The mighty Galilee, in the north of Israel, is a holiday-makers’ paradise. Among its forested hills, fields of wildflowers and olive groves you’ll find great, simple places to relax – beaches, camping grounds, walking trails and water sports. There are also wonderful, family-friendly restaurants, where you can kick back in the hills with some wine and organic cheese, while the little ones run wild. And let us not forget the region’s history: this was where Jesus is said to have lived, and where scores of events in the Bible and the New Testament took place.
Our local expert, Maoz Inon, lives in vibrant Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel. Here he established the beautiful Fauzi Azar Inn, a 200-year-old Arab mansion-turned-guesthouse in the old city, before setting up ILH-Israel Hostels, the only network of Independent hostels in Israel. An experienced and passionate hiker, he is also the co-founder of the Jesus Trail, a 65-kilometre trail across the Galilee region, which connects important sites from the life of Jesus, as well as other historical and religious monuments.
Despite being one of the busiest people we know, Maoz still makes time for adventures with his three young children, Eliad, 8, Dor, 6, and Eden, 2. In fact the whole Inon clan walked the Jesus Trail over nine days last Summer!
Why do you rate Northern Israel as a great place to visit with kids?
When I search for our next family holiday destination, this is what I’m looking for: short distances between attractions, stable weather, and a great and diverse array of places to visit, from sandy beaches and historical sites to many hikes and fun, outdoor activities. The Galilee has it all!
Plus, I can’t think of a place in Israel that is not child friendly. Unlike some European countries where a family with three children is considered a big family, here in Israel, three kids is the norm. In fact many families have five or more kids, so you don’t need to apologise for your screaming little ones or your lost temper.
You will also be surprised to find Israel and the Galilee one of the safest places you ever visited. In case of trouble, you can trust the locals to help and assist far and beyond what you might imagine.
Where are your favourite spots to take the kids?
- Zippori National Park Zippori National Park provides a glimpse into hundreds of years of ancient history, and kids will love exploring the great collection of Roman mosaics, ancient water systems and the 4500-seat theatre. It’s perched on a high ridge with incredible views.
- Mount Bental Although it’s in the Golan Heights (and not technically The Galilee), this mountain peak has an amazing viewpoint (you can even see into Syria), a sculpture garden, and an underground army base to explore. Bring a flashlight so you’re not bumping into old beds! The onsite café, Coffee Anan (a pun on both the former UN leader, and Hebrew for ‘Coffee of the Clouds’), has great hot chocolate for the little ones.
- Old City of Nazareth Explore the Old City, the market (souq) and soak up the local culture. Nazareth is a city with Christian heritage and a Muslim majority, in a Jewish state, which makes it quite unique.
- Mount Meron The highest mountain in the Galilee has an easy 1.5km loop trail around its peak, which will give you a 360 degree perspective of where you are and where you are going. To get to the Mount Meron loop trail, turn south at kilometer 32 off Road 89 between Sasa and Hurfeish.
- Arbel Cliff This will be what your kids (and you) will remember most from this trip. The steep descent from the cliff towards the Sea of Galilee is as extreme as it can get for a travelling family – use the metal handles and leader to balance yourself and avoid falling! We took our kids there when they were 1, 3 and 5 for the first time, so while its adrenaline-inducing it’s also very doable. Arbel Cliff is four kilometres north of Tiberias.
There are some great hikes in the Galilee. Can you recommend a couple of family-friendly hikes in the region?
Any part of the Jesus trail will yield great views, tonnes of history and great hospitality. Our family hiked along the trail during spring 2013 where we covered 65 km in nine days and considered it our best holiday ever. My kids love the Majrase in the Bethsaida Valley, a ‘wet’ walk where you swim and walk down a beautiful stream shaded by a eucalyptus grove. Nothing can beat the cool fresh water on a hot summer day! Also Ramat Hanadiv is not only the best botanic gardens in Israel, but it also features some of the best day hikes for families in the country. We like the Manor Trail the most.
Do you have a perfect place to stay that you’d recommend to visiting friends and their children?
Well obviously, the Fauzi Inn in Nazareth is very special. But I would chose one of ILH hostels – not only great accommodation and atmosphere but also the most knowledgeable about the country and how is it to be an independent traveller.
Where are your favourite places to eat with the kids?
There are numerous local restaurants in the Galilee and it’s very easy to find food your kids will love. Who can resist fresh pita bread with butter? Fresh fruits and vegetables can also be bought on the streets or in the supermarkets. You will find plenty of street food, mainly falafel… and kids LOVE falafel! It goes great with pita bread and chips and in no time you are set for lunch and it’s also easy on the budget.
I like the scenery at Goats with the Wind restaurant, which is on a goat farm where they make organic cheese. It’s off the beaten track (near Moshav Yodfat) but well worth it. I also like Abu Ahraf in the Old City of Nazareth where the traditional kataïfi (a sweet, wheaty dessert also known as knaffeh) is absolutely a must. My kids prefer the unfried version, while I most enjoy the one with goat cheese or nuts, with a great Arabic coffee on the side.
What’s the best way to get around the north with children?
Rent a car. It will make your life so easy and since there are not big distances to cover you won’t pay much for the gas (plus the daily rentals are very reasonable). It will allow you to go at your own pace and avoid the crowds. We Israelis are very proud of Waze (Israeli start-up that was bought by Google for one billion dollars). It’s a free traffic and navigation mobile app that is very useful when looking for your next destination.
And finally, you have a lovely babysitter for the evening. What does your perfect date-night consist of in Nazareth?
Nazareth is famous for its sophisticated restaurant scene that is a mixture of modern food and culture with a strong base of local Arabic food. Our two top favourite restaurants are the atmospheric Tishreen and Al Rida. Both are a two minutes walk from the Fauzi Azar Inn, in Nazareth’s Old City.