A cacophony of market vendors, blaring car horns and church bells, modern Nazareth will come as quite a shock if you’re imagining the bucolic Christmas-card images of the Annunciation and Jesus’ childhood home. The largest Arab city in Israel, Nazareth is swallowing up the surrounding olive groves, farms and pine forests at an ever-increasing pace; where there’s a view, there’s a house on the hillside and where there’s a one-way street, there’s sure to be a kilometre-long traffic jam heading the other way.
But the disappointment does not last long. Nazareth is a vibrant city, with the feel of a small village, and offers much more than its Christian pilgrim history. While the myriad of churches are certainly worth a visit, come to explore the cobbled streets of the Old City with its crumbling mansions, authentic souq and excellent restaurants specialising in local dishes. While the controversial Nazareth 2000 project (a joint project of the Israeli government and the local municipality for restoration of the Old City to celebrate the Millennium in the Holy Land) – unfortunately much of the money was squandered or spent on Upper Nazareth, the Jewish section of the city) has stalled since the start of the second intifada, tourists can take advantage of the early success: the winding alleyways of the Old City beautifully lit at night, preservation of some of the historical homes, and investment into a range of interesting new accommodation options. With its proximity to nearby Christian sites such as Mt Tabor, Nazareth makes an ideal base for a few days’ touring the lower Galilee, especially on Shabbat when everything is open for business, unlike the rest of the country.