We didn’t have a huge amount of time to spend in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and I would have liked some more time to explore, particularly Jerusalem’s restaurants.
We did a big group tour in Old Jerusalem. The city of course is wonderful (really a must see) and the Wailing Wall is quite a sight, a very spiritual experience for many. I’d suggest finding a small group tour or even a private guide if you can. The tourism of religion is booming and ending up on a big bus with 40 people isn’t a great.
Something you must do when in Jerusalem is a visit one of the Machneyuda Group’s restaurants. We visited Machneyuda itself and this was one of our best dining experiences of the whole trip. It’s just off the Machane Yehuda market and uses fresh Israeli grown ingredients with modern twists but hearty servings and punchy flavours. It’s owned/run by the guys (Assaf Granit, Yossi Elad and Uri Navon) who started The Palomar, The Barbery and The Blue Posts in London. I also heard eating Rugelach at the Marzipan Bakery is a must do, but we ran out of time!
We found a driver (via TripAdvisor of all places!) to take us around Bethlehem. He was a bit of a local personality as it turns out – @alaa_taxi_driver_bethlehem, look him up. If one of the main purposes of travel is to help us learn more about the world we live in, then this trip to the West Bank and spending time with Alaa, a Palestinian, was one of the most successful I’ve had so far.
Hearing first hand how the Israeli / Palestinian conflict affected this man, his family, his friends and those living in the West Bank was incredibly interesting. How much violence goes on, and how much has been lost along the way over so many decades of conflict is heartbreaking. We saw a number of religious sites including the Nativity Church, however, I found the Separation Wall, Banksy’s hotel ‘The Walled Off Hotel’ and a walk through a refugee camp to be the things that have left the most lasting memories.
We felt safe the entire time we were there, of course you need to be aware of what is going, but we didn’t have a single issue.
I felt as if I barely scratched the surface and am definitely not qualified to discuss such a topic, however, I would simply encourage you to visit. Stay at The Walled Off Hotel if you have time, and make sure to do their tour. I’ve also heard Hosh Jasmin, an organic farm and restaurant set on a hilltop overlooking Bethlehem, is a great spot for a bite to eat.