Your Ultimate Travel Guide to Palestine: a Misconceived Territory
Updated On: June 26, 2022
Are you a passionate wanderer? Is visiting unique places around the world your goal? Are you up for adventure and new experiences? Then Palestine should be on the top of the list of your next vacation destination.
When thinking about a travel destination for your vacation, Palestine is a nonconventional place to put on your list. Despite the political unrest and conflicts that are always associated with the country, it is a unique land to visit. Palestine is home to many religious landmarks and marvellous natural landscapes. It is definitely going to be an eye-opening experience due to its cultural and historical richness.
Where is the Palestinian Territory?
Why do you need to visit Palestine?
What are the best places to visit in Palestine and things to do?
How do you move around in its cities?
Where to stay?
Where is the Palestinian Territory?
Palestine is an ancient territory in western Asia that is governed by Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) claims the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Since 1967 during the Six-Day War; the Palestinian West Bank is split into 165 Palestinian “islands” under partial Palestinian National Authority (PNA) civil rule, and 230 Israeli settlements.
The territory’s population reaches 5,051,953 as per 2020 reports, making it the 121st in the world. Since 2012, the State of Palestine has been recognized by 138 UN members and has acquired a status of a non-member observer state in the United Nations. It is worth mentioning that it is a member of the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the G77, the International Olympic Committee, as well as UNESCO, UNCTAD, and the International Criminal Court.
Palestine territory is one of the oldest lands in history. It is said that the first historian to mention it was Herodotus in the 5th century BC. He referred in his book The Histories to a “district of Syria called Palaistine.” Therefore its name is as ancient as its history. It is also considered a holy place for people believing in the Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism), which is why it is full of religious and historical stories and landmarks to visit.
Why do you need to visit Palestine?
You may wonder why visit the state of Palestine, here are a couple of reasons:
1- For the Hospitality of its people
The Palestinians are known for their hospitality and friendly attitude. They welcome visitors from all over the world with an open heart and a greeting smile. You will not feel out of place there. Their attitude makes walking around the Palestinian states and mingling with the locals an exceptional experience. You definitely should visit their local markets of fruit and vegetables where you would be in the heart of the locals’ day to day life.
2- For Palestine’s unique cuisine
Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving and identityJonathan Safran Foer
Palestine is known for its unique cuisine and tasty dishes. It is part of their traditional persona. The Palestinian people show off with pride their ability to produce plates that can hardly be competed by any other traditional dishes around the world. They are famous for their falafel, humus, kebbah, Mansaf, Maqloba, and many other dishes. To know more about the expected type of food to expect to taste and its recipes, you can check the wide library of Palestinian cookbooks that are available for you to read. The Palestinian cookbooks are considered in many cases a symbol of their resilience, humility, and authenticity that asserts their identity and belonging to the land.
The rise of Palestinian food recipes became very famous to the extent that several Palestinian food restaurants opened around the world during the last few years like Qanoon in Manhattan, Beit Rima in San Francisco and Reem’s California in Oakland. So imagine getting the chance to taste their recipes at the place of their origin.
3- For its authentic atmosphere
Sometimes a homeland becomes a tale. We love the story because it is about our homeland and we love our homeland even more because of the story.Refaat Alareer, Gaza Writes Back
The Palestinians are known for their high sense of belonging and pride. You can find the story of their daily life and struggle everywhere. From their persistence to preserve their authentic persona, to their dedication to recording their daily challenges. Walking in the streets you can find graffiti walls calling for peace and retelling the story from their point of view. You can find people talking about histories and oral narratives they have inherited and are keen to pass on for generations. It is a place worth visiting for people who are interested in an eye-opening experience that will leave you with many tales to think about and retell.
4- For the beauty of its nature
The Palestinian natural landscape offers many varieties for nature lovers. It is famous for its olive trees that date back thousands of years. There are also mountains open for a hiking trip. And if you enjoy the water landscape, you can visit the dead sea where you can never drown.
