Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are the obvious locations to base yourselves when visiting Israel, but you won’t really get a sense of the real Israel until you’ve visited the amazing Sea of Galilee.
Here we give you an insight into the best things to see and do in the Sea of Galilee area, as well as an introduction to one of the greatest lakes in the world…
Known as HaKinneret in Hebrew (many road signs also display “The Kinneret”), the Sea of Galilee is truly one of northern Israel’s most amazing sites.
The Sea of Galilee is also often seen as a barometer of the Israeli spirit; the ever-changing level of the water is what keeps a nation on tenterhooks, especially through the winter months. Too little rainfall, and a nation starts to worry. The lake’s water level is even reported on in much the same way the Stock Exchange Index is, though perhaps not surprisingly seeing as it is the country’s largest and most important source and reservoir of drinking water.
The fact that the Sea of Galilee is actually a freshwater lake surprises many (in fact, it’s the lowest freshwater lake in the world, and yes, full of fish (though fishing has been banned since 2011 because of fears of overfishing)). It’s about 28km long from north to south and 10km wide, while from above it resembles an ancient lyre (known as a kinor in Hebrew) in shape, which is believed to be the origin of the name Kinneret. The Sea of Galilee is also some 53km in circumference.
The Sea of Galilee is not only Israel’s main water source but it has huge religious significance and also major touristic value thanks to the beauty of the surroundings – it’s an area of mountains and beaches and terrific wildlife.
It also isn’t really the place for a one day visit (there’s just sooo much to see!), but if that’s all you have then head for Tiberias, one of Israel’s major cities. Here you have fantastic views of Lake Kinneret along the charming Tiberias Promenade, which has recently been renovated and extended.
If you’re Christian and want to reconnect or just learn more about the Jewish roots of your faith, the Galilee Experience, close to the wharf on the Tiberias promenade, is an absolute must. And if you have the time, squeeze a quick ride (15 minutes by taxi from Tiberias) down to the Yardenit baptism site on the River Jordan (located at the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee). This site is often believed to be the site where Jesus was baptized – others believe the real site to be further south at Qasr el Yahud.
If you know your Bible, you will already know the Sea of Galilee is a hugely important place of Christian pilgrimage. According to biblical tradition, it was in the area around the Kinneret that Jesus lived, preached and performed miracles and there are plenty of religious sites you can visit; the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount is the obvious one but there are many others, including: the Church of the Loaves and the Fishes in Tabgha; Peter’s house in Capernaum; the miracle Christian Monastery site of Kursi, and the 2000 year old fishing boat found in the Sea of Galilee and now housed at Kibbutz Ginnosar on the north-western coast.
As well as the religious sites there are also a number of important historical sites in the Kinneret area. There’s Ubeidiya, Israel’s most important site of prehistoric antiquity, Degania Alef, the first Kibbutz in Israel, Migdal, Tel Hadar, Beit Tsida, and Moshavat Kinneret, another old farming settlement sat just opposite the Sea of Galilee.
Combined with all that amazing history, the Sea of Galilee is also a terrific site for a sunshine holiday (Tiberias is actually one of the hottest towns in Israel, meteorologically speaking).
The area is well developed and offers great facilities for tourists. The beaches have the full range of water sports and there are giant water slides at Luna Gal, Tzemach and Gai Beach. There’s a host of beaches of varying sizes around the lake that are either sandy or rocky. Our top beach recommendations include Ein Gev beach on the eastern coast, and Tzemach beach on the southern tip (also host to many events and concerts). Also recommended at Ein Gev
(read our full guide to Ein Gev): take a sail out on the Sea of Galilee in an old fishing boat (rides are also available at Tiberias on the other side of the lake).
One word of warning: Sea of Galilee beaches often get packed through the major holiday season, particularly in the summer. You might want to read this just for a heads up.
Rapidly gaining popularity in the area is biking, and this is another great way to see the Sea of Galilee up close and personal. Many even do the whole 53km coastal road; those who do, recommend doing it clockwise, heading out from Tiberias. Bikes to rent out are easy to find in Tiberias.
With plenty of shops and decent restaurants in Tiberias, plus a few gems scattered around the coast, there’s certainly no lack of entertainment around the Kinneret. Watch out for our upcoming guide to the best eats in the area.
If you’ve got a bit more time on your hands, exploring a little further afield is very recommended. The Galilee hills and the Golan Heights provide stunning backdrops East and West, whilst in the north the Beit Tsida valley is rich and lush and flows with water from the River Jordan and streams from the Golan Heights that help replenish the Sea of Galilee.
The whole Galilee area is popular for its walking trails and there are also some wonderful nature tours in the parks and reserves of Hamat Gader (home to a great crocodile park AND spa!), Naharayim, the Jordan Park and the Beit Tsida Nature Reserve. One of the newest walking trails proving to be a big draw is the Jesus Trail, a 65km trail from Nazareth to Capernaum – well worth the walk if you want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus AND appreciate stunning scenery!
And at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, the River Jordan heads down through the hot and scenic Jordan Valley (well worth a drive through) into the desert and ends up in the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth. Mmm, floating in the Dead Sea, why not?
What more can we say, except…really, really, really try to make sure the delights of the Sea of Galilee are on your itinerary!
Check out the map of the Sea of Galilee area below for more!