We firmly believe that every trip to Israel should also include a visit to Nazareth, one of the north of Israel’s largest cities (and the largest Arab city in Israel). This bustling, vibrant city often gets overlooked by tourists, but boasts a wide range of culturally and historically fascinating sights.
It might not be the Nazareth you envisaged from many a Christmas card collection, and the sheer volume of traffic jams might put you off at first, but once you’ve arrived you won’t regret coming! Here’s our list of must-see things to see and do in Nazareth to help you map out an itinerary (check out the map at the end of the article for exact locations of each of the Nazareth attractions listed).
Basilica of the Annunciation
One of the most famous scenes in the Bible occurs when the angel Gabriel descends from Heaven to inform the Virgin Mary of her pregnancy. The child in her womb was, of course, Jesus. The Basilica of the Annunciation is said to rest on the exact site where Mary received her message from God and is thus of immense significance to Christians.
Even if you aren’t a Christian, you’ll find plenty to appreciate about the imposing and unusual architecture of the Basilica, meticulously designed by Giovanni Muzio.
Easy to get to: by bus it’s just across the road from the main bus station. FREE entry. Note that Sundays the Basilica is only open in the afternoons (from 14:00) and that it closes between 11:45 and 14:00 the rest of the week.
If you need to brush up on your Biblical history or would simply like to see the Biblical tales recounted to you in your youth enacted in real life, Nazareth Village is the place to be. This charming village faithfully recreates every detail of ancient Galilean life, complete with talented and enthusiastic actors decked out in historically accurate costumes.
You’ll be able to observe the customs and daily rituals practiced by the Galileans in the time of Jesus and gain a deeper understanding of the stories recounted in the New Testament.
Nazareth Village is about 15 minutes walk due west from the Basilica, just after Al-Wadi al-Jawani St. Open from 09:00 to 17:00 Monday – Saturday. There is an entrance fee (starts at 22 shekels for children). See the official website for more details or call 04-6456042.
Although the items on display may be touristy or just plain cheap and tacky, the Shuk (or bazaar) retains an air of authenticity and is a great deal of fun to explore. Wander down the maze-like network of alleys and soak in the uniquely Middle-Eastern atmosphere. Best part is when the call to prayer echoes through the market!
Located just outside the main entrance to the Basilica. Typically open from 09:00 – 17:00 every day, but Wednesdays and Saturdays does close early (14:00).
Chapel of Fright
Are you familiar with the famous incident in Luke 4:29-30 when Jesus was nearly hurled from a cliff by the people of Nazareth? Well, the Chapel of Fright stands on the spot where Mary witnessed this climactic event.
This gorgeous little chapel (if a little rundown) boasts stunning views of the surrounding scenery. Not easy to find on the south-eastern side of Nazareth, look for the signposted gate in the wall on Paul VI St, opposite the Hotel Galilee, south of the town center; it can also be accessed from the big new shopping center nearby.
On your way out of St Gabriel’s Church, pose for a picture at Mary’s Well (also known as the Virgin Fountain) whose waters are said to possess miraculous healing powers. This area has also become very popular with locals over the last few years, and there are some great little restaurants and cafes in the square at the Well. This square is also the main spot for the Christmas festivities that happen in Nazareth during the week of Christmas (Christmas in Israel includes a now annual Nazareth Christmas Market).
St Gabriel’s Church
St Gabriel’s Church in Nazareth is a charming example of a late 17th century church. Its distinguishing feature is the bubbling spring contained in a crypt at the church’s far end which supplies the well of the church. Some say that Gabriel appeared before the Virgin Mary at this site, and not at the Basilica of the Annunciation – who knows?
The church is located a few minutes walk north of the Basilica, one block north of where Paul VI St ends. It is open from 07:00-12:00 and 13:00-18:00.
Elbabour is a must-see for a genuine slice of the Middle East. Located at the Galilee mill just down the road from Mary’s Well, this massive spice store has thousands of delightful spices. Pick up some fragrant and tasty herbs for cooking and some perfumed oils, they’ll make great souvenirs for your friends and family back home.
Open Monday – Saturday 8.30-19.30; call 04-6455596 for more info.
There exist few better examples of Ottoman architecture than the vast house of El-Rais with its traditional red-tiled roof, marble pillars and 13 beautiful rooms. Formerly the home of the Governor of Galilee Daher el-Omar, don’t forget to look up and marvel at the gorgeously painted ceilings!
Call 04-6028219 to arrange a free tour of the building via the Tourist Office.
St. Joseph’s Church
This church is popularly believed to rest on the site of Joseph’s carpentry shop. The church features some striking religious artwork as well as an underground cave that once served as a grain store.
Located next to the Basilica, the Church of St. Joseph‘s is open 09:00-11:45 and 14:00-17:30.
Salesian Church of Jesus the Adolescent
There are many churches in Nazareth, but none more beautiful than this Gothic-styled church with its magnificent spires and intimidating bulk. If you fancy a good workout, the climb (250 steps!) to the top of the church takes a few minutes and offers a peerless view of Nazareth.
These ten destinations should feature on the itinerary of any visitor to Nazareth. Enjoy your trip!
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