Best Things to Do in Akko – Discover Israel Off the Beaten Path
Standing at the top of Akko’s eastern walls, we take a deep breath of the salty air and let the Israeli sun warm our backs. Fall is the perfect time to visit Israel and we could not have chosen a better day to discover Akko’s hidden gems. From up here, we can see Akko’s port and the mishmash of houses and streets, colorful clothes blowing in the wind on the washing lines, the blues and greens of the mosques – what a beautiful mess!
This ancient port city in the north of Israel has many names. Most tourists know it as Acre, in Arabic it is known as Akka but the locals call it Akko. Akko’s history dates back to the bronze age and many of the world’s most influential leaders have passed through old Acre at some point or another, from England’s King Richard I and France’s King Philipp II to Napoleon who tried to conquer Acre in 1799 but did not succeed.
Akko is one of the most fascinating cities in Israel not only because of its rich history but also because of the mixture of cultures and the sense of community. Officially about 70% of Akko’s residents are Jews while the other 30% are Arabs but inside the Old City the majority are Muslim Arabs, there are some Christian Arabs and very few Jews. There are so many things to do and see in and around Akko so it’s such a shame that many tourists don’t put it on their Israel bucket list since it’s a great destination to discover Israel off the beaten path. You can find in Akko’s Old City so many attractions for anyone who loves history, art, authenticity, photography, great food and more. From colorful markets, ancient fortresses, art museums, attractions for children, great restaurants, sunny beaches and more – Akko will not disappoint you, it will probably be amongst the highlights of your Israel itinerary.
Reasons to Put Akko on Your Off the Beaten Path Israel Itinerary
Only 1.5 hours by car from Tel Aviv (there’s also a train that takes a bit longer)
The Old City of Akko was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
To escape the crowds of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and discover Israel off the beaten path.
A variety of attractions located in close proximity
To have a taste of the more authentic side of Israel.
Akko can be a great base from which you can take day trips all over the north of Israel, to Haifa, Rosh Hanikra, the Galilee and the Golan Heights.
Things to Do and see in Akko
Acre \ Akko – Some History
Akko’s location and natural harbor have attracted many people over the years from the Crusaders to Ottoman rulers, everyone wanted to take advantage of its strategic location. Many treasures from the East that are now common ingredients in every household, passed through Acre’s harbor to Europe, cones of sugar, exotic spices and even pasta. Wandering around the maze of narrow streets, you’ll find remnants from different eras, some are open for tourists while others are being restored. Some of Akko’s historic treasures were built on top of each other, so, on the one hand, there is this underground city from around the crusaders time and above the ground, you can find the remnants of the Ottoman rulers. Here are some of the things to do in Akko to learn more about its history and discover Israel off the beaten path.
Discover the Secrets of the Knights Kingdom (Citadel of Akko)
One of the best things to do in Akko is to visit the Knights kingdom. This must-see attraction is a large compound where you can learn about the crusaders who used to live in old Acre. Start by watching the explanatory movie at the visitor center (very kid friendly), rest for a while in the beautiful garden (the Enchanted Garden) and then start exploring the Hospitaller Fortress and Knights Halls.
Hospitaller Fortress and Knights Hall
The Hospitaller Order was a military-monastic order that treated the sick in the Holy Land. They arrived at Acre in the 12th century and stayed there till the end of the 13th century. Visiting the Hospitaller Fortress is a great experience for the whole family. These halls had been covered by sand and dirt by the Ottoman rulers who built their own fortress on top of them. Nowadays, after the restoration work, strolling through the different halls, it is easy to imagine the hundreds of knights who lived here so many years ago. Don’t forget to visit the old dining hall (Hall of Columns) which is the most impressive part of the complex. In the Pillars Hall you can visit the art and craft market where you can buy natural soap, handcrafted glass, and other unique souvenirs. The admission fee includes an electronic tour guide to help you uncover the history and stories of the Hospitaller Fortress. Strolling around this compound is one of the best things to do in Akko, so make sure to visit it.
