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The Sea of Galilee: A Comprehensive Guide to Its Significance, History, and Natural Beauty

A visit to Israel and the Sea of Galilee is not only a walk through time and religious history, but also a soothing respite to relax on a sandy beach, unwind with a leisurely scenic drive around the lake, or hike or bike the trails and absorb the beautiful scenery encompassing the area.

Visiting the many locations is an opportunity to experience the Sea of Galilee’s history, along with its culture, ancient ruins, and the beauty of the Holy Land on a personal level that creates memories to last a lifetime.

What is the Sea of Galilee History?

The Sea of Galilee’s strategic location along with its abundance of fish makes it a desired location for ancient civilizations, including the Romans, Hasmoneans, and Greeks. The lake resides on the Via Maris (aka Way of the Sea), which is an ancient trade route that linked northern empires, such as Anatolia, Syria, and Mesopotamia, with Egypt. The route dates to the Bronze Age. The dirt road served as a path along the coast to connect with other people living in the area and as a trade route for goods. 

The sea, which is actually a lake fed by the Jordan River, had, at one time, the distinction of being the largest lake supplying drinking water to the country. It remains one of the earliest locations in Israel with pioneering settlements residing alongside archaeological ruins. 

The closest city to the Sea of Galilee is Tiberias, located along the west edge of the lake. It is considered a holy city. It is believed the Talmud holy scriptures were written in Tiberias.

The Sea of Galilee remains an important resource for commercial fishing. The sea contains more than 20 species living in the lake’s waters. Ten of the species are important to commercial fishermen.

Today, the Sea of Galilee remains a pilgrimage site for Christians who travel from faraway places around the world. 

Why is the Sea of Galilee significant in religious history?

Through the centuries, the Sea of Galilee has been known to be the site of many Christian religious events. Jesus of Nazareth grew up near the Sea of Galilee and ministered to the people of the area.

A visit to the Sea of Galilee sites puts tourists, as well as those on a personal pilgrimage, in the area where it is believed the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist is said to have taken place in the Jordan River, located at the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee. More than half a million people, including tourists, locals, and those on pilgrimage, visit the site each year. The site is known as Bethany Beyond the Jordan and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Sea of Galilee in the bible notes the hill known as the Mount of Beatitudes in Northern Israel is where it is believed Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount where the Lord’s Prayer was taught for the first time. The deep blue water of the sea is also where it is said Jesus walked on the water and calmed a raging storm that saved the 12 disciples with him onboard the boat. 

Feeding of the 5000, also referred to as the “miracle of the five loaves and two fish” is reported by the Gospel of John that the bread and fish were supplied by a local boy, and with these items, Jesus was able to feed the multitude. The location where the feeding of the 5,000 took place was somewhere along the Sea of Galilee’s northwestern shore in Tabgha or Hippos. The feeding of the 5,000, according to ancient fifth-century mosaics, both locations are mentioned. The event took place around 480 A.D. 

Three large cities near the Sea of Galilee’s northern shore were cursed by Jesus because each city refused to repent. The cities were Bethsaida, Korazim, and Capernaum. Located within the Korazim National Park, visitors will see the preserved remains of an ancient Jewish village and synagogue. In Bethsaida, a variety of excavations have revealed structures dating to the 10th century, including ruins of a palace, houses, a temple, paved roads, and a Roman city wall. Capernaum is considered one of the most sacred f Christian pilgrimage sites in Israel with its many historical landmarks and archaeological excavations that include two ancient synagogues.

What Makes the Sea of Galilee a Natural Beauty?

Also known as Lake Kinneret, Lake Tiberias, Lake of Gennesaret, Sea of Tiberias, and Lake Galilee, not only is the area a popular religious destination for travelers from around the world but it is also known for its extraordinary natural beauty. 

A perfect picture postcard showing an expanse of brilliant deep blue water bordered by towering mountains and an inviting shoreline of hills with lush greenery and tall palm trees is a good way to describe the atmosphere and environment awaiting travelers to the Sea of Galilee.

The sea, itself, makes a visual statement with its impressive dimensions. It has a length of 12 miles, a width of close to eight miles, and a depth of 200 feet. 

The sea rests serenely in northern Israel, enhanced by the towering peaks of Mount Arbel to the west, the Lower Galilee hills to the southwest and the multiple cliffs to the east of the Golan Heights as they stretch towards the shoreline.

Depending on the season, the Sea of Galilee is a contrast of colors, with spring being the most colorful time of year when the hills and slopes are like a vibrant green carpet covering the landscape. Winters are mild and summer is hot, which makes the area ideal for agriculture with farms producing assorted items, such as barley, grapes, olives, figs, bananas, alfalfa, and wheat.

