Sea of Galilee guide covers basic (facts, names, weather, water level) and top things to do (National Parks, in the Footsteps of Jesus, and others). Let’s begin!
Before going through the attractions, let’s look at the names. Sea of Galilee, also called Lake Tiberias, and Kinneret. What do these names mean? Is it a sea or a lake?
The Sea of Galilee, Lake Tiberias, Kinneret or Kinnereth, is a freshwater lake in Israel. It is the lowest freshwater lake on Earth and the second-lowest lake in the world (after the Dead Sea, a saltwater lake), at levels between 215 meters and 209 meters below sea level. It is approximately 53 km in circumference, about 21 km long, and 13 km wide. Its area is 166.7 km2 at its fullest, and its maximum depth is approximately 43 m. The lake is fed partly by underground springs, although its main source is the Jordan River, which flows through it from north to south.
As its name suggests, the Sea of Galilee is located in the Galilee region. More specifically, in northeast Israel, between the Golan Heights and the Galilee region.
Map of the area:
My daughter learned in school that the origin of the name “Kinneret” derives from the similarity of the shape of the Sea of Galilee with the shape of a violin (Kinneret sounds very similar to the violin word in Hebrew). And indeed, if you look at the map above, then you can see the similarity. This is a popular opinion in Israel, but as it turns out, it is probably a mistake.
This opinion is mistaken because the name Kinneret is a very ancient name, it is written in archaeological remains from 3,500 years ago. In those days there were no maps of the Sea of Galilee, and the instruments called the violin looked completely different than today. It is true that the beauty of the Sea of Galilee was described in various ways and by the sound of the violin, and we will discuss it later.
So if it is not related to a violin, then what it is?
Ancient City Of Kinneret
We know that the source of the name Kinneret is the name of the ancient city “Kinneret” which stood in the northwest of the Sea of Galilee, in a place that is known today as Tel Kinnarot and in the past Tel Urayama (near the site Sapir).
The name Kinneret is mentioned seven times in the Bible. Once as the name of the city, four times as the name of the sea, and twice the word “Kinrot” as the name of the region.
The word lake does not appear in the Bible and the Talmud at all. It is a later innovation (in our country there are no other natural lakes) The Sea of Galilee was named Kinneret sea.
The city of Kinneret is also mentioned in ancient Egyptian sources.
In 1468 BCE pharaoh Thutmose III conquered the Land of Israel, and he commemorated this journey by writing the names of the cities he conquered. He wrote them on the walls of the enormous temple in Luxor, Egypt. This list also includes the city of Kinneret (in ancient Egyptian script).
The site, identified with the city of Kinneret, was excavated in the 1930s and 1980s, and the remains that were found reinforce its identification with the city of Kinneret. Remains of the city attest to a settlement from the early Canaanite period to the Persian period. Among the finds was a fragment of a tombstone written in Egyptian hieroglyphics script, in which one of the pharaohs (whose name does not appear) boasts in his victory over the inhabitants of the region.
The quotes were translated from kineret.org.il
Other names include Sea of Galilee, Lake Tiberias, and Sea of Ginosar. They all are after cities (or regions) whose names we still know today.
Sea Or Lake?
Sea of Galilee is a lake. Then why do we call it a sea? As mentioned in the quote above, the word lake does not appear in the Bible. Only later people started to differentiate between the sea and lake. And since the word lake did not exist yet, it was called the sea.
There are many things to do in this area. And now we will go over the most popular ones.
National Parks Near Sea Of Galilee
And now let’s take a look at nature reserves and national parks near Sea Of Galilee.
- Capernaum (Kfar Nahum) was a small fishing village during the time of the Hasmoneans. And according to tradition, it was the home of Saint Peter. See additional info at Capernaum post.
- Arbel National Park located on Mount Arbel near Tiberias. Arbel offers both stunning views and a glimpse of history.
- Hamat Tiberias National Park – Tiberias Hot Springs National Park displays not only hot springs but rich history as well. Including one of the most spectacular mosaics of ancient synagogues in Israel.
- Korazim was an ancient town in the Galilee, four kilometers from Capernaum on a hillside above the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
- Betiha Nature Reserve (The Majrase) offers a short and lovely water trail next to the Sea of Galilee that suits perfectly for the hot days.
