Bethlehem is one of Christianity's most holy places. It's probably no surprise that the UNESCO-listed Biblical birthplace of Jesus Christ is a treasure trove of historic sites, ornate churches and cultural artefacts. But it's also a lively town with a thriving youth culture and art scene. The Israeli West Bank barrier, daubed with colourful street art – including originals by Banksy – is an actively manned monument that circles the town.
Most Bethlehem hostels are in or near the historic centre, making it easy to find your way around. To truly immerse yourself in Palestinian culture, you can stay in a Bethlehem hostel that offers tours and daily trips. Some hostels in Bethlehem have en-suite bathrooms for a little extra privacy, and you can often pick from mixed and female-only dorms. Go for a place that has free breakfasts to set you up for the day.
Bethlehem is fairly compact, which contributes to its bustling, exciting atmosphere. Most of the main attractions are in the centre of the city, so you'll always be in walking distance of the sights. Manger Square is the heart of the city, with cafés and restaurants lining its edges. The Dead Sea is nearby, though it's tricky to get to directly from Bethlehem. Instead, take a tour beginning in Jerusalem, which is 10km away.
Among the town's abundance of historic sights is the Church of the Nativity, built over Jesus' birthplace. Though the original 339 AD building burned down, you can still see its mosaics and admire the architecture of the 6th-century structure now there. History buffs can visit Solomon's Pools, built around 2,000 years ago to provide water to nearby Herodium. At the Palestinian Heritage Centre, you can learn about the local culture and buy handmade goods from women from the surrounding areas. For fun and friendly nightlife, head to the bars near the university or at the old port, Beit Sahour.
To get to Bethlehem, you have to enter Israel first. The nearest airport is Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, and you can take an hour-long bus to Jerusalem from there. Bethlehem is just a 30-minute bus journey from Jerusalem, and the blue number 21 will take you through the checkpoint. You may be asked to show your passport, so have it handy. Inside the city, walking is easiest on the hilly terrain, though there are public buses available.