The city of Nazareth in Israel is one of the most important Christian sites in the world.
Besides the inspirational Christian heritage and beautiful churches of Nazareth, there is lots to discover in this vibrant city of the Galilee. It is the city with the largest Arab population in Israel of which a third are Christian and the rest are Muslim.
Nazareth is pulsing with life - authentic bazaars, twisting alleyways, interesting mosques, the Microsoft Development Center and some of the most outstanding Middle Eastern food in Israel.
Nazareth overlooks the green fields of the Galilee.
Two thousand years ago Nazareth was a small village hidden in the hills of Galilee, far far away from the capital of Jerusalem.
It was in Mary's home in Nazareth that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she would give birth to the Son of God. Nazareth later became the childhood home of Jesus and the first place where he began preaching. He continued practicing his ministry throughout the Galilee in Capernaum, Cana and other locations near the Sea of Galilee.
There are many churches in the Christian capital of the Galilee, so we will cover the four most famous ones.
The Basilica of the Annunciation is the most magnificent church in Nazareth.
The current Church of Annunciation was designed by the Italian architect Giovanni Muzio in 1969 and is considered one of the most impressive churches in the Middle East.
You can descend to the lower level and enter 'Mary's Grotto' where it is believed that the angel Gabriel visited Mary to tell her that God has chosen her, that she will conceive and give birth to the Messiah and that she should name him Jesus.
Gabriel also informed her that her aunt Elizabeth was six months pregnant, miraculously in her old age. Read more about the lovely village of Ein Kerem in the Jerusalem hills where the two pregnant women met, one the mother of Jesus and the other the mother of John the Baptist.
The Annunciation Grotto level is dark and mystical, maintaining the atmosphere surrounding the wonder of the Annunciation.
You can see a few wall decorations at this level from the original church built in the early days of Christianity in the 4th century!
Over the years, the churches over the Annunciation Cave were destroyed and rebuilt. There is also a stone wall from the Crusader-era church built in the 1100's.
The main floor of the church has a beautiful altar area.
The church cupola is designed from the inside to look like a white lily, representing the white lily that the angel Gabriel gave to the Virgin Mary which symbolizes her purity.
The upper floor of the church and its courtyard are full of beautiful artwork.
There are mosaics, paintings and stained glass artwork gifted to the church from different countries around the world.
In the heart of the old Nazareth market is Synagogue Church.
Why Synagogue? The Church is built at the same Jewish synagogue where Jesus prayed and preached when he lived in Nazareth. Jesus was born and bred as a Jew after all.
It is in this synagogue that Jesus announced that he was 'annointed by God' that he was the Messiah.
Gradually, early Christians began praying here and this ancient synagogue became a church.
St. Joseph's is a modern Church just a few minutes walk from Annuncation Church.
It is built over a crypt. According to differing Christian traditions, this crypt held either Joseph's home or Joseph's carpentry workshop. You can descend to the lower level of the church and see where young Jesus might have worked with his father in the carpentry place.
There is also an ancient Jewish ritual bath here decorated with mosaics.
About a ten minutes walk from the Catholic Annunciation Church is the Greek Orthodox St. Gabriel's Church.
Its walls are covered with vivid frescoes.
In the Orthodox tradition, the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary with the news that she would bear the child of God while she was fetching water from the local well.
Several steps lead down to a natural spring called Mary's Well, perhaps the same one where Mary fetched water 2,000 years ago.
The beautiful churches are adjacent to (and sometimes within) the the bustling 'shuk' or outdoor traditional bazzar of Nazareth.
It is lots of fun to stroll around this traditional Arab market and people-watch amid the fruits and vegetables, spices and nuts, baked goods, falafel, trinkets, antiques, carpets and whatnot..
Around the market are some great restaurants.
Nazareth is considered by some the foodie capital of the Galilee. Traditional food in the north of Israel has a 'lighter' touch than Middle Eastern food further south.
Here are some of the best places to eat in Nazareth:
Mahroum Sweets - is our favorite Nazareth sweets shop. Established in 1890, this bakery is a must-visit if you have a sweet tooth! With your coffee or tea you can order to take home mouthwatering Arabic deserts such as kanafeh (cheese pastry), bahklava, halva and semolina cake.
Alreda - is located near the Church of the Annunciation. Besides the cool atmosphere, they serve really good hummus, special salads with pistachios, oranges, and other interesting ingredients and overall great food and decent prices.
Dianna - one of the most established restaurants in Nazareth is a classic, although its not cheap by Nazareth standards. Although Chef Duhul Safadi is no longer with Dianna, they still serve his famous aromatic lamb kebabs skewered on cinammon sticks. Delicious!
Rosemary- is a comfortable restaurant in a 200 year old building near Mary's well and St. Gabriel's Church. This is the place if you want a break from Middle Eastern food. They serve a little bit of everything and the food and atmosphere are pleasant.
Feel free to stop at the food stands in the market and at other restaurants. The food is fresh and most of the restaurants serve tasty local cuisine.
If you are travelling with children and even if you are not, your family will enjoy visiting Nazareth Village which recreates life in Nazareth in the 1st century.
The village tour itself is highly recommended.
It lasts an hour and a quarter. The friendly guides take you on a visit to ancient Nazareth. You will meet villagers from 2,000 years ago and follow them on their daily life: at home, at work at the olive press, the winepress, the fields, tending to the sheep and donkeys, and in the synagogue. You can even partake of a typical Biblical meal.
There are 2-3 comfortable 4 star hotels in Nazareth, and lots of three star and guesthouse accomodation. Use this search box to find prices, availability and recent reviews:
(This is an "affiliate link", which means that if you click and buy something, we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you).
You may also be interested in: