Israel might be the Jewish homeland, but the Christian faith has remained tied to the Holy Land for over 2000 years, thanks to the tales of a certain Jesus of Nazareth. Whatever your faith, there are some awe-inspiring, must-see Christian sites in Israel and they are all well worth checking out. Here’s our guide to the must-see sites to visit.
We’ve condensed the list down to the following sites. You might not have time to see them all, but hey, make that a reason to come and visit the Holy Land again! :-)
- Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth and perhaps the ultimate destination during the holidays of Easter and Christmas.
- Jerusalem, the must-see Holy City including the mind-blowing sights and sounds of the Old City.
- Qasr el Yahud, the site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus, deep in the desert.
- Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus, and today home to the largest Christian church in the Middle East and other great sites.
- The Jesus Trail, the recently created hiking trail that follows in Jesus’ footsteps in the Galilee, running from Nazareth to Capernaum.
- Capernaum, “The town of Jesus”, where several churches and a museum celebrate the life and teachings of Jesus.
- Mount of Beatitudes, the home to The Sermon on the Mount, and a tranquil oasis overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
- Tabgha, the legendary site of the feeding of the five thousand (with five loaves and two fish), celebrated today by the Church of the Multiplication.
- St. George’s Monastery, the stunning cliff-hugging monastery (one of the world’s oldest) in the heart of the Judean desert.
- Bethsaida, home to the three Apostles, Peter, Andrew and Philip, and a number of miracles by Jesus.
If you’re heading to Israel for the Christian Holy Week of Easter,
read our full guide to Easter in Israel events. If you’re visiting Israel for Christmas, don’t miss our full guide to celebrating Christmas in Israel.
Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth
Bethlehem is known to Christians throughout the world as the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth. Bethlehem is in fact home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, even if its numbers are dwindling. The must-see place to see in Bethlehem is the Church of the Nativity, probably the world’s most important Christian site and one of the world’s oldest operating churches. And definitely the place to go if you want to spend Christmas in the Holy Land.
The exact site of Jesus’ birth is in an underground grotto beneath the Church, marked by a 14 pointed star set in the ground. If you hit peak tourist season, you might just get overwhelmed by the intensity and passion from some Christian pilgrims as they kneel down to get a little closer to that magical star…
Little known fact about Bethlehem: it has major importance for all three major faiths – as well as its being probably the most important Christian site in Israel, Muslims believe Bethlehem was a major prayer stop on the Prophet Muhammad’s way to Jerusalem, while Jews recognize the gravesite of the biblical martriarch Rachel in Bethlehem, the 3rd most important site in the Jewish faith.
Bethlehem is fairly easy to get to as a tourist, especially if you get hooked up with a tour agency or take one of these budget-friendly Bethlehem tours. You could always get there yourself, but the security checkpoints between Jerusalem and Bethlehem (some 5.5 miles separate the two) don’t make it an easy option.
You’ll probably want to spend some time in Jerusalem as it has some of the holiest sites for all three of the major religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism. We highly recommend any visit to Israel includes the Old City in Jerusalem – it’s one place where you could end up overstaying, there’s just so much to see! The major Christian sites you’ll want to catch in Jerusalem, both within and beyond the Old City are the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of St. John the Baptist, and the Church of All Nations.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is believed to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and hence regarded as one of the most important Christian sites in Israel. It’s an impressive looking Church on the inside, perhaps less so from the outside as it’s wedged in-between other buildings. The various sites throughout the Church mark various spots in Jesus’ final hours and in his death. If my Israeli-born wife was impressed, you can be assured it’s one fine, emotionally moving place to visit. Free entry and open to all faiths, it’s open from morning til night most days.
The Church of All Nations, along with the adjoining Garden of Gethsamane, is located at the bottom of the Mount of Olives. Here, Jesus is believed to have conducted his last prayers before being betrayed by Judas and then captured by the Romans. The Garden of Gethsemane, which is right next to the Church of All Nations, is believed to have been a garden even in Jesus’ time and is a lovely, tranquil spot. It is here that Jesus and the Disciples came after the Last Supper, and here where Jesus gave his last sermon.
The Church of St. John the Baptist is located in the gorgeous hillside neighborhood of Ein Kerem, a short drive out of Jerusalem city center. This church marks the birthplace of St. John, who is best known for baptizing Jesus. The church itself lies in beautiful, peaceful surroundings and is well worth the ride out of the bustling city center.
Qasr el Yahud
The legendary site where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, according to Matthew, 3: 13-17, this site is also considered to be the point where the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the land of Canaan. Lots to ponder on!
