For most people, Bethlehem conjures up visions of snow dusted Christmas cards. While at one stage it may have been little more than a small stone village and a handful of mangers, today the landscape is quite different. Modern Bethlehem hums with activity and offers visitors so much more than religious sites. There are bustling bazaars to get lost in, historic sites to visit and a handful of cultural centres to explore.
Things to do
In Bethlehem’s lively Old City, cobblestone laneways are lined with shops, cafes and bazaars. Most of the action branches off from Manger Square, which is the focal point of Bethlehem’s Christmas celebrations.
While its exact location is controversial, the Church of the Nativity is regarded as the birthplace of Jesus. According to historians it was commissioned in 326 BC by Emperor Constantine and is the world’s oldest continuously operating church.
Towering above the Judean Desert, Herodium was built sometime between 23 and 15 BC. It served as King Herod’s magnificent palace until it was sacked by the Romans in 71 BC. Just 20 kilometres out of town is the gravity defying Mar Saba Monastery. Founded in 439 BC, the copper domed buildings seem to cling to the cliffside.
Beyond history and religion, Bethlehem is a foodie destination. From creamy hummus and juicy shish kebabs to artisan cappuccinos and freshly tossed salads, there’s something for every palate.
The Old City is pedestrian friendly, which means that the best way to get around is on foot. Taxis also cruise Bethlehem’s main streets and will be happy to whisk you around to major sites and attractions. While most travellers visit Bethlehem on day trips, the best way to get the full experience is to stay overnight. Buses run from Jerusalem to Bethlehem in around 30 minutes.
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