Home of Joseph and Mary, the childhood home of Jesus
On our second stop for this tour around Israel, we visited the historic and biblical city of Nazareth combined with a short visit to Tiberias, the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River which are barely 40 kilometers farther to the east of Nazareth. 140 kilometers would be the total farthest distance to drive between Tel Aviv and the Sea of Galilee. We knew our overall time in Israel was meant to be very really compressed in visiting as many places as we could fit but thankfully we did something very good out of it by renting a car for the whole duration of our stay in Israel, which in turn, saved us from what would have been otherwise, countless hours spent waiting for trains, buses, and local buses to move around in the cities.
Nazareth was for us a first glimpse about how biblical the entire country is. Something we would experience everywhere from this day across every of the places we visited afterwards. It is literally on every turn we did, there was a place believed to be site of any of the events in the life of Jesus if talking about Christian Catholics, and the same for Jews and Muslims. In any case, this is pretty much the sense of coming to the “Holy Land” after all, and even if you believe or not, or whatever the religion you might believe it is well worth the trip.
Nazareth is a medium size city what makes it great for a day trip from wherever you are in Israel (of course unless you are by the farthest destinations as those around the Red Sea). But coming here from Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem of Bethlehem is what almost every tourist do.
Unfortunately there are way too many other places nearby that are worth the visit. I mean this because we did not have any physical time left to go to any of them, even that we tried to plan to squeeze somehow a very quick visit to the ancient city-state of Tel Megido, merely because it is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, was totally impossible but thankfully managed to drive to Tiberias by the Sea of Galilee, and then down towards where the River Jordan leaves the Sea of Galilee on way towards the Death Sea. I’m sure there will be a next time when we return to Israel and complete the visit of the many other cities and sites we did not do in this tour.
Adding to the lack of physical time is the closing times of the sites and museums in general. Just 16.00pm during winter time and 17.00pm summer time! This is quite absurd and was breaking our necks constantly. The daylight was by all means lasting much longer but with the sites closed, there was nothing else you could do. In saying this, there could have been the possibility of vising Tel Megido as example coupled with Nazareth, Tiberias and Sea of Galilee.
Nazareth, I have to say, failed to impress me. The old narrow streets fully occupied by the bazaar are really nice, that’s for sure, but other than that is does not really have that much more that could be awe-inspiring. Truth is that apart from the Basilica of the Annunciation, which in any case is of recent construction but with great architectural design over the ancient remains of much older ones and on the place believed to be the site where the Archangel Gabriel told Mary she God has chosen hear to bear his son, Jesus; and the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation that in this case is truly old and on the site of Mary’s Well, the rest of the sights are not of special interest. And aside of covering all the places related with biblical stories, there is not much more to do.
Before you leave the city in any case, you must climb to the highest point on the nearby hill where the Basilica of Jesus the Adolescent sits. You will get the finest views over the entire city and of course, the famous postcard view. The city from above gains more than from street level.
For more information about Nazareth check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Israel’s currency is the Shekel (ILS). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Nazareth
- Old City Although not very big it is perfect to fully enjoy it in one day. Mostly concentrated around the Basilica of the Annunciation which is the most famous landmark in Nazareth
-Basilica of the Annunciation Is the landmark number one in the city. It is the Largest Church in the Middle East and one of Christianity’s holiest shrines, said to be built atop the grotto where Virgin Mary lived and where the Archangel Gabriel announced the Virgin Mary that God had chosen her to bear his son, Jesus: The Annunciation. The current church is built on top of much older ones that once stood on the same place, dating back to Crusader and Byzantine times.
-Saint Joseph’s Church and Workshop Side by side to the Basilica of the Annunciation was built in the early 1900s over the foundations of a former Crusader church. It is believed that the cavern in the basement was the carpentry shop of Joseph, father of Jesus.
-Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation According to the Greek Orthodox, this was the place of the Annunciation to Mary. In this case, the church is believed to be built above the spring where Mary was taking water each day.
