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215 215 9814

Bethlehem Travel Guide: Notes for Exploring Bethlehem

June 18, 2024 11 min read.

Bethlehem is a very prominent city thanks to its religious importance and its fascinating cultural heritage. In this Bethlehem travel guide you will find the necessary information to visit Bethlehem and plan your vacation without missing a thing.

Visit Bethlehem: General Information

If you are thinking of taking a trip to Bethlehem, keep reading because here you will find everything you need to know to plan your visit to this fantastic destination.

Bethlehem is a city in the West Bank, Palestine, located about 10 kilometers south of Jerusalem. It has a population of approximately 30,000 people, mostly Palestinian Arabs.

This city is an important religious site for Christians, as it is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

The city is home to several historical and religious monuments, including the Church of the Nativity, which is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The church is built over the cave where Jesus is said to have been born, and is a major destination for Christian pilgrims.

In addition to its religious significance, Bethlehem is also known for its handicrafts, particularly olive wood carvings and embroidery. The city's economy is heavily dependent on tourism and is a popular destination for visitors to the region.

However, the city has been subject to ongoing conflicts and political tensions due to its location in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Bethlehem is currently under the control of the Palestinian Authority, but is surrounded by an Israeli-built separation wall, which restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of the city.

Path between buildings, cars and pedestrians

Path between buildings, cars and pedestrians

Picture of Jonas Brief on Unsplash

Location of Bethlehem

Below, we show you where Bethlehem is located:

Bethlehem Map on Google Maps

What to See in Bethlehem

Bethlehem is an important religious site for Christians as it is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ. These are some of the most prominent sites of interest in Bethlehem.

Church of the Nativity

This is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The church is built over the cave where Jesus is said to have been born, and is a major destination for Christian pilgrims.

Church on a sunny day

Church on a sunny day

Picture of Sameeh Karram on Unsplash

Manger Square

This is the central square of Bethlehem, located in front of the Church of the Nativity. It is a popular place for both tourists and locals, and there are many shops, cafes, and restaurants in the area.

Milk Grotto

This is a Christian chapel and pilgrimage site located near the Church of the Nativity. It is believed to be the site where the Holy Family stopped to rest during their flight to Egypt, and it is said that drops of Mary's milk fell to the ground, turning the stones white.

Chapel of the Shepherds' Field 

Also named Sanctuary of Gloria in Excelsis Deo, this is a site located just outside of Bethlehem that is believed to be the place where the shepherds heard the news of Jesus's Birth. There is a church on the site, as well as a small museum and gift shop.

The Wall of Bethlehem

Bethlehem is surrounded by an Israeli-built separation wall, which restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of the city. The wall is covered in graffiti and street art, and has become a symbol of the ongoing conflict in the region. Many tour companies offer guided tours of the wall and its murals.

Graffiti

Graffiti

Picture of Dan Meyers on Unsplash

Festivals of Bethlehem 

The city celebrates various religious and cultural events throughout the year. Below we will tell you about some of the most important festivals in Bethlehem:

  1. Christmas: The Christmas season is a major celebration in Bethlehem as it is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ. The city is decked out in lights and decorations, and there are numerous events, such as parades, concerts, and religious ceremonies.
  2. Easter: Easter is another important religious holiday celebrated in Bethlehem. The city hosts a variety of events, including processions, services, and other religious celebrations.
  3. Bethlehem International Festival: This is an annual festival held in August that celebrates Palestinian culture through music, dance, food, and art. The festival attracts visitors from all over the world and features a variety of performances and exhibits.
  4. Olive Harvest Festival: Held in October, this festival celebrates the local olive harvest and the important role of olives in Palestinian cuisine and culture. The festival includes music, dance, food, and other cultural activities.
  5. Bethlehem Marathon: This annual event takes place in March and attracts runners from all over the world. The course passes many of the most important places in the city, such as the Church of the Nativity and Manger Square.
  6. Independence Day: Celebrated on November 15, this day commemorates the Palestinian Declaration of Independence in 1988. The city organizes parades, cultural events, and other celebrations to mark the occasion.
  7. Holy Week in Bethlehem: it is a unique experience full of religious fervor and deep-rooted traditions. During this time, the city is transformed into a vibrant scene with solemn processions, liturgical songs and theatrical performances commemorating the last days of Jesus' life. Pilgrims and visitors have the opportunity to immerse themselves in this spiritual celebration, witnessing the Passion and participating in the exciting ceremonies that make Holy Week in Bethlehem an unforgettable experience.

