Lower Galilee

We’ve compiled the best of the best in Lower Galilee - browse our top choices for the top things to see or do during your stay.

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  • 1. Basilica of the Annunciation

    The Roman Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation, the largest church in the Middle East, was consecrated in 1969; it enshrines a small ancient cave dwelling or grotto, identified by many Catholics as the home of Mary. Here, they believe, the angel Gabriel appeared to her and announced she would conceive and "bear a son" and "call his name Jesus" (Luke 1). Pilgrim devotions suffuse the site throughout the day. Crusader-era walls and some restored Byzantine mosaics near the grotto bear witness to the antiquity of the tradition. The grotto is in the so-called lower church. Look up through the "well," or opening over the grotto, that connects with the upper church to the grand cupola, soaring 195 feet above you. A spiral staircase leads to the vast upper church, the parish church of Nazareth's Roman Catholic community. Italian ceramic reliefs on the huge concrete pillars represent the Stations of the Cross, captioned in the Arabic vernacular. You now have a closer view of the cupola, its ribs representing the petals of an upside-down lily—a symbol of Mary's purity—rooted in heaven. The large panels on the walls of the upper church, touching on the theme of mother and child, include a vivid offering from the United States, a fine Canadian terra-cotta, and mosaics from England and Australia. Particularly interesting are the gifts from Japan (with gold leaf and pearls), Venezuela (a carved-wood statue), and Cameroon (a stylized painting in black, white, and red). In the exit courtyard, a glass-enclosed baptistery is built over what is thought to have been an ancient mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath. The adjacent small Church of St. Joseph, just past Terra Sancta College, is built over a complex of rock-hewn chambers traditionally identified as the workshop of Joseph the Carpenter. Note that parking is hard to find; try Paulus VI Street or the side streets below it.

    Casa Nova St., 16101, Israel

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Closed for touring Sun. morning
  • 2. Beit She'an National Park

    The extensive remains of lavish ancient structures at this archaeological treasure trove make it one of Israel's most notable sites. A Roman theater was excavated in the 1960s, but the rest of Scythopolis, as this Late Roman and Byzantine (2nd–6th centuries AD) city was known, came to light only in more recent excavations. The enormous haul of marble statuary and friezes says much about the opulence in its heyday—especially when you remember that there are no marble quarries in Israel, and all stone was imported from what is today Turkey, Greece, or Italy. A free site map available at the visitor center gives a good layout. In summer, it's best to arrive early in the morning, as the heat quickly becomes insufferable. Better yet, consider returning in the evening for the engaging sound-and-light spectacle, presented Monday through Thursday at sundown. Reserve tickets in advance and check times. Scythopolis's downtown area, now exposed, has masterfully engineered, colonnaded main streets converging on a central plaza that once boasted a pagan temple, decorative fountain, and monument. An elaborate Byzantine bathhouse covered more than 1¼ acres. On the main thoroughfare are the remains of Scythopolis's amphitheater, where gladiatorial combats were once the order of the day. The high tell dominating the site to the north was the location of Old Testament Canaanite--Israelite Beit She'an 2,500 to 3,500 years ago. Climb to the top for the fine panoramic view of the surrounding valleys and the superb bird's-eye view of the main excavations. The semicircular Roman theater was built of contrasting black basalt and white limestone blocks around AD 200, when Scythopolis was at its height. Although the upper cavea, or tier, has not survived, the theater is the largest and best preserved in Israel, with an estimated original capacity of 7,000 to 10,000 people. The large stage and part of the scaena frons (backdrop) behind it have been restored, allowing outdoor sound-and-light performances March to November.

    Off Sha'ul Hamelech St., Israel

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: NIS 28; NIS 55 for sound-and-light show
  • 3. Capernaum National Park

