Famous for its street art and because it is the birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem is a perfect day trip from Jerusalem. If you are thinking of visiting it, I hope with this post to give you some information that will be useful for you to better organize your visit, whether you decide to take part in a tour or to go there in a do-it-yourself way.
Let's find out what to see in Bethlehem and how to get there easily from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv!
How to get to Bethlehem
How far is it from Bethlehem to Jerusalem?
Bethlehem is only about 10km from Jerusalem, but traveling between the two cities can take a long time, due to heavy traffic and controls on both sides of the border feet waiting for them to do all the checks for almost an hour).
The second time I was there (December 2019) on the way back we did earlier because Ali our taxi driver took us to the checkpoint and we crossed it on foot.
Travel time may also vary depending on whether you travel by public bus, taxi or take a tour.
How to visit Bethlehem in one day from Jerusalem
Bethlehem is, along with Masada and the Dead Sea most popular day trip from Jerusalem, due to the short distance between the two cities.
The easiest way to visit Bethlehem is taking part in an organized tour, which also includes a Palestinian guide: remember that Israeli citizens cannot enter the West Bank, so you will be asked to change transport at the border and continue your visit with a Palestinian driver and guide.
Below are some tours from Jerusalem that I recommend:
- BETHLEHEM TOUR FROM JERUSALEM ⇒ a half-day tour, highly recommended because experienced in person.
- BETHLEHEM AND JERICUS TOUR FROM JERUSALEM ⇒ I haven't seen Jericho, but Civitatis tours are usually a guarantee. Please note that the cableway is not included.
- FULL DAY TOUR IN BETHLEHEM (includes Mar Saba Monastery)
If you prefer to go to Bethlehem alone, you can take bus no. 231 from the bus station to the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. However, this takes much longer as the bus is mostly frequented by locals and doesn't bypass checkpoints like tour vehicles.
Also take into account that there are no fixed bus departure times, even if they are quite frequent.
Also remember to bring your passport with you. Especially if you decide to take the public bus, you will most likely be stopped at the controls, so don't forget it at all.
When you arrive in Bethlehem, you will be immediately approached by Palestinian taxi drivers who will want to take you around. Go easy with them, they will show you everything you want and also it is a nice way to help a city that lives practically only on tourism.
The prices are low but remember to bargain and above all make it clear what you want to see for the price you pay! Most likely someone will try to cheat you by offering you "for free" to see other things: do not believe him, in the end he will present you the bill.
If you want to play it safe with taxi drivers, below I'll leave you Ali's numbers, the taxi driver who took us: he is fantastic, kind, honest and with my mum he was really a gentleman, opening the car door for her every time. his taxi is new, clean and fragrant. If you decide to go with him say hello!
Ali Taxi: 00972 522 912745 or 00972 598 305801 you can also write them via whatssapp, speak english well. Here you can find his facebook page
Visit Bethlehem as a day trip from Tel Aviv
It's possible visit Bethlehem as a day trip from Tel Aviv, but in this case there is no direct public transport: you will first have to get to the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem and from there take another bus.
For this reason, I highly recommend a tour, which is the easiest and fastest way to visit Bethlehem.
I visited Bethlehem during my trip to Israel (here you can find my one week itinerary) and, even if I do not consider myself a particularly religious person, of all the things I have done and seen, this visit was the one that moved me most.
And it was the same for my travel companions, so, even if you don't think so, I recommend that you absolutely do it!
Recommended tours of Tel Aviv:
- Jerusalem and Bethlehem full-day tour from Tel Aviv
- West Bank Full-Day Tour from Tel Aviv
- Excursion to Bethlehem and Jericho, Excursion from Tel Aviv
What to see in Bethlehem
At Victor Lauer /
1 - Basilica of the Nativity (Birthplace of Jesus)
This splendid basilica is believed to have been built on the grotto where Jesus was born Basilica of the Nativity it is however one of the oldest churches in the world. It was first erected by Constantine's mother Helena in 339 AD, but was destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries.
The Church is a UNESCO heritage site and overlooks the busiest square in the city. The first thing that will catch your attention is the fortress-like appearance, not unlike that of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, in contrast to the subtlety of the original mosaics of the first church that are inside.
What amazed me is the tiny entrance door, to cross it you have to bow down: it was built on purpose in order to show humility in front of God by entering inside. Precisely for this reason it is called Door of Humility.
The interior of the church is divided between three Christian denominations: Greek Orthodox, Catholic and Armenian, and each faith administers a section of the church. Even if you have decided to visit Bethlehem on your own, take a guide inside the Church: first of all he will probably help you skip the lines (whoever has the guide takes precedence) and will show you the different "historical layers" of the Church, including the magnificent 1934th century mosaics rediscovered in XNUMX.
When you enter the Church of the Nativity for the first time, you cannot fail to notice the crowd that is concentrated on the right side, in line to go down the stairs that lead to the Grotto of the Nativity, the actual place where Jesus is said to have been born.
Once you go down the steps, there are two things to see: a silver star on the marble floor, which marks the exact place where Mary gave birth to Jesus, and the manger where he was placed, hidden behind an iron grid that makes it barely visible.
The Grotto of the Nativity is full of people praying, singing, crying and it is very likely that you will not be able to stay there for long because seeing the crowd, you pass by, bow and are pushed away.
2 - Milk Grotto
Another thing that you absolutely cannot miss if you visit Bethlehem is there Milk Grotto.
The legend of this place is quite fascinating and tells that when Mary, Joseph and Jesus hid to escape Herod's massacre of the innocents, a few drops fell from the Virgin's breast while she was nursing Jesus and the rock turned white.