Eating in Bethlehem

Bethlehem's gastronomy is heavily influenced by Palestinian and Levantine culinary traditions.

One of the typical Bethlehem foods is Musakhan, a traditional Palestinian dish made with grilled chicken, onions, sumac and pine nuts, served on flatbread. Another standout dish is Maqluba, a one-pot recipe made with rice, chicken, and vegetables, such as brinjal, cauliflower, and potatoes, which are layered and cooked together.

Also, some typical foods are Knafeh, a sweet and cheesy pastry made with shredded phyllo dough, cheese, and a sweet syrup made from rosewater, and Falafel, deep-fried balls made with chickpeas and herbs, usually served in pita bread. with vegetables and tahini sauce.

We also recommend trying the Hummus, a dip made with hummus, tahini, lemon juice and garlic, served with bread or vegetables.

And you can't leave Bethlehem without trying Arabic coffee, a strong, brewed coffee served in small cups and often flavored with cardamom, and sage tea, a fragrant and soothing tea made with fresh sage leaves, hot water and a touch of honey.

Also, you will find fresh juices there, as Bethlehem is known for its freshly squeezed juices, which are often made with local fruits such as pomegranates, oranges, and grapefruit.

Falafel

Falafel

Picture of Slashio Photography on Unsplash

The Cultural Identity of Bethlehem

The culture of Bethlehem is shaped by a rich history and a diverse population. The city is important to Christians as it is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, and is home to many religious sites and traditions.

Christianity is the predominant religion in Bethlehem and the city is a major pilgrimage site for Christians from around the world. There are many churches, monasteries and other religious places in the city.

Also, in terms of arts and crafts, Bethlehem is known for its traditional crafts such as pottery, embroidery, and weaving. Palestinian embroidery is particularly known for its intricate and colorful designs.

Palestinian music and dance are an important part of Bethlehem's cultural traditions. The dabke is a traditional dance that is often performed at weddings and other celebrations.

As for the language, Arabic is the main language spoken in Bethlehem, although many people also speak English.

Family and community are important cultural values ​​in Bethlehem, and social life often revolves around gatherings with friends and family. Respect for elders and hospitality towards guests are important cultural values.

Overall, Bethlehem's culture is a mix of religious, historical, and contemporary influences, reflecting the city's unique place in Palestinian and Christian traditions.

How to Get to Bethlehem

The best way to get to Bethlehem depends on where you start your journey from. Here are some options for you to plan your tour in the best way.

Traveling to Bethlehem from Jerusalem

From Jerusalem Bethlehem is located about 6 miles (10 kilometers) south of Jerusalem. You can take a taxi, a shared taxi (known as "sherut") or a public bus from the Arab bus station in East Jerusalem. The bus ride takes about 30 minutes and costs a few shekels.

Traveling to Bethlehem from Tel Aviv

If you start from Tel Aviv, you can take a bus or train to Jerusalem, then follow the instructions above.

Traveling to Bethlehem from Ben Gurion Airport

If you arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, you can take a taxi or shared taxi directly to Bethlehem. The journey takes between 45 minutes and an hour and costs around NIS 250.

Traveling to Bethlehem from Amman

From Amman you can take a taxi or bus to the King Hussein Bridge border crossing, cross the border, and then take a shared taxi or private taxi to Bethlehem. The trip takes about an hour and a half.