    For Christians, this park is among the most moving places in Israel, because it's where Jesus established his base for three years and recruited some of his disciples ("Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" [Matthew 4:19]). It is also the site of the House of St. Peter, the ruins of an actual home where Jesus is believed to have lodged. Astride the ruins is an ultramodern Franciscan church, looking a bit like a spaceship. Capernaum is also a site of interest to Jews, and the prosperity of the ancient Jewish community (it is Kfar Nahum in Hebrew) is immediately apparent from the remains of its synagogue, which dominates the complex. Once thought to date to the 2nd or 3rd century AD, the synagogue is now regarded by many scholars as belonging to the later Byzantine period (4th–5th centuries AD). Limestone reliefs on the synagogue exterior represent a typical range of Jewish artistic motifs: the native fruits of the land, the biblical Ark of the Covenant, a seven-branched menorah, a shofar, and an incense shovel (to preserve the memory of the Temple in Jerusalem, where they were used prior to the city's destruction in AD 70). A small 1st-century mosaic from Magdala shows a contemporary boat, complete with oars and sails—a dramatic illustration of the many New Testament and Jewish references to fishing on the lake. Jesus eventually cursed the people of Capernaum for failing to heed his message, saying "And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths" (Matthew 11:23–24). When visiting Capernaum, dress appropriately: you aren't allowed in shorts or a sleeveless shirt.

    Rte. 87, Israel

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    Rate Includes: Free
  • 4. Tel Megiddo National Park

    Megiddo's centuries of settlement, from prehistoric times through the Canaanite and early Israelite periods, have left fascinating layers of remains at this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most people are fascinated by the site's ancient water system. In a masterful stroke, King Ahab's engineers dug a deep shaft and a horizontal tunnel through solid rock to reach the vital subterranean spring outside the city walls. With access secure, the spring's original opening was permanently blocked. There is nothing more than a trickle today, though, the flow perhaps choked by subsequent earthquakes. As you descend 180 steps through the shaft, traverse the 65-yard-long tunnel under the ancient city wall, and climb up 83 steps at the other end, look for the ancient chisel marks and hewn steps. A visit to the water system at noon provides a reprieve from the summer heat. Apart from the ancient water system, don't miss the partially restored Late Bronze Age gate, perhaps the very one stormed by Egyptian troops circa 1468 BC, as described in the victory stela of Pharaoh Thutmose III. A larger gate farther up the mound was long identified with King Solomon (10th century BC)—Megiddo was one of his regional military centers—but has been redated by some scholars to the time of Ahab, a half century later. There is consensus, however, on the ruined stables at the summit of the tell: they were certainly built by Ahab, whose large chariot army is recorded in an Assyrian inscription. Evidence indicates prehistoric habitation here as well, but among the earliest remains of the city of Megiddo are a round altar dating from the Early Bronze Age and the outlines of several Early Bronze Age temples, almost 5,000 years old, visible in the trench between the two fine lookout points. A tiny museum at the site's entrance has good visual aids, including maps, a video, and a model of the tell. A small gift shop alongside the museum sells handsome silver and gold jewelry, some incorporating pieces of ancient Roman glass. There is also a restaurant.

    Rte. 66, Israel

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    Rate Includes: NIS 30
  • 5. Zippori National Park

    The multiple narratives of Zippori, today an impressive archaeological site known for Israel's finest Roman-era mosaics, begin with a Jewish town that stood here from at least the 1st century BC, and Christian tradition reveres the town as the birthplace of the Virgin Mary. Zippori's refusal to join the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans (AD 66–73) left a serious gap in the rebel defenses in the Galilee, angering its compatriots but sparing the town the usual Roman vengeance when the uprising failed. The real significance of Zippori for Jewish tradition, however, is that in the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD, the legendary sage Rabbi Yehuda ha-Nasi, head of the country's Jewish community at the time, moved here from Beit She'arim, whereupon the Sanhedrin (the Jewish high court) soon followed. Rabbi Yehuda summoned the greatest rabbis in the land to pool their experiences. The result was the encyclopedic work known as the Mishnah. Further commentary was added in later centuries to produce the Talmud, the primary guide to Orthodox Jewish practice to this day. By the 3rd century AD, Zippori had acquired a mixed population of Jews, pagans, and Christians. The most celebrated find is the mosaic floor of a Roman villa, perhaps the governor's residence, depicting Dionysian drinking scenes. Its most stunning detail is the exquisite face of a woman, which the media dubbed "the Mona Lisa of the Galilee." The restored mosaics are housed in an air-conditioned structure with helpful explanations. In other parts of the park, the so-called Nile Mosaic displays Egyptian motifs, and a mosaic synagogue floor (below the parking lot) is decorated with the signs of the zodiac, like those found in Beit Alfa and Hammat Tiberias. If the mosaic floors reveal the opulence of Roman Sepphoris, the relatively small Roman theater is evidence of the cultural life the wealth could support. Take a few minutes to climb the watchtower of Dahr el-Omar's 18th-century castle for the panoramic view and the museum of archaeological artifacts. About 1 km (½ mile) east of the main site—near the park entrance—is a huge section of ancient Zippori's water system, once fed by springs north of Nazareth. The ancient aqueduct-reservoir is in fact a deep, man-made plastered canyon, and the effect is extraordinary.

