Caesarea (Hebrew: Qeysarya, קיסריה) is a small, wealthy town and extensive archaeological site on the Mediterranean coast of Israel, located some 50 km north of Tel Aviv and several kilometres north of Hadera. Population 4,200. Caesarea is close to Jisr az-Zarqa, an Arab village which has a backpacker guest house. In between the two are some of the most beautiful beaches in Israel.
Caesarea became known in the first century BCE, when Herod the Great built one of the largest ports in the eastern Mediterranean on the spot. The city continued to flourish through the Byzantine era. For most of the Muslim period it was a notable city, and the Crusaders built impressive city walls which still stand. However, by the Ottoman period Caesarea was either uninhabited or home only to a small village.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Baron Edmond James de Rothschild purchased much of the land around Caesarea. With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the Rothschild family gifted these holdings to the Caesarea Foundation. Caesarea is therefore the only locality in Israel which is managed by a private organization (the Caesarea Development Corporation), rather than a municipal governmental organization. Today Caesarea is considered one of the most upscale residential developments in Israel. The current Baron de Rothschild still maintains a home in Caesarea, as do many other wealthy and influential individuals and foreign residents. It is also home to Israel’s only 18-hole golf course, a luxury hotel, a vacation village, miles of sandy beaches, and a series of attractive restaurants, galleries and boutiques huddled around the Mediterranean cove.
And, of course, visitors marvel at its extraordinary archeological attractions, not least of which is the Roman theatre, where concerts, entertainment extravaganzas and the annual International Opera Festival are held.
Hitchhiking to 1 Jisr az-Zarqa or Caesarea is possible and rather easy.
Caesarea National Park is on the coastal road, near the city of Caesarea and Kibbutz Sdot Yam and west of Or Akiva. Take the coastal road or the old Tel Aviv-Haifa highway number 2 to the interchange near the Orot Rabin power station. An alternate route is to drive to the park via Or Akiva.
The simplest and fastest way is to take an intercity bus to 2 Or Akiva interchange on the Route 2 motorway. From Tel Aviv (or intermediate points), take bus 910, running about hourly. From Haifa, take bus 910 or 947 from the Carmel Beach CBS. When you get off the bus, walk 20 minutes west (towards the sea) along the road, and you will be at the Caesarea ruins. There is a pleasant bike/foot path for this walk, separate from the road.
If this is too much walking (which it might be on a hot summer day), then you can take one of the buses that stop right at the ruins - routes 9, 76, or 80 from Binyamina (7 km), Hadera, and Pardes Hana respectively. (You can also catch the 9 and 80 at Or Akiva interchange.) Beware that these routes are very slow, as they make a circuit through all the neighborhoods of Caesarea before reaching the ruins. They are also infrequent - each route runs no more than 10 times a day.
The main ruins form a single national park which is easy to walk around (though lacking in shade, so bring a hat).
The other sites are far enough apart that a vehicle can be useful, particularly on a hot day. But walking between them is also a reasonable option. Even the distance between Caesarea and Jisr az-Zarqa, if you stay there, can be managed on foot - 5 km along the beach.
- 1 Caesarea National Park (Caesarea Palestinae), ☏ . May-Aug 8:00-18:00, Sept-Oct 8:00-17:00, Nov-Apr 8:00-16:00. Ancient Caesarea Maritima is one of the archaeological treasures of Israel and the Mediterranean. This giant city and port was created 2000 years ago by Herod the Great in honour of the Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar. Much of the Roman city remains, including an aqueduct, theatre, and acres of excavated houses, mosaics and palaces. In the 12th century CE, Caesarea was recreated as a massive Crusader fortress, whose moat, balustrades and towers still stand. The ancient and medieval city are preserved within the Caesarea National Park, and the Roman aqueduct can be seen for free on the beach a few kilometers north of the National Park. ₪39/33/24 adult/student/child.
- 2 Caesarea Aqueduct (starts southwest of Jisr az-Zarqa and ends at Caesarea beach). Hike along or on top of what is left over of this impressive structure.
- 3 Ralli Museums, Rotschild Blvd., ☏ . Mo,Tu,Th,Sa - 10:30-5, Fri - 10:30-3, closed Su and We. In January and February, only open on Fri and Sat. Two art museums - one focused on Spanish/Latin American art, and one focused on early modern pieces with Biblical themes.
- 4 Birds mosaic. A little-known but beautiful archaeological site. The site of a Byzantine palace, there are complex mosaics here with pictures of birds and other wildlife as well as geometric forms. The site can be freely visited with no admission fee.
- 5 Caesarea Beach.
- 6 Zarqa Bay & Beach.
- Surfing is possible here - ask at Juha's Guesthouse.
- International Opera Festival Caesarea.
- Caesarea Jazz Festival. The annual festival at the beginning of June offers impressive jazz music in a breathtaking & tranquil surrounding.
- 1 Caesarea Golf Club, ☏ .
Some small shops can be found in Jisr az-Zarqa and a supermarket right next to Juha's Guesthouse.
The Caesarea National Park holiday area has several restaurants that cater for the visiting folks.
In Jisr az-Zarqa inexpensive falafel (₪8) and shawarma can be found.
Juha's Guesthouse has got beer in the fridge for its guests, even though the town is pretty much alcohol free due to being Muslim.
- 1 Juha's Guesthouse - Zarqa Bay, Jisr az-Zarqa, ☏ . A quiet but decent little hostel close to one of the best beaches in the country. Run by a nice and by the local media praised couple. Member of ILH. ₪85.
Bed and Breakfast
- 2 Suite-Alma (Located in Neot Golf Resort), ☏ , . Check-out: From ₪420 (off season). Has a swimming pool, tennis courts, fitness room, sauna, squash, mini golf, playground, etc.
- 3 Dan Caesarea Mediterranean Hotel, Rothschild St 1, Caesarea, ☏ , . A luxury hotel in a country-estate setting by the sea.
- Haifa – The second-holiest city in the Bahai faith, including its great garden down the northern slope of the city.
- Nazareth – The largest Arab city in Israel and best known as the home of Joseph and Mary.
- Jezreel Valley – Famous for Tel Megiddo (Armageddon) National Park and Mount Gilboa overlooking it. Reachable by bus via Olga Junction (e.g. bus 947, then 825).
- Druze Villages in the Carmel Range: 30min by service taxi (monit sherut) or longer by bus, line number 37א, to the closer village of Isifya or the more distant village of Daliyat el-Carmel. The tourist-oriented bazaar has inexpensive shops and you can top off the visit in one of the excellent Mid-Eastern restaurants.
- Tel Aviv – A big and the most cosmopolitan city in Israel, well known for its club culture.