Safed (Hebrew: צפת Tsfat) is a city in the Upper Galilee region of Israel, and is one of the oldest centers for Jewish learning and spirituality, home to the Kabbalah movement which is popular with celebrities.
Located at an altitude of 900 meters (2,953 ft), Safed, is the highest city in the Galilee and of Israel. Due to its high altitude, Safed, experiences pleasantly warm summers and cold, and often snowy winters.
It is the birthplace of Lurianic Kabbalah, and one of the main bastions for Torah study and the like during the centuries of Ottoman rule. It is one of the four holiest cities in Judaism, along with Hebron, Tiberias, and of course Jerusalem. While there are many stories about when it was founded, and by whom, it truly grew to prominence in the late 15th century when it became a refuge for Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition.
It is a cute, quaint city in the north of Israel. In more recent times, thanks to its beautiful setting surrounded by pine forests, and its agreeable, mild summers, Safed has developed into a summer holiday resort much frequented by Israelis and also foreign visitors. It has also become popular as an artists' colony apart from its religious significance, its nature and its pleasant summers.
Also, if you want to see religious and missed the Jerusalem Haredi neighborhoods, this is the place you want go to – specially around the synagogues.
The Israel Railways only get as close as Akko, but from there it is possible to take a bus to Safed. This is the recommended way to reach Safed from Ben Gurion Airport and some other locations.
Ayit Airways has two daily flights between Tel Aviv (Sde Dov Airport) and Rosh Pina. for ₪260 per person (₪185 for residents of the north). Sundays-Thursdays, no weekend service. From Rosh Pina, a ₪50-60 cab ride gets you to Safed.
Safed's old city is built in a circular fashion around a hilltop, and new neighborhoods lie on adjacent hills.
The old city, which is the main destination for visitors, is really only accessible by foot. It is small but quite hard to find your way around, consisting of a maze of pedestrian alleys with few markings of street names or house numbers. The best way to get around is to base yourself on the broad "Olei HaGardom" staircase which goes up and down the hill. This staircase was built by the British during the 1936-9 riots to separate what at the time were the Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. (To this day most synagogues and Jewish sites are found north of the staircase, while most art galleries have since located to the south.) The staircase, unlike most other places in the old city, is equipped with many signs and maps indicating the way to major sites. The best way of getting from one place to another is often to take an alley (circling the hilltop) to the staircase, go up or down the staircase as necessary, and take another alley to your destination.
There is a local bus company, Nateeve Express, that runs several local lines around the town. Unofficially, cabs take a set fare for any destination in the town. This is usually cheaper than the metered value. Even more unofficially, you can get "sherut" service with the cabs at the price of the bus fare. On "sherut", the cabs travel the bus routes only. The Old City of Safed is really only accessible by foot.
Jewish religious sites
There are a number of old, beautiful, and unique synagogues in Safed, some of them rather famous world-wide among the Jewish community. These include:
- 1 Ari Ashkenazi synagogue. In memory of Rabbi Isaac Luria. Normally open for visitors on weekdays and boasts an ornate ark.
- 2 Ari Sepharadi synagogue. Considered the oldest synagogue in the city. Only open for prayers on the Sabbath.
- 3 Abuhav synagogue. Unique, beautiful, and most famous. It was built in the 1490s according to Kabbalistic architectural and spiritual beliefs.
- Yosef Karo synagogue. Another popular landmark, established in the 16th century on the site of a yeshiva run by Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch (the most authoritative code of Jewish law).
As in other synagogues, visitors should dress appropriately; this means covered legs (no shorts or short skirts), no bare shoulders/upper arms, and all men must cover their heads. (Synagogue personnel provide head coverings and shawls for travelers who come to visit the sites).
- 4 Ancient Cemetery. the burial place of many famous Rabbis and is a common destination for visitors to Safed looking for answers to their prayers. Some famous Jewish personalities buried there include:
- The Arizal (Rabbi Isaac Luria), the famous kabbalist of the 16th century.
- Rabbi Joseph Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch, the definitive code of Jewish Law.
- Rabbi Moshe Cordevero (the Ramak), a famous kabbalist predating the Arizal.
- Chana and her seven sons, the martyred family from the time of the Temple.
- 5 Cave of Shem and Ever (Ma'arat Shem Ve'Ever). According to Jewish sources, Shem (son of Noah) and his great-grandson Ever ran a yeshiva (house of Jewish study). There is a tradition that this unimpressive-looking cave in Safed was the site of their yeshiva. How did this cave come to be identified as such? The Torah is divided into two parts - hidden and revealed - and one might assume they were not studying the revealed Torah, since Moses had not yet been born. So they must have been studying the hidden Torah. And where better to do that than in Safed?