    Off Rte. 79, Israel

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: NIS 28
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  • 6. Ancient Bathhouse in Nazareth

    In 1993, Elias and Martina Shama-Sostar were renovating their crafts shop when they discovered ancient steam pipes under the store. Further excavation revealed a huge, wonderfully preserved Roman-style bathhouse. Israel's Antiquities Authority has not made any official announcements about the site, but several historians speculate that it might date from the 1st century AD. A one-hour tour takes you to the hot room, heating tunnels, and furnace. Coffee is served in the arched hall where wood and ashes were once kept.

    Mary's Well Sq., 16000, Israel

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: NIS 120 for up to 4 visitors, Closed Sun.
  • 7. Arbel National Park and Nature Reserve

    This 2,600-acre park sits on a plateau that slopes from the Arbel Valley to a towering cliff at the top of Mount Arbel, with panoramic views of the Sea of Galilee, the Golan Heights, and Mount Hermon beyond. Ancient texts indicate that the Seleucid Greeks conquered the biblical-era Jews of Arbel while making their way to Jerusalem. Roman historian Flavius Josephus describes a battle here in 37 BC between the Jews and Marc Antony, who had been sent to suppress the Jewish rebellion. According to Josephus, the Jews were "lurking in caves... opening up onto mountain precipices that were inaccessible from any quarter except by torturous and narrow paths." Antony eventually crushed the rebels by lowering his soldiers into the caves from above. Today, hikers can take trails to that fortress of natural caves, and see other evidence of ancient settlements, including the ruins of an ancient synagogue.

    Rte. 7717, Israel

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: NIS 22
  • 8. Beit Alfa

    In 1928, members of Kibbutz Hefziba were digging an irrigation trench when they discovered this ancient synagogue, now part of Beit Alfa Synagogue National Park. Their tools hit a hard surface, and excavation uncovered a multicolored mosaic floor, almost entirely preserved. The art is somewhat stylized and childlike, but that is part of its charm. An Aramaic inscription dates the building to the reign of Byzantine emperor Justinian in the second quarter of the 6th century AD; a Greek inscription credits the workmanship to one Marianos and his son, Aninas. In keeping with Jewish tradition, the synagogue faces Jerusalem, with an apse at the far end to hold the ark. The building faithfully copies the architecture of the Byzantine basilicas of the day, with a nave and two side aisles, and the doors lead to a small narthex and a onetime outdoor atrium. Stairs indicate there was once an upper story. Classic Jewish symbols in the top mosaic panel leave no doubt that the building was a synagogue: a holy ark flanked by lions, a menorah, and a shofar (ram's horn). The middle panel, however, is the most intriguing: it's filled with human figures depicting the seasons, the zodiac, and—even more incredible for a Jewish house of worship—the Greek sun god, Helios, driving his chariot across the sky. These images indicate more liberal times theologically, when the prohibition against making graven images was perhaps not applied to two-dimensional art. The last panel tells the story of Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son Isaac, captioned in Hebrew. Take time to watch the lighthearted but informative film. Allocate 45 minutes for a visit here.

    Rte. 669, 19135, Israel

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: NIS 22
  • 9. Beit She'arim National Park

