Jerusalem and Bethlehem are two of the most significant cities in the world for Christians
When you’re visiting Israel, both of them should definitely be on your bucket list. In both cities you can see incredible historical and religious landmarks, visit holy sites, and see ancient history with your own eyes. While Jerusalem is a common stop for tourists visiting Israel, Bethlehem can easily be added to your travel itinerary. And the good news is that traveling from Jerusalem to Bethlehem is typically a fast and seamless experience for tourists visiting Israel.
Jerusalem – A Brief History
While historians believe the first human settlements appeared in Jerusalem as early as 3500 B.C., Jerusalem’s religious significance began in the year 1000 B.C., when the famous King David conquered the city, and made it the capital of the Jewish kingdom. David’s son Solomon built what was called the “first holy Temple,” which was later destroyed by the Babylonians (who occupied the city in 586 B.C.).
For the next several hundreds of years, different rulers and groups would conquer the city, including Alexander the Great, the Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Egyptians, and Persians. Significantly, in the year 37 B.C., King Herod ordered the construction of a “second” holy Temple.
Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem (we’ll talk more about this in the next section), and he was crucified in Jerusalem around the year A.D. 30. The Romans later destroyed the second Temple 40 years later, and in the year 632, the Islamic prophet Muhammed died and is said to have ascended to heaven from Jerusalem.
Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepluchre
Because of Jerusalem’s history and significance in Christianity, there are several landmarks which are holy to Christians within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Many Christian visitors walk the Via Dolorosa, which is a processional route throughout the Old City, and is believed to be the path Jesus was forced to walk by Roman soldiers on the way to his crucifixion.
There are 14 stops along this route. Several of them are located inside the Church of the Holy Sepluchre, which has been determined to be the site where Jesus was both crucified and buried (the church was first built during the Roman empire). Inside the church, visitors can see many famed sites, including the Golgotha (where Jesus was crucified) and the tomb where Jesus was buried, which is situated inside a shrine called the Aedicula. There is also a portion of the rock underneath the church that sits behind glass, and which you can touch through a hole in the ground (there is usually a line for this altar). When you first walk into the church, you’ll also find the stone where Jesus’ body was anointed before burial.
The Done of the Ascension and The Tomb of the Virgin Mary
Another significant site for Christians is the Dome of Ascension, which was built during the Roman empire, and which is located on the Mount of Olives. The Tomb of the Virgin Mary is also notable: it is located outside of the city walls, near the base of the Mount of Olives.
Bethlehem – A Brief History
Bethlehem is known as the birthplace of Jesus, but it was first mentioned in ancient texts around the year 1350 B.C. Bethlehem was a “staging and rest stop for travelers,” and an outpost near the desert. It is also believed to be the birthplace of King David.
The site of the Nativity of Jesus was identified as being in a “cave close to the village,” and the Roman Emperor Constantine later commissioned a church to be built over it. Today, the Church of the Nativity is one of the oldest Christian churches in existence.
Bethlehem was conquered by Muslims, and later by the Crusaders. It was also ruled by the Ottomans, and later captured by the British Empire, which governed Bethlehem until 1948. Today, Bethlehem is under full control of the Palestinian Authority, and while it historically was a city of Arab Christians, it is now home to many Arab Muslims.
The Church of the Nativity is one of the holiest sites in Christianity, and the birthplace of Jesus is listed as a UNESCO heritage site. Inside the church, you can see mosaics, ornate decorations, and significant sites. These include the Grotto of the Nativity (believed to be the precise spot Jesus was born), and the Altar of the Magi.
Christians often also visit the Chapel of Saint Joseph, and the Chapel of the Milk Grotto, which is believed to be the place where Jesus and his family found refuge before escaping to Egypt. Other significant Christian landmarks in Bethlehem include Manger Square, which is situated in front of the Church of Nativity, and is a gathering place in the city, particularly during Christmas time. The Shepherd’s Field is another notable site, located just outside of Bethlehem.
How to Get from Jerusalem to Bethlehem
If you plan to visit Bethlehem during your trip to Israel, then traveling from Jerusalem is a great starting point, as the two cities are just about 10 kilometers (or 6 miles) from each other. But unfortunately, due to the complicated political situation in Israel and the West Bank, travel between the two cities is not as straightforward as you might think. However, there are several options for traveling from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and it is generally very safe and easy for tourists to make this trip.
If you’re interested in taking public transportation, Bus 231 travels from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, as does bus 21, which operates from the East Jerusalem Bus Station. Keep in mind that public buses to Bethlehem can experience delays, as these buses wait in line at the checkpoints (which tourist buses usually bypass). It is not possible to take a rental car from Israel to Bethlehem (it is typically not covered under an Israeli car rental policy).
Keep in mind that regardless of your mode of transportation, you’ll need to pass through checkpoints to visit Bethlehem, so be sure to bring your passport. Please note, Israeli passport holders are not allowed to visit Bethlehem. Because of this, it’s not possible to arrange to have a driver take you from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.
Fortunately, there are many tours which take you directly from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and which can help you navigate the checkpoints and particularities of this trip. Abraham’s Bethlehem tour leaves from Jerusalem, and takes you to the Christian highlights of the city, including the Church of the Nativity, the Grotto of Lady Mary, and the Shepherd’s Field. During Christmas time, you can also go on a special Christmas Eve tour of Bethlehem. If you’re interested in a multi-city experience in the West Bank, which takes you to highlights of the region (including Bethlehem), there’s also the Best of the West Bank tour.
Stay in Jerusalem
During your travels in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, Abraham Jerusalem is waiting to host you. Perfectly located in the heart of Jerusalem’s city center, this hostel is just a 20-minute walk to the Old CIty of Jerusalem (and a short light rail ride), and a 3-minute walk from the famed Machane Yehuda market. It is also the pickup location for Abraham’s Bethlehem tours.
Have questions about Abraham’s tours from Jerusalem to Bethlehem? Send us a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.