Pro Tip: From July till September (and during Jewish holidays such as Passover or Sukkot), you can watch the re-enactment of tournaments of knights every Saturday. It’s a great attraction for families with kids. For more details about the Knights’ Tournament.
The Templars were a military-monastic order that helped pilgrims who came to visit the Holy Land. The Templars Fortress was located near the shore and today you might catch a glimpse of it under the water near Akko’s lighthouse. Akko’s Templars Tunnel was built to enable the Templars to move commodities and money from Acre’s port to their fortress. Nowadays you can walk through it from side to side.
For the opening hours of all of Akko’s attractions.
Visit Akko’s Markets
Local markets are always at the top of our things to do in every destination and even if you’ve already been to Jerusalem’s and Tel Aviv’s markets, Akko’s market has its own distinction. Stroll among the stands, taste some of the best street food and sweets in Israel and learn about the ingredients of the Israeli cuisine. Akko’s market is a great place to buy spices, coffee and unique delicacies and there is plenty of fresh fish and seafood as well. Another local initiative is the Turkish Bazaar. Originally, it was built in the late 18th century as a municipal market to provide services for Acre’s residents and in recent years it has been renovated and reopened as an art and craft bazaar. There are a few good eateries here as well as some small souvenirs shops.
Take a Walk on Acre’s Walls
Akko’s walls are famous all over the world. The old walls of Acre have protected it from numerous armies throughout history. The original walls were first built in 950 by Ibn Tolon and since then they have been renovated multiple times by different rulers. The walls themselves might not be very high or long but they are quite wide and inside these walls there used to be horse stables and torture chambers. Nowadays you can see the cannons on the eastern walls (that protected the land), and more importantly, it is a great viewpoint (just climb carefully to the highest part). You can also visit the Treasures in the Walls Museum that has been built inside some of the original halls that used to belong to the Ottoman soldiers. The western walls start from the lighthouse and are referred to as the sea walls. Walking on the western walls from the lighthouse inward you’ll see Akko from a different point of view. You’ll get a different viewpoint of the Mediterranean Sea, but you’ll also get a glimpse into the inner neighborhoods of Akko. If you’re lucky you’ll get to see the local teens dive into the water from the top of the walls.
Visit the Port of Akko
Akko’s old port has its own charm. In the early morning you can meet the fishermen who come back from the sea and later in the day, just stroll around and soak in the vibes and sea breeze or hop on a boat tour to see Akko’s walls from a different perspective. You can also take a pick at Akko’s Khan al-Umdan and its clock tower. The building is one of the most impressive ones in Akko but unfortunately, it’s currently closed (recently it has been announced that a luxury hotel is going to be built there). Taking great pictures is also high up on our list of things to do and if you walk almost to the end of the marina, you’ll find the perfect Instagram spot to take pictures of the marina with the backdrop of Akko.
Get Lost in Akko’s Cobbled Stone Streets and Discover Akko’s Hidden Gems
Wandering around aimlessly in narrow cobbled stone streets with our cameras in our hands is our favorite way to spend the day. If we happen to stumble upon tiny bakeries, colorful street art, local kids playing in back alleys, a small shop of a seamstress or the studio of the local stone sculptor and other such sights, well, we can tick off a couple of other highlights from our favorite things to do list. Akko’s Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site but it is also a living breathing city where you’ll witness the everyday lives of the residents. It is a place to capture unique photographs, an opportunity to discover where the locals buy their freshly baked Za’atar covered pita that is baked in the oldest oven in Akko, a maze where you’ll find simple local residential houses near a high-end boutique hotel and so much more. It is very small so it’s not that easy to get lost but if you do, just ask the friendly locals who’ll gladly help you.
Visit Akko’s Museums
There are a couple of very unique and interesting museums in Akko such as the Okashi Art Museum. The building dates back to the Ottoman period and inside you’ll find rotating exhibitions of local artists as well as a permanent exhibition of Avshalom Okashi’s work. Okashi was one of Israel’s most famous artists and spent most of his life in Akko. We have already mentioned the Treasures in the Walls Museum which is built inside the halls of the eastern walls. This museum holds collections that showcase the life of the Galilee residents in the 19th – 20th centuries. Another interesting museum is The Underground Prisoners Museum which is located in the Citadel of Akko. For more information about Acre’s museums.
