A city in the West Bank and just over 6 miles outside of Jerusalem, Bethlehem is famous as being the birthplace of Jesus. Of all the cities in Israel, Bethlehem may be the most important to Christians around the world. It’s home to the Church of Nativity, where Jesus was born, and now attracts millions of tourists each year looking to celebrate his birth in the city where it happened. Many major biblical events took place in Bethlehem and it's home to many Christian historical sites, including the Church of Nativity. Bethlehem might seem like just another town to you, but there’s plenty to do there, especially if you only have a day. To see all that Bethlehem has to offer, we recommend spending about five hours in the city. Here’s how to spend your day trip from Tel Aviv to Bethlehem.
How to Get There
Barring Israeli traffic, the drive from Tel Aviv to Bethlehem will take between 1 hour to 1.5 hours. Ensure when you are planning your day trip from Tel Aviv to Bethlehem, that you avoid being on the road during peak hours because traffic can add a significant portion of travel time that can easily be avoided by traveling an hour before or after peak travel times. If you are on a time crunch, don't forget to calculate check point times, as it can add up to half-an hour on busy days.
Regarding public transportation, unfortunately there is no direct service line to Bethlehem and you will have to transfer twice to get to your destination. The most efficient and easy way to get to Bethlehem from Tel Aviv would be via train to Jerusalem. From the many train stations in Tel Aviv, catch the train to Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem Central Station, you will take the Light Rail to Damascus Gate (20 minute ride), and from there you can catch the 231 bus that will take you to Bethlehem. The whole journey via public transportation should take less than two hours, which is not that much longer than by going with a private vehicle. And the perks is you get to sit back and enjoy the view on the journey.
What to See in Bethlehem
Church of Nativity
Nestled within Manger Square, this holy site marks the spot where Jesus was born. You can't visit Bethlehem without visiting this church. Bethlehem is known as the birthplace of Jesus Christ and the location of his death, resurrection, and ascension. The Church of Nativity is built on top of a cave that Christians believe was where Jesus was born. If you're lucky enough to visit during the Christmas season, then you'll be treated with live performances by professional choirs throughout the day. Adjacent to the Church of Nativity is an open square with an intricate floor pattern, which acts as a map highlighting important landmarks throughout Palestine.
The Church of the Nativity is probably the most popular attraction for tourists, as it is built on the site where Jesus was born. While you are here, take some time to explore this church. Many people believe that any pilgrim who enters through the doors of this place will be granted one wish and eternal life.
When visiting the Nativity Church, visitors should wear modest clothing (no shorts) and keep cameras on their laps, never pointed up at the church. The Nativity Church is open from 6 am to 6 pm every day, but visitors are not allowed to enter after 5 pm. No matter what time you go, there will be long lines as many pilgrims visit this holy site every day and especially during the Christmas season. The cost of admission is 8 Israeli shekels or 12 Jordanian dinars.
Located in the heart of the Old City, Manger Square is the center and is where all festive events take place, like concerts, the Christmas Market, the lighting of the Christmas tree and so much more. The square used to be the central marketplace where vendors would sell their produce and wares to all those visiting. Grab some lunch in many of the beautiful cafes and restaurants that are sitting in Manger Square, and you are sure to see adorable memorabilia for sale in the many souvenir shops.
Milk Grotto Chapel
Just behind Nativity Square, is the Milk Grotto. According to Christian tradition, this chapel marks the spot where Mary breastfed Jesus. According to tradition, a drop of milk fell, turning the stone white and is a place where many Christians come to pray to conceive and for health. The Milk Grotto is a place of pilgrimage, but is much more quiet then the Church of Nativity, and is a great place to have a few minutes of quiet meditation in prayer.
The Separation Wall
Moving away from religious sites, the Separation Wall, is the wall erected between the West Bank and Jerusalem. This wall is worth a visit as there is a lot of street art painted on the wall, and some paintings by Banksy, all making references to peace and freedom. It is a great place to visit to feel and see the culture between the divided cities.
Entrance from Jerusalem, Rachel’s Tomb circumvents the Separation Wall, allowing Jews and Israelis to come pray by the tomb of the universal mother figure. With separate entrances to men and women, Rachel’s Tomb is a quiet place of prayer, and you will see many people gathered around whispering their prayers silently.
To summarize, your day trip from Tel Aviv to Bethlehem is one for a lifetime. In Bethlehem you will be seeing many of the world famous sites, and a place of great holiness, as well as seeing the culture in Bethlehem and the West Bank. Since you will be close to Jerusalem, grab a quick bite in Shuk Mahane Yehuda, before you make your way back to Tel Aviv. Happy Traveling!