Besides tourism, the main activity of Haifa is education (the three best schools in all of Israel are located here – the University of Haifa, the Hebrew school Reali and the Technion Institute (see the Mada Tech Center) ), shipping, refining, perhaps a surprise, but electronics and “high tech” and chemicals (as in Basel, Switzerland, the manufacture of dyes dates back to Canaanite times). I enjoyed watching the ships come in and out of the harbor.
Since it’s easier to go down than up, start your tour at the top of Mount Carmel at the University of Haifa. Wander its campus and explore its excellent library and museums on Haifa’s early life, culture, art and history, which include life-size exhibits. Carmel Park is nearby. You should probably take a taxi, or the metro, up the hill to the Carmelite Monastery (Stella Moris) and the lighthouse. The chapel is fabulous with ceiling art and a statue dedicated to Elijah from Old Testament times; Elijah resisted nearby Jezebel and hid in a cave here, before fleeing further south to Sinai. Then towards the seaside, turning south towards the famous beaches and north towards the city.
Curiously, since Haifa is now a Jewish city, the Bahai Center and Gardens are Haifa’s most important tourist point, welcoming over a million visitors a year. The Baha’i faith originated in Iran/Persia from an individual Muslim believing in one creator god, one unified humanity and one unified world/universe (these views are very “Hindu”); he is now called the Bab, and his successor, Bahaullah, is recognized by adherents as the Messiah of the Hebrew and Muslim scriptures. The Bab was executed in Persia in 1850, but his mausoleum is now in Haifa. The Baha’i Faith today has approximately 9 million adherents worldwide, the largest number in India. Haifa is its world center; curiously, there is a small Bahai center in Kingstree, SC, with a major radio/transmitter station. Fleeing persecution in Persia and Turkey, adherents began buying land in Haifa around 1870 from the Acre-based Ottoman government, accumulating around 1,000 acres in the heart of Haifa, ranging from the mountaintop to the port. The incredible gardens are built down the hill (completed in 2001) deliberately in 19 terraces and 1,000 steps, and include a library, offices, meeting centers, the Universal House of Justice and the Shrine of Bab. Expect to spend around half a day here; I was able to make my way through all the buildings except the mausoleum/temple of Bab (I was a nice non-believer). Some guards were chatty, but most just stared at me in polite silence. Curiously, few Bahia really live in Haifa anymore, they are only there for the center. Fascinating fact: the gardens require around 400 pools of water per day, and water is the highest overall expense – furthermore, no machinery is allowed in the gardens, all work is done by hand.