There’s nothing like the charm of a small town. Maybe it’s the charming old commercial street lined with 19th century buildings filled with artisan shops, or perhaps the one of a kind religious attractions, or probably the friendly greetings you receive from shop owners as you walk by its narrow streets. Known as the “Capital of Christmas”, Bethlehem’s charm has a lot to do with its combination of history, culture, natural beauty and heritage. Being described as a “small town” is usually a misnomer because here you’ll find a plenty of things to do. Get ready to explore!
History & Culture
Though less than half an hour away from the city of Jerusalem, this small town has its own character. Being very much influenced by the Roman culture, today you can witness that when you visit the Basilica of the Nativity built by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great after his mother Helena’s visit to Bethlehem in 325. Built on the site of the birthplace of Jesus, the Basilica is considered the oldest church in the Holy Land as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bethlehem is also home to Christian iconography, the only project of its kind in the Middle East. This mystical art of Byzantine liturgy came to birth in the Holy Land over 1,500 years ago. It’s hard to miss when you visit churches across the Holy Land. Start exploring the famous Manger Square surrounded by local souvenir shops, olive wood factories and award-winning restaurants.
Walking & Hiking
Just outside of Bethlehem, nature lovers have plenty to keep them satisfied with different kinds of trails nearby. To the west of Bethlehem, Battir village, known as land of olives and vines, is famous for its cultural landscape and unique irrigation system that utilizes man-made stone terraces. A Roman-era network is still in use, fed by seven springs which have provided fresh water for 2,000 years. Being one of the few places left in the region where such traditional method of agriculture remains, Battir is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While to the east of Bethlehem, you will be hiking in the Judean Desert around the desolate and amazingly looking Saint Saba’s Monastery. This Greek Orthodox Monastery, built in 483 AD, is considered one of the oldest continuously active Christian monasteries in the world. Once you get your fill of the great outdoors, relax and taste a local “Wise Men” beer!
Food & Wine
In a little town like Bethlehem, hospitality is very important. The welcoming nature of the locals will not make you feel like a tourist, but more like at home. Everywhere you walk, people will invite you for tea or coffee or even for a meal. Bethlehem is home to numerous bed-and-breakfast accommodations, hotels and homestays that can accommodate any budget. You will have a stronger chance to connect with the local people. Plus, you better come hungry! You will be experiencing delicious, home-cooked and quite simply the world’s healthiest food. Also, just a five minutes’ drive away in Bethlehem are cellars of Cremisan, a 7th century Byzantine Monastery producing various types of red and white wine where only local grapes are used in the process. Every year, a wine festival takes place to introduce international visitors to its fine wine.
Arts & Festivals
Bethlehem is famous for its local art galleries, street art by international artists such as Banksy, the British artist and graffiti master, and folk dance- Dabkeh. This traditional dance is about community, national identity, preserving heritage and celebrating life. It is widely performed at weddings and festive occasions. With a population under 30,000, many of the residents know one another and festivals come as a great excuse to come together. This little town has blossomed into the Arab Capital of Culture in 2020, with amazing arts and music festivals each summer. This town does not only embrace all these qualities, but it will be unveiling a new gospel music festival that make visiting in 2021 particularly special.
Every year, Bethlehem welcomes around 3 million tourists coming from all over the world. Far away from the hustle and bustle of big cities, a small town can be great for a change. Bethlehem might be a small place but it offers a big experience. You will have an authentic, high-quality experience that you will remember for a long time. This little town in the Holy Land might not have made it onto your bucket list yet, but it absolutely deserves a spot!