Bethlehem is one of the most important Christian sites in the world. Its close vicinity to Jerusalem and relative safety that comes with being a major pilgrimage hotspot make it a rather popular destination on itineraries around the Holy Land.
My guided tour consisted of three stops in different parts of the Bethlehem district. The most important one was, of course, Old City ♥, where I perused the local market and sat down at a local eatery for shawarma. The overriding factor for anyone visiting the town of Bethlehem is the Church of Nativity ♥♥, which is shared by three different denominations (Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian). The church is interesting enough and I was given an opportunity to visit the Milk Grotto as well.
Prior to that, we stopped by Shepherds’ Field ♥ national park in Beit Sahour neighborhood. A person of Christian persuasion will certainly find a visit here more rewarding, but the caves, the church, and the excavations are not without interest to others.
Yet prior to that, we went to an elevated viewpoint near Herodion National Park, which is some distance from the town of Bethlehem. We did not go to the park itself, but rather used the stop to discuss the topography of the land. The drive also allowed me to take a look at the parts of Palestinian territories that are away from the tourist centers, including driving through Zone A areas.
I do not recommend going into Bethlehem solo – if, like me, you do not like the group tour options, hiring a private guide is highly recommended. Non-Palestinian guides can escort you across the border checkpoints, while Palestinian ones can meet you with the car right outside Checkpoint 300. I have only best recommendations for Ramzi Sadi ♥♥♥ whom I found on ToursByLocals; in 4 hours or so he will not only show you the main Christian sights in Bethlehem, but give you an overview of the entire district.
Crossing checkpoint on your own can be a bit unnerving, especially if you do that in the early morning, since Palestinians are crossing in the opposite direction, and practically nobody is going to Bethlehem at that time. There are no checks of any kind to enter Palestinian territory; you go through the turn-style door and start walking down a long empty hallway, getting increasingly disturbed until you emerge on the other side and are surrounded with a bunch of taxi drivers offering rides. Reverse crossing is less nervy, since there will likely always be other people moving in the same direction, and you do have to interact with Israeli border guards (do not forget your passport and the tourist card insert that you should get at your point of entry to Israel).