Planning to celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem – follow the most useful information from 2018 traveler.
How to get to Bethlehem from Jerusalem - Bus 231
It’s easy and there are few options to get to Bethlehem from Jerusalem by public transport. You need to get to Damascus Gate and take a bus no 231. Buses run quite often, as there are many people traveling. 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! Bus 231 drives an hour to Bethlehem – which is on Palestinian side but surprisingly we didn’t drive through any check points. Once you get off from the bus no 231 you need only half an hour to reach main square – Manger, where Church of Nativity is located. There’s going to be a lot of taxis eager to take you for 15 shekels. So if you are short of time shared taxi is a good option.
Christmas in Bethlehem - Church & Grotto of the Nativity
Church of Nativity – 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. The church was easily accessible on the 25th of December from the morning free of charge, no tickets required. 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 when downstairs, as the crowd is moving constantly 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. Anyway, 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. 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 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!
The police is literally everywhere. The government claims there were 3 million visitors in Bethlehem for Christmas Eve in 2018. But honestly, against everything I was reading before I traveled, the city was busy that night but you could still easily wonder around and the crowds didn’t bother much. It was possible to find a place in restaurants, without booking a table in advance. Which as far as I know it was very unlikely in previous years. I don’t know how that happened but while walking around we were let by the police to enter a VIP path, which was totally packed with security. Only delegates and VIPs were allowed to enter this way! It was just incredible to stand there near the TV crew, in a secured area, and watch all the celebrations on the other side of the crowd. The atmosphere of the place is unreal!
Where to stay at Christmas in Bethlehem?
If you want spend christmas in Bethlehem you need to book accommodation in advance. All hotels in Bethlehemwere sold out on the 24th of December 2018. You need to know that the quality of most of the hotels is very poor. And there is no cheap accommodation. I paid 60 euro for a hotel nightmare.. I could barely sleep there. And I’m a backpacker, who traveled Asia for months for $3-5 a night, so I don’t mind basic standard. Hugely rewarding was finding a cheap delicious street food in Bethlehem– I recommend typical arabic falafel (5 shekels). OMG what a taste! You’ll find it near the main square.
My next stop was Dead Sea. It is a huge area and a lot of traveles missed the most incredible sites of the Dead Sea. If you want to know how to get to see the unreal beauty of the place and the magnificent salt formations check my post here: https://freestyletraveling.com/how-to-get-to-the-dead-sea-from-tel-aviv/