Bethlehem is the most popular day-tour destination in the West Bank. However, it is worth spending more than a day here if you have the time.
Bethlehem is not only the birthplace of Jesus, but also the birthplace of the Separation/Apartheid Wall. Covered in graffiti, the wall is an important representation of “art as resistance.” Bethlehem is also home to the “most tear gassed place on Earth,” Aida Refugee Camp.
- Church of the Nativity: a Byzantine Basilica built by Helena (mother of Constantine) to mark the birthplace of Jesus. It is located in Manger Square, and often has large crowds of Christian tour groups. Easily accessible from any point in the city, it is about a 15 minute walk from the Jerusalem bus.
- The Milk Grotto: located close to the Nativity Church, is it recognized as the location where Mary nursed Jesus while hiding from Herod’s soldiers.
- Rachel’s Tomb: located on the edge of Bethlehem, it is surrounded by massive walls and segragated by the Israeli army from Bethlehem itself. You can reach the tomb by Israeli Egged bus from Jerusalem or by taxi.
- Open every day except Jewish holidays and Shabbat (sunset Friday until sunset Saturday).
- Separation Wall/Apartheid Wall: this wall, built in 2000, and running along most of the “border” between the West Bank and Israel (always on Palestinian land), has become a point of resistance.
- Banksy’s artwork on the wall in Bethlehem has garnered international attention (although the graffiti originated from Palestinian artists).
- You can walk the wall through Aida Refugee camp, along checkpoint 300, and up past the Banksy Hotel. There are many amazing murals to see, so I recommend a minimum of 1 hour to walk a large stretch.
- Banksy Hotel/Walled Off Hotel: this hotel funded by Banksy himself, also holds an art gallery promoting local artists and in my opinion the best museum on the Occupation and the conflict.
- Museum entry fee is 15 NIS and the art gallery is free. You can also stop at the cafe for tea and a snack.
- The Old City: you can wander through the Old City which has received much international funding for renovation and maintenance and remains in wonderful condition. The outdoor market lines Star Street, close to the Nativity Church, and is a good place for shopping.
- Aida Refugee Camp: known as the “most tear-gassed location on Earth,” Aida is historically a central location of Palestinian resistance. You can walk on your own, arrange a tour through the Banksy Hotel, or with a local guide.
- Tear Gas Canister Jewlery: inside Aida Camp is an artist named Akram who reuses tear gas canisters for jewlery and art. Enter through the key statue at the main entrance, take your first left and the shop is on your right. There are many signs and everyone in the camp knows Akram’s shop, so feel free to ask.
- Bab Id-Deer Art Gallery: an art gallery with rotating exhibits, Bab Id Deer also houses the Bethlehem branch of Baby Fist which is a feminist, Palestinian-owned, clothing line. They use 10% of proceeds to run a menstrual education campaign in West Bank schools.
- Mar Saba Monastery: highly recommend a visit to this monastery. It is built into the dessert cliffs and the views are breathtaking. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited monasteries in the world. Women can walk along the outside and enter the Women’s tower, while men can enter the monastery itself. 15 kilometers and about a 30 minute drive from Bethlehem.
- Battir: a small village of Bethlehem, about 15 minutes from the city, it has a quaint Old City, with historical sites as well as a beautiful valley hosting some of the Palestinian National Hiking trails (check out the Activities tab).
- Herodion: an Israeli controlled historical site from the time of King Herod, it has many of the ruins from this period and has been well preserved (about 20-30 minutes from Bethlehem).
Restaurants and Cafes
- $$$ Piatto: Al Sahel St. Beit Jala, highly rated restaurant with delicious food and shisha.
- $$$ Bonjour/Arabesque: delicious traditional Palestinian food, good service, located close to Bethlehem University.
- $$$ Shams Al-Aseel (formerly Hosh al Yasmin): located in Beit Jala, they have a great menu with good juices, beer, wine, liquor, and food. I recommend visiting around sunset for an outstanding view.
