Israel (State of Israel)

Languages: Arabic, Hebrew

Currencies: ILS · Israeli new shekel (₪)

Capitol: Jerusalem

Continents: Asia

Borders: Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon

More useful information

Area: 20,770km2

Population: 9,216,900

Traffic/driving side: right

Landlocked country: No

Independent country: Yes

United Nations member: Yes

IDD Prefix: +972

Timezones: UTC+02:00

Last updated on April 18, 2024

Christmas is the most magical time of the year, spending Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, is a very unique experience and I am so glad I was able to do it, especially before the tragic 2024 circumstances. 

Bethlehem is administered by the Palestinian Authority. Bethlehem city is situated around 10 kilometers south of Jerusalem. It’s the perfect place if you want to experience the true meaning of Christmas.

Bethlehem is a small city with a population of around 25,000 people. However, during the Christmas season, the city is packed with tourists from all over the world who come to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the Holy Land. Here are few usefull things to know before you travel to Bethlehem for Christmas time. 

Everything you need to know about spending Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, Jerusalem.

Spending Christmas Eve in Bethlehem.

Important things to know before going to Bethlehem for Christmas time:

  • Expect magic and beautiful atmosphere in the Holy Land.
  • The city is packed with people during the holiday season, so be prepared to wait in line to get into the Church of the Nativity. Expect large crowds and long lines. 
  • It’s a good idea to arrive early to get a good spot/the streets are extremely packed with people awaiting street performances and celebrations.
  • If you are planning a dinner – book  a table in advance! There is NO chance you will get a seat in any nearby restaurants – they were so packed it was hard to believe.
  • Keep in mind Bethlehem is a predominantly Muslim city – be respectful of the local customs and traditions.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol in public places.
  • If you get hungry try street food – falafel was one of the BEST I’ve ever tried.

Is Bethlehem expensive?

Yesss!! This was probably one of the most expensive places I’ve been. Isreal is very expensive in general when it comes to food and accommodation. However spending Chritmas Eve in Bethlehem is an exceptional occassion and spiritually rewarding experience, so fully worth the effort.

How to get to Bethlehem from Jerusalem?

It is very easy to travel from Jerusalem to Bethlehem by public transport.

There are few options to get to Bethlehem from Jerusalem:

  1. From Damascus Gate take a bus no 231. Buses run frequently, and there are many people traveling.
  2. From the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem you can take local bus no 1 but it is likely it runs late (I waited an hour) and it’s very crowded!

It takes 1 hour to travel to Bethlehem by Bus 231 – which is on Palestinian side, but surprisingly we didn’t drive through any check points. Once you get off from bus no 231 you can either:

  • Walk for half an hour to reach the main square – Manger, where Church of Nativity is located.
  • Take a taxi for 15 shekels. So if you are short of time shared taxi is a good option.
Everything you need to know about spending Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, Jerusalem.

Christmas in Bethlehem - Church Grotto of the Nativity.

The centerpiece of the city is the Church of the Nativity, which was built on the site where Jesus was born.

24th DECEMBERChurch of Nativity – usually it was impossible to visit the church on the 24th of December, as the midnight mass is organised along the presence of dignitaries and diplomats. 

25th DECEMBER: The church was easily accessible on the 25th of December from the morning, FREE OF CHARGE, no tickets required.

Grotto of the Nativity is Jesus birthplace.

The queue to the most famous holy place in the world – the Nativity Grotto, was only an hour. Be careful when taking steps down as the crowd keeps pushing you forward and the steps are very slippy. You have only few seconds downstairs, as the crowd keeps moving toward the exit. The guides keep the crowd moving, otherwise it would take ages to reach the Grotto. Same story like in Vatican in the papal tombs. 

The place is magnificent and spiritually rewarding experience. The Grotto of the Nativity is considered by Christians as a birthplace of Jesus since the 2nd century. 

Star of Bethlehem.

The whole world follows one direction toward Church of Nativity, leading to a grotto where a silver star marks the site of the birth of Jesus. Along with great traditions of the Holy Land there are multiple processions and parades on the 24th of December, starting from early morning. 

Everything you need to know about spending Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, Jerusalem.

Procession from St. Catherine’s Church to the Nativity Grotto.

Daily procession from St. Catherine’s Church to the Nativity Grotto (inside the Basilica of the Nativity) starts usually at 4 pm.

There’s a lot of evening celebrations and performances in the main stage of Manager Square. And of course the Midnight Mass. Christmas Eve in Bethlehem is celebrated like a city festival. There are beautiful decorations, colourful flags everywhere and the whole square is lighted up by an amazing Christmas Tree. The most stellar I’ve seen!

Christmas Eve in Bethlehem decorations & lights.

One of the highlights of spending Christmas Eve in Bethlehem is the candlelight procession to Manger Square. The procession starts at the Church of the Nativity and ends at Manger Square, where a large Christmas tree is lit up. The square is packed with people singing Christmas carols and celebrating the birth of Jesus.

The police is literally everywhere. The government claims there are 3 million visitors in Bethlehem for the Christmas Eve each year. While walking the crowded streets, we tried to enter the VIP path and for some reason the Police allowed us to come in! The VIP area was totally packed with security. Only delegates and VIPs were allowed to enter – and US 😉 We had a comfortable place to stay and watch the whole parade, performances, next to the TV crew. The atmosphere of the place is unreal! 

Everything you need to know about spending Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, Jerusalem.

In addition to the Church of the Nativity, there are several other sites worth visiting in Bethlehem. The Milk Grotto is a small chapel where Mary is said to have nursed Jesus.

The Chapel of the Shepherd’s Field is also worth a visit, as it’s the site where the angels appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus.

Where to stay at Christmas Eve in Bethlehem?

If you want spend Chistmas Eve in Bethlehem you need to book accommodation in advance. All hotels in Bethlehem were completely sold out on the 24th of December. There are several hotels in the city, but they tend to fill up quickly during the Christmas season.

Alternatively, you can stay in Jerusalem and take a bus or taxi to Bethlehem.

There is no cheap accommodation and quality of most of the hotels is very poor. I paid 60 euro for a tiny ‘hotel’ room and it was a nightmare.. I could barely sleep there. However, there are affordable stays on

My next stop was Dead Sea & the lowest point on earth. It is a huge area and you need to know where to travel to see the most magnificent salt formations. You might want to check: How to get to the Dead Sea from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Check tickets on

Hugely rewarding is local cuisine! The city is known for its traditional Palestinian dishes, such as:

  • maqluba (a rice and meat dish),
  • musakhan (roasted chicken with bread),
  • falafel (deep-fried chickpea balls). Street falafel was the BEST falafel I’ve tried and it was only 5 Sheckles!
  • There are also several bakeries in the city that specialize in traditional Palestinian sweets, such as baklava and knafeh. As long as you may not be a fan of sweek baklava – try it locally – it’s overwhelming!
Sassari Sardinia

Hey - I'm Eva!

Hiker, adventurous traveler and the author of this blog. My biggest joy is mountaineering and writing reportage travel stories here on this blog, to help you create a unique travel experience. Traveling is freedom, allows you seeing the world truly, meet communities, grow. Taste it!

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