5 Reasons to Visit the Israeli Holy City of Safed

August 28th 2019

In the rolling hills of the Upper Galilee lies the beautiful ancient city of Safed – known locally as Tzfat. It’s the highest city in all of Israel and is considered one of the nation’s four holiest cities to Jews. Safed is distinctive, not only for its elevation but also for its mystical importance and charm. 

It has been the spiritual center of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah) since the 1600s and every year attracts thousands of spiritually-focused visitors from around the world. According to the Zohar – the central text of Kabbalah – the Jewish messiah will first appear in or around Safed.  

The city also has a thriving art scene and is a popular hub for Israeli and international artists. 

There are many, many reasons to visit the holy city of Safed. Some of the places we recommend you explore include: ¡

  1. Safed’s Synagogues

Safed has numerous historical synagogues, 32 of which are nestled in the Old Jewish Quarter of the city. They sit in ancient alleyways next to galleries and shops, providing visitors with fascinating insights into the indescribable mysticism of holy Tzfat. 

Some of Safed’s most notable synagogues include the:

  • Ari Sephardic Synagogue – the oldest synagogue in the city and a favorite place of prayer for The AriZal (Rabbi Isaac Luria), who lived during the 16th Century. 
  • Ashkenazi HaAri Synagogue – also dating from the 16th Century and featuring a handcrafted Holy Ark featuring a tribute to the kabbalistic majesty of The Ari. 
  • Yosef Caro Synagogue – repeatedly destroyed by earthquakes and repeatedly rebuilt. It features a beautiful Italian marble floor. Legend has it that half of the reconstruction money is buried underground for when the messiah arrives.
  • Abuhav Synagogue – home to the oldest Torah scroll in all of Safed. The domed interior features ornate images of musical instruments used in the Holy Temple and symbols of the Twelve Tribes and four crowns. 
  1. Safed’s Religious Tombs

Just below the city, near the Ari Sephardic Synagogue, is Safed’s famous cemetery. It features thousands of tombstones, many of which belong to mystics and sages who flocked to the mystical city and made it their home, throughout the ages. Rabbi Isaac Luria (mentioned above) is also buried here, as are Rabbi Yosef Caro, the author of the Shulchan Aruch and Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz, author of the hymn Lecha Dodi. 

(See also: the tomb of Rabbi Pinhas ben Yair)

  1. The Midrachov

The Midrachov (Jerusalem Street or “Rechov Yerushalayim”) is where different sectors of Safed meet and combine. It’s the main street of the city and connects the ancient spiritual part to the more modern area, as well as the popular artists’ quarter. There are many little shops and cafes on this colorfully vibrant street. From here you can also enjoy amazing views of nearby Mount Meron and the wider region.  

  1. Safed’s Artists Quarter

Situated in what was once the historic Arab quarter, Safed’s Artists Quarter is a picturesque jewel. Home to some of Israel’s most renowned artists, the area is filled with galleries and workshops, many of which are located down narrow cobblestone streets (which just add to the charm). You can enter many of the studios, watch the artists at work, have a chat, and purchase their spirituality-inspired creations. 

  1. The Citadel

Located in the central area of Safed, at the highest point, is The Citadel – also known as HaMetsuda Garden. The new archeological park features the ruins of a Crusader castle and a more modern monument to the soldiers who fell in the battle for Safed during the 1948 Israel War of Independence. From this beautiful park, you can enjoy views of the surrounding hills and mountains as well as the Sea of Galilee in the distance.