Bethlehem, which means ‘House of Bread’ in Hebrew, is the birthplace of Jesus Christ and King David. Because of this lofty status, many people, Christian and Jewish alike, travel to Bethlehem each year in reverence of these two figures. While the Church of the Nativity is the focal point of Christian tourism, Bethlehem travel is also for those who wish to visit Rachel’s tomb, located on the outskirts of town. Visitors can also book Bethlehem tours during their visit to Israel, if they wish to see the area with a guide.
The city of Bethlehem is in the West Bank, one of the Palestinian Territories, and it is the largest Arab Christian community in the Middle East. The area's historical record may date back to ancient times, when it served as a passage between Africa, Asia, and Europe 50,000 years ago, but the earliest positive reference to Bethlehem is in the Book of Ruth, which dates back to somewhere around 1150 BC; Naomi and Elimelech were the first known residents. Compared to Jerusalem, Bethlehem has always been smaller and more obscure, with the exception of its being the birthplace of Jesus, which put it on the map permanently.
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Just north of the city is Jerusalem, another wonderful city to include on your itinerary, particularly if you are interested in history. There are plenty of things to do in and around the area of Jerusalem, including visiting the Temple Mount, Israel Museum, the Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem, the Biblical Zoo, which is a collection of all the species mentioned in the Bible, and the Old City of Jerusalem. And of course, a day trip to Bethlehem is an excellent addition to any itinerary.
Bethlehem travel is almost always done by way of Jerusalem. There are a few different ways to get in: by bus, taxi, or on foot. Between the two cities, there is a general border crossing checkpoint, since you will be crossing from Israel into a Palestinian territory. Within the city, Bethlehem travel is pretty simple; you can walk around on your own, book one of the Bethlehem tours, or grab a taxi, which is usually very cheap.
On the outskirts of town lies the traditionally accepted site of Rachel’s Tomb; in Judaism, it is the third-holiest site. In the Old Testament, it is mentioned that Rachel died giving birth to her second son, Benjamin, on the way to Ephrath near Bethlehem, and her husband, Jacob, set a pillar to mark her grave. While today, there is a reinforced dome and building at the location, the tomb itself is merely a rock with eleven stones stacked on top, signifying the eleven sons of Jacob that were living at the time of her death.
Visiting Bethlehem can be a delightful and enriching experience for many people. Travelers should be prepared with a good supply of fresh water and good walking shoes if there are any plans to visit Rachel’s Tomb. Before booking any of the Bethlehem tours, it is essential to conduct thorough research on who to engage for the best deals and to ensure that you find an English-language tour if you don't speak Hebrew or Arabic.