’ve gone for a speed boat ride and brought our friends along for the journey. Not once has it disappointed! But be warned….depending on the waves and the craziness of your boat driver, you will most likely leave the boat quite wet.
If speed boat rides are not for you, there are also larger boats providing a slow tour-like trip around the port area. Even if you don’t want a boat ride at all, the port area is beautiful in general. A fun, nautical feel with countless boats and ships, Arabic music, great vibes, fresh sea air, and Mediterranean views.
2. Outdoor Marketplace “Shuk”
Akko is well known for its colorful, outdoor marketplace “Shuk”, typical of the authentic Middle Eastern style. The aromatic scent of fresh spices intertwined with fresh knaffe (local pastry). Trinkets and incense and coffee mounds. Row after row of freshly caught local seafood. Wander through the corridors and explore, taking in all the smells and sounds and sights.
3. Underground Crusader City
Underneath the Old City of Akko sits an entire Crusader city. Climb through and explore the remains of an extensive Crusader city. It is complete with a Knight’s Hall (headquarters for the Knights Templar, stationed in Akko to protect Chrisitan pilgrims visiting the Holy Land) and a Dining Hall. A secret tunnel was even discovered there accidentally in the 1990s! It was used to covertly transport goods throughout the city in crusader times.
4. Wander Through the Historic Old City
Cobblestone quaintness, old city walls, history around every corner. It’s hard not to fall in love with simply wandering through the picturesque and beautiful streets of Akko. Bright, colorful doors, countless shades of blue and turquoise complement the beauty of the Mediterranean Sea in this UNESCO World Heritage Site city.
5. Delight in the Mix of Religions and Cultures – Al-Jazzar Mosque, Jariva Synagogue, Saint John the Baptist Church, Baháʼí Gardens
Akko is quite the melting pot of cultures and religions. Ruled by countless different empires throughout history, there are remnants of many different religious places of worship.
The Jariva, also known as Or Torah, is a stunning Tunisian Synagogue. Mosaics and stained glass windows cover it nearly from top to bottom. The art depicts the history of the Jewish people, Biblical stories, and flora and fauna of the land of Israel.
Ahmed Al-Jazzar Mosque is perhaps the first thing you will see when entering Akko. It’s almost impossible to miss the bright green dome and tall, sandstone minaret. Built in 1781 by the Ottomans, it is the second-largest mosque in Israel. Stunning also on the inside, you can tour the mosque and delight in the tall archways and colorfully painted walls.
Saint John the Baptist church is definetly the most picturesque of Akko’s churches, at least from the outside. Located next to Akko’s lighthouse, it sits, perched right on the edge of the cliff-like side of the old city walls. You certainly won’t be able to miss the white and red structure creating a postcard-like view of the Akko harbor. The inside of this church is far less impressive…consider checking out some of Akko’s other churches for more impressive tours.
Although much smaller and less famous than the Baháʼí Gardens in Haifa, Akko does boast the beautiful gardens of Bahji, built to encompass the shrine of the founder of the Baha’i faith. Quiet and beautiful, these gardens are an additional delightful part of Akko’s unique tapestry of religions.
6. Explore Akko’s Museums – Turkish Bathhouse and Underground Prisoners
Hamam al-Basha Museum is an impeccably restored authentic Turkish bath building (hammam) that serves now as a museum to exhibit the Turkish bath experience. Explaining the culture and historical importance, this museum is a perfect step back in time to the 1700s Ottoman rule.
The Akko Citadel, which the British used as a prison, houses The Underground Prisoners Museum. The museum commemorates the many Jewish fighters who were imprisoned or executed there under the British Mandate.
Where to Eat in Akko
Due to its unique fusion of cultures, Akko is a culinary lover’s delight. Whether you are looking for traditional seafoods or Middle Eastern cuisine, you are sure to find something to delight your palate.
Certainly, the most famous restaurant in Akko and renowned throughout Israel, Uri Buri offers gourmet seafood delights with the backdrop of a beautiful Ottoman-era building with tall, arched ceilings. Proud of their multi-cultural fusion of cuisine, you can’t miss the beautiful views and traditional foods.
Due to the damages caused by riots in early 2021, Uri Buri has temporarily moved to a different location as they rebuild their landmark restaurant and location.
Among my favorite hidden gems in Israel, Hamoudi’s cafe has a vibe unmatched in authenticity and relaxation. Serving freshly squeezed juices, cookies, and coffee, it is the perfect place to relax while listening to the perfect mix of Middle Eastern music. Admire the eclectic decorations while escaping the heat of Israel’s summers. Hamoudi himself is such an interesting person, welcoming you to reset and enjoy in the little vibing oasis that he created.
Located in the Turkish Bazaar, Mercato is a cute and quaint restaurant with delicious foods inspired by local Middle Eastern and Italian cuisine. Its location and decor ensure the full Akko experience while enjoying a culinary delight.
Due to damages caused by the riots in early 2021, Mercato is temporarily closed.
How to Get to Akko
The easiest way to get to Akko is by car. Parking is generally pretty easy to find within the city. If you do not have a car, there is a train leaving from Tel Aviv every half hour that will take you right to Akko. In Israel, trains run on a limited schedule on the weekend. They end early on Friday and do not run at all on Saturdays.
Things to Know Before Visiting Akko
- Diverse – Akko is one of the most diverse cities in Israel. Home to all of Israel’s largest religious groups, it provides a truly incredible and unique experience of multiple culturals and religions mixed in a small space.
- Beaches – Although Akko does have its own beach, it is not among the best Israel has to offer. Trash and debris often cover the beach and it is not very well-kept. If you are looking to go for a swim in the area, check out Hof HaBonim or Hof Dor nearby.
- Cliff Jumping – There is one “cliff”, which is actually apart of the ancient city walls, where people have been seen to go cliff jumping into the sea. However, it is quite risky as the sea is fairly shallow and filled with rocks. It is highly NOT recommended to go cliff jumping here.
- Dress Code – As Akko is an incredibly diverse city and accustomed to seeing tourists from around the world, there is no specific dress code. However, if you are planning to visit any of the religious sites in the city, dress accordingly.
Lots of Love and Safe Travels,
Danielle and Brooke, Colorful Sisters