Bethlehem is just nine kilometers (5.6 miles) from Jerusalem but is sometimes overlooked by visitors to the area despite the fact that it is a secure, intriguing, and readily accessible city that will greatly enhance the itinerary of any traveler. In addition to housing significant religious monuments, Bethlehem is also home to a vibrant social and cultural scene and has political symbolism due to its location just beyond the massive Israeli separation wall.
Getting to Bethlehem is generally hassle-free for visitors from other countries, but remember to carry your passport and Israeli visa slip. Take the 234 Egged bus from Jerusalem to Checkpoint 300, the West Bank entryway closest to Bethlehem, which will take you to the intersection of Sultan Suleiman Street and Hanev’im Street near Damascus Gate. The trip shouldn’t take more than 40 minutes and costs seven NIS.
Morning – politics, art and Banksy
Pass the Caritas hospital on foot and continue going until you reach the Walled Off Hotel, an art gallery, museum, and hotel that was controversially opened earlier this year by Banksy. Enjoy a cup of coffee downstairs while viewing “the worst view in the world,” which is the 26-foot (8-meter) separation wall covered in stirring murals and messages of optimism and sorrow. A quick overview of the wall and current Palestine-related concerns may then be obtained by wandering around the small but instructive museum below, after which you can explore the gallery area above where modern Palestinian artists’ works are on display.
To view their collections of photography, traditional art, costume, and jewelry, as well as genuine Palestinian-made crafts and commodities, continue along Caritas Street to the Palestinian Heritage Centre. In their sizable gift shop, handmade embroidered goods, postcards, and posters are offered for sale. All of their handicrafts are fair trade and created by women from nearby communities.
Lunch and evening
Take a taxi to Manger Square from the Heritage Center; it should cost about 20 shekels. Enjoy warm masabaha, golden falafel, and bowls of creamy hummus at Afteem, a restaurant known for serving authentic and reasonably priced Palestinian cuisine.
Afternoon – Nativity Church & the Old City
After a filling lunch, cross Manger Square to the Church of the Birth to visit the location where it is supposed that Jesus was born as well as the cave where Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds are said to have congregated during the nativity. Here is a link to a more thorough map of the church.
Just across from the Nativity Church is the stunning Church of St. Catherine, which is well-known for its yearly midnight mass celebration. The Chapel of the Milk Grotto, which is a short distance away, is said to be the location where the holy family hid during King Herod’s massacre of the innocents. Legend has it that Mary spilled a drop of milk while nursing baby Jesus on the church floor, leaving the rock milk-white as it is now and converting the chapel into a shrine of fertility, visited by pilgrims from all over the world.
After that, go through the lovely Old City on Star Street to the Bethlehem Icon Centre, a painting school that strives to revive icon painting in the region. The tourist center, which displays student work, is open from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm on Monday through Saturday. The al-Bad Museum, located nearby on Fawagreh Street, contains artifacts related to the manufacture of olive oil, which has long been the mainstay of the Palestinian economy.
Dinner – Hosh Jasmin
Take a taxi in the late afternoon to Hosh Jasmin in the Beit Jala neighborhood of Bethlehem to see the sunset. This little farm and outdoor restaurant is a proponent of slow food and farm-to-fork dining and provides delectable traditional cuisine produced with farm products, as well as wine and beer from Palestinian local suppliers. The restaurant overlooks rolling hills covered with grapes and olive trees while being perched on top of the breathtaking Battir Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The sunset views are unrivaled.
The 231 bus travels between Bab al-Zakak in Bethlehem and Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem via Beit Jala. Tickets cost seven shekels, and buses run every fifteen minutes, seven days a week. The final bus leaves at 7:50 p.m.
If you want more time to explore the city and its surroundings, consider extending your stay. The next days can be spent exploring Shepherd’s Fields, Solomon’s Pools, the magnificent Mar Saba Monastery, or just unwinding in one of the city’s hopping taverns or cafés. A fantastic starting point for seeing other West Bank locations including Hebron, Ramallah, Jericho, and the Dead Sea is Bethlehem.