No trip to the Holy Land is complete without a visit to the ancient city of Bethlehem. If you’re on a tour, you’ll likely have a short stop in the city to visit the highlights. However, if you have more time or if you’re looking for a private tour, there are many things to do in Bethlehem that are worth spending the extra time there. Our travel experts at Mazada Tours are here to give you our recommendations for the best things to do in Bethlehem, so that you can better plan your trip.
Church of the Nativity
Considered to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, this site is one of the holiest in Israel. It also has the distinction of being one of the oldest continuously used churches in the world, with its establishment dating back to 325. While largely unchanged since its construction, there have been renovations and additions throughout the years. Today, the expanded church is now made up of three different monasteries: a Greek Orthodox one, an Armenian Apostolic one, and a Roman Catholic one. The Church of the Nativity is one of the most important things to do in Bethlehem, and it’s a site that should not be missed!
Mar Saba Monastery
While not technically in Bethlehem, this nearby monastery is a worthwhile short detour. Overlooking the Kidron Valley, this stunning Greek Orthodox monastery sits between Jerusalem and The Dead Sea. The monastery is often referred to as Santa Sabba, and was founded way back in 483. There are still monks that live in the Mar Saba Monastery, making it one of the oldest inhabited monasteries. As the monastery keeps its sacred traditions, women are not allowed into the site, with the exception of the Women’s Tower. Regardless, even the surroundings of this monastery are worth the visit, as the trails and views of the structure from the area are breathtaking.
Another one of our recommendations for unique things to do in Bethlehem, the Milk Grotto is a great stop to add on your tour. Built in 1872, this beautiful structure holds a fascinating history. According to Christian tradition, the Milk Grotto chapel is the place where the Holy Family hid during The Massacre of the Innocents. It is said that Mary spilled some of her milk here, which is why the stones are white. Today, it is common for infertile couples to visit the site in order to pray for for children.
Located just east of Bethlehem in a town called Beit Sahur, Sheperd’s Field is home to a few significant sites. Shepherd’s Field is mentioned in The Gospel of Luke as the place where an angel descends in order to announce the birth of Jesus. At the site there is a Catholic chapel built by the Franciscans. There is also a second structure to mark this holy site belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church.
One of the more moving things to do in Bethlehem, this site is revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. It is a tomb dedicated to the biblical matriarch, Rachel. According to the Book of Genesis, Rachel died at this site during childbirth to her son, Benjamin. Her husband, Jacob, erected a pillar at the site of her grave. It is a popular site for Jewish pilgrimage. It is common for women to visit Rachel’s Tomb in order to pray for a child. Today, the tomb is represented by a rock draped with velvet, covered with 11 stones, each one representing one of Jacob’s children that were alive before Rachel’s death.
The famed British street artist paid a visit to Bethlehem and left his mark on the city’s walls. Today, many visitors head to Bethlehem to catch a glimpse of these revered works. There are several artworks to be discovered around the city. In fact, one of the more unique things to do in Bethlehem is to visit the Banksy Hotel. The hotel sits along the controversial separation barrier and boasts “the worst view in the world.” There are also more quirky art pieces inside the hotel.
Bethlehem Old City
If you’re looking for things to do in Bethlehem but you don’t have much time, simply strolling through the Old City is a wonderful experience. Bethlehem’s Old City is made up of seven different quarters situated around the Manger Square. There is one Muslim quarter and six Christian ones. Each one of the quarters in the Old City is unique and has its own history to discover.
There are a few museums in Bethlehem that are worth the visit. The Old Bethlehem Museum houses a collection that shines a light on the historical and authentic Palestinian culture and way of living. There are historic images and items as well as impressive embroideries. Another museum, the Palestinian Heritage Center, is home to many traditional items. There are also many products made by hand by local women. Visitors can purchase these unique handmade items in order to support families in need in the region.
St. Catherine Church
Functioning as both a Franciscan Monastery and a Catholic Church, St. Catherine’s Church is a lovely stop on your tour of Bethlehem. According to tradition, this is the site where Jesus Christ told St. Catherine of her martyrdom. This church was then built on the site in order to honor her. There are several archeological curiosities to see at the church, dating back to the 12th century. Below the church, there are also some interesting tombs and caves waiting to be explored.
If you’re looking for things to do in Bethlehem, be sure to contact us so that we can assist you in creating an ideal itinerary for your time there.