As mentioned in the Jerusalem posts, we used the Shabbat for a half day trip to the West Bank. To be precise, to Bethlehem.
We organized the trip ourselves as prices for organized trips were skyrocket. Especially afterwards, we think it was a good decision as everything was so easy to handle.
Traveling the West Bank on your own
We took the ‚Palestinian bus‘ (normal service bus) from the Arab bus station in Jerusalem.
The bus drive itself was all ok and you get some interesting views over the outskirts of Jerusalem. Border control was no problem at least for us. No humiliations or something similar like we heard from other’s experiences. The soldiers at the border control were really nice. Of course, we stood out a little bit, but actually, no one cared.
One ticket per person is 1,50 Schekel. We don’t know if there’s a time schedule but the busses drive regularly and you don’t have to wait too long. The bus station is northwest of Damascus Gate, you can’t miss it if you go there. The bus is number 21, but just ask for Bethlehem there and somebody will help you, they’re really nice.
When we arrived at the last bus station (the last for this bus) in Bethlehem, there was a bunch of taxi drivers already waiting for potential clients offering them day trips. If you’re just interested in Bethlehem, you can easily walk for seeing the main sites.
If you don’t feel like walking (which can be the case on really hot summer days), just bargain for a single trip to your destination.
Everything we wanted to see in the beginning was in walking distance.
On our way to the city’s star, the Church of Nativity, we passed through the Old Town which was really beautiful but not spectacular. What attracted our attention: Foreigners outside of groups are still a little bit unusual.
They’re used to the busloads of tourists and they’re somehow prepared for mass tourism in groups, but definitely not so much for individual tourism. English is barely spoken.
Tourism is practically still at the beginning and this felt refreshing to us.
The Church of Nativity in Bethlehem
The best time to come here is before noon or actually as early as it opens its doors. At some time of the day, it ironically starts to become hell. There are a lot of people here standing gladly in line for hours just to take a 30-second look at a spot no one can prove Jesus was really born here. But hey, everyone makes what they want. It was crazy for us to observe this spectacle. It got warmer and warmer and people started becoming aggressive.
Furthermore, it’s funny how ‚guides‘ (who claim to be official tourist agency members) offer you to skip the lines for 50€ each only to bring you at the last part of the queue where you still have to wait for quite a long time. You also don’t have longer than the 30 seconds. It seems to be a working ecosystem and we’re glad someone else is giving them money.
The Milk Grotto in Bethlehem
As said before, despite all the Church visitors, tourists aren’t self-evident. At least outside of groups. On our search for the Milk Grotto, we got a little bit lost (we were walking the opposite direction; one day we’ll start learning how to read signs) and asked Palestinian policemen for the way. They were extremely nice and also curious when they saw us. They wanted to help us, but neither they spoke English nor did they know about the Milk Grotto. Though it’s another main site of the city besides the Nativity Church.
The situation was so pure. Both tried to speak to each other but everyone knew: this won’t work. At least not today. Many people in Bethlehem would love to have more visitors and that they would stay longer. People in the West Bank see Israel and know, they could reach wealth with tourism. And depending on what you’re planning to do here, you can easily spend one night here.
The Milk Grotto itself was so much prettier than the Nativity Church. There were only a few people here and it was such a calm and mystical atmosphere. It’s said that Maria was hiding here with Jesus once. And while she was breastfeeding him, a little bit of her milk dropped on the floor. Ever since this is a Holy Place for all women of the world. It’s a really nice Grotto and you can find some peace here and cool down a bit.
The Walled Off Hotel, the Peace Wall, and Banksy Art
The main thing that brought us to Bethlehem was the ‚worst view in the world‘ seen from the so-called ‚Banksy Hotel‘ – the attraction: the wall that separates the West Bank and Israel. Trump’s dream is a reality here.
The hotel itself is really stylish. You’ll see a lot of Banksy Art in there as well as from some other artists that took part in the project. The Wall itself reminds, with all the art and its name, of the ‚Peace Wall‘ in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
You can find Banksy art all over the city. With this, he was trying to draw attention to the Palestinian’s situation and a signal against Israel’s politics.
Most of them you can reach by walking from the hotel and this is what we would recommend. We made a taxi tour because the price seemed good. But in the end, he wanted more than what was agreed and we discussed and argued. It wasn’t about much money, but it was annoying. And, because most of the people were so nice there, it was sad to get a bad impression like this.
To sum up, the distance from Nativity Church to the Banksy Hotel is worth a taxi ride, the rest is easily done by foot, in our opinion. If you take a taxi, bargain well and make the price really fixed.
Jericho and Ramallah are included in most tour offers. We didn’t visit those places as we were just not interested in it. But if you are, just bargain on-site. Online prices vary between 80-100€ incl. lunch. Many start from Jerusalem train station. If you bargain on-site, it will probably be cheaper.
Just like in Jerusalem, we felt pretty safe in Bethlehem. People are really friendly.
After a half day trip, we took the bus (again line 21) back to Jerusalem, again having no problems at all.