For centuries, and it still happens today, local women, both Muslim and Christian, still go to the Grotto to pray for the intercession of Mother Mary in order to have children.
La cave church it is built over the holy grotto, which is connected to the church by a narrow corridor.
The Chapel was built in the 19th century - a staircase leads up to the cave, made up of three interconnected caves, where couples are often seen praying in hopes of conceiving a child.
3 - The field of the shepherds
This beautiful open area is believed to be the place where the angel showed himself to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus, according to the Gospel of Luke.
For believers of the Christian faith, the likelihood that this is where pastors have been visited is almost certain. Regardless of whether this is actually the site of the annunciation, it is beautiful to see and looking at the green hills one cannot help but think of the shepherds with their sheep.
There is a small church
with 5 apses which, in its shape, is reminiscent of a shepherd's tent.
4 - The wall
If there is one sight not to be missed when visiting Bethlehem, it is the Separation wall 8 meters high, which marks the border between Israel and Palestine and, to see it, is like a punch in the stomach.
Amazing how the feeling of freedom that is felt in the air, on the beaches and in the clubs of Tel Aviv is completely blown away only 2 and a half hours away, when you stand in front of a concrete wall.
It is worth walking along the Wall to find out the numerous graffiti paintings on it, many of which refer to freedom and the absence of freedom and the relationship between Israel and Palestine. There are also gods Banksy graffiti.
Some of Banksy's most beautiful graffiti that you can find when you visit Bethlehem are:
- The girl who searches the soldier
- The armed dove
- The Angels
- The flower thrower
5 - Banksy in Bethlehem: the Walled-Off Hotel
Definitely one of the most beautiful things to see in Bethlehem for Banksy fans !!
Partly hotel and partly work of art, The Walled Off Hotel was founded by the mysterious Banksy in 2017 and defines itself as “the hotel with the worst view in the world”, precisely because it overlooks the Separation Wall.
The rooms and common spaces have been decorated with a unique and individual design and have been lovingly created by some of the best artists in the world, including Banksy, Dominique Petrin and Sami Musa: the rooms here offer the possibility to stay and sleep in A work of art.
There are rooms and suites available, as well as a section with inexpensive bunk beds reminiscent of an Israeli army barracks.
In short, if you love Banksy, stay a night here or just come for a visit, is one of the things you absolutely must do.
6 - Rachel's tomb
By Simon Edge /
The only place where the separation wall "deviates" for a few blocks is around the Rachel's grave, a sacred site for Muslims, Jews and Christians, as it is the burial site of Rachel, the matriarch of the Jewish people.
Since Israelis are prohibited from entering the West Bank, the wall was moved so that Rachel's grave was on the Israeli side of the wall and they could go and visit it.
Inside the tomb is a small room divided into sections for men and women, with Rachel's tomb covered in cloth and often surrounded by worshipers whispering prayers to their "universal mother".
7 - Monastery of Mar Saba
Di Denis Kabanov /
Mar Saba Monastery overlooks the Kidron Valley. It is perched on the side of a cliff above a beautiful canyon and is a very particular and recommended destination for those who love trekking, given the various exceptional routes that there are to be covered.
The best time to appreciate the monastery is undoubtedly at sunset. The only downside is that women can't enter, but the real show isn't inside, it's outside, so it's really worth a visit.
What to buy in Bethlehem
There are a lot of delicious things to buy in Bethlehem, but they are beautiful and especially traditional objects in olive wood.
Along the road of Street of the Star (so called because it is the one that was traveled by the Three Magi guided by the comet to bring their gifts to Jesus) you will see that both on the right and on the left there are full of craft shops that sell a myriad of wooden objects d olive tree: from nativity figurines to kitchen items.
They are really beautiful, but they are also expensive, so bargain, it's worth it.
Another fairly typical thing is the terracotta objects. Pottery has been produced in Palestine since biblical times, and you will be able to find both handmade and fabricated pottery.
Hebron pottery (which you can also find here) is particularly valuable.
Where is Bethlehem located? Israel or Palestine?
Although for convenience I have placed this article on Bethlehem in the category Israel (who visits Bethlehem visit it during a trip to Israel) in truth, Bethlehem is located in Palestine.
While it is easy enough for tourists to cross the border, Israelis cannot enter Palestine and Palestinians' access to Israel is subject to restrictions and controls.
is it safe to visit Bethlehem?
Get ready, because as soon as your friends hear that you are going to Israel, they will bombard you with their worries.
Then is it safe to visit Bethlehem? In my experience, yes, it was ... I think you need to rest assured. More than once I have heard troubling news through the media, but to be honest I have never had any problems. don't listen to everything you hear, but be well informed.
In my experience, yes. During my day trip to Bethlehem, I never felt in danger at any time: the streets were crowded with tourists and the police closely guarded the religious sites.
One thing to keep in mind is that, as in all areas that live mainly from tourism, the police are very careful that nothing happens to tourists.
The reason why most people immediately associate Palestine with danger is surely related to the media, however please don't forget that the Palestinian Territories are made up of two distinct regions, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The latter is where most of the fighting occurs and is located about 100km south of Bethlehem.
If you plan to visit Bethlehem rather than rely on television or newspapers, ask anyone who has been there recently and they can give you first-hand information.
Bloggers (attention bloggers, not generic portals written by copying here and there without any real experience), travel forums or even and facebook groups they can be a good place to start.
Before leaving, however, stipulate atravel insurance and check that it also covers you in the West Bank.