Experience a Real Hammam at Ghattas Turkish Bath
There’s no better time than a vacation to spoil yourself with a spa treatment or a massage or better yet, a traditional Turkish bath. Ghattas Turkish Bath includes a hammam, a steam room, dry sauna, jacuzzi and massage treatments. Emil Ghattas was born and raised in Akko’s Old City and after finding success in the High-Tech field, he decided to come back home and fulfill an old childhood dream. While he was growing up in the 1950s, the local hammams were very popular since many of the households did not have running water or bathtubs. Once the majority of the houses had a regular supply of water and electricity, the traditional hammams were abandoned. Finally, after years of visiting hammams in other countries, Emil decided to buy an old building (from the Ottoman period) in Akko’s Old City, renovate it and turn it into a luxury bathhouse. There are several treatments to choose from but the traditional and most popular ones are the scrub treatment and the Turkish massage. Once you make a reservation, you’ll get the Turkish bath area just for yourself (for two hours), without any other guests around. For more details and the variety of treatments check Ghattas Turkish Bath.
Where to Eat in Akko?
Always at the top of our things to do list – tasting the local delicacies. Trust us, in Akko you are in for a treat! Start the day with fresh pomegranate juice (if you haven’t tried it yet, it’s a bit tart but very refreshing and it’ll wake you up in an instance). How about some breakfast? Freshly baked Jerusalem bagels or pita with local spices. For lunch, you’ll have a choice of local hummus joints, seafood restaurants and more. However, if you don’t want to spend too much time or money on your meal, try the great street food at the market. Walking through Akko’s market you’ll find so many great stands which offer freshly baked goodies, local sweets and dried fruits, crunchy falafels, delicious shawarma and more. There are also great restaurants in Akko that offer Levantine – Israeli cuisine, seafood and even some great Italian food. Don’t forget to check our favorite restaurants in Akko in our Akko Food Guide.
Best Time to Visit Akko
There’s no bad time to visit Israel since compared to other countries, the weather in most places in Israel is usually pretty convenient and even during winter time you might have beautiful weather with clear skies. Nevertheless, the best season to visit Israel is usually Spring (April – June) and Fall (September – November) when the temperatures aren’t that high and there are hardly any rainy days, though you should check the dates of the Jewish holidays during which the hotels are fully booked in advance.
Another thing to consider is the event calendar for Akko’s festivals (such as Acre’s fringe theatre and Opera Festival). Another special event that doesn’t appear on any official event or festival calendar is the Barn Swallow (Hirundo) Season. During the bird migration season (September – November) you’ll see many kinds of birds all over Israel but in Akko’s Old City, in particular, you’ll be able to witness a rare phenomenon. The streets are filled with dozens if not hundreds of barn swallows during the late afternoon. It’s an extraordinary sight not just for birdwatchers!
Where to Stay in Akko?
In our opinions, the best option is to stay in Akko’s Old City so you could really enjoy the special vibes of the place and interact with the local community. There aren’t any large hotels inside the Old City but there are a few boutique hotels, a pod hostel, B&B’s and apartments. You can check our post about some of our favorite accommodation options in our guide to where to stay in Akko’s Old City.
How to Get to Akko?
By car: it’s about half an hour from Haifa and an hour and a half from Tel Aviv.
By Train: It will take you about an hour and a half to get to Akko from Tel Aviv by train.
By ferry: During the spring and summer there’s a ferry from Haifa to Akko but you do need to check for any cancellations in advance.
For more information and details regarding how to get to Akko.
No matter if you know it as Akko, Akka or Acre, this small town in the North of Israel is going to charm you with its quaint Mediterranean atmosphere, diversity of cultures, delicious Israeli cuisine, cobbled stone streets and warm and friendly residents. Akko is going to be one of the highlights on your Israel Bucket List and it’s a great destination to discover Israel off the beaten path.