Planning to spend Christmas in Bethlehem- find most recent & useful information from 2018 traveler.
How to get to Bethlehem from Jerusalem
Christmas in Bethlehem is possible because it’s very easy to get to Bethlehem from Jerusalem. You would need to get to Damascus Gate and take a bus no 231. Buses go quite often, as there are many people traveling. If you are in the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem you can take local bus no 1 but be prepared it might be late (I waited an hour) and it’s very crowded! Bus 231 drives an hour to Bethlehem – the city is on Palestinian side but 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 it’s good to take shared taxi.
Christmas in Bethlehem
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 crown keeps pushing you forward and the steps are very slippy. You have only few seconds downstairs, as the crowd is moving constantly toward the exit, otherwise it would take ages to reach the Grotto. Same situation 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 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) usually starts at 4 pm. There’s a lot of evening celebration and performances in the main stage of Manager Square. The whole city is decorated with flags and lighted by an amazing, huge Christmas Tree.
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 going there, the city was busy that night but you could still easily walk around and the crowds didn’t bother much. It was even possible to find a place in restaurants, although I read you must book in advance. I don’t know how that happened but while walking around we were let by the police to enter a VIP path, which was secured by security. Only delegates and VIPs were allowed to enter. It was just incredible to stand there near the TV crew and watch all the celebrations on the other side of the crowd.
Where to stay at Christmas in Bethlehem?
If you want spend christmas in Bethlehem you need to book accommodation in advance. All hotels were sold out on the 24th of December 2018. You need to know the quality of hotel rooms is very poor. I paid 60 euro for a nightmare.. barely could sleep there. A nice surprise was to find cheap delicious street food – I recommend typical falafel (5 shekels). Chrismtas in Bethlehem has a special atmosphere.
My next stop was Dead Sea. Want to know where to stay to admire the incredible salt formations: https://freestyletraveling.com/how-to-get-to-the-dead-sea-from-tel-aviv/