Now open daily to the public after extensive renovations, this site has to be on your list of must-sees if you’re interested in checking out your Christian roots. It’s located on the road to Jericho, off of Road 90 (which you can get to from Road 1 out of Jerusalem, or straight down from Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee).
Probably not as dramatic as the sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem described above, but widely considered as Number 3 on the list of Christian sites to see in the Holy Land. Read here for more.
Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus
Nazareth is the largest Arab city in Israel with a population of over 60,000, of which some 31 percent are Christians. Since Jesus spent much of his childhood here, Nazareth has ever since been closely associated with Christianity and attracted many pilgrims throughout the last two thousand years. The standout site in Nazareth is the Basilica of the Annunciation, the largest Christian church building in the Middle East, dedicated in 1964 on another Papal visit, this time by Pope Paul VI.
There are a number of additional Christian sites in Nazareth well worth a visit, including the Greek Orthodox Church of the Archangel Gabriel (built over the freshwater spring known as “Marys Well”), the Greek Catholic “Synagogue Church” (site of the synagogue where a young Jesus was taught, and where he later preached), and the Church of St. Joseph (built over a cave identified as the “workshop” of Jesus’ father Joseph).
Here’s the Top 10 things to do in Nazareth that might whet your appetite for more…
The Jesus Trail
This recently created hike has fast become one of the must-sees for Christian tourists also interested in experiencing some of the culture that thrives through the Galilee.
The Jesus Trail really is a beautiful trail, starting from Nazareth and ending on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, some 40 miles (60km) away. Most can finish it within 3-4 days as it’s a relatively easy hike. It’s a perfect hike for anyone feeling fit and healthy, and interested in seeing the stunning Galilee landscape, together with New Testament legends such as Cana and Zippori.
Read our full guide to this amazing trail.
“The town of Jesus”, Capernaum
Located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, the small town of Capernaum (or Kfar Nahum in Hebrew) is another of the important Christian sites in Israel you should visit. It is mentioned several times in the Bible because Jesus lived here for some time and was in charge of the ministry there. There are several churches here that celebrate the life of Jesus, including the Church of the House of St. Peter , a large house of several rooms and a courtyard that Jesus chose as his home, and the Synagogue, where Jesus often preached and performed miracles: both these locations have been restored and converted into a museum (3 shekel entrance fee).
“They went as far as Capharnaum, and as soon as the sabbath came he went to the synagogue and began to teach. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority.”
Capernaum can be easily reached from other tourist sites, such as Nazareth and Tiberias by bus or by car.
The Mount of Beatitudes
If you know your bible well, you will be familiar with The Sermon on the Mount, one of the most famous of all sermons, and yes, possibly one of the most famous speeches of all time. Some questions remain about the authenticity of the actual site where Jesus delivered his sermon, but for some 1600 years it has been accepted as being a small hill known as the Mount of Beatitudes (Har HaOsher in Hebrew) overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
Easy to get to, and a favorite tourist stop-off point thanks to its great views and facilities. Check out our full review of the Mount of Beatitudes here.
Tabgha (known as Ein Sheva in Hebrew) is located on the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee and is the traditional site of the feeding of the five thousand with five loaves and two fish (marked today by the Church of the Multiplication). It is also believed to be the place of the sighting of Jesus’ third resurrection appearance (marked by the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter), where Jesus conferred authority of the church to Simon Peter.
“Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all.” (Mark 6:41)
Tabgha is fairly easy to get to, being some 2.5 kilometers south of Capernaum, and just 12 kilometers north of Tiberias.
St. George’s Monastery
This amazing cliff-hanging monastery in the wilderness of the Judean desert, is one of the world’s oldest and definitely one of the most inspiring churches in the Holy Land, and a must-see for the desert / archeological fans of you out there!
Today you’ll still find a number of Greek Orthodox monks who inhabit the monastery, and who are typically welcoming of visitors (but do take into consideration this is a church and a place of worship – so no short shorts!). Hence the Greek flag you’ll probably see flying in the monastery grounds.
Read our full guide to visiting St George’s Monastery.
Located just north of the Sea of Galilee, where the Jordan River enters the Sea of Galilee, Bethsaida is perhaps one of the lesser known Christian sites in Israel, but well worth seeing if you’re interested in revisiting the sites of miracles: it is here Jesus is believed to have healed a blind man (Mark 8:22-26).
Bethsaida is also known as the birthplace of three of the Apostles, Peter, Andrew and Philip. Recently rediscovered, there is some dispute as to its exact location but the site known as Bethsaida, or et-Tel, has a lot to offer archeological fans over its 21 acre site: there is even an old cobbled street from the days of Jesus.