Nablus/نابلس

Overview

Nablus, also known as “Little Damascus,” is home to many historical sites, including one of the most beautiful Old Cities in Palestine—with a lively sooq (outdoor market). Nablus is known as the dessert capital of Palestine, famous in particular for its knafeh (a sweet cheesy dessert).

Politically, Nablus is known as one of the central hubs of resistance during both the 1st and 2nd Intifadas; however, much of the city was destroyed during Israel’s bombing campaign of the 2nd Intifada. Home to the largest refugee camp in the West Bank, Balata Refugee Camp, which today numbers close to 30,000 inhabitants on 1 sq. kilometer. 

Nablus is home to many significant religious sites as well; most notably,  Jacob’s Well, the An-Nasser Mosque, and the oldest Samaritan community in the world.

 

Tourist Sites

Tourism:

  • Sama Nablus (سما نابلس): at the top of the mountain overlooking Nablus, you can go for a picnic or eat at one of the restaurants at the top (suggestion: go at sunset for a stunning view). App. 15 shekel cab ride from center city, and a 10 shekel entrance fee per group. 
  • Turkish Baths//Hamams: Nablus hosts the most famous Turkish baths in the West Bank, which provide amazing service at a low-cost and will leave you feeling rejuvenated. 
    • Damashky: located across from AbdulHadi Palace in the Old City, this is my personal favorite. Newly renovated (as of 2018), and offering different packages, I always splurge for the complete package [100 NIS including: steam room, sauna, dead sea jacuzzi, full body scrub (taqees), and full body massage and takes app. 1 hour]. 
      • Women’s Days: open to women Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 9/10am-4pm. After 4 pm and the other days of the week are open to men. 
    • Al Shifa: the oldest running Turkish Bath in Nablus, located on An-Nasser road close to the clocktower in the Old City. Also offering different packages at slightly lower cost than Damashky. 
      • Women’s Days:
  • Soap Factories: while there used to be as many as 30 olive oil soap factories in Nablus, now only a few remain, all dating back over 800 years.
    • Abu Al Rous is run by a sweet young man, Maher, who will tell you the history of the factory and explain how the soap is made. Soap is between 5-15 shekels depending on the type. 
    • An-Nabulsi Soap factory is located on the main cross-road near An-Nasser Mosque and is a much larger factory. The guys there will also explain the process and have a selection of different styles of soap. 
    • Touqan Soap Factory: is the largest but currently (as of May 2019) is not accepting foreign tourists as visitors. 
  • Beit Al Karama Women’s Center: a Women’s Center located in the Old City close to An-Nasser Mosque, they offer traditional cooking classes, group lunches, and gastronomy tours of the Old City. 
  • Family Park (منتزه العالات): a nice park, very crowded during summer, with a fountain, tables, and a cafe. 
  • Nablus Library: located across the street from Hamouz Cafe, it has a large archive including an English section. Also with a nice outdoor seating area around a fountain. 
  • Balata and Askar Refugee Camps: Balata is the largest refugee camp in the West Bank and was a center of resistance during the 2nd Intifada meaning there were many demolitions, bombings, and killings. I would suggest walking through the camps with a guide since it is quite easy to get lost and the community are not accustomed to foreigners. Both Balata and Askar are a short taxi ride from the city center. 
    • Yafa Cultural Center: inside Balata Camp, Yafa Center provides educational and social programs for the camp’s inhabitants and offers tours guided by residents of the camp. Contact them directly about tours: app. $100 for the entire group. 

History: 

  • Sebastia: An archaeological site, with ruins from different time periods, that include the tomb of John the Baptist. With beautiful views of Northern Palestine it makes for a nice leisurely hike. There is also a lovely guest house if you wish to stay the night. 
    • Take a service from the Taxi Station to the West, listed on Maps.Me as Abu El-nimir Eran Parking, located near Masaya Cafe//on the street behind Hamouz Cafe. 
  • An-Nasser Mosque and the Clocktower: the historic center of the Old City, and are both worth a visit as you wonder through the sooq. They sit in the square of one of the main cross-streets of the Old City. 
  • Tel Balata:  an archaeological site lying inside the village of Balata on the outskirts of Nablus. These remains date back as early as the 5th Century BCE. 

Religion:

  • Samaritan Village: You can visit the museum and possibly get a tour of the oldest Samaritan community in the world, which sits on Mt. Gerizim where they believe Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac. They speak Hebrew, Arabic, and sometimes English. The community is closed to visitors during Shabbat. It is also the location of the only alcohol store in the area. 10-15 shekel taxi ride one way. 
  • Jacobs Well: This biblical site is currently owned by the Greek Orthodox Church and sits across from the entrance to Balata Camp. It is a beautiful church and a close taxi ride from the city center (10-15 shekels).  

