It’s not quite the holiday season yet, but if you plan on visiting Bethlehem for Christmas, there are a few things to be aware of. If you’re visiting from a foreign country, or are not familiar with Bethlehem, this will especially apply:
1. Hire a tour guide in Jerusalem who will take you in and out of Bethlehem. Get a recommendation from one of the more established and reputable hotels for a guide, and plan as far in advance as possible.
2. Take your passport, you’ll need it to get in and out.
3. If you go during Shabbat/Sabbath on Saturday, expect more of a crowd once in Bethlehem.
4. Try your best not to drive. Either hire a taxi after you cross through the checkpoint, or hire a tour guide who will drive.
5. If you are unsure where to go, just look for Manger Square. It is the center or town, and where most shops and tourist attractions are.
6. Don’t hire a tour guide once you’re at the Church of the Nativity. They will charge too much, even though they will try to say they are registered or authorized, they might be bogus.
7. Start working your way back to your hotel about an hour before nightfall, especially if it is your first time in the area.
8. Don’t be shocked when you see numerous heavily armed Palestinian soldiers on the sidewalks. This is “normal” for Bethlehem, particularly during the holiday season.
9. If you buy anything from the shouk (open-air market) be prepared to be told that everything is “antique” which will make the price higher. Things might not necessarily be antique and the prices will be higher if you’re a tourist.