Palestine Travel Guide
The ultimate guide to the best things to do and see in Palestine
At the heart of the Middle East, Palestine is one of the most fascinating, historical and important parts of the region. The State of Palestine brings up a lot of immediate political issues, but please keep an open mind and understand that it’s a great tourist destination with friendly locals, uniquely historical cities, amazing food (it’s the Middle East after all!), and a wide range of nature trails and other tourist activities. Start here with my basic Palestine travel tips, or jump down below to read my latest Palestine travel blogs.
Visiting Palestine – things to know
The State of Palestine includes two distinct regions: the Gaza strip and the West Bank, each operated by separate but sometimes-coordinating Palestinian governments. Gaza is largely separated from the rest of the world and is not easy to visit as a tourist due to blockades. The West Bank, however, shares borders with Israel and Jordan, sitting between the two and with East Jerusalem as the main point of entry.
Is Palestine safe to visit? That’s a question you’d have to ask yourself by taking into consideration travel warnings from your government and recent on-the-ground news, but largely, yes. I’ve visited countless times and besides the hassle of going through a checkpoint to enter via public bus, it’s quite easy and comfortable to visit.
When to visit Palestine? It’s a year-round destination, of course, but keep in mind that summers can get very, very hot. The Dead Sea which shares borders with Israel, Jordan and Palestine is not exactly a cool-off destination. The bridge seasons can be great for hiking holidays through Palestine. Christmas in Palestine is also especially unique because of the festivities that take place in Bethlehem.
Top Things To Do
Visit Bethlehem – Perhaps the most famous city in Palestine, Bethlehem is a great day trip from Jerusalem. The historic city also has plenty to see, do and eat for an extended visit. Of course there’s the famous Church of Nativity where Jesus was born, but make time to visit some other sights in the city. For example, you can also visit the wall that surrounds Bethlehem, built by Israel as a “security fence” and a way to control the population and movement. Today there are many street art murals by the likes of Banksy painted along many stretches of the wall.
Eat all the foods – Middle Eastern cuisine is one of my personal favorites; it’s very healthy and fresh with a lot of unique flavors. Visit the street stalls in cities like Nablus or Ramallah for local dishes and regional specialities beyond just shawarma and falafel. Nablus is especially popular for its knafeh—a traditional Palestinian dessert of cheese pastry soaked in a sweet syrup. You’ll find the dish available throughout the Middle East but it originates in Nablus.
Hiking trails through Palestine – I haven’t done it myself, but plenty of friends have hiked some of the assorted trails through Palestine, including the Abraham Path. The VisitPalestine tourism office has additional information on some of the trails.
It’s hard not to sense the political reality on the ground in Palestine thanks to complicated regional politics. Some cities are highly contentious between Israel and Palestine and there are regular conflicts between the peoples and governments of both, but I wouldn’t let that deter you from tourism. Funny enough, as an international tourist in Palestine, you’re afforded a lot more freedom of movement between the two. For political tours, I highly recommend the offers from Breaking The Silence—an advocacy and activist group that runs regular tours discussing some of the complicated political issues at bay. (See my photos and read my review of a BTS tour.)
Not all Palestine tours are focused on politics, however, and there are private guides available (check with your hotel/hostel) to learn about Palestinian sightseeing, foods, and traditional crafts. Take a look at this selection of other Palestine tours.
LGBT – Gay Palestine Travel Guide
Palestine does not have an easy-to-find LGBT or gay scene, unfortunately. Some of the nightclubs in Ramallah have been reported as relative safe-havens and queer-friendly spaces, but it’s hard to find unless you’ve got a local friend to find the way. Jerusalem also has a small but thriving LGBT-friendly scene—though in the Israeli-controlled part of West Jerusalem, making it difficult for many LGBT Palestinians to visit.
More gay travel resources here.
Palestine Hotel Deals
I’ve found that using Booking.com, Agoda.com or Hotels Combined can be really useful for finding last-minute deals.
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