Day Trips:

  • Sebastia: located about 20-30 minutes outside of Nablus (service costs 7NIS from the service station located behind Hamouz Cafe, a private taxi will cost 40NIS if you want to return late at night). Sebastia is a beautiful village with ruins dating back from the Romans, Crusaders, and Alexander the Great (who appointed King Herod to rule over Sebastia). Here you can walk among the ancient columns, amphitheater, and old church which is said to be the site where John the Baptist was held prisoner and eventually beheaded and buried. Sebastia also has breathtaking view of the surrounding green hills and villages.
    • Sebastia is home to three beautiful (although pricey for a backpacker budget) guest houses: Mosaic Guest House, Al-Kayed Palace Guest House, and Sabastia Guest House
    • Na’el’s Cafe: this cafe is located directly above the main parking lot to enter the ruins of Sebastia when you are facing the roman columns it sits directly behind it. He offers tea and coffee and if you coordinate with him in advance you can order traditional food which he will prepare for you (he is an amazing cook).
      • Na’el’s cafe is also located in Area C since it is located within the area with ancient ruins which means that he has faced many demolition threats and demolitions of his cafe, so stopping by to support his is a nice gesture of solidarity. He speaks English and is also an amazingly warm and friendly man. 
  • Jenin: about a 1 hour service ride from Nablus (costs 16 NIS from the main service station). Jenin is an interesting city in the pivotal role it played during the resistance of the 1st and in particular the 2nd Intifada. It is a highly conservative, especially within the Camp, so dress modestly. The residents are also much less accustomed to tourists here than in some of the larger cities so expect some staring, but like always the people are immensely friendly. I recommend watching Arna’s Children and Jenin Jenin before visiting because they are very informative documentaries.
    • The Freedom Theatreis the most famous location in Jenin (located inside the Jenin Refugee Camp). It was created by Israeli activist Arna and her son and famous actor Juliano. You can schedule a tour and visit with the staff of the Freedom Theatre in advance or you can just walk in and if someone has time they will show you around. 
      • Inside the Refugee Camp is also the Grand Mosque of Jenin which I have never entered as a women and am not sure if it would be culturally acceptable for foreign women to enter this site. 
    • The Old City/Souq: you can walk through the small souq of Jenin and the Old City where you can find some interesting souvenir/traditional handcraft shops, including a women’s cooperative. 
  • Qalqilya: this is a day trip that should be reserved for the more adventurous travelers or those who speak Arabic because there is not much to see in Qalqilya in terms of tourist sites. A trip here will mostly consist of striking up conversations with people to understand the way life here has been severly affected by the Wall. The Israeli Wall cuts off many famers in Qalqilya from their rightfully owned land and the Wall encircles a massive portion of the city of Qalqilya, making travel from the city very difficult and time consuming. 
    • The Zoo: the only tourist site in Qalqilya is the biggest zoo in Palestine which boasts a small amusement park, and a collection of animals from all over the world. The entrance fee is quite cheap so if you make it all the way to Qalqilya you might as well visit (unless you are ethically opposed). 

 

 

Restaurants and Cafes

Restaurants:

  • $$$ Alf Leila wa Leila:  fancy restaurant, located in Rafidia neighborhood, with great variety of traditional dishes, salads, juices, shisha. 
  • $$$ Sole:  fancy and pricey but with very good food and a nice atmosphere, largely serving Italian food.  
  • $$$ Kan Ya Makan: located on Rafedia street, offering many traditional Palestinian dishes in a chic restaurant with good service. 
  • $$ Khan Al Wakala: attached to the hotel in a covered patio is a nice restaurant with good variety. Also offers just shisha and drinks. 
  • $$ 90s Burger: located in Rafidia close to the New Campus of An-Najah, serving delicious burgers.
  • $$ Nosha Cafe: a Western oriented menu, with good shisha and drinks. Located walking distance from downtown inside the Mecca Mall. I often come just for shisha and to do work since they have reliable wifi. 
  • $$ Al Moomtaz Meshawi wa Arays ( الممتاز مشاوي و عرايس): the best Arays (like a panini pressed kufta sandwich), one sandwich costs 15 NIS, located downtown around the corner from the Main Mall/Sharaf Restaurant.. 
  • $ Meshawi Al Akr: kebab/kufta sandwiches for 10 NIS.
  • $ Kebab Abu Marwan: located in the median between the main mall and the roundabout (dowar) it is a stand with a red awning and good kebab sandwiches (12 shekels each). 
  • $ Mata’am TeeTee (مطعم تيتي): also located inside the Old City, another famous breakfast spot, with interesting decor, friendly chefs, and the famous omelettes and khlata. 
  • $ Mata’am Ajaj (مطعم عجعج): located inside the Old City, it is famous for its omelette and khlata (yogurt with tomatoes and cucumber), each dish costs only 7 NIS. 
  • $ Enab Falafel: located on the same street as Hamouz Cafe—continue walking away from the Old City—Enab is my favorite falafel place. It comes in a wrap instead of pita bread, and is very filling (4 shekels each), also serves shwarma. 

