5 Things to Know Before You Visit Bethlehem

If you’re a Christian visiting Israel, you know that Bethlehem has to be on your list of places to go! But what you may not know is that it’s a little complicated to plan on your own. Here are the essentials that you’ll be glad to know before you go!

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It’s in the West Bank

So what, right? Well, so you can’t just waltz in here from the Israeli side of the border. In fact, you can’t even drive in! It’s not walkable from Jerusalem, so you’ll need to either hire a driver or take a bus to the Bethlehem 300 Checkpoint. Walking across the border into Bethlehem is no big deal, and in fact you most likely won’t have to show your passport to get in. It’s just important to know you’re not necessarily in Israel anymore.

The famous British graffiti artist, Banksy, has painted many murals all over Bethlehem.
More here: 5 Things to Know Before You Visit the West Bank

You Will Need a Palestinian Guide

Israeli guides are generally not allowed to guide in the West Bank. That seems unfair, until you learn that Palestinian guides are also generally not allowed to guide in Israel. There are a very few exceptions, and it’s more complicated than I can convey in one paragraph in a blog post, but just be aware that you will have to have a Palestinian tour guide in Bethlehem. And if you’re a Christian, you’ll appreciate having a Palestinian Christian guide here!

Michael and Hazem of Michael Tours are the absolute best, and you can book with them directly through their website here. Either Hazem or Michael will meet you at the checkpoint and give you the most amazing tour of Jesus’ original stomping ground.

Michael was my tour guide, and this is the church that he attends on Sundays: The Church of the Nativity.
More here: 10 Things to Know Before Your First Visit Israel

You Will also Need Your Passport

The West Bank is a Palestinian Territory, so it’s best to think of it as visiting an entirely different country with different rules and different laws. You won’t need your passport to get in, but you will need it to leave and return to the Israeli side. Make sure you bring your passport with you to Bethlehem, along with the little blue paper that you received when entering Israel at the beginning of your trip!

Don’t leave your passport at the hotel!
Read next: The Traveler’s Ultimate Guide to Passports

There are More Biblical Sites in Addition to Jesus’ Birthplace

It’s true! This is also King David’s home town, so the Shepherds’ Fields mentioned in Jesus’ birth story were also David’s childhood shepherds’ fields. Rachel’s tomb is also located here (Genesis 35: 19-20). So, yes, you should definitely go see the Shepherds’ Fields, the Church of the Nativity (possibly built over the spot where Jesus was born), and the other places associated with Jesus’ birth. But remember that this place is well over 2,000 years old, and lots of things have happened here!

The Church of the Shepherds’ Field
Keep reading: 5 Things to Know Before You Visit Jerusalem

You’ll Get an Eyeful of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Whatever you think you know, or however you think you feel, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s really best not to talk about it here. Instead, go in with the intention to listen, look around, and be open to the idea that there are more than two sides to this every conflict. There are refugee settlements here, there is graffiti with personal meaning, and there will definitely be some opinions that surprise you. You don’t have to agree–it’s not your fight. Just listen and be kind.

Names of Palestinians who have died here as a result of the conflict.
Also helpful: Why You Should Travel to Israel and Palestine with Elevation Journeys

Want more? Find out How to Prepare for Your First Trip to Israel and Palestine, and check out my dedicated Israel and Palestine Page!

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