    Chalk slopes are honeycombed with catacombs around this attractively landscaped ancient site. Orthodox Jews pilgrimage here to the early-3rd-century Tomb of Judah ha-Nasi, chief editor and redactor of the Mishnah, the seminal text of rabbinic Judaism, but you don't need to be religious to appreciate the role this vast necropolis has played in the development of modern Judaism. The landscape is soothing, there are pleasant walking paths, and some of the caves have an Indiana Jones–style intrigue. Equipped with a flashlight, a free park brochure, and a map, discover ornately carved sarcophagi that attest to the complex intercultural relations in the Roman world. A Jewish town flourished here after the eclipse of Jerusalem brought about by Titus's legions in AD 70 and its reconstruction as a pagan town by Hadrian in AD 135. For generations, Jews were denied access to their holy city and its venerated burial ground on the Mount of Olives, so the center of Jewish life and religious authority shifted first to Yavne, in the southern coastal plain, and then northward to the Lower Galilee. By around AD 200 Beit She'arim had become the unofficial Jewish capital, owing its brief preeminence to the enormous stature of a native son. Rabbi Yehuda (or Judah) "ha-Nasi" (the Patriarch: a title conferred on the nominal leader of the Jewish community) was responsible for the city's inner workings and relations with its Roman masters. Alone among his contemporaries, ha-Nasi combined worldly diplomatic skills with scholarly authority and spiritual leadership. The rabbi eventually moved east to Zippori because of its more salubrious climate, and there gathered the great Jewish sages of his day and compiled the Mishnah, which remains the definitive interpretation of biblical precepts for religious Jews. Nonetheless, ha-Nasi was laid to rest in his hometown of Beit She'arim. If Beit She'arim was a magnet for scholars and petitioners in his lifetime, it became a virtual shrine after his death. With Jerusalem still off-limits, the town became the most prestigious burial site in the Jewish world for almost 150 years. Two major expeditions in the 1930s and '50s uncovered a series of 20 catacombs. The largest of these is open to the public, with 24 chambers containing more than 200 sarcophagi. A wide range of carved Jewish and Roman symbols and more than 250 funerary inscriptions in Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Palmyrene testify to the great distances people traveled—from Yemen and Mesopotamia, for instance—to be buried here. The sarcophagi were plundered over the centuries by grave robbers seeking the possessions with which the dead were often interred.

    Off Rte. 75 or 722, Israel

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: NIS 26
  • 10. Belvoir

    The Hospitallers (the Knights of St. John) completed this mighty castle in 1173; they called it Belvoir—"beautiful view"—and it was the most invincible fortress in the land. In the summer of 1187, the Arabs under Saladin crushed the Crusader armies at the Horns of Hittin, west of Tiberias, bringing an end to the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem with one decisive battle. The Crusaders' remnants struggled on to Tyre (in modern Lebanon), but Belvoir alone refused to yield; 18 months of siege got the Muslims no farther than undermining the outer eastern rampart. The Crusaders, for their part, sallied out from time to time to battle the enemy, but their lone resistance had become pointless. They struck a deal with Saladin and surrendered the stronghold in exchange for free passage, flags flying, to Tyre. Today Belvoir is part of Kochav Hayarden National Park. Don't follow the arrows from the parking lot; instead, take the wide gravel path to the right of the fortress. This brings you to the panoramic view of the Jordan River Valley and southern Sea of Galilee, some 1,800 feet below (the view is best in the afternoon). It's also the best spot from which to appreciate the strength of the stronghold, with its deep, dry moat, massive rock and cut-stone ramparts, and gates. Once inside the main courtyard, you're unexpectedly faced with a fortress within a fortress, a scaled-down replica of the outer defenses. Not much remains of the upper stories; in 1220, the Muslims systematically dismantled Belvoir, fearing another crusade. Once you've explored the modest buildings, exit over the western bridge (once a drawbridge) and spy on the postern gates, the protected and sometimes secret back doors of medieval castles.

    Rte. 717, Israel

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    Rate Includes: NIS 22
  • 11. Cana Wedding Church

    This quaint church on a hill was built in 1881 where Catholics believe Jesus performed his first miracle (John 2:1–11). The basement has stones and mosaics that bear witness to the ancient building that once stood on this site.

    Off Rte. 754, 1693000, Israel

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Closed Sun.
  • 12. Church of St. Gabriel

    This Greek Orthodox church is built over Nazareth's only natural water source, a spring dubbed Mary's Well. The Greek Orthodox, citing the noncanonical Gospel of St. James, believe it to be the place where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce the coming birth of Jesus. The ornate church was built in 1750 and contains a stunning carved-wood pulpit and iconostasis (chancel screen) with painted New Testament scenes and silver-haloed saints. The walls have frescoes of figures from the Bible and the Greek Orthodox hagiography. A tiny "well" stands over the running water, and an aluminum cup gives a satisfying plop as it drops in. (The water is clean; the cup is more suspect.) The church is open to visitors in the morning.

