I’ve visited few interesting places in Galilee and the Golan Heights. Here are my favourite ones and some practical information about visiting them!
Galilee and the Golan Heights lie in the north of Israel. The best known is Galilee, mainly due to the Bible, where life and teachings of Christ are described. The Golan Heights in the Old Testament are called Bashan, you can find this land mostly in the Book of Deuteronomy (which ends with the death of Moses and the Israelites entering the Promised Land) and in the Book of Joshua, who conquered Canaan and other biblical regions.
Frankly, only few tourists arrives here. If they do, they focus mostly on Haifa and Acre, as well as sites by the Sea of Galilee connected with Jesus. And the northern Israel has much, much more to offer!
As an interesting fact I’ll tell you that in Israel virtually every historical site (for example the ruins of cities) and natural site, if only is unique, is protected as a national park or a reserve. In this way, in Israel there are 77 protected areas from which 37 on the north! As you can see, half of all parks and reserves are located in just 1/4 of the country – just in Galilee and the Golan Heights.
PS. For those who are interested – practical information about visiting on the bottom of this article.
The following list is divided in themes, and I marked my most favorite places with green color. 🙂
Places in Galilee connected with Jesus
Important notice: Every wise (and not fanatical) guide will tell you that it is not sure in 100% that biblical events happened in exactly these places. It was believed hundred centuries ago and it is also believe so today but there are no signs that is has to be this place.
1. Nazareth and Cana
In the days of Mary and Jesus it was a Jewish settlement with the population of 300-400 people. Today it is an Arab city (with approx. 85 thousand of residents, 30% of Arabs here are Christians) with a network of old streets scattered in the hills, 12 Christian churches and 40 mosques (and of course when the muezzins are calling for prayer, the whole town sings). Nazareth has its own unique atmosphere and is the best base for exploring the north of Israel – to most places is no more than 50 km, to the most distant approx. 100 km.
What to see here? The most important monuments are the Basilica of the Annunciation with images of the Madonna and Child from different countries of the world, the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, Mary’s Well, the White Mosque, the Old Town, it is also worth to climb to the Church of the Salesians, from where you can see the whole city.
In Nazareth starts the Jesus Trail that counts 65 km (ends in Capernaum). You can also buy here the sandals of Jesus as a souvenir. Seriously!
the Mediterranean Coast
3. Caesarea Maritima
One of my the most most most favorite places in Israel, because it combines two of my beloved things: the history and the sea.
The city was built in the second half of the 1st century BC by Herod the Great and named in honor of Octavian Augustus, and the centuries passed its ups and downs under the Romans, Byzantines and Arabs. It is known that during the Crusades Caesarea was still a rich town, which the Crusaders strengthened, but in the thirteenth century it fell, when the Mamluks conquered it.
Today, it takes about 3 hours of sighstseeing of the discovered ruins, however, archaeologists say it is only a small part of the city. Some of the ruins of the harbour are up to 5 meters under water surface, but it is known that it was one of the largest ports on the open sea – it occupied an area of 100 thousand square meters! The ruins of the port can be seen in the Underwater Archaeological Park, besides in Caesarea you will also find the citadel built by the Crusaders, the Roman theater and hippodrome, aqueduct, city walls and many other remnants of the city.
4. Akko and Rosh HaNikra
I don’t know what to think about Akko. On the one hand, I love the history of this city (gosh, forgive me but I am really crazy about history!) and so far I remember when in high school our history teacher talked about the Crusades and that Akko was the last fortress of Crusaders, that was taken by Mamluks in 1291 and 20 years earlier Marco Polo stayed there.
I LOVE the Old Town. The Citadel, medieval buildings, underground passages, narrow streets… You can feel the history almost around every corner. But what I can’t deal with is… chaos. Funfair with loud Arabic disco music just near the Citadel?! But I guess I should not complain – the Great Arabic Chaos is everywhere in the Middle East, you cannot travel around this part of the world and expect that it will be different. Hanna, are you nuts?
Pin this post (pic links to Pinterest):
Rosh Hanikra Grottoes are an option for those who come to Israel not because of the history or the pilgrimage, but look for natural wonders. Here you can find the chalk cliffs, in which sea water formed spectacular grottoes. The border with Lebanon not far from here spices up this place. Few ventures here!
If you want to visit in Israel only one place connected with the history of the region (that’s impossible, believe me!), choose Megiddo. A jewel in the archeology of the region, on the hill almost 30 layers of successive settlements were discovered here. The city was inhabited from approx. 7 000 BC to 586 BC and it was one of the largest cities here. No wonder – one of the oldest trade routes from Egypt came here and diverged into two more: the northern route (through today’s Lebanon) and eastern to Damascus.
Megiddo is mentioned in the Book of Revelation as Har-Maggedon (the Hill of Megiddo), the place of the final battle between the forces of good and evil, which we know as Armageddon. Some take this provision literally, while others treat it as a metaphor. In the past many battles happened under the city – Armageddon may be a reference to them.
