Must see attractions in Lower Galilee

  • Top ChoiceSights in Nazareth

    Basilica of the Annunciation

    Dominating the Old City’s skyline is the lantern-topped cupola of this Franciscan-run Roman Catholic basilica, an audacious modernist structure that’s unlike any building you’ve ever seen. Constructed from 1960 to 1969, it’s believed by many Christians to stand on the site of Mary’s home, where many churches (but not the Greek Orthodox) believe the Annunciation took place. The Upper Basilica, its soaring dome shaped like an inverted lily, ‘glorifies Mary as the Mother of God’. With lovely mid-20th-century flair, the bare cast concrete is adorned with indented dots. In the dimly lit lower church, a sunken enclosure shelters the Grotto of the Annunciation, the traditional site of Mary’s house, and remnants of churches from the Byzantine (4th century) and Crusader (12th century) eras. The walls of the courtyard and the upper church are decorated with a series of vivid mosaic panels, donated by Catholic communities around the world, depicting Mary and the infant Jesus in styles that boldly reflect the cultures of their countries of origin. A panel from Brazil was added in 2016. Confessions can be made in a variety of languages from 8.30am to 11.30am and 3pm to 5pm. Regular events: Angelus Prayer At noon daily, in the Grotto Marian Prayer 8.30pm Tuesday Eucharistic Adoration 8.30pm Thursday Candlelight Procession 8.30pm Saturday Live webcasts of some events can be seen via www.cmc-terrasanta.com. Free brochures in a dozen languages – and shawls and skirts to cover exposed shoulders and knees (deposit of ID required) – are available at the Pilgrims Office, 20m to the left of the basilica’s main gate. Inquiries can be sent in by email.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Sea of Galilee

    Mount of the Beatitudes

    Since at least the 4th century, this landscaped hillside is believed to be where Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), whose opening lines – the eight Beatitudes – begin with the phrase ‘Blessed are…’. The sermon also includes the Lord’s Prayer and oft-quoted phrases such as ‘salt of the earth’, ‘light of the world’ and ‘judge not, lest ye be judged’. An octagonal Italianate Roman Catholic church, built between 1936 and 1938 with help from Mussolini, is looked after by Franciscan nuns. The Beatitudes are commemorated in stained glass just below the dome, while the seven virtues (justice, charity, prudence, faith, fortitude, hope and temperance) are represented around the altar. The balcony and tranquil gardens have breathtaking views of the Sea of Galilee. The pilgrims hostel is open to visitors of all faiths. Monte delle Beatitudini (as it’s known in Italian), situated on the Jesus Trail, is a 3.1km drive up the hill from Tabgha’s Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves & Fishes. Walking is also an option – from just outside the mount’s entrance booth, a 1km path leads down the hill to Tabgha, hitting Rte 87 at a point about 200m east of the Church of the Primacy of St Peter.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Sea of Galilee

    Ancient Galilee Boat

    In 1986, when the level of the Sea of Galilee was particularly low, a local fisherman made an extraordinary discovery: the remains of a wooden boat later determined to have plied these waters in the time of Jesus’s ministry. The 8.2m fishing vessel, made of 12 kinds of (apparently recycled) wood, can be seen inside Kibbutz Ginosar’s Yigal Alon Centre. Wall panels and three short films tell the fascinating story of its discovery and preservation (so does the website). Outside, the lovely shoreline is bordered by expanses of waving reeds and a garden of sculptures by Jewish and Arab artists.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Nazareth

    Centre International Marie de Nazareth

    Almost across the street from the Basilica of the Annunciation, this stunning complex is run by Chemin Neuf, a Roman Catholic community based in France, as a venue for ecumenical work among Christians and for inter-religious dialogue. The peaceful rooftop gardens, landscaped with plants mentioned in the Bible, afford 360-degree panoramas, while in the basement there are in situ ruins from as far back as the First Temple period. A four-room multimedia presentation, available in 14 languages, illustrates biblical highlights (from Creation to the Resurrection), with an emphasis on the lives of Mary and Jesus. Films in 16 languages are shown; some can also be watched on www.netforgod.tv. Prayers (in French) are held at 6pm daily. Wheelchair accessible.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Nazareth

    Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation

    According to Greek Orthodox tradition, the Annunciation took place while Mary was fetching water from the spring situated directly under this richly frescoed, 17th-century church (other denominations hold that she was at home during the Annunciation). The barrel-vaulted crypt, first constructed under Constantine (4th century CE), shelters Nazareth’s only year-round spring, a place everyone in the village obviously visited often. Check out the centuries-old graffiti carved around the outside doorway.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Nazareth

