24 hours in Bethlehem

In this festive instalment of our 24hour in a city series, we explore Bethlehem!

Marcel Shamshoum
14th December 2021
Christmas tree lighting event 2021 in Bethlehem, Palestine/ Image: Facebook (@ Bethlehem Municipality)
It’s nearly Christmas and what better place to spend 24 hours in this season other than the actual Christmas town, Bethlehem! Before we begin our day, just a few fun facts about the city; the word Bethlehem in Arabic translates to House of meat, whilst in Hebrew it is House of bread, so depending on your dietary needs choose which ever you want.

Now, if you are still not sure where Bethlehem is, Bethlehem is a Palestinian city located about 10km south of Jerusalem. This city is well known for being the birth place of the most famous man alive (or dead depending on how you view things) that of course being Jesus Christ, after all that is why we celebrate Christmas. However, this city has much more to offer, from its rich history, delicious food, busy markets as well as astonishing surrounding nature; it is definitely a city worth the trip.

Christmas Market in the old alleyways of Bethlehem/ Image: Arine Rinawi

Obviously we need to begin our day with breakfast, head to Manger square, the most prominent site in the city, there you’ll find the church of Nativity (where Jesus was born) and opposite to that you’ll find the market and a street full of restaurants. Afteem, a traditional restaurant serving some of the best Palestinian breakfasts in the city, there you can indulge yourself with some beautifully smooth Hummous, along with some pungently spiced Foul (fava beans), a bit of Musabaha, crunchy spicy falafel, freshly baked pita bread and to accompany all this some homemade pickles and a nice hot cup of mint tea. After this maybe a walk would be appropriate, have a stroll inside the market, admire the ancient alleyways and buy some souvenirs, you’ll find them literally everywhere.

Assortment of breakfast dishes of Hummus, foul, falafel and other dishes at Afteem restaurant in Bethlehem/ Image: Instagram (@afteem_restaurant)

Once you’ve finished your lovely stroll, head back to Manger square to go see the main attraction of the city, the Church of Nativity. Upon arrival you will see the most obscurely small looking door, so mind your head when entering. Once inside feel free to look around and explore. Most certainly you’ll want to see the actual spot where Jesus was born, to find it just look for the longest queue. If you were lucky enough to get in , the manger is definitely an experience you’ll never forget - even if you’re not a believer.

The Church of Nativity; the birth place of Jesus/ Image: Marcel Shamshoum
The manger where it is believed Jesus was born/ Image: Marcel Shamshoum

If you are visiting in December, you are in luck because everything Christmas related will be ongoing, from the Christmas market, to the Christmas parade, Carols and concerts. And yes, these activities may not sound new, but remember you are in the city where all of this started. Oh and I forgot to mention, we celebrate Christmas three times, once in December and twice in January and that is because each Christian rite has their own date of celebrating the holiday – so if you missed it in December you can catch up on some activities in January.

Christmas stuff aside, if you’re an explorer I highly recommend visiting the neighboring towns of Beit Sahour and Beit Jala, two beautiful towns with rich and unique cultures of their own. Also do visit Artas and the convent of the Hortus conclusus aka the enclosed gardens – this place is the literal meaning of Heaven on earth! Another site worth the visit are the ancient reservoirs known as Solomon’s Pools which date back to 100 BCE. These are just a few places to visit in Bethlehem and  its neighboring areas, however my only recommendation is: always ask a local. We Palestinians absolutely love tourists when they come and visit and we’ll treat you as if you were one of us.

Solomon's Pools located near Bethlehem/ Image: Marcel Shamshoum

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