#igtravelthursday – visiting israel’s holy cities of jerusalem and bethlehem

Jerusalem 1

What is a trip to Israel without visiting the most famous cities in the country – Jerusalem and Bethlehem! I had clearly not done all my homework well as i didn’t realise that Jerusalem is a home for a million people and that Israelis consider this city to be their real capital, rather than Tel Aviv (more on Jerusalem later on, when I have hopefully manage to retrieve my lost photos from the backup server in the cyberspace). Jerusalem is also one of the oldest cities in the world.

The first stop of the tour is the Mount of Olives (and yes, there are still some olive trees there, but the key point of coming here is the view of old Jerusalem) and you can easily see the main churches and the wall surrounding the old town – very impressive indeed!

Walls of Old Jerusalem
Old Jerusalem is well protected by tall walls

Bethlehem, the birth place of Jesus in turn is rather a small town, but hard to access due to its location inside the West Bank (i.e. the Palestinian Territories). It is also a bit scary having to go through all that security, walk the long zig-zagging corridors and change to a “local” bus, driver and guide as our Jewish driver wasn’t actually allowed to enter there.

Bethlehem , Manger Square
Manger Square in front of the Church of the Nativity, still decked in Christmas decor

I took a combined day tour to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and whereas I was happy with what I saw, I would have liked to visit more places and walk more up and down those narrow cobbled streets and alleys and along the old city wall. Therefore, if you are more of an explorer by nature also I’d recommend taking independently a day trip rather than a guided tour.

Church of the nativity

The place to visit in Bethlehem of course if the Church of the Nativity, the birthplace of Jesus. This is the oldest continuously operating church and at the same time it’s three churches in one: a very decorative Greek Orthodox one in the middle and Catholic and Armenian on the sides. You need to queue to enter the underground Grotto of the Nativity, where a 14-pointed silver star marks the point where Jesus in believed to have been born.

Bethlehem It sort of feels like time runs slower in Bethlehem, no rush anywhere. As the number of tourists is relatively low, you’ll will get lot of offers from the street vendors – if you are in the mood for a nice souvenir or this is a good place to go for a it. Do negotiate well and you can get a lovely decorative  back bag for around £1 (2 USD or so)!

Tourist groups often get taken to a local shop where they sell beautiful nativities made out of olive wood among other things. Those masterpieces don’t come cheap, though, but they are pretty and the store can ship larger items for you so it’s convenient.

Lunch at a monastery
Lunch at a beautifully restored monastery

After Bethlehem we stopped for lunch at an old monastery. The food was pretty good but clearly priced for tourist – plus they only took cash there. Luckily I had a good samaritan on the tour who gave me money so I didn’t have t starve. Lesson learned from this one: it’s not easy to find a cash machine in Old Jerusalem or Bethlehem!

Jerusalem itself fulfilled all my hopes, I only wish I had had more time there. We covered all the key sights from the Wailing Wall to the narrow cobbled streets of the four quarters of the town (Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian), stations of Via Dolorosa to The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. You can feel the history seeping through the stone walls – Jerusalem is an amazing place to visit, and no wonder it also an Unesco World Heritage site.  Hopefully I get to share more from Jerusalem with you soon!

You can see below more of my Instagram photos from this trip to Israel. Enjoy!

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