    6053 St., Israel

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    Rate Includes: Free
  • 13. Church of the Beatitudes

    This domed Roman Catholic church, run by the Franciscan Sisters, was designed by the famous architect and monk Antonio Barluzzi. Commissioned by Fascist leader Benito Mussolini while he was dictator of Italy, the church was completed in 1937. The windows are inscribed with the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount. The terrace surrounding the church has a superb view of the Sea of Galilee, best enjoyed in the afternoon when the diffused western sun softens the light and heightens colors. Keep in mind this is a pilgrimage site, so dress modestly and respect the silence. The gardens on the Mount of Beatitudes and the church open daily at 8 am, but they close from noon until 2:30 pm.

    Rte. 8177, 14980, Israel

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: NIS 10 per vehicle
  • 14. Church of the Multiplication

    The German Benedictines dedicated this large, orange-roofed Roman Catholic church in 1936 on the scanty remains of earlier shrines. The site has long been venerated as the "deserted place" (Mark 6:30–6:34) where Jesus miraculously multiplied two fishes and five loaves of bread to feed the crowds. The present airy limestone building with the wooden-truss ceiling was built in the style of a Byzantine basilica to give a fitting context to the beautifully wrought 5th-century mosaic floor depicting the loaves and fishes in front of the altar. The nave is covered with geometric designs, but the front of the aisles is filled with flora and birds and, curiously, a nilometer, a graded column once used to measure the flood level of the Nile for the purpose of assessing that year's collectible taxes.

    Rte. 87, 14980, Israel

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    Rate Includes: Free
  • 15. Church of the Primacy of St. Peter

    The austere, black basalt church, just east of the Church of the Multiplication, is built on the water's edge, over a flat rock known as Mensa Christi (the Table of Christ). After his resurrection, the New Testament relates, Jesus appeared to his disciples by the Sea of Galilee and presented them a miraculous catch of fish. Three times Jesus asked his disciple Peter if he loved him, and after his reply of "You know that I love you," Jesus commanded him to "feed my sheep" (John 21:17). Some scholars see this affirmation as Peter's atonement for having thrice denied Jesus in Jerusalem. The episode is seen as establishing Peter's "primacy."

    Rte. 87, 14980, Israel

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    Rate Includes: Free
  • 16. Church of the Transfiguration

    As far back as the Byzantine period, Christian tradition identified Mount Tabor as the "high mountain apart" that Jesus ascended with his disciples Peter, James, and John. There, report the Gospels, "he was transfigured before them" (Matthew 17:2) as a radiant white figure, flanked by Moses and Elijah. The altar of the present imposing church, which was consecrated in 1924, represents the tabernacle of Jesus that Peter suggested they build; those of Moses and Elijah appear as small chapels at the back of the church. Step up to the terrace to the right of the church doors for a great view of the Jezreel Valley to the west and south. From a platform on the Byzantine and Crusader ruins to the left of the modern church (watch your step), there is a panorama east and north over the Galilean hills. A nearby Franciscan pilgrim rest stop has refreshments and restrooms.

    Off Rte. 7266, Israel

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    Rate Includes: Free
  • 17. Gai Beach

    Open May to October, Gai Beach has a private bathing beach and one of the country's most attractive water parks. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (fee); showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: swimming.

    Rte. 90, 14000, Israel

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    Rate Includes: NIS 99
  • 18. Galita Chocolate Farm

    At Kibbutz Degania Bet, a short drive from Degania Alef, you can smell the chocolate long before you get to the farm. In addition to the "bar" serving hot and cold chocolate drinks, and a tempting gift shop, Galita has eight different chocolate-making workshops. Reservations can be made on the website; there are workshops in English.

    off Rte. 90, 15130, Israel

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free; workshops from NIS 55
  • 19. Gan Hashlosha National Park

    This beautiful oasis is a national treasure, popular with picnickers and swimmers alike. Lush palm trees and green lawns draw swarms of people who come for the day to relax. The spring water maintains a constant, year-round temperature of 28°C, or 82°F. As the stream ambles around the property, it has been widened into pools in some areas; there are also some artificial waterfalls. Lifeguards are on duty. Facilities include changing rooms for bathers, two snack bars, and a restaurant.

    Off Rte. 669, Israel

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: NIS 39
  • 20. Gan-Garoo

    This four-acre zoo of exclusively Australian wildlife has kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, kookaburras, emus, and other exotic birds, some of which are available for petting. There's also a reptile enclosure and a bird aviary. English-speaking guides are on hand for groups.

    Rte. 669, 10803, Israel

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    Rate Includes: NIS 49

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