- Kursi National Park contains the impressive remains of a monastery and church from the Byzantine period. According to Christian tradition, this is the site of the Miracle of the Swine mentioned in the New Testament.
- Gamla Nature Reserve is located in the Golan Heights. Using its four routes, you can see wildlife, nature, and ancient Gamla.
- Amud Stream Nature Reserve offers lovely trails in nature.
- Meshushim Stream in the Yehudiya Forest Nature Reserve offers breathtaking views of basalt canyons with pools, waterfalls, and fascinating geological phenomena.
- Yehudiya Forest Nature Reserve allows hiking at the Golan Heights, and see waterfalls.
In The Footsteps Of Jesus
According to the New Testament, Jesus performed miracles at the Sea of Galilee. Thus, this area became a popular attraction for Christian pilgrims who visit Israel.
In the New Testament, much of the ministry of Jesus occurs on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. In those days, there was a continuous ribbon development of settlements and villages around the lake and plenty of trade and ferrying by boat.
The Synoptic Gospels of Mark (1:14–20), Matthew (4:18–22), and Luke (5:1–11) describe how Jesus recruited four of his apostles from the shores of the Kinneret: the fishermen Simon and his brother Andrew and the brothers John and James. One of Jesus’ famous teaching episodes, the Sermon on the Mount, is supposed to have been given on a hill overlooking the Kinneret. Many of his miracles are also said to have occurred here. Including walking on water, calming the storm, the disciples and the miraculous catch of fish, and his feeding five thousand people (in Tabgha). In John’s Gospel, the sea provides the setting for Jesus’ third post-resurrection appearance to his disciples (John 21).
Popular Sites Among Christian Pilgrims
- Mount Of Beatitudes, a small hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee, is the traditional site where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. You can find additional information at the Church Of The Beatitudes post.
- Capernaum was a small fishing village, and it is also called The Town Of Jesus. In Capernaum post, you can find a full review of the site, including a visit to the Synagogue, Peter’s House, and Church Of The Holy Apostles.
- Tabgha is traditionally accepted as the place of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. And it is also the fourth resurrection appearance of Jesus after his Crucifixion. And in Tabgha post we will visit both of these places, i.e. Church of the Multiplication and Church of the Primacy of Saint Peter.
- Kursi National Park is the place where according to tradition, Miracle of the Swine occurred.
- At Magdala, a first-century synagogue and a complete first-century city were found.
- Yardenit Baptismal Site is located where the Sea of Galilee’s water flows into the Jordan River. And thousands of pilgrims from all over the world come to be baptized every year.
Statue of Saint Peter at Capernaum:
If you love multi-day hikes, then Jesus trail might be the one for you.
In April 2011, Israel unveiled a 40-mile (64 km) hiking trail in Galilee for Christian pilgrims, called the “Jesus Trail.” It includes a network of footpaths, roads and bicycle paths linking sites central to the lives of Jesus and his disciples. It ends at Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus expounded his teachings.
You can find additional details at the Church Of The Beatitudes post.
In 1986, after the water level declined, an ancient fishing boat from the 1st century AD was discovered. The Sea of Galilee Boat is also called Jesus Boat.
The remains of the boat, 27 feet (8.27 meters) long, 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) wide and with a maximum preserved height of 4.3 feet (1.3 meters), first appeared during a drought, when the waters of the Sea (actually a great fresh-water lake) receded. Other than the dating, there is no evidence connecting the boat to Jesus or his disciples.
Today the Jesus Boat is housed in the Yigal Allon Museum in Kibbutz Ginosar.
- Hamat Gader is a lovely hot spring site for the whole family, i.e. besides hot springs, there are other attractions as well.
- Ein Keshatot (Umm el Kanatir) at Golan Heights is an archeological site that presents an ancient Jewish village with an impressive synagogue from the Talmudic Period.
- Rob Roy is a tourist site, located on the Jordan River, offering a large range of special and challenging activities including canoeing, green car tours, and raft building.
- You can go to one of the beaches (Bora Bora beach, Gofra beach, Hof Dugit, and Ein Gev beach are among the popular ones). And if you prefer a more dynamic activity, the take a look at Aaua Kef (floating water park), and Gai Beach Water Park.
