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Sprawled just outside Jerusalem in the Judean hills, Bethlehem is a popular Christian pilgrimage site and a city synonymous with the birthplace of Jesus. Outside of Manger Square, Bethlehem is also home to a vibrant Palestinian community, befitting its location in the West Bank. Among the area's top things to do, you can shop for souvenirs or spices in the city’s labyrinthine souk, learn about Palestinian woodcrafts or embroidery, and catch some of the British artist Banky’s most famous political murals—plus his quirky hospitality venture, the Walled Off Hotel.
It should come as no surprise that the most popular time to visit the place that's believed to be the birthplace of Jesus is Christmas. You’ll find thousands packed into Manger Square for a Christmas Eve celebration, followed by Midnight Mass in the Church of the Nativity (projection screens are set up for those who can’t squeeze in). Bethlehem is also a year-round destination. Its proximity to the Dead Sea makes it a popular 2-for-1 day trip.
If traveling to Bethlehem independently from Jerusalem, you can take bus Nos. 21 or 231 from the open-air East Jerusalem station just outside Damascus Gate. If coming from Ramallah, Nablus, or elsewhere in the West Bank, you can find shared minibus service—there are no fixed timetables; instead, you wait for the vehicles to fill. Otherwise, plenty of guided tours of Bethlehem include hotel pickup and drop-off from Jerusalem.
Part art experiment, part overnight accommodations, Banksy’s the Walled-Off Hotel (a play on the Waldorf), offers everything from lavish suites to budget bunker rooms, all overlooking Israel’s concrete security barrier. If you prefer not to stay overnight, you can still stop at the on-site museum, art gallery, and piano bar. Banky’s iconic artworks can also be seen painted on the wall surrounding Bethlehem—hire a taxi or join a guided tour to get a closer look.
Yes, although Israeli citizens must get prior approval to enter the West Bank, while international tourists are free to come and go. Bethlehem is a short drive from Jerusalem. There is usually no passport control when entering the West Bank but have your identity documents ready to reenter Israel....More
Yes. Beyond being a pilgrimage site for millions of Christians, Bethlehem is a vibrant, picturesque Palestinian city. It's home to religious landmarks, such as the Church of the Nativity, Church of St. Catherine, Milk Grotto, and Shepherds' Field, and sites dedicated to craft traditions, like the Palestinian Heritage Center....More
Yes. The warmth and hospitality of the Palestinian people are well-known by those who've visited, and Bethlehem is no exception. That said, the situation in Israel and the occupied territories can be unpredictable, and you’ll want to check the latest security recommendations for up-to-date guidance before planning your visit....More
It depends on your belief. The original Church of the Nativity was constructed in the fourth century on a site identified as Jesus' birthplace. After being damaged, it was reconstructed centuries later. The underground crypt, the Grotto of the Nativity, is said to be the manger—but there's no firm evidence....More
Plan on dressing comfortably but modestly when visiting Bethlehem. The frigid temperatures common around Christmas make covering up a cinch. But for summer, pack light and loose clothing so you can stay cool but covered. Make sure your shoulders and knees aren’t exposed, particularly when visiting religious sites....More
Arabic—specifically, Palestinian Arabic, a variation on Levantine Arabic—is the most spoken language in Bethlehem. English is also widely understood, particularly among younger Palestinians. Due to the city’s popularity with international tourists and pilgrims, you’ll encounter speakers of French, Russian, Italian, and many other languages....More
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