How to Get around Bethlehem

There are several ways to get around Bethlehem:

  1. On foot: Many of Bethlehem's top attractions, including the Church of the Nativity and Manger Square, are within a short walk of each other. Walking is a great way to explore the city and take in the local sights and sounds.
  2. Taxis: Taxis are a convenient way to get around Bethlehem, especially if you are traveling with a group or with luggage. Taxis can be found at taxi ranks throughout the city, or you can hail one on the street.
  3. Buses: The city has a public transportation system that includes buses. Buses are affordable and connect many different parts of the city. However, they can be crowded and difficult to navigate if you are not familiar with the city.
  4. Private excursions: find the excursions to Bethlehem, available in Greca.
  5. Car rental: Car rental is available in Bethlehem, and can be a good option if you plan to explore the surrounding area, such as Jerusalem or the Dead Sea. However, driving in Bethlehem can be challenging due to heavy traffic and narrow roads.

When to Visit Bethlehem

The best time to visit Bethlehem is during spring (March to May) and fall (September to November), when the weather is mild and pleasant.

During these seasons, temperatures usually range between 20 and 25 °C and there is less chance of rain. This makes it a great time to explore the city's historical and religious sites, as well as take part in festivals and cultural events.

The summer months of June to August can be very hot in Bethlehem, with temperatures often exceeding 30°C, which can make exploring the city uncomfortable.

However, if you plan to visit during this time, it is advisable to bring light clothing, a hat, sunscreen, and stay hydrated.

Winter in Bethlehem (December to February) can be quite cold and rainy, with temperatures averaging 10°C. While there are fewer tourists during this season, it can be challenging to explore the city and its sights due to the weather.

Destinations Near Bethlehem

Bethlehem is an excellent destination to connect with spirituality and enjoy beautiful and energizing landscapes.

In turn, due to its proximity to Galilee and Caesarea, many travelers combine their trip to Bethlehem with these destinations, which is why you will find these sites in several of our offers.

Are you looking to see the most wonderful landscapes? Do you want to know a fascinating culture? Do you want to know about outstanding religious sites?

If your answer is "yes", at Greca we have several proposals for tourist packages to Bethlehem, which you can modify and adapt according to your needs and times.

There are travel packages for all tastes. Choose your own adventure according to your needs!

More Travel Guides!

If you have been interested in our Bethlehem travel guide and want to continue learning about this and other wonderful destinations, we invite you to look at the section of all our Travel Guides. Plan your next adventure with Greca!

01
Do I need any kind of special permission to visit Bethlehem?

No, no special permission is required to visit Bethlehem.

02
What is the currency used in Bethlehem?

The currency used in Bethlehem is the Israeli Shekel (ILS).

03
Is it safe to travel to Bethlehem?

Bethlehem is generally a safe place to visit, but it is always advisable to be vigilant and take normal safety precautions.

04
Is there a time limit to visit the Basilica of the Nativity?

There is no set time limit to visit the Basilica of the Nativity, but be aware that there may be crowds during certain periods of the year.

05
Is specific clothing required to enter religious places in Bethlehem?

It is advisable to dress respectfully when visiting religious sites in Bethlehem, covering shoulders and knees.

06
What is the time difference in Bethlehem?

Bethlehem is located in the Israeli time zone (GMT+3), but please note that daylight saving time differences may apply.

07
Are there cheap accommodation options in Bethlehem?

Yes, there are cheap accommodation options in Bethlehem, such as hostels and guest houses.

08
Is it possible to take pictures inside the Basilica of the Nativity?

Yes, photography is generally allowed inside the Basilica of the Nativity, but please avoid the use of flash and abide by any specific restrictions posted.

09
Can I visit Bethlehem in one day from Jerusalem?

Yes, Bethlehem is located approximately 9 kilometers from Jerusalem, so it is possible to visit it in one day.

10
Is it possible to go on excursions or guided tours in Bethlehem?

Yes, there are a number of excursion and guided tour options available in Bethlehem to explore the sights and learn about its history and culture.

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