- You can join one of the several firms, that offer to cruise the lake.
- At Galita Chocolate Farm in kibbutz Degania Beit, you can both buy chocolate and join workshops suitable both for kids and adults.
- If you love wine, then check out Berenice Winery.
- Israel’s most well-known open water swim race, the Kinneret Crossing, is held every year in September, drawing thousands of open water swimmers to participate in competitive and non-competitive events.
Sea Of Galilee Water Level
Many people are concerned about the Sea of Galilee water level. So let’s jump to Tiberias Promenade to discuss this subject.
On the promenade, you can find a sign which tells you the water level of Kinneret.
Up until recent years, most Israelis were very concerned with the water level. Especially since the Sea of Galilee was a major source of water in Israel. I wrote “was” because, after several drought years, it was decided to build desalination plants. Today, around 80% of the water used by private and public sectors comes from desalination plants. And in 2016, only 2% of the total used water came from the Sea of Galilee (source).
Nonetheless, the low water level remains a national issue. You can hear in the news what is the water level. Moreover, you can check at this site, both the current water level and historical data. And If I look at a graph showing the last decade, then it does not look good.
As per Tiberias Promenade, you can find there many restaurants and remains of ancient buildings. We hoped that Tiberias Promenade would be a nice place for a walk and grab something to eat. But, since it was Saturday almost everything was closed (well, it is not Tel Aviv). And the promenade itself was quite short and looked half abandoned. Maybe on weekdays, it will look better.
Where To Stay?
Tiberias is the biggest city on the Sea Of Galilee shore. And if you will be using public transport, then staying in Tiberias will probably be the most comfortable option. But if you have a car, then you can stay in any of the villages and kibbutzes. Here are two links to booking.com, one for Tiberias, and the other for Galilee. Using them you can check the availability and prices of both hotels and apartments.
I checked the Israeli Meteorological Service, and they have a monitoring station at kibbutz Masada (do not confuse with Masada National Park near the Dead Sea). This kibbutz is located in the northern Jordan Valley near the Sea of Galilee. So Let’s look at average climate data (include data from 1981 to 2000).
|Type Of Data||January||February||March||April||May||June||July||August||September||October||November||December|
|Temperature (min – max)||9.5 – 18.1||9.2 – 19.2||10.8 – 22.5||14.3 – 28.3||17.6 – 33.1||20.4 – 35.9||22.8 – 37.5||23.3 – 37.6||21.8 – 36.1||19.1 – 32||15.1 – 25.6||11.3 – 20.1|
|Number Of Rainy Days (more than 1 mm)||9||8.9||6.8||2.3||0.8||–||–||–||0.2||2.3||5||7.8|
|Monthly Rain Amount (mm)||90.3||72.6||57.2||20||4||–||–||–||0.6||13.8||50.1||80.5|
As you can see from the table, summer months are boiling and dry. Thus if you have no choice, but to travel during the summer, choose the cooler hours of the day and prefer water-related attractions, like Betiha Nature Reserve.
In case you are not limited, then Spring and Autumn are the best seasons for travel. You can find additional weather information at Events And Festivals By Season.
By this point, you saw several dozen suggestions in this post. And indeed there are many attractions. In the Israel Trip Planner, I suggested spending 2 – 3 days in this area, but this, of course, could be modified depending on your interests.
The bottom line, whether it is a family trip, hiking adventure, you are archeology geeks, or you prefer religious sites, everybody could find something to do.
Note: if you are going to visit Christing sites, you have the option to join organized tours. Many firms offer them, and every time I am in the area, I see buses with tourists.
Have you ever been to the Sea Of Galilee? What is your favorite attraction in the area? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!
Here are several resources that I created to help travelers:
- Israel Trip Planner is the page that will help you to create your perfect travel route.
- National Parks And Nature Reserves page lists and put all national parks on the map. There is also a top list, information about ticket types and campsites.
- If you are looking for things to do, here are the pages for Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Sea Of Galilee, and Makhtesh Ramon.
- Wondering what events are there in Israel? Here is the Events And Festivals By Season guide.
And if you have any questions then check out Useful Information For Tourists To Israel.