Self Guided Tours
Self-Guided Tour of Nazareth
This tour will take you through many of the main sights in Nazareth, allowing you to see the city on your own. Along with a free map, available from the Fauzi Azar Inn, this sheet is all you need to navigate the Old City. This tour follows a circular route beginning and ending at the Basilica of the Annunciation, but there is no one way to see Nazareth, so feel free to explore, and enjoy your time here!
Known as the hometown of Jesus and his family, Nazareth first appears in Christian scripture as the place where Mary received the news that she was to give birth to the Son of God. The city has been inhabited for at least 5,000 years, long before the time of Jesus. Today, Nazareth is the largest Arab city in Israel, with a population of around 70,000 Muslims and Christians. Its old city is surrounded by a much larger new city, all forming an urban web of streets, alleys and staircases filled with the aroma of coffee and spices, baking bread and fresh knaffeh ready to eat, hot off the griddle.
Nazareth is best explored on foot; if you drove in, you can park your car for 30 NIS in a secure lot just outside the Old City, near Tishreen restaurant. Street signs are nonexistent here, but signposts point toward major tourist attractions and locals are always glad to help a confused visitor.
Feel free to get lost in the back alleys of the Old City, and you’ll be amazed at the hidden mansions and courtyards you may stumble upon.
1. The Basilica of the Annunciation
The largest church building in the Middle East, it is built over a grotto where tradition says Mary lived and where she was visited by the angel Gabriel, who told her she would conceive by the Holy Spirit. Many churches have stood on the site over the past 1700 years, and the current church incorporates remains of the older ones, including Byzantine mosaics from the original basilica. Inside and outside the church are found icons donated by artists around the world in a huge variety of artistic styles.
2. El Babour, the Galilee Mill
Duck into a tiny white door in a plain cement wall, following the aromas into a 200-year-old mill and spice shop, where an immense range of spices, herbs and dry goods tempt shoppers and chefs, and traditional mill machinery provides a glimpse into the past. The helpful and friendly owners and staff are always glad to explain any of the mysterious baskets of herbs for curious visitors.
3. The Ancient Bathhouse and Cactus Gallery
Look for the entrance just behind Mary’s Well, to find the ruins of the largest Roman bathhouse in the region. The owners of the gift shop discovered the ruins while renovating, and originally mistook them for a run-of-the-mill Ottoman era bath, before archaeologists confirmed it to be of Roman construction. Tours of the bathhouse can be arranged ahead of time, and provide a fascinating glimpse into Nazareth’s archaeological history.
4. Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation
Also called St. Gabriel’s Church, after the angel who appeared to Mary, this church is built over Nazareth’s ancient spring, which provided water to the town during the millennia of its history. There were numerous Catholic churches built on the site before the Orthodox Church took it over in the 1700s and claimed it as their site of the Annunciation. The front section of the church is decorated with stunning icons, painted in the 1990s in a traditional style, making it one of the most beautiful churches in Israel. The rear sections remain standing from the medieval and Byzantine periods, and the spring still flows in the back of the church.
5. Al-Mutran Guest House
This 200-year-old mansion has been converted into a guest house by local entrepreneurs, and is well suited for large groups, such as the many Israelis who have family gatherings here. The building offers an elegant taste of Arabic architecture and a panoramic view of the city from its rooftop. It was built by the Kattouf family, famous for their jewelry and crafts of gold, gems and diamonds. Their wealth enabled them to build one of Nazareth’s many Old City mansions, now a valuable part of the city’s architectural and cultural heritage.
This boutique gift shop is another of the Old City’s new businesses. Its three rooms are filled with handmade arts and crafts by local artisans, making it one of the best spots for souvenirs and gifts in the city. Embroidered items, pottery, sculptures and jewelry are just a few of the items on sale here, plus plenty of hidden gems for those who take the time to browse.
Al-Atabeh is a recently-opened hostel, bar and cultural center, the only spot for nightlife in the Old City proper. Films and sports matches are often shown here, and concerts are scheduled regularly, especially during summer. Even when there are no events going on, the building – another once-abandoned mansion with a large airy courtyard – makes a perfect place to relax in the evening, and is sure to be of interest for those with an eye for Old City architecture.
8. Fauzi Azar Inn
The Old City’s first guest house was opened in partnership by a Jewish Israeli and the Azar family, whose beautiful nineteenth-century mansion provides a perfect setting for an overnight stay in Nazareth. The courtyard of soaring limestone arches and the stately main hall with its famed hand-painted ceiling draw groups of visitors who come just to see the house, and for good reason. The Inn always welcomes visitors to enjoy free hot drinks and cake, even if they’re not staying the night.
9. Brides’ Market
The streets immediately around the Azar mansion mostly consist of shuttered-up shops, with a bit of the feeling of a ghost town. This is a recent development – during a city effort to repave the Old City’s streets, most of the shop owners relocated to other neighborhoods and villages, leaving behind what was once the one-stop shop for all wedding-related items for the whole Galilee. A few stores are still open, selling elaborate wedding dresses, jewelry and fabrics, but most of the neighborhood has yet to recover from this economic blow. However, the alleys surrounding the main streets are full of architectural treasures and stately mansions hundreds of years old.