    Ancient Bathhouse

    When Elias Shama and his Belgian-born wife Martina set about renovating their shop in 1993, they uncovered a network of 2000-year-old clay pipes almost identical to ones found in Pompeii – and then, under the floor, an almost perfectly preserved Roman bathhouse once fed by water from Mary’s Well. The 30-minute tour, which draws you into the excitement of serendipitous discovery, ends with walnut-stuffed dates and coffee. Tours cost 120NIS for one to four people and 28NIS extra per person after that.

  • Sights in Sea of Galilee

    Capernaum

    The New Testament says that the prosperous lakeside village of Capernaum (estimated population 1500), on the imperial highway from Tiberias to Damascus, was Jesus’s base during the most influential period of his Galilean ministry (Matthew 4:13, Mark 2:1, John 6:59). It is mentioned by name 16 times: this is where Jesus is believed to have preached at the synagogue (Mark 1:21), healed the sick and recruited his first disciples, fishers Peter, Andrew, James and John and Matthew the tax collector. The Franciscan friars who run the site, dressed in brown cassocks with a white rope around the waist, are happy to answer questions. An explanatory sheet (1NIS) is available at the ticket window. Capernaum’s renowned synagogue, whose facade faces south towards Jerusalem, consists of two superimposed structures. The reconstructed building that can be seen today, known as the ‘White Synagogue’ because it’s made of light-coloured limestone, was built in the late 4th century atop the dark basalt foundations of the ‘Synagogue of Jesus’, which – despite its name – appears to have been built at least a century after the Crucifixion. On the other side of the tree-shaded benches from the synagogue, 10m to the right of the olive press, a menorah decorates the upper lip of a column. A nearby column bears a 5th-century inscription in Hebrew commemorating a donation made by someone named Alpheus, son of Zebidah. A modern, glass-walled church (1991; now air-conditioned), used for frequent Masses in dozens of languages (ask the officiating priest if you'd like to join), is dramatically suspended over the ruins of an octagonal, 5th-century church that partly obscures St Peter’s House, where Jesus is believed to have stayed. Near the entrance to the site, there's a row of impressive stone lintels decorated with fruit and plant motifs but, in accordance with the Third Commandment (Exodus 20:4), no images of people or animals. Capernaum is 16km northeast of Tiberias and 3km northeast of Tabgha. Hwy 87 has three signs indicating turn-offs to Capernaum – to get to the archaeological site, take the westernmost of the three.

  • Sights in Sea of Galilee

    Arbel National Park

    Towering over the Sea of Galilee and offering breathtaking views of the Golan Heights and Mt Hermon, Arbel Cliff is 181m above sea level, which makes it 390m above the vast blue lake below. Great rambling territory, it is on both the Israel National Trail and the Jesus Trail (yes, hikers have to pay the entry fee). The park is 11.5km northwest of Tiberias; take Rte 77, Rte 7717 and then the Moshav Arbel access road, whence a side road leads northeast for 3.5km. For great views, you can walk to the Carob Tree Lookout (30 minutes return) and, a few minutes further along the ridge, the Kinneret Lookout. A moderately difficult, three-hour circuit (minimum age seven) that requires some cliff clambering with cables and hand-holds takes you past the Cave Fortress (restored in 2017), apparently built by a Druze chieftain in the 1600s. It’s also possible to do a circuit (five to six hours) that heads down to the Arbel Spring and then back up to park HQ via Wadi Arbel and the ruins of a 6th-century synagogue (wheelchair accessible) – the latter is 800m towards Moshav Arbel along the park’s sole access road. In 1187 Saladin inflicted a definitive defeat on the Crusaders at the Horns of Hattin, the ridge a few kilometres west of Arbel Cliff. As you look west from park HQ, the ridge is directly behind Moshav Arbel.

  • Sights in Sea of Galilee

    Korazim National Park

    On a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Korazim is a good place to get an idea of the layout of a prosperous, midsized Galilean town in the time of Jesus and the Talmud (3rd to 5th centuries CE). The synagogue is known for its extraordinary basalt carvings, which depict floral and geometric designs – permitted by Jewish law – as well as Hellenistic-style representations of animals, humans (eg people stomping on grapes) and mythological figures (Medusa!). Two extraordinary objects were found inside the synagogue: a richly decorated column thought to have held up the table used to read the Torah; and an armchair bearing an inscription in Aramaic. The originals are now in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem (in situ you can see replicas). The people of Korazim – along with the inhabitants of Capernaum and Bethsaida – were denounced by Jesus for their lack of faith (Matthew 11:20–24). The park, which is wheelchair accessible, is on Rte 8277, 2.5km east of Rte 90 (Korazim junction, ie Vered HaGalil), and 8km west of the ruins of Bethsaida (in Park HaYarden).

  • Sights in Sea of Galilee

    Magdala

    When the Legionnaires of Christ, a Catholic congregation based in Mexico, began building a spiritual retreat in 2009, they were astonished to discover a synagogue from the 1st century CE, dated to the time of Jesus by a local coin minted in 29 CE. The excavations – work continues every summer – are now an open-air museum. Situated 6km north of Tiberias on the site of the ancient town of Magdala (Migdal in Hebrew), home of Mary Magdalene. Inside the synagogue, archaeologists found the Magdala Stone, a rectangular altar – discovered facing south towards Jerusalem – decorated with a seven-branched menorah that is unique because it was carved when the Temple in Jerusalem was still standing. The altar may have been used to read the Torah. The original is at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem (there's a copy here). Visitors can also see the elegant Worship Center and its six mosaic-adorned chapels. Volunteers conduct free tours in English, Spanish and sometimes other languages. A 160-room guesthouse is under construction.

  • Sights in Sea of Galilee

    Kinneret Cemetery

    Shaded and serene, this luxuriantly leafy lakeside cemetery, established in 1911, is the final resting place of socialist Zionist pioneers such as Berl Katznelson (1887–1944), who lived at the centre of a celebrated love triangle (his grave is flanked by those of his first and second wives), and Shmuel Yavnieli (1884–1961), who worked to bring Yemenite Jews to Israel. It is 9km south of Tiberias and 300m south of Kinneret Junction. Also buried here is the Hebrew poet Rachel (Rachel Bluwstein; 1890–1931). Books of her hugely popular poems, many of which have been set to music, can be found in a stainless-steel container attached to her grave. She appears on the Bank of Israel's 20NIS banknote. In the spring of 1917, the Ottomans expelled the entire Jewish population of Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Of the 2000 refugees who fled to the Galilee, 430 died and 10 are buried here, commemorated by 10 anonymous gravestones and a stone plaque, erected in 2003, bearing their long-lost names.

  • Sights in Sea of Galilee

    Bet Gabriel

    Opened in 1993, this lakeside cultural centre – one of Israel’s most beautiful buildings – is known for its art exhibitions, first-run cinema (two screens, with two more set to open in 2019), pop and classical concerts, bagel cafe (closed Friday evening and Saturday) and inspiring sea views. In November 1994 it served as the venue for a ceremony reconfirming the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. Situated at the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee, 300m east of Tzemah Junction. King Hussein’s red-and-white keffiyeh (chequered scarf worn by Arabs) and a sword given to Shimon Peres by Yasser Arafat can be seen in the Peace Room (call ahead to arrange a free tour). Mirrors ensure that everyone, no matter where around the six-sided, eight-seat table they sit, can see the Sea of Galilee.

  • Sights in Sea of Galilee

    Church of the Primacy of St Peter

    A shady, fragrant garden leads down to the lakeshore and to this Franciscan chapel (built 1933), lit by the vivid colours of abstract stained glass. The flat rock in front of the altar was known to Byzantine pilgrims as Mensa Christi (Christ’s Table) because it was believed that Jesus and his disciples breakfasted on fish here (John 21:9). On the side of the church facing the lake, a few steps cut out of the rock are said by some to be where Jesus stood when his disciples saw him, in the biblical account. (On the other hand, the steps may have been cut in the 2nd or 3rd century, when the area was quarried for limestone.) Just west of the church, a path leads to three serene outdoor chapels surrounded by the reeds and trees that grow along the lakeshore.

  • Sights in Sea of Galilee

    Monastery of the Twelve Apostles

    Peacocks strut around the serene, deeply shaded lakefront garden of this Greek Orthodox site, 200m as the crow flies (1.6km on foot or by car) northeast of the Capernaum synagogue, at the eastern edge of the ancient city. The chapel-sized church, its distinctive red domes visible from afar (including from the Mount of the Beatitudes), dates from 1925, but the whole complex – from the grape trellises to the rich interior iconography (redone for the millennium) – casts a very Byzantine spell. To get there, follow the signs on Rte 87 to 'Capernaum (Orthodox)' and turn right just before the entrance to Capernaum National Park.