 

Cafes:

  • Salon Al Fan: an arts collective that also acts as a cafe and meeting place for local artists, located close to the Old Campus of An-Najah. 
  • Hamouz Cafe: certain nights are men only, but during the days it is open to women and men. It is one of the most famous cafes in the city, offering shisha and drinks. 
  • Antique Cafe:  formerly known as Tarabeesh, it is located on the main street running from Al-Nasser Mosque towards the road outside the Old City. Newly renovated offering drinks, shisha, simple sandwiches and often live music. Made for foreigners, the owner allows you to stay and use the wifi for as long as you like. 
  • Veranda Cafe:often have events (game/quiz/music nights), mid-level prices, offer sandwiches, shisha, drinks, and desserts. 
  • Beit Jedi: located in Rafidia neighborhood, with good food and drinks and nice atmosphere. 
  • Sham Cafe: next to the New Campus of An-Najah University. comfortable seating, simple food, drinks, and shisha, good place to study and is open until 12am. 
  • Kaffeine: the only (that I know of) smoking free cafe in Nablus, located in Rafidia neighborhood, offering different kinds of coffee and desserts. 
  • Sheikh Qasim Cafe: continue on An-Nasser street in the Old City, right past An-Nasser Mosque. A bare-bones cafe, that is easy to miss if you don’t know what you are looking for but truly a quiet oasis in the middle of the Old City. Serving drinks and shisha with simple tables and chairs. 

 

Bakery/Knafeh:

  • Al Aqsa Knafeh: the most famous knafeh in all of Palestine, it is located right outside Al-Nasser Mosque in the center of the old city, and always has a large crowd outside. 5 NIS and the knafeh is always fresh. 
  • Bawabet Al Baik Knafeh: located on Rafedia Street on your way from downtown to An-Najah New Campus, they have delicious knafeh and other deserts.
  • Abu Sair Pastries: located next to Masaya Cafe in downtown Nablus and they serve delicious baklava and other pastries. 
  • Il Forno Bakery (مخبز الفورنو): European style bakery, with delicious croissants and cinnamon rolls for only 5 NIS each.
  • Ma’ajnat As Salawy (معجنات السلاوي): bakery with the best white cheese pastry for only 5 NIS each. 

 

Places to Stay

  • $$$ Khan Al Wakala Hotel  (فندق خان الوكاله) or Al Yasmeen Hotel  (فندق الياسمين): nice hotels with full accommodations–you can also go to Al Yasmeen (as a non-guest) and pay app. 25 shekels for an outstanding buffet breakfast.
  • $$ Soufan Guest House (65 shekels): a beautiful historic building in the Old City, close to An-Nasser Mosque, Hamamm Damashky, and the downtown.
  • $ Success Hostel or  Turquoise Hostel  (app. 40-55 shekels): both nice hostel-style options centrally located in the Old City. Turquoise is a newly renovated hostel that is beautifully decorated with a great rooftop, comfortable beds, and a very nice shared kitchen and dining/living room. Success Hostel has comfortable accommodation and a beautiful rooftop view (soon to include a restaurant). 
  • $ Homestay/Apartment: contact us at travelingpalestine@gmail.com if you are interested in coordinating a homestay or apartment. For the homestay, the current family we are in contact with is only looking for females who will stay for at least 1 week. Email us for prices and details.

  

Volunteer & Study Arabic

 NGOs:

  • Project Hope: one of the largest NGOs in the West Bank, Project Hope brings in foreigners from all over the world to teach— typically including English, French, Spanish, Italian, German. They will often place inexperienced teachers in day-camps during the summer. There are also special opportunities including photography, circus, and medical training. 
    • You can also arrange not to teach and just sign up for the intensive Arabic program which they offer.
    • Housing with them is above the reasonable rent for locals here, but they do offer the simplicity of not having to arrange housing on your own. Their volunteer coordinator also regularly organizes activities. 
  • Tomorrow’s Youth Organization: a non-profit focusing on youth and women’s empowerment programs. Contact them at internships@tomorrowsyouth.org
  • Salon Al-Fan (Art Cafe): you can go just to enjoy the cafe, or you can contact this youth-led initiative directly through their Facebook page. They focus on arts, music, dance, circus, trainings and events in order to increase the availability and accessibility of the arts in Nablus. They are a new organization (created in 2018). 
  •  Nablus Circus School: a volunteer run circus school which has been around since 2004. They train children and teenagers in all methods of circus performance and have in the past use foreign volunteers in their training programs. 
  • Yafa Cultural Center: inside Balata Refugee Camp in Nablus, this center focuses on educational, psycho-social, and medical programs for the inhabitants of the camp. Contact them directly to talk about volunteering and housing. 
  • Freedom Theatre (located in Jenin, 1 hour north of Nablus): famous as the largest and longest running theatre and acting program in Palestine, originally created by Israeli activist Arna and her son Juliano (from the documentary Arna’s Children), this program does photography, acting, and other arts programs for boys and girls of Jenin Refugee Camp. 
    • They offer a volunteer and internship program which is not paid, but offers free accommodation in their Guest House. 

Arabic:

  • An Najah University: considered the best Arabic program in the West Bank (also the most reasonably priced intensive Arabic program). Conducts all levels of Arabic education from beginner to advanced. The coordinators for the program will also help you to find a shared apartment near the university.
  • Project Hope: reduced cost for Arabic classes if you volunteer with Project Hope (around 7 USD) or around 15 USD if you do not volunteer with them per hour (prices from 2018). Classes are 1-on-1 with an experienced Arabic tutor.