10. Mensa Christi Church
Uphill from the Brides’ Market (follow the orange dots) is a small church containing a slab of rock that is believed to have been used as a dining table by Jesus and his disciples. The walls were painted by a master painter who imitated the effect of marble, and the acoustics are superb. The neighbors across the street have the key and a small donation is appreciated.
11. Abu Salem Coffee Shop
A small doorway leads to a favorite haunt of Nazareth’s elderly gentlemen, who like to enjoy coffee and backgammon. Tourists come to drink owner Wessam’s delicious cinnamon drink, found nowhere else on earth. The hot beverage can be enjoyed anytime, but is especially nice on a cold winter day.
12. Synagogue Church
Follow the market streets down from the coffee shop to pass the Greek Catholic Church and its Synagogue Church. The main church is open only on Sunday for mass, but the Synagogue church is open all week. It’s an authentic 2,000 year old synagogue once used by Nazareth’s Jewish community, and tradition claims it as the site of Jesus’ sermon and announcement of himself as the Messiah. It fell into ruin, was excavated in the Middle Ages, and given a new arched roof by the Crusaders. Whether or not Jesus ever set foot in it can’t be known, but it is a perfect example of a synagogue from his time.
13. The Market
Nazareth’s market (“souq” in Arabic) is spread throughout the Old City’s streets, and gives tourists a glimpse to see a real Middle Eastern market in action. At the northern entrance to the market, under the arch of the Fahoum family’s mansion, are two bakeries offering different selections of baked goods and delicious, cheap pita pizzas. Around the corner from the White Mosque, Abu Ashraf sells mouth-watering and stomach-filling Ramadan pancakes with cheese, walnuts and special syrup. The vegetable market boasts unbeatable prices on all manner of seasonal produce (some of which will certainly be new to a foreigner), while the other sections provide for all a household’s needs, from coffee sets to clothes and music.
14. White Mosque
In the center of the market is Nazareth’s oldest mosque, built by the Fahoum family, one of the wealthiest in Nazareth. It was built over 200 years ago, and has been expanded several times over the years to include more prayer space. Visitors are welcome any time except during prayers. The mosque’s décor is simple but elegant and holds several pieces of exquisite Arabic calligraphy. The mosque’s patrons set a policy of harmony between religious groups, and today a steward from the Fahoum family pre-reads all sermons to ensure they do not disrespect other religions. The mosque’s basement contains a small historical museum with photographs of Nazareth over the past century and a half, open by prior arrangement only. Guests should dress modestly – shoulders and knees should be covered, and women should have a scarf to cover their heads.
15. Fahoum Coffee
One of many businesses owned by the Fahoum clan, this shop offers numerous blends of the distinctive coffee that is so characteristic of Arab hospitality. Grounds from Kenya, Colombia, Costa Rica and other distant lands are available, or can be mixed with each other and with spices to create unique flavors. In the back room, watch the process of roasting and grinding beans, and taste a sample cup of an extremely strong blend that will make even the seasoned coffee drinker’s eyes water.
16. Paulus the Sixth Street
Named for the Pope who visited to consecrate the Basilica, this main street is devoid of tourist attractions but packed to the gills with locals frequenting its many businesses. An array of restaurants and falafel/shawarma delis, plus a gelato store and several sweet shops, all tempt the palate. Al-Mokhtar Sweets is legendary for one of the best knaffeh recipes on earth – if you don’t know what knaffeh is, don’t leave Nazareth without a slice. Further down the road, several sweet shops called Mahroum are known for having the town’s best baklava. At the roundabout just below the Basilica, a tiny deli called Falafel Shawarma 99 is almost always closed, but when it’s open it’s invariably surrounded by a crowd of locals, due to its reputation for the best shawarma in Nazareth.
17. Nazareth Village
Across town by the English Hospital is a recreation of a first-century Galilean village. Houses and other structures were built in period style, and reenactors work on crafts, harvesting olives, and raising sheep and goats in the ways of the past. All of it is based on extensive historical research, making it the best way to truly step into Nazareth’s past. The entry fee includes a guided tour; call ahead (04-6456042) to find out tour times or arrange one in your language.
18. Mount of the Precipice
On the southern edge of Nazareth, this prominent peak affords tremendous views both of the city and of the landscape around it. To the south, the Jezreel Valley and Mt. Moreh hold countless sites of biblical and historical importance, including the sites of some pivotal battles. Further south, the mountains of biblical Samaria (the north of the modern-day West Bank) are visible on a clear day, as is Jenin, the northernmost Palestinian city. To the east, Mt. Tabor’s distinctive round shape is visible across the valley, and past it the mountains of biblical Gilead, today part of Jordan. Looking west, one can see the Carmel mountain ridge on the coast and the city of Haifa on its northern slopes. Traditionally, the mountain is the cliff off which Jesus was to be thrown by an angry mob; although the location is not a likely one for such an event, the mountain is well worth a visit for its views of the landscape and of so many historically significant locales. To get to the mountain, follow Tawfik Zayyad street south out of town and continue past the large junction with signs for Afula, Migdal HaEmek and Nazareth Illit. A sign will point you to the mountain at the next right turn. From here, return to the Basilica to the start point of the tour.