-Coptic Church of the Annunciation Built in 1952 on the site of the Annunciation to Mary according to the Coptic Orthodox beliefs.
-Mary’s Well and the Ancient Bath House Are symbols of Nazareth itself. The baths remains discovered in 1990 after the refurbishment of a nearby shop. Underneath it is large network of stone and brick arches that once supported a big bath house, supposedly fed by the same waters that supplied Mary’s Well.
-Church of Mary’s Fear Is a Greek Orthodox church built on the place believed to be where Virgin Mary heard that the residents were about to push her son off the mountains and she rushed after him.
-Basilica of Jesus the Adolescent Is the largest church in the city, built on the highest point of Nazareth hence offering great panoramic views of the entire city.
-Synagogue Church Built by the Crusaders at the 12th century on the place believed to be the synagogue where Jesus studied and prayed, and where he declared himself as the Messiah at one of his famous sermons in Sabbath.
-Mensa Christi Church Catholic church built in 1781 on the place believed to be where Jesus dined with his Apostles after his resurrection. The Table of Christ is located inside the church.
-Maqam al-Nabi Saeen Mosque Is the most beautiful in the city with a characteristic golden dome.
-El Mas-jad El Abiad Is the oldest mosque in the city built over 200 years ago by Abdalla El Nini. Commonly known as the White Mosque too.
- Outside of the city Should you be staying longer than the usual day tour in Nazareth, it is worth to visit some of the nearby places; although as for the entire country, the list in never ending and pretty much on every turn there are historical places, ancient cities and culture. To name the most important:
-Tel Megido An ancient city-state also known by the Greek name of Armageddon. An UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its historical, geographical, and theological importance. Strategically located by the trade route connecting Egypt and Assyria, was place of many battles, destruction and rebuild through the many centuries. Apart from the temples and palaces itself, the city had an extensive underground water system, well advanced for its age.
-Seppheris A Roman town famous for its synagogue and mosaics. The Church of Saint Anne is believed to mark the place where the house of Joachim and Anne was and a Jewish shrine marks the tomb of Judah the Prince.
-Shrine of Dahia Bin Khalifa al-Kalbi The tomb is located at the top of Moreh hill near the village of Ed Dahi. He was the one who delivered Islamic prophet Muhammad’s message to the Roman Emperor Heraclius.
-Mount Tabor Is the site believed to be that of the Transfiguration of Jesus. Both a Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches are on the site commemorating this.
-Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee A bit more far, some 40 kilometers to the north-east of Nazareth. Further described in a separate travel guide found here.
Nazareth is 102 kilometers to the north east from Tel Aviv and 131 north of Jerusalem. Frequent buses 823 and 826 depart from the New Central Bus Station in downtown Tel Aviv. From Jerusalem bus number 955 has a much limited frequency at 2 per day. Please remember that from Friday around 14.00pm and until Saturday evening around 19.00, buses do not run as it’s Sabbath. The same applies on any Jewish holiday.
If you are planning to drive by car from wherever else you are while in Israel then this will be your most direct bet (of course unless you are in an organised tour for which you will not need to worry about how to transport around). Roads are very good, planned for high capacity, but beware once in the city, roads are a chaos and plan well ahead your time as you might be in a traffic jam for longer time. Finding a car park is also “mission impossible”. The best you should do is park outside the city center at any paid parking, otherwise it is almost guaranteed you will end up stressed by the horrific traffic and terrible way they drive.
While in the city the good news is that distances are small and there is no need for having to use any public transportation, which consist of only buses.
Although we did not stay overnight in Nazareth, I can tell you there is a reasonable large number of hotels offering quite decent fares but in general as it happens across whole Israel, prices are higher that what you might have though originally. This gets obviously worst coming towards the high season months where prices bump up twice, thrice or higher for the same room.
If you are planning in doing a tour across many cities and places as we did, then consider having your base hotel at either Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, or both, and commute from there on day trips. This will save you money and hassle in having to change hotel every other day. Distances are quite short in the country, and if either by train or bus, or rental car, you can move easily everywhere.