- 6 Crusader fortress (Citadel). Located at the very top of the Safed hill, the fortress is interesting to explore. The view from it is spectacular, overlooking Mount Meron, the Sea of Galilee, and far beyond. Bring a flash light for the hall/cave, with its entrance at the southern side of the little lower track circling the top.
- 7 Mount Canaan. The very best view in Safed. Essentially the same view as from the Crusader Fortress, but better because it includes ancient Safed itself.
- 10 Artist colony. In the Old City including the Exhibition Centre in Safed Big Mosque.
- Statue Garden and the Gallery of sculptor Moshe Ziffer
- The Red Khan - a significant Mameluk palace
- Safed Tourist Information Center, Rehov Alkabetz 17, ☎ , , e-mail: email@example.com. A good place to get a first overview of Safed. The Center provides maps and guidebooks as well as information about tour guides, accommodations, and more. There is a 10-minute movie that gives an overview of the history of Safed, as well as 500-year-old antiquities which, now uncovered, offer visitors an opportunity to see the original rooms and buildings of Safed of the 1500s and 1600s. Through the Information Center, individuals and groups can experience Safed through hiking, Tzfat-Theatre, storytelling, musical tours, discussions and lectures about Judaism, sessions of Ask the Rabbi, and explanations of mysticism in Safed. There are also interactive workshops and seminars which include writing tefillin, challah-baking, candle-making, tying Tzitzit, songs, etc.
- The city also boasts a growing number of small, private art galleries, many of which have little cafes or tourist shops attached, selling postcards, t-shirts, and other basic tourist goods.
- [dead link]International Klezmer Festival. Each year in mid-August, tens of thousands of people come to this festival celebrating klezmer music (Ashkenazi Jewish folk music). Free concerts by leading performers are held in the old city's ancient streets.
There are several Daf Yomi classes in Tsfat in several languages. There are also many women's classes offered at various locations throughout the city which offer a variety of Jewish perspectives. Visit the Tzfat Calendar [dead link] to find out what is happening in the city.
Ascent of Sefad runs lectures and seminars on kabala, and there are numerous Yeshivot, some of which might offer informal classes or the opportunity to attend classes or learn with students. Just ask inside.
The city is also known for the extensive galleries and artists that reside in Tsfat. Each gallery is in and of itself a story, waiting to be explored. The owners/curators of the galleries bring the pieces that they feel represent their gallery and the atmosphere of Tsfat itself.
After Jerusalem, Tsfat is probably the best place in Israel to get Jewish cultural and religious items, as well as quality artwork. A narrow cobblestone street is lined with open-air shops selling everything from menorahs to mezuzahs, Seder plates and Shabbat candlesticks to swords and other historical/cultural items. These shops are also known for pictures that are made up of the words of songs or Scripture. For a more intimate experience of the inspiration behind Tsfat's artwork, seek out artists' private galleries throughout the Old City and Artists' Colony.
- Nerot Tzfat (Safed Candles) (At the end of the Judaica shopping street). Sells beautiful candles in every size, shape, and color, as well as displaying a number of scenes in wax, including David & Goliath, Noah's Ark, and a wedding.
- Dreams and Visions Gallery, Tet-Vav St. #7, Artist's Colony (Near the bus parking lot, across from the General Exhibition.), ☎ . 9AM-6PM. A graduate of Princeton University, Safed artist, Sheva Chaya draws on her professional artistic training to bring Dreams and Visions to life through her vibrant artwork. Sheva Chaya utilizes glassblowing demonstrations and her lively watercolor paintings to elucidate Jewish mystical concepts and traditional liturgy which inspire her work. Small and large group presentation topics include: The Kabbalah of Glassblowing, The Precious Land of Israel, Expressionist Watercolor, and Women's Wisdom.
- SouzaKohn Gallery, 51 Bar Yochi St., Old City (Near 'Defenders Square' and 'Messiah Alley'.), ☎ . 9AM-6PM Sunday - Thursday, and 9AM - 2PM Friday. Keren SouzaKohn graduated from the Ravensbourne College of Art and has since been exhibiting her prints, drawings, watercolours and oils widely, both in London and internationally. Her work references among others that of El Greco, Titian, Rembrandt, Goya, Matisse, Hilton, Eva Hesse, Sandra Blow and Philip Guston. Keren is the daughter of the late Francis Newton Souza. Aware of her heritage she is able to forge new ground, speaking a new beguiling but poignant Language of our time. She is interested in abstracted figuration, in the co-existence of divinity within our physical planet. Her love of colour is evident. Hot, spicy or cool. A juxtaposition of the unexpected produces dramatic composition with a strong narrative, sometimes subliminal, sometimes overt, obvious and for the taking. Dreams and journeys, moments seen and caught, sometimes struggling to emerge, revisited through further drawings and paintings.
In the old Jewish Quarter, you will find the kabbalistic galleries of Yoseph Saban and David Friedman on Bar Yochai St.