Scattered throughout the hillside are quaint homes, ancient ruins, beautifully detailed and historic churches, as well as modern structures.

In Tiberias, ancient hot springs over 3,000 years old add to the tranquility and natural beauty of the Sea of Galilee. Visitors can refresh and replenish in the soothing natural thermal waters of the springs.

From the hillsides to the shoreline, wherever you look, the views are breathtaking, from the scenic mountains to the sun setting on the horizon casting warm hues across the Sea of Galilee.

Where to stay at the Sea of Galilee?

Tiberias is the closest city to the Sea of Galilee, a little less than 4 miles away. The choice of accommodation is plentiful, with over 100 hotels to choose from, ranging in prices from quality inexpensive hotels and upgraded mid-range boutique accommodations to high-end luxury resort-style hotels. Guests staying at area hotels can expect amenities, such as outdoor swimming pools, spas, onsite dining, room service, bars, fitness center, hot tub, free breakfast, full-service laundry, smoke-free properties, non-smoking rooms, free parking, kid-friendly accommodations, and airport shuttle service.

For travelers who prefer a more private and less crowded setting, Airbnb vacation rentals are also available in Tiberias. A variety of homes and prices are available, such as an ancient, restored stone house, a ground-floor apartment with unobstructed views of the Sea of Galilee, a luxurious apartment with a private terrace, or a lavish beachfront house. These accommodations feature the comforts of home. Some have additional features, such as a heated swimming pool, private garden, outdoor gazebo, barbecue area, fully accessorized kitchens, cable TV, and Wi-Fi.

There are also several bed and breakfasts available in Tiberias for those who want a comfortable setting with no crowds, but also provide an array of features and amenities. A few of the features guests can expect include swimming pools, free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, full-screen TV, kitchenettes, and airport shuttle service.

What can you do at the Sea of Galilee?

There is a variety of Sea of Galilee activities to suit all ages and individual interests, from historical landmarks to national parks.

The Sea of Galilee location is in northern Israel and is the largest freshwater lake in Israel, measuring 13 miles from north to south. Explore the lake and surrounding area by car or take one of the many tours to experience the many wonders of this holy destination.

Consider including these things to do and see on your travel itinerary:

  • Hamat Tiberias National Park (Tiberias).
  • Kursi National Park (archaeological site on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee).
  • Aqua Kef.
  • Capernaum (ancient pilgrimage site on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee).
  • Yardenit (southern region of the Sea of Galilee).
  • Mount of Beatitudes.
  • Tomb of Maimonides (in Tiberias).
  • Kinneret Trail (walk or bike around the trail, which encircles the Sea of Galilee).
  • Hike the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum.
  • Go canoeing on the lake.
  • Take a lake tour.
  • Kfar Blum rafting (Jordan River)
  • Visit Switzerland Park for scenic views.
  • Ros Hanikra Grottoes.
  • Relax at one of the beaches surrounding the Sea of Galilee. (no facilities).
  • Mount Arbel (near Tiberias offers hiking trails, ancient ruins, water views, and caves).
  • Scots Church.
  • Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish (Tabgna).
  • Bible Lands Museum (archaeological museum in Jerusalem)
  • Yigal Alon Center (Ginosar, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee housing the ancient boat).

What is the best time to visit the Sea of Galilee?

Travelers who want to experience the Sea of Galilee and all there is to do and see when the weather is at its best is from March through October, when temperatures average 91 degrees Fahrenheit (32.77 Celsius).

For sun lovers, August is the hottest month when temperatures average around 97 degrees Fahrenheit (36.1 Celsius).

Cooler temperatures prevail from December to March, with daily highs averaging around 71 degrees Fahrenheit (21.66 Celsius). If cold weather is your personal preference, set your itinerary for January, when the high temperature averages 64 degrees Fahrenheit (17.77 Celsius) to an average low of 47 degrees Fahrenheit (8.33 Celsius).

How do I get there?

The main airport that serves cities, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa, is Ben Gurion International Airport. From the airport, a shuttle bus service to Jerusalem is available 24 hours a day. From the central station, the bus departs from Jerusalem to Tiberias, which is about 93 miles (150km) away and located along the edge of the Sea of Galilee. The trip can take anywhere from 2-3 hours, depending on the route the bus takes. 

A rental car is also an option. Use the car rental kiosk at the airport, which has most major car rental companies, or, once arriving in Jerusalem, visit one of the car rental locations. Note that some car rental companies have specific rules for renting a car that include Shabbat.

There is also the option of traveling by train from Tel Aviv to Tiberias, which takes approximately 1.5 hours. Travelers can also take a bus, which is inexpensive and takes about 2  hours, or, if driving is preferred, the drive time between Tel Aviv and Tiberias is about two hours. 

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