  • Sights in Jezreel & Beit She'an Valleys

    Museum of Art, Ein Harod

    Almost as remarkable for its modernist building (inaugurated in 1948, with additions from the 1950s) as its outstanding art collection (mainly by Israeli and Jewish artists), this pioneering museum puts on highly regarded temporary exhibits (explanatory sheets available in English) in its 14 halls. Also has a permanent exhibition of Judaica. By car, take Rte 71 to Kibbutz Ein Harod Meuchad and follow the signs to ‘Museums’.

  • Sights in Jezreel & Beit She'an Valleys

    Nachmani Winery

    UK-born Frances and her Moroccan-born husband David have turned a wine-making hobby into a micro-winery that produces just 2100 bottles a year. You can sample their prize-winning wines – made from grapes harvested by hand at dawn and in the crusher by 7am – on their lovely back patio, all the while enjoying splendid views of the Jezreel Valley. Call ahead to arrange a 45-minute tour or a cheese-and-wine spread (45NIS).

  • Sights in Tiberias

    Tomb of Rabbi Meir Ba’al HaNess

    A complex of religious buildings has grown around the reputed burial place of Rabbi Meir Ba'al HaNess, a 2nd-century sage often cited in the Mishnah ( ba'al ha-ness means 'master of miracles'). The tomb itself, with separate, curtained entrances for men and women, is inside a domed Sephardi synagogue, situated just down the slope from its Ashkenazi counterpart, topped with a taller dome. The complex is 2.5km south of the city centre, 150m up an asphalt road from Hamat Tveriya National Park. Behind the Sephardi section, market stalls sell holy amulets, including specially blessed olive oil and arak (50NIS). Nearby, personal blessings are available in exchange for a charitable donation. Rabbi Meir's hilula (a celebration held by Hasidim on the anniversary of a sage's death) is just three days before that of Shimon Bar Yochai, who's buried at Mt Meron, so some pious Jews travel to the Galilee to take in both hugely popular events.

  • Sights in Sea of Galilee

    Yardenit Baptismal Site

    This hugely popular, eucalyptus-shaded baptism site, run by Kibbutz Kinneret, is on the Jordan River 100m south of where it flows out of the Sea of Galilee. Christian pilgrims flock here, praying and singing, to be baptised in white robes (bring your own or rent/purchase for US$10/25, including towel and certificate). Changing rooms are provided (2NIS). All around the site, panels made of Armenian tiles, sponsored by Christians from around the world, quote Mark 1:9–11 in 102 languages (and counting). Those furry rodents paddling around the fish-filled Jordan are nutrias (coypus), natives of South America. The site has a restaurant (open daily) and a large religious-souvenir shop. Yardenit is 10km south of Tiberias and 200m west of Rte 90. It's 1km northwest of Kibbutz Degania Alef (http://degania.org.il), the world’s first kibbutz, founded in 1910.

  • Sights in Sea of Galilee

    Kursi National Park

    Mentioned in the Talmud as a place of idol worship, this Gentile fishing village – discovered by chance in the early 1970s – is where Jesus is believed to have cast a contingent of demon spirits out of two men and into a herd of swine (Mark 5:1–13, Luke 8:26–39). The beautifully conserved ruins feature an impressive 5th-century Byzantine monastery. Near the basalt gate to the antiquities, an audio guide provides excellent historical background in five languages. The site is fully wheelchair accessible. This is considered a Christian holy site, so dress modestly (no bathing suits). Situated 30km from Tiberias if you go around the southern side of the Sea of Galilee and 33km if you take the highway that parallels the lake's northern side.

  • Sights in Nazareth

    Basilica of Jesus the Adolescent

    Built between 1906 and 1923, this neo-Gothic church, with commanding views of Nazareth, has a clean, almost luminescent limestone interior whose delicate arches and soaring vaults can only be described as ‘very French’. It owes its name to the fact that Jesus spent much of his early life in Nazareth. Located along the Jesus Trail, the church is inside the École Jésus Adolescent, a school run by a Catholic religious order, the Salesians of Don Bosco. The church is a steep, 2km walk from the Old City, or you can take bus 15 from Paulus VI St. From the school's big, sliding steel gate, head left up the stairs and, at the top, enter the door to your right; the church is at the end of the long hallway.