I stand off to the corner of the market street, peering down at the map on my phone trying to figure out which fork in the alleyway I want to take. The crowd bustling around me, a cacophony of laughter and bargaining as locals buy their vegetables and fish from the vendors. One of the vendors sees me and my map and catches my eye before pointing to the left. I smile in appreciation and tuck my phone back into my bag, choosing to trust this stranger’s sense of direction over mine as I explore the small maze-like streets of Old Town Akko.
I’m a sucker for old cities and while there is no shortage of historical spots in the Holy Land, Akko was a firm favourite for me. The walled Old Town filled with narrow alleyways, busy markets, and ancient architecture was perfect for exploring. Most people only come to Akko on a day trip, but I suggest spending a least one night here if you can. With that in mind, here’s my guide of my favourite things to do in Akko.
A Little Bit About Akko
Akko, also known as Acre (in English) or Akka (in Arabic), is located on the Mediterranean coast in the north of Israel. It’s considered to be one of the oldest continuously living cities in the world and has an incredible history. Crusaders, Romans, Persians, Mamluks, Ottomans, and more have left their mark on this land over the centuries making it a must-see for any history lover.
Today, Akko is known to be a place of co-existence where Jews and Arabs live and work together. This is especially evident in some local businesses that take pride in hiring and working with people from both sides and promoting peace. Unfortunately, during the war of 2021, Akko saw a lot of fires and destruction, much of which targeted these types of businesses. The businesses have been rebuilt and continue to work, along with the vast majority of residents in this city, towards promoting peace and co-existence between everyone.
While it is a mixed city, there are still more Jewish citizens than Arabic ones. That being said, the Old Town is predominantly Arabic.
How to Get to Akko
Akko is easy to get to by car or by public transportation. Having a car is great if you want to make a road trip out of it, but there is also a direct train from Tel Aviv (or you can bus to Haifa, and switch over to the train from there). You won’t need a vehicle if you plan on staying inside the Old Town so, in this case, it might be easiest to train. That way you also don’t have to worry about traffic-which can be quite chaotic, especially on weekends. Train tickets do not need to be purchased in advance, you can just go to the station early.
From the Akko train station, there are local buses which will take you to the Old Town. Check the Moovit app for the best option. I used bus number 4 which was a quick ride but only ran once an hour. Once you have arrived in Old Town Akko, the best way to get around and site-see the area is on foot.
Where to Stay in Akko
Akko has a range of accommodation options but is known for its beautiful and romantic hotels located in historic buildings. There are plenty of options when it comes to these but I like to recommend the local businesses that promote peace and co-existence so these are my suggestions.
Arabesque Arts and Residency: I stayed in this property which is also housed in an old Ottoman-era building. The hotel is actually set in 2 buildings and features courtyards, a rooftop, and a beautiful breakfast/snack area. The property is tastefully decorated with antique furniture that adds to the historic feel in a classy way. Breakfast here is incredible with lots of typical Israeli salads, cold juices (this cold hibiscus tea is amazing), coffee and/or tea, and other treats. I loved this hotel and highly recommend it. It’s a small property so it in your best interest to reserve early. Book your stay here.
Efendi Hotel: Perhaps the best-known hotel in Akko, Efendi Hotel is housed in 2 stone-built Ottoman palaces. It holds the only elevator that you will find in all of Old Town Akko and tastefully combines the historic old-world charm of the walled city with new, modern amenities. The Efendi boasts a wine cellar, rooftop, and spa including a hammam. I did not stay here but owner Uri (from the famous Uri Buri restaurant) offered me a tour and it is stunning. My favourite part is the old paintings on the walls and ceilings that have been carefully restored by Italian artists. The Efendi Hotel only has 12 rooms and books up quickly so if this is where you want to stay, book well in advance. You can book your stay here.
The Best Things to do in Akko
So, what is there to see and do in Akko? Quite a bit to keep you busy for at least 24 hours or even more if you are someone who likes to take things slow and soak up the local atmosphere. Here are my top recommendations for the best things to do in Akko.
The Knights Halls
History and archaeology lovers in particular will love the Knights Halls. This was the Hospitaller’s complex. The Hospitallers were a welfare organization that supported Christians visiting the Holy Land. They also formed their own military during the Crusaders period which is how they became known as the Knights Hospitallers. Their headquarters was established in Akko in the 13th century and remained here until they were expelled from the Holy Land.
This complex was abandoned and later filled with sand by the Ottomans. It has been slowly exposed and restored since the 1960s and while some of the Knight’s Halls still remain covered, what you can see is really impressive. Today is it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
To visit the Knights Hall you need to purchase a ticket. A museum pass for several stops in Akko can be bought for 49 NIS. Your ticket includes an audio guide (available in multiple languages) that will show you around the complex and share its history.
