Best Places in Bethlehem
Updated: Dec 19, 2021
This culturally significant destination should be on everyone's bucket list, so we've picked together with the top attractions. Pulsing Bethlehem is full of history with holy shrines, churches, and various Biblical sites within close proximity. There is also another, side to Bethlehem, which displays some of the modern challenges faced by both Palestinians and Israelis if you dare to venture off the beaten path.
Kiss the silver star in the Church of the Nativity
According to legend, this is Jesus' birthplace. Over two millennia ago, the Virgin Mary, Jospeh and the Three Wise Men assembled in a stable and welcomed Jesus into the world. Although the stable is no longer there, in the 4th century, Constantine built a church (which was restored multiple times) in the place where Jesus is said to have been born. There are also terraced gardens and Latin, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian convents within the grounds and some pilgrims kiss the 14-pointed silver star inside Jesus' birthing cavern.
This 1347 chapel named after St Catherine of Alexandria is part of the Church of the Nativity complex. It is said that Jesus Christ foretold the saint's future martyrdom here. Above the main altar is a stained-glass window depicting the nativity scene, although the Church is best famed for its Christmas Eve Mass.
In Genesis 35:19, Jacob "raised a pillar" on his wife's grave who died in childbirth. One stone for each of Jacob's eleven sons (except Benjamin, the couples youngest) is claimed to be the tomb you see today. Rachel's maternal figure is significant in the Jewish faith, making this scene heartbreaking.
The Shepherds' Field has an ethereal atmosphere, as it is supposed that angels appeared to shepherds to announce Jesus' birth. The chapel here is suggestive of a cave-like shelter where the shepherds of the Bible rested before the angels arrived on Christmas Eve. They transport you back two millennia to the shepherds' renowned simple life.
Muslims and Christians alike pray to Mother Mary at the Milk Grotto. The grotto's stone was made white by Mary spilling milk while breastfeeding Jesus, according to legend. Mary's devotion is supposed to help with health issues, notably infertility. Follow the tunnel to a modern chapel devoted to Mary and sit and pray.
Israel/West Bank Separation Wall
There are also a number of other highlights around town which we have discussed, Solomons Pools, St. Catherine's Church and Milk Grotto but if you are up for more of an adventure and to see more of the West Bank in modern times, you can head toward Rachels Tomb and visit the Israel/West Bank Separation Wall which is full of graffiti with artist from around the world, even Banksy has made a couple of cameo appearances here.
Aida Refugee Camp
After you have check out the Wall, you can continue down to the Aida Refugee Camp and stroll the streets, grab a falafel and mingle with the locals. The camp was established after 1948 by refugees from the Jerusalem and Hebron areas, and since it was created the camp has been urbanised, with more modern infrastructure and housing. People in the area are extremely friendly, you will find children in the streets playing with marbles, local hairdressers popping their head out of the the barbershops to say hello and a queue that is out the door of every falafel store!
The blue-domed Mar Saba Monastery, carved into the canyon cliffs overlooking the Kidron River to the northeast, is so remote that you will not be able to access it via public transport. You will either need to drive, take a private taxi or hitchhike from Bethlehem. Do this sounds like an adventure or what?
The Monastery founded in AD 492 by its namesake, St Saba, although it has been rebuilt since then. The massive protective wall that surrounds the compound is the hermitage's most visible feature today. If the walls could talk, they would tell tales of triumph and horror, the later being because of a massacre of 120 monks in the Monastery in 614 CE by the Persians. St Saba bones where also robed from the monastery but were returned in 1965. The bones are now on display, as are the skulls of the hundreds of monks slaughtered by the Persians. The monastery does not allow women to enter, tours through the monastery are taken by one of the fifteen remaining monks and remember that it also close from 12 - 1pm so the monks can have lunch.
Al Bad Museum
Al-Bad means "Olive pressing" and this 5,000 year old industry, is honored in the Al-Najajreh Quarter of Bethlehem. On exhibit is 19th-century machinery, lacking the donkeys that rotated the circular stone and crushed the olives. Other exhibits demonstrate how Palestinian stone-pressed olive oil was utilised in lighting, medicine, soap, and cosmetics, among other uses.
Old Bethlehem Museum
The Old Bethlehem Museum is housed in a classic Palestinian residence from the 19th century. There are also native costumes, pictures of early 20th century Palestine, and a 10-minute video from 1918. Upstairs is an embroidery center selling Bethlehem Arab Women's Union goods.
King Solomon called these three ancient reservoirs southwest of Bethlehem. They were 118–179m (387–587ft) long and 8–16m (26–52ft) deep and supplied water to the arid town of Herodium and Jerusalem. You may also see the ruins of a later British pump station.
Palestinian Heritage Center
All items sold at the Palestinian Heritage Center are created by Palestinian women, going to local families in need. Guests can also take photos in a traditional Palestinian living room, a Bedouin tent, and a souvenir photo booth. As a celebration of Palestinian heritage, it raises cultural awareness.
More of the West Bank?
Given that there is so much to do that is outside city of Bethlehem, we have compiled a Travel Guide for the West Bank so that you can dig a little deeper and venture a little further of the beaten path whilst in this past of the world.