I really liked Tzippori, though it is not huge. In the ruins of the city there are very well preserved mosaic floors and among them the picture of a woman called Mona Lisa of Galilee. I will not write too much about the city – just watch the video! 🙂
7. Beit She’an and Gan HaShlosha
In Beit She’an are the largest in Israel ruins of the Roman city in Israel, then called Scythopolis. Archaeologists have discovered that the first settlements here date between the sixth and fifth millennium BC, and for centuries the city grew thanks to its location at the trade routes. However, the Roman period brought him the most fame, which is reflected in the fact that it was included to the 10 cities in the region known as Dekapolis. It included also Damascus, Philadelphia (now Amman) and Geraza (Jerash).
Although only 10% of the excavation is available for tourists, visiting can take up to three hours! After sightseeing on a hot day (temperatures in this region are usually very high) you can relax in the Gan HaShlosha National Park, where are natural pools with thermal water which temperature throughout the year is 28 Celsius. It seems hot? Believe me, it is pleasantly cool in summer, in winter – warm! Yes, you can swim here! 🙂
8. The Nimrod Fortress and the Banias waterfall
Another site located near the border with Lebanon, where hardly anyone travels. The Nimrod Fortress is one of the most impressive fortresses in Israel. Built in the twelfth or thirteenth century, this fortress was to serve as a fortress crusader or against them (amazing that in spite of good documentation of the time of Crusades we do not know when and who built the Nimrod Fortress). In the fortress there are underground passages, water tanks, towers, archery and many other “corners”, which are worth a look. Here also extends a wonderful view of the landscape.
Near the fort is a national park of the Banias waterfall and the ruins of Caesarea Philippi. Trail leads from the ruins of the city to the waterfall, which is one of the largest in the country. It takes about 45 minutes to go to the waterfall, but there is another option – right at the waterfall there is a second parking place. Great if you have little. I believe Banias is worth a visit, especially from April to November, when it is green, fresh and lush!
Galilee and the Golan Heights sightseeing – practical information
The best base to explore the north of Israel is Nazareth. The outermost places from here are Rosh HaNikra (about 60 km) and the Nimrod Fortress (110 km). A stone’s throw is Zippori, Megiddo and all the places associated with Jesus.
Below I’ve included some costs. 4 Israeli shekel (NIS) is 1 USD.
How to sightsee? There are few options:
– Public transport is long and quite expensive. For example from Nazareth to Akko (Acre) a one-way (!) ticket for the bus is 31.50 NIS and it goes to approx. 2.5 hours. To Beit She’an (with changing in Afula) it’s 27 NIS, and to Zippori (just 10 km from Nazareth) – 11 NIS! Besides, not every place is easily accesible by public transport. Nothing goes directly to Zippori, so you have to walk a few kilometers, and some attractions that are just few kilometers from each other, for example Beit She’an and Gan HaShlosha or the Nimrod Fortress and the Banias waterfall, don’t have any connection or it is very rare. Honestly, this option is not a good idea if we want to see lots in a short time.
– Local tours organized on the spot: many of the local tour agents organizes excursions on the spot, so if your base is Jerusalem or Tel Aviv I recommend it, although you have to prepare for it financially. There are also organized tours from Nazareth.
– Rent a car if you are 4-5 people this is the most cost-effective option. However, I believe that for 2-3 people it wouldn’t be much more expensive. For a whole day trip from Nazareth to places from the Jesus Trail in Galilee (Kana, Tabgha, Capernaum, Mount of Beatitudes) and further north to the Nimrod Fortress and the Banias waterfall we paid 85 NIS per person (our group included 5 people, the price already includes the car and fuel). What I planned to visit during 3 days, we managed to see in one! And the price per person is just the same as to Akko and back!
[Note – rent a car for 1 day for 5 people is the cost of 250 shekels per day. Car up to 4 people is 150 shekels. Prices may vary in different part of Israel.]
Entrence fees to all the major attractions are quite high in Israel. It is better to prepare for it much earlier. Very accurate information (opening hours visiting time, price) for each site can be found on the official website of the National Parks of Israel. There’s also given information about discount tickets that will help the wallet survive if you are planning a lot of sightseeing.
Discount ticket to 6 sites = 110 NIS
Discount ticket to all (65) places on the list = 150 NIS
The tickets are valid two weeks from the first visit. [These places can be visited within 3-4 days.]
Note: better to check in advance whether a place that you want to visit is included in the discount ticket. For instance, Akko is not.
the Banias waterfall 29 NIS + the Nimrod Fortress 22 NIS + Beit She’an 40 NIS + Caesarea Maritima 40 NIS + Zippori 29 NIS + Megiddo 29 NIS = 189 NIS
Summary: The north of Israel, Galilee and Golan Heights, is packed with national parks and sites worth visiting. Quickly and relatively cheaply out of their car tour of purchasing a discounted ticket to the visited sites.
Do I believe that all those places are worth visiting? For sure they are worth considering in your itinerary! Most people limit themselves to Jesus Trail, Akko and Caesarea. I recommend to widen your sightseeing and see places a bit underrated by tourists. If you prepare well your stay in Israel, it will be possible without prelonging the time here and increasing costs but about it I’ll write another time!
I hope that you’ll find this post useful! And if have visited Galilee and the Golan Heights already, share your opinions in the comment box below! Do you have any questions? Also write them in the comments!