5- For the variety of its historical landmarks
Palestine is one of the oldest territories in history. It has several historical ruins that date back to the Roman and Greek periods. It is also considered a sacred place with many religious landmarks like Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jesus Christ Birth Place, Ancient Monasteries and churches, … etc.
What are the best places to visit in Palestine and things to do?
There are various safe places to visit in Palestine and enjoy your vacation. We will explore some of the options below.
1- Visit Bethlehem
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.Phillips Brooks
Bethlehem is a city in Palestine that is located about 10 kilometres south of Jerusalem on the central Westbank. It is an economic and cultural centre in the Palestinian territory that relies heavily on tourism. The city is always buzzing with activity. You cannot miss walking into its local fruit and vegetable market for a chance to meet the locals and taste their traditional food.
Religious and Sites in Bethlehem
Bethlehem also has religious and historical importance to both the Jewish and the Christians. According to the Hebrew Bible, it is the city David came from. And according to the New Testament, it is where Jesus Christ was born. In fact, the birthplace of Jesus Christ can be visited in Bethlehem in the church of Nativity.
From April to September: 6:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.,
From October to March: 5:30 a.m. –5:00p.m.
Being in the Church of Nativity, you might want to visit The Mosque of Omar, which is the only mosque in the Old City of Bethlehem. The current mosque was built in 1860 in honor of Omar Ibn Elkhatab, the Muslim Caliph who conquered the Byzantine Empire in the 7th century.
Every day from 4:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m, except during prayer times.
Another historical religious place you can visit is the Greek Mar Saba Orthodox monastery. It is a monastery overlooking the Kidron Valley between Bethlehem and the dead sea. It is considered one of the oldest inhabited monasteries in the world that have also maintained its ancient traditions.
One other Christian traditional place you do not want to miss visiting is the Chapel of Milk Grotto. It is said that the existing catholic chapel was built in 1872. According to Christian tradition, it is said that it is the place where the Holy Family found refuge during the Massacre of the Innocents. The place contains three caves that are visited by some couples hoping to cure infertility. That is because of the foretold story that a”drop of milk” of the Virgin Mary fell on the floor of the cave and changed its colour to white. It is also where the name the chapel comes from.
Historical Landmarks in Bethlehem
Bethlehem has several historical landmarks that date back centuries ago. You might want to start your visit with Manger Square which is located in the centre of Bethlehem. It is where the Church of the Nativity, Mosque of Omar, Peace Center, adding to multiple souvenir shops are located around its area.
The square used to be a fruit and vegetable market during the Ottoman period. Currently, it is considered an important cultural and social location where different events, exhibitions, concerts, and gatherings are organized.
Another must-see place is Solomon Pools which date back to over two thousand years. They are located in the south of Bethlehem. They contain three stone water basins, cut in the rock which were built during the reign of the Roman King Herod. They became associated with the History of Jerusalem over the course of history.
Near the pools, you can also find the remains of Qal’at al Burak (translated as the castle of the pools). The castle was built by Sultan Murad in the 17th century for purpose of protecting the water source. It has maintained this role throughout the centuries. There is a beautiful landscape associated with the castle and the pools that consist of marvellous scenery of pine and cypress trees.
Other historical landmarks include Al-Ein (translated as water spring) which is the town’s main water reservoir. It dates back to the Mamluk era. Also, King David’s wells are located near the grounds of the Catholic Action Center.
Museums in Bethlehem
There are two main Museums in Bethlehem; one Al Bad Museum. It is located in Fawagreh Street, Bethlehem. The museum holds archaeological artifacts depicting the process of Olive production. It is one of the most original traditions associated with Palestine. The museum’s exhibitions show the importance of the usage of olive oil in Palestinian daily life; for lamps, food, soap, cosmetics, and even medicine among other things. It is worth mentioning that the UNDP in coordination with the Greek Orthodox Society between 1998 and 2000 has joined in renovating the museum’s building.
Monday – Thursday & Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Another museum is the International Nativity Museum. it is located in the Salesian Convent, parallel to Star Street. The museum exhibits a wide collection of over 200 cribs showing the scene of the Nativity. The collection items were imported to Bethlehem from different parts of the world. The cribs show the variety of customs, liturgy, and rituals that are practiced in various countries.
Other Entertaining Spots in Bethlehem
Not all historical landmarks are ancient ruins indeed. Bethlehem also hosts the oldest olive trees alive in the world. One of the oldest is the Albadwi Olive tree, which dates back to 4000 or 5000 years ago. It is located in the village of al-Walaja west of Bethlehem. It is considered one of the most visited tourist attractions in the city, where tourists spend their time enjoying the tree’s shade.
Also in Bethlehem you cannot escape the other face of the story of Palestine. You can find the barriers separating Palestinian territory from the occupied Israeli one. The barrier was turned by Palestinians into a graffiti wall, where their art narrates their struggle and their side of the story. The wall becomes a place where they voiced out their concerns, conflict, and struggle and also shared their hope for peace.
2- Visit Hebron
Hebron is a city in the southern Palestinian West Bank. It is located 30 kilometres to the south of Jerusalem. Hebron is considered the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank, and the second-largest city in the Palestinian territories in general after Gaza. Its estimated population is around 782,227 as of 2021. Being a hub for west bank trade, It is known for its good reputation for grapes, figs, limestone, pottery workshops, and glassblowing factories. The Hebron Governorate is the largest Palestinian governorate. The city is home to two of the most important universities in Palestine; the Hebron University and the Palestine Polytechnic University. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, and it is enclosed on the UNESCO World Heritage list
Places to visit in Hebron and Things to Do
Visit The Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron
The Ibrahimi Mosque, as known in Hebron Al-Haram al-Ibrahimi, is located in the heart of the old town of Hebron. It is considered the fourth-holiest site according to Muslim beliefs and the second-holiest site in Palestine. The Mosque was originally built by Herod the Great during the early Roman period. There is strong historical evidence that suggests that approximately four thousand years ago, the Prophet Ibrahim resided in Hebron. It is said that he chose Hebron as a burial place for himself and his family; his wife Sarah, his son Isaac, his grandson Jacob and their wives. There is a strong belief that the tomb of Josef is also located in Hebron.
The site of the mosque is a holy place for both Muslims and Jews. It is divided into a mosque for Muslims and a synagogue for the Jews. It is one of the oldest historic buildings in the world and a must-see place in Palestine.
Daily; from 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM.
Note: During prayer time, The Mosque is closed to visitors. On Fridays, The Mosque is closed. On Saturdays, the Jewish area is closed. Make sure that you have your Passports, as they are checked by Israeli police before entering.
Dress code to the Mosque: the modest dress is required, and women must cover their heads.
Take a Walking Tour in the Old City of Hebron
After finishing your tour in the Ibrahimi Mosque, you should enjoy walking around the old city of Hebron. The Old City of Hebron begins from the square of Bab El Zawyeh to the Ibrahimi Mosque area. There are two main streets; the first street, is known as New Shallalah St. It is the agricultural market street, where visitors will find fresh fruits and vegetables. The second street is known as the Old Shallalah St. It is a commercial street, where many types of stores are located on both sides of the road. Visitors can enjoy shopping surrounded by the old Ottoman architecture in the city.
Visit the Russian Orthodox Church
The Russian Orthodox Church is located in Al Maskobiyeh Street in Hebron, which is two kilometers away from the Hebron city center. The Church was originally built in 1871 AD around an old oak tree. It is the only church in the city of Hebron. The view from the church is remarkable. On clear days, you can actually enjoy the view cross the Judean hills, extending to the Dead Sea.
Daily; from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Visit the Old Market of Hebron
The local markets in Arab cities, in general, are a unique place to see by any visitor. It is where you manage to get in touch with the locals and have a hands-on experience to their daily routine life. Hebron being an ancient city is no different. Its old local market or, as known in Arabic, (Al-Souq) is a place worth exploring. You will find every local product starting from fresh fruits and vegetables, pottery, traditional crafts and many local productions and small-scale factories. Make sure to end your walking tour in the old market and taste their local fresh food as well.