Buy quality artwork direct from the artist. Don't miss the opportunity to spend time with local artists and buy their quality art. Hear their stories and get a sense of how traditional Jewish sources inspire their work.
Falafel, shawarma, pizza, and other basic foods are relatively cheap, and very good here.
Safed is also famous for its locally made cheese (also see Artists' Colony Inn below):
- 1 Kadosh Cheese/Dairy (מחלבת קדוש). One of the famous producers, invites tourists for a tasting including tea. The price of the cheese seems fair, considering the small factory. around ₪11 per 100g.
During the summer, drink water!
- 2 Tzfat Pad, 94 David Remez St (Right next to Abu Chatzerah Shul), ☎ , , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: after 9AM, check-out: 4PM except sat. Guest apartment owned by an artist that only occasionally visits Safed. Apartment has large floor to ceiling windows in the living room and master bedroom with views of the Galilee and Sea of Galilee. There is an additional bedroom that has a window to the other side. ₪100/150 weekday/weekend per person.
- Shoshana's Hostel (Artists Quarter), ☎ . Dorms near the commercial district.
- 3 Artist Quarter Guesthouse, Artist Quarter, Old City, Tzfat, ☎ . The guesthouse is open daily and equipped for Shabbat. The Artist Quarter Guesthouse (B&B) is centrally located in the heart of the Artist Quarter of the Old City of Tzfat. The guesthouse combines ancient Tzfat charm with modern amenities. It has newly renovated 200-year-old stone domed rooms, with Moroccan lights, stained glass windows, AC/heat, kitchenettes and free WiFi. The rooms are beautiful, clean, light and airy. Women's Swedish massage and catered Mehadrin Shabbat meals are available. The rate is ₪450 per couple for a week night or ₪500 per couple for Shabbat, and for the suite the rate is ₪650 per couple for a week night or ₪750 for Shabbat.
- 4 Artists' Colony Inn, Yud Zayin 9, ☎ . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. Boutique hotel, has four rooms with Jacuzzis or large showers, air conditioning, heating, inner courtyards, and views of the mountains of the Galilee, Meron Mountain and the Artist Colony. Large, comfortable beds, bathrobes, LCD televisions and a lobby with a cafe, library, and wireless internet connection. Their kosher Israeli breakfast (Rabbanut Safed Israel) includes locally-made cheeses and jams. from $195.
- 6 [dead link]Ruth Rimonim Hotel, Artist Colony Rd, ☎ , fax: . In the Galilee Mountains. All rooms are air conditioned, have a cable television, private toilet and bath, telephone, and an internet connection. There is a restaurant and cafe, room service, and safe deposit boxes. Tours from the hotel are also available.
- 7 [dead link]Villa Galilee Hotel (Villa Galilee Hotel), Hagdud Hashlishi 106 Har Cnaan, ☎ . Villa Galilee has spacious penthouses with a terrace overlooking the view and is furnished with a Jacuzzi, a swimming pool and a flower garden. Also has a restaurant that offers French-inspired food and a bar. Spa treatments also available in-house.
- 8 Villa Tiferet, 72 Tet Vav Street, Artists' Quarter, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 10:00. Once upon a time (400 years ago) this magnificent home was part of a church. The space has been lovingly restored. Vaulted ceilings of ancient stone tower above the dining area. There is a kitchen and a cozy couch in front of a large fireplace. You can lounge on pillows in the spacious courtyard and watch the birds above as their flight path takes them between Africa and Asia each spring and fall. The house has four bedrooms and can sleep up to thirteen people. US$450.
Safed is an ideal location for basing many day trips in the northern area of Israel. Buses, cabs, and seasonal organized group travel are available to many locations within an hour or so drive such as Rosh Haniqra, Nahariyya, Akko, the Golan Heights, Tel Dan, Monfort Lake, Tiberias, Gamla, Qiryat Shemona, Mount Hermon, and Metulla. Especially for the "mehadrin" or "glatt" traveler, basing northern trips in Safed is adventageous with the availability of mehadrin lodging and food.
For the religious traveler, there are separate beaches available in Nahariyya, Tiberias, and Haifa (Hof Hashaket/Quiet Beach).
Sites to visit near Safed:
- Pekiin - an ancient town of mixed ethnicity including Druze sites, orthodox churches and a synagogue. There is a spring at the town centre.
- Amirim - a vegetarian settlement with developed rural tourism infrastructure
- Rosh Pina - a beautiful 19th Century old town with many restaurants
- Korazim - a talmudic town with a synagogue watching over the Sea of Galilee
- Tel Hazor - a World Heritage Site. A Biblical tel with an extensive underground water system. At nearby Ayelet HaShahar there is a museum dedicated to the site.
- Hula Lake - the best site in Israel to watch migrating birds. Find out in advance which is the best time to visit the site. There is an informative film shown at the site.