The Templar Tunnel
Discovered in the 1990s, the Templar Tunnel is a favourite when it comes to things to do in Akko. The tunnel connects the old fortress with the beach area and only takes a few minutes to walk through but it does feel adventurous which, as a wannabe Indiana Jones, I can definitely get behind. Parts of the tunnels are quite low so watch your head! The Templar Tunnel is also included in the museum pass.
The City Walls
Akko is a walled city so, unsurprisingly, some of the best views can be taken in from the city walls. There are plenty of observation points along the wall for photo opportunities looking out over the Mediterranean and across the bay to Haifa. Along parts of the wall, closest to the Visitor’s Centre for the Knight’s Halls, you’ll also find several cannons that date back to Napoleon’s time.
The Local Markets
Wandering through the local markets is definitely one of the best things to do in Akko. The main market that snakes its way through the old town is the Akko Market or Old City Bazaar. It has everything you’d typically expect from a Middle Eastern Market; fruit and vegetables, fish, nuts, sweets, bakeries, snack shops, spices, and souvenir shops. There is also the Turkish market which has much of the same including several restaurants.
Also included in the museum pass is the reconstructed Hammam which was, at one point, one of the most important places in the city of Akko. I’ll be honest, as a museum experience, it wasn’t great. The interactive video is incredibly cheesy but the building itself is quite beautiful and worth looking at, especially if you already purchased the museum pass.
The Port area was a little bit chaotic and under construction when I visited but it’s still nice to see and offers pretty views of the walls of the Old Town. If you like, you can also take a boat ride from the port. There are slow scenic cruises or, for something a little more daring, speed boat rides.
Wandering the alleyways of Old Town Akko was one of my favourite things to do, especially since I love taking photos. There’s quite a bit of street art to be found along the picturesque streets and homes covered in colourful flowers. The best time to go out to take photos is early in the morning before the crowds and harsh shadows from the sun.
Other Things to do in Akko
Depending on how much time you give yourself, the above things to do in Akko might be all you can fit in. However, if you do have longer than a day you should also consider the following:
- The Okashu Art Museum
- The Treasures in the Wall Museum
- El Jazar Mosque
- Jariva Synagogue
- Saint John the Baptist Church
- Baha’i Gardens (A little outside of Akko)
Where to Eat in Akko
History is a big part of why people come to Akko, but another draw to this Old Town is the food. Akko is known to have some of the best food in Israel from Arabic sweets to Middle Eastern staples, and fresh seafood.
By far the best-known restaurant in Akko and one of the best restaurants in all of Israel. Uri Buri is a fish and seafood restaurant on the waterfront and a must-visit when in Akko. It’s open for lunch and dinner but you will need to make reservations in advance. The menu features tons of options but if you can’t decide you can always choose a tasting menu where the servers will keep bringing you things to try until you ask them to stop. I suggest the tasting menu. It’s not exactly cheap, however, hands down this was the best seafood meal of my life. My favourites include the scallops (above), salmon with wasabi sorbet, and a dried watermelon starter that I will dream about for the rest of my life.
Owner Uri, easily distinguishable by his long white beard, is always around and comes to speak to everyone. I had some great chats with him and was lucky enough to get a tour of the kitchen where I met some of his staff and sampled the house-made sorbet (the passionfruit is my favourite!). Uri is a key member of the Akko community and, in my friend’s eyes, a national mascot. He works hard to promote peace and coexistence in both of his businesses (Uri Buri and the Efendi Hotel) and having visited both I can vouch for the smiles, laughs, and all-around fun and positive feeling at both establishments which employs both Jews and Arabs.
Visitors with a sweet tooth will have to make sure to stop at Kashash at least once while in Akko. This sweet shop has delicious Arabic deserts and is known to have the best Knafeh in the city. I happily tried the Knafeh (delicious) as well as some of the baklava which I also highly recommend.
Known to be one of the best hummus stops in the country, Hummus Said is another local treasure. It’s open early in the morning until about 2:30, or until they run out. The lunchtime lineup is said to be long so get there early!
Pro tip: Arabesque hotel brings in hummus from here for their breakfast.
Final Tips for Akko
Akko is a popular weekend getaway for Israeli tourists so if you are visiting your best bet is to go during the week. That way you can avoid the crowds as it can get very busy in these tiny, winding streets.
Again, please note that Old Town Akko is primarily Arabic. So please, ladies, keep this in mind as you decide what to wear. While I will never tell a woman how to dress, I will encourage you to be respectful in your outfit choices and acknowledge that Arabic cultures are more modest than Western cultures. If you are looking for tips, consider longer skirts and dresses or wide-leg pants over shorts, t-shirts over tank tops, and refrain from wearing anything too low or high cut.
I also want to add that I visited Akko alone and, based on looks alone, was very obviously a solo female tourist. I never felt unsafe during my time there.
Akko is a beautiful city and while small, there are still plenty of things to do in Akko. I hope this guide serves as an inspiration to add Akko to your list of places to visit when in Israel and Palestine.
A Note on Travel Insurance in Israel
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine multiple times. While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance as they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found, plus, they are who I use and I have had great experiences with them. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.