3- Visit Jericho
Visiting the oldest inhabited city and one of the hottest climates in the world is a must whilst your stay in Palestine. Jericho is located only 10 km away from Jerusalem at 274.02 m below sea level. It is a safe Palestinian city capitalizing on tourism that offers attractions at affordable prices. The claim of being the oldest city in the world is proved by archeologists who have discovered the remains of not less than 20 successive settlements dating back to 9000 BC.
To begin your tour in Jericho we advise you to visit the Tourism Office in the central square, where helpful staff can guide you to the most prominent destinations in the city.
Taking the cable car (telepherique) which runs up to the top of the Mount of Temptation is one of the best attractions in the city. You can enjoy the landscape view through a thrilling experience. It can take you up the mountain for a tour to the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Temptation.
The Greek Orthodox Monastery of Temptation is believed to be the site where Jesus spent forty days and nights after his baptism, resisting the temptations of Satan. The Monastery was originally built by the Hasmoneans. In 340 CE, Christian monks established a monastery at the site, making use of the caves on the adjacent cliff overlooking Jericho. You will hear the name In Arabic as Al-Qurunta, which is a mispronunciation of the Latin word Quarantena, meaning “forty”, which reflects the number of days Jesus fasted
Another place to visit is Ein as-Sultan spring and park. An ancient camp with an ancient spring that still provides water to the city to date. You can also make a stop by Tell as-Sultan which is also believed to hold one of the oldest settlements in the world.
Last but not least, make a stop by the Russian museum and park. It is where you will find information about both the history of the tradition of Russian pilgrims to the Holy Land and the findings of the archaeological excavations of the Byzantine church on the site. You can also enjoy seeing and exploring the legendary sycamore tree which age is over 2000 years old on the grounds of the museum. It is said that it is the same tree mentioned in the Bible. It is of religious importance as it is believed it was climbed by Zacchaeus when Jesus was in town.
Finally, make sure to chill out and relax in the Spanish gardens in the evenings when the sun is beginning to set. The gardens hold a central fountain and a cafe that offers cold drinks to relieve you of the hot weather.
Where to stay in Jericho?
Jericho offers accommodations that range from hotels and hostels. We recommend that you choose the best accommodation suitable to your budget and location from the attractions you are planning to visit in the city.
4- Visit the Dead Sea
The most prominent tourist attraction that can be visited on your way to leave Jericho. The Dead Sea is actually a Salt Lake that is shared between Jordan, east of Israeli territories, and the Palestinian West Bank. It is the lowest place on earth at 430.5 meters below sea level, and It is also the deepest hypersaline lake in the world at 304 m deep. Swimming in the Dead Sea is similar to floating due to its salinity level. This salinity makes it harsh for living organisms to thrive, and thus its name is the Dead Sea.
How do you move around in Palestinian cities?
The best public transportation option in the Palestinian cities is the taxi. They are widely available in all Palestinian cities and the fares are negotiable. Another less expensive option is the service taxi, which is a shared van with a fixed price for a person. You can also rent a car, which will give you flexibility and freedom of movement around the cities.
Where to stay?
There are many accommodation options that are offered in different Palestinian cities for a variable range of prices. Our top picks are:
- Dolphin Suites
Located in Jericho, Dolphin Suites is located in Jericho and offer many facilities at affordable prices. Among which are a restaurant, a 24-hour front desk, and room service. You can also have access to free Wi-Fi throughout the property. Guests in Dolphin Suites can use the spa, the indoor pool, and the hot tub, in addition to the bar.
- The Walled Off Hotel
It is located near the wall separating the Palestinian territories in Bethlehem. The hotel offers its guests its own Museum, Piano Bar, Gallery and Bookshop. Most of the attractions in the city can be easily accessed from the hotel’s location.
- Abu Mazen Hotel
The hotel is located in Hebron offering beautiful city views in its rooms. Most of the main attractions in the city are accessible from the hotel with only a short driveway.