When we think of Bethlehem, most of us think Jesus, Christianity, and Christmas. But while Bethlehem’s ancient streets are packed full of religious sites, ancient wonders, and biblical references, there’s a lot more to this little Palestinian city than meets the eye.
Here’s a few things to do in Bethlehem that are definitely worth doing, but don’t involve religion:
1: Go on a political tour
If you’re going to Bethlehem, or the West Bank, there’s no avoiding politics, and you shouldn’t either. Palestine remains occupied, and the people living there don’t have the basic rights citizens of countries should have.
I’m a firm believer that if you visit a country, then you should get to know it as well as you can. One way to get to know Palestine and Bethlehem is to join an alternative tour. On one of these tours a local will show you some aspects of Bethlehem you won’t see on a more “conventional” tour. For example life in Bethlehem’s three refugee camps (Aida, Azza, and Dhesisheh), the separation wall, or the life of a rural Palestinian farmer.
Green Olive tours is one good company, but there are many around. Facebook and Google are your friend 🙂
2: Try the local cuisine
In particular the falafel in Bethlehem is fantastic. So while I’d recommend getting kanefeh in Nablus, it’s got to be the famous chickpea balls in Bethlehem!
Afteem – just off Nativity Square – is my favourite. The restaurant doesn’t look like much from outside (in fact it looks like a couple of men selling falafel on the street) but if you descend the steps beside them, a huge underground-ish restaurant opens up in front of you. Started by a Palestinian refugee, the falafel is known locally for being the best in town (and some say the West Bank). Get a Palestinian beer, order some aubergine, hummus, bread and falafel and dig in – you won’t regret it!
Or how about going to Stars & Bucks (on Manger Street) – a slightly familiar name I’m sure! This drinks café, which makes cappuccinos, frappuccino’s, fresh juices and much more, is a tongue-in-cheek version of the famous U.S. café chain – and its drinks are much better.
3: Attend Shepherds Beer Festival
If you happen to be in Bethlehem in August, head along to the Shepherds Beer Festival, a multi-day music and beer bonanza held in Beit Sahour, a small town neighboring Bethlehem.
You will get to drink tasty produce (Shepherds is good good beer, you have my word), and see some of Palestine’s best music acts – covering jazz, folk, traditional, rap and rock. It’s well worth it – and a little bit more lively than visiting the Nativity Church…..
4: If you’re an animal lover – visit the West Bank’s first and only shelter
Founded in 2013 by Diana Babish from Bethlehem, the Animal and Environment Association, is the West Bank’s and Palestine’s only shelter, looking after stray dogs and cats that used to live on the street.
Strays are a big problem in Palestine, with an estimated 10,000 dogs living on the streets of Bethlehem municipality alone. With dogs seen as dirty in Islam by some, and negative attitudes prevailing as a whole in society regarding dogs, this shelter is absolutely vital to saving the lives of stray animals on the streets of Bethlehem.
Find the shelter on Facebook, visit the place and leave a donation – now that’s a worthwhile use of time and money.