You might come away from Haifa struggling to describe the place, though not because it’s so overwhelming that you’re at a loss for words. It’s just hard to figure out what, exactly, distinguishes Haifa: the parties are thumping, but never as out of control and wild as they are in Tel Aviv; the Baha’i have made it a hub of religious faith, but it hasn’t got the same age-old aura as Jerusalem; the locals are polite, but mostly in an austere way; and the few hip boutiques and restaurants are well spread out in this swarm of non-descript urban sprawl over Mt. Carmel. The bottom line is that Israel’s third largest city seems to be distinguished by its indistinguishability.
But the city’s hardly a drag. The optimist could get a lot out of its straightforward nature; many locals refer to it as “the city that works,” and this is undoubtedly true. The public transportation (including the country’s only metro) adheres to its schedules, the streets are invariably clean, and the sights—while rarely irrepressibly awesome—are worth seeing. Even the inveterate pessimist has got to admit there are at least a few diamonds in this rough, including the spectacular Baha’i Gardens.
And therein lies the rub. Haifa will not disappoint, but it doesn’t promise to bowl you over either. The city doesn’t ooze character; you need to go looking for it. But the effort pays off more often than not for those who take the plunge.