- A private car is needed unless you go early in the day so you can find a taxi back.
- $$$ Tent Restaurant: located in Beit Sahour, serves traditional Palestinian food, and it can accommodate large groups.
- $$$ Makhrour Restaurant: located in Beit Jala, close to Shams Al Aseel, serving amazing barbecue with a guest house and a beautiful view.
- A private car is needed unless you go early in the day so you can find a taxi back.
- $$$ Grotto Restaurant: located in Sheperd’s Field, Beit Sahour, highly recommended by friends.
- $$ 3aloosh: Restaraunt/Cafe that was recently renovated, near the Jerusalem Bus Stop and Bank of Palestine, pricey but good food/drinks, and lots of seating so you can work here.
- $$ Zuwadeh: across the street from the Nativity Hotel, western oriented, with coffee, cheeses, breakfast, smoothies, fresh juice, pizzas, and a bakery.
- $$ Divano: functioning as a cafe, restaurant, and bar, it is located close to Aida Refugee Camp, and serves Italian food.
- $ Jaw cafe: located next to Al Quds Bank in Beit Jala, very inexpensive compared to average prices in Bethlehem, serves great coffee, beer, and is a good place to hang out with friends or do work.
- $ Connect Cafe: located on the 2nd floor in the Grand Park Hotel Building, this cafe serves food as well as coffee and has Wifi, so is a good place to work.
- $ Afteem Restaurant: the oldest restaurant in Bethlehem, close to the Nativity Church, serving traditional breakfast/lunch.
- $ Abu Aladas: close to the Nativity Church, another classic location for falafel or shwarma.
- Al Jisser: a bar located on Al Madares street in the neighboring village of Beit Sahour.
- Soul: a bar that often has live music, located on Sheperd’s Field Street in Beit Sahour.
- Shams Al-Aseel (formerly Hosh Al Yasmin): located on al Makhrur Street in Beit Jala, it is a restaurant/bar with an amazing sunset view.
- Beit Jala: can take a taxi for about 20-30 shekels from church of nativity
- Rewined: about a 10-15 minute walk from the Church of the Nativity, it is located on Manger Street in Bethlehem.
- Jala Jungle: located right next to Shams Al-Aseel in Beit Jala, it is a restaurant/bar with an organic farm and sometimes offering live music.
- Divano: mainly a restaurant/cafe located in Bethlehem, it also serves great cocktails at night.
Places to Stay:
- $$$ Hotels: many to choose from in terms of price range and location, refer to booking.com
- One recommended hotel: Hosh Al Syrian Guesthouse, a very nice hotel with great services located in the heart of the Old City right next to the Nativity Church (around 290-400 NIS per night depending on room).
- $$ Habibi Hostel: a nice hostel with all the basics, friendly hosts, and is located close to Bethlehem University and less than 2km to the Old City and the Church of the Nativity (around 50-60 NIS per night).
- $ AirBnB: there are usually many listings for the Bethlehem area, and if you are a larger group this is a better price.
- $ Homestay: contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your dates and background information, and we will arrange a homestay if possible.
Volunteer & Study Arabic
- Volunteer Palestine: a “complete package” volunteering experience. The organization will find you a volunteering experience based on your interests, arrange a homestay, and plan cultural immersion activities. While it is over-priced given local costs, it gives you the ease of non-stressful planning.
- Note: they do an amazing job of redistributing your volunteer payment into the local community.
- Al Rowwad: a theatre and arts association located in Aida Camp, focusing on children in the camps,
- Aida Youth Center: near the entrance to the camp, next to the big key, contact them to discuss volunteer options.
- Badil: a Palestinian research center and legal advocacy network.
- Wi’am Conflict Center: refer to their website for the variety of services and programs they provide and their specific volunteer pdf for the volunteer process. You can also just stop by for coffee/tea and a discussion.
- Palestine Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability: an institute focusing on biodiversity and environmentalism in the region. Their website provides more specifics on their activities and volunteer process.