Life finally took me properly to the Middle East this month. We are backpacking round a few countries here and heading into the Caucases too over the next few months. In Israel, we will be spending around 3 weeks in the country, our first stop after Afula was to spend a day backpacking in Nazareth. For all travel within Israel, check out the Israel Tourist Website , it gives the best overview you will get on this country which easily punches above its weight on global terms. Despite having a small geographical area of around 21,000 square kilometres and a population of 8 million, Israel’s profile worldwide is well known, this tiny country makes more news than most countries on the planet. For those figures I’ve included the West Bank and the Gaza strip by the way, which for the most part will be covered on here as Palestine, since I love “crossing world borders“, I’m also looking forward to my visit to those parts of the Middle East.
So once you get to Nazareth you’ll want to maximise your time there so here’s my top 5 things to see and do. These are all day time activities and there’s actually no real need to stay the night (especially if you’re tight for time in the country). We were staying in a Kibbutz at Mizra near Afula. By the way there are kind of three parts of Nazareth: Nazareth New City (Nazareth), Nazareth Ilit and Nazareth Old City. I’ve concentrated on the Old City for this post, hence the exclusion of the Nazareth Village, which is also a recommended tourist spot.
Getting to Nazareth
Getting to Nazareth shouldn’t be a big problem. Israel’s extensive bus network is easy to understand but does have some details that you need to keep an eye on, especially around holiday periods and late in the afternoon the buses tend to be less frequent and even stop. We paid 7.80 Shekels from Mizra to Nazareth by bus. Buses to Nazareth run from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Akko, Afula, Haifa and most cities and towns in Israel. Buses are smooth and efficient and air conditioned.
My top 5 things to see and do in Nazareth, Israel:
1. Basilica of the Annunciation
The amazing Basilica of the Annunciation is not to be missed. It’s the main sight in Nazareth. It’s also (surprisingly) the largest church in the Middle East. On the way in, you will see mosaics all around the walls all from different countries where Catholicism is practiced such as Ireland, Paraguay and Vietnam.
Inside the Basilica itself there is the grotto downstairs – the place Mary found out she was giving birth to Jesus. Then upstairs there is the main church. Outside the main building, and still in the grounds of the Basilica there is a museum, a shop and another impressive church St. Joseph’s Church.
Entrance is free and covering up your legs is essential for female visitors. There’s a gift shop outside. It’s open from 8am to 6pm, though the Grotto stays open until 9pm for prayers. It does get very busy as well!
2. The Jesus Trail
For followers of Jesus this is the trail for you. This 65 kilometre trail stretches all the way from Nazareth to Capernaum, and connects sites from the life of Jesus. It will take 3 – 4 days and there are a range of accommodations on the way. The path begins in Nazareth and we walked a bit of it (it starts in the Old City). Hard core Jesus fans and hikers should check out http://jesustrail.com/ for full details.
3. Mary’s Well
“It’s just a well” but this well has a mega bit of history associated with it. Waters from here became known for their healing powers. There’s a gift shop and a Roman Bathouse beside it, plus some cool bars and restaurants, so that you’re not visiting “just a well”.
4. The White Mosque
What’s interesting about the Jesus Trail and the Old City of Nazareth is that it’s not all only for Christians and Jews. There’s a White Mosque in the Old City which sits very close to a Jewish Synagogue and close to a Greek Orthodox Church. It reminded me a bit of Paramaribo’s side by side Mosque and Synagogues.
5. The Old City
Part of the Jesus Trail, and incorporating 3 of the first 4 sights on this list, walking at leisure through the Old City of Nazareth is something you will enjoy. Aside from the Jesus Trail, do your own thing. There’s a few local coffee houses, a market, a museum, buildings which haven’t changed for years and a few hostels.
If you make it to the top parts of the Old City you’ll be rewarded with cracking views of Nazareth and nearby villages. Nazareth, sits high and pretty.
I’m backpacking in Israel at the moment and also here for a wedding and really looking forward to some of the places coming up. I write this from Haifa and will be heading to Akko, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Tel Aviv and a few more places during my stay in this historic region of the world.
Here are some videos from the top 5 things to see and do in Nazareth:
Walking in the Old City at the start of the Jesus Trail in Nazareth:
At the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth:
Markets in the Old City of Nazareth: