During my visit to Israel in August 2016, the one place that I really wanted to see and wasn’t able to was Bethlehem. Since that trip, I have vowed that if I ever went back to Israel, I would cross over into Palestine and visit Bethlehem. Bethlehem is only about a twenty minute ride from the Old City of Jerusalem, so while I had some free time on this most recent trip I was determined to visit Bethlehem and add a new country (Palestine) to my ever growing list. Here’s my review of a few incredible things to do in Bethlehem.
On my first full day in Israel, Eli of Israel4All, an Israel tour company that specializes in accessible travel, said that he would take us over to check out a few things to do in Bethlehem. Joining me for this tour were Vicki Winters and Lora Wiley, who are travel bloggers at The Vicki Winters Show and Diary of a Mad Hausfrau, and good friends of mine. It was so much fun having them join me on this tour and they were equally as excited as I was to see what Bethlehem had to offer. Get in touch with Israel4All to check out other Bethlehem tours that may be available.
Our drive to Bethlehem started from the David Citadel Hotel, where I stayed while in Jerusalem, and only took about 20 minutes. I was amazed that I could be in a totally new country in that short amount of time. The tension between Israel and Palestine was somewhat visible at the border because there was quite a bit of security, but it was not as bad as I thought it would be. Before going, I read horror stories online from people that had a difficult time crossing into Palestine, but luckily that wasn’t the case for us.
Walled Off Hotel
The first stop on our tour was at the brand new Walled Off Hotel. If you’ve been on Facebook recently, then you have probably seen this hotel trending or being shared by the likes of USA Today, Lonely Planet, etc. This hotel is famous because it was built by the graffiti artist Banksy and the hotel claims to have the worst view in the world. Wondering what the view is of? Well, as the hotel name suggests, the view is of the wall that separates Israel from Palestine.
Construction of the wall began in 2002 and while it is not completely finished yet, it will be over 400 miles long when it is done. Many Israeli people say that the wall is a safety measure to stop terrorists from coming into their country, but Palestinians call it the “apartheid wall” and feel isolated by it. It’s a challenging subject and it was quite surreal to see the wall in person, especially considering everything that is currently going on in the political sphere here in America, but let’s not get into that…
The Walled Off Hotel‘s opening day was actually on the exact day that I visited. There was press outside and it was a pretty active experience to visit. After checking out the wall, I was anxious to get inside the hotel and become the first wheelchair user to ever roll wheel inside. There were two steps to get in the hotel, but some of the staff and visitors lifted my heavy wheelchair (300+ pounds!!) up so that I could go in.
Unfortunately, none of the rooms at The Walled Off Hotel are wheelchair accessible, making it one of the more difficult things to do in Bethlehem for wheelchair users, but with some assistance, I was able to visit the piano bar and the museum. This isn’t just a hotel, it’s really a full attraction. There was artwork all over the lobby/piano bar and if you wanted to, you could have a meal here. The Walled Off Salad is the most famous option. I didn’t opt to eat, but instead rolled around and took in the environment.
Connected to the piano bar is the museum, which I was most excited to see. The museum is dedicated solely to the biography of the wall and was very impressive. I usually don’t like going to museums because I think they’re pretty boring to be honest, but the subject of the wall fascinates me and it was wonderful to learn about it.
While at the Walled Off Hotel, I did a Facebook Live video of the entire experience. If you would like to get a full roll-through of the piano bar and museum, check out the video below –
I loved my time at The Walled Off Hotel and truly feel like I learned a lot while there. The hotel is planning to be open for the remainder of 2017, as this year marks 100 years since Britain took control of Palestine and helped kick start a Century of confusion and conflict. Since this is not a permanent hotel at this point, if you want to visit then book your trip as soon as possible.
Now that we had visited Bethlehem’s newest attraction, it was time to see the older parts of the city. Eli drove us over to the downtown area and we met up with a different guide, who would show us around Bethlehem. We walked/rolled along the street and some areas were quite steep. There also weren’t many curb cuts on the sidewalks, so I rolled in the road for much of the time. It was no problem for my powered chair, but if you use a manual chair you might need a bit of help in some areas.
The Old City
After rolling for about 15-20 minutes, we arrived at the highlight of Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity. This church is supposedly where the baby Jesus was born. Whether you’re religious or not though, it’s cool to visit this biblical place.
This is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world and has been in existence since the 500s AD. Due to being an older church, it isn’t the most accessible. I was unable to get to the grotto, which is where the exact spot of Jesus’ birth is, because there were stairs, but I was able to see the main part of the church and the alter. There was also a nativity scene set up outside the church, which was a nice exhibit to see. Even though some of the church wasn’t accessible, I felt like I still got to see quite a bit of it and I enjoyed visiting this monumental church.
For our last stop in Bethlehem, we visited a souvenir shop and as usual, I wanted to purchase everything. There were many items for sale made from olive wood, including nativity sets and Christmas ornaments. I stocked up on some ornaments for myself and friends and family back home. After my purchases, it was time to head back to Jerusalem.
My experience in Bethlehem was incredible and I am tremendously thankful to have had the opportunity to learn about Palestine. Sure, the country has some conflict, but what country doesn’t? If you are planning to visit Israel, I can highly recommend planning a day trip across the border to enjoy these things to do in Bethlehem and experiencing this biblical city in person.
Check out my other guides to Israel, just across the border!
Also take a look at this gorgeous full color travel guide to Israel for more information.
*Thank you to Israel4All for making this trip possible. All opinions are authentic and my own. This post includes affiliate links. When you click on a link, I may receive a small compensation, which will help this blog grow into a better resource for disabled travelers.