So you are wondering what to see and do in the West Bank, Palestine? Well done for doing your research first! Many of the best sights are off the beaten track and totally missed by your average tourist. Here we provide an insider’s peek preview into some of the highlights that most travellers never see.
There’s lots to see because most of the big tourist destinations are actually in Palestine, rather than in Israel. You usually have to travel through Israel to get to Palestine, so you will see both countries. You won’t always know which one you are in – especially in Jerusalem which is half in Israel, half in Palestine. Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be part of Israel and does not mark the border. Make sure you use a map with political borders marked.
You’ll find more tips about how to make the most of our your visit in our frequently asked questions page.
Gaza is unfortunately still almost impossible to visit. You need a visa from the Egyptians, which is very unpredictable. The alternative is to travel via Israel. But the Israeli Army normally only issues visas to accredited NGO workers and a few journalists.
What to see and do in the West Bank
So don’t let anyone put you off going to the West Bank. Ramallah and Bethlehem are bustling cities within 5 or 10 miles of the centre of Jerusalem. These cities are teeming with people, markets, felafel stalls, mosques, churches, museums. The Palestinians are warm, friendly and hospitable. Nearly all young people (and many older people) speak excellent English.
Don’t miss the other great cities! Hebron’s tomb of Abraham; Nablus’ Old City, Jericho – the oldest city in the world. Israel fully controls most of the Dead Sea area despite the fact it is mainly Palestinian territory.
Jerusalem: What to see and do in Palestine
The Old City of Jerusalem with its holy places from three religions is a great starting point. The old city is world famous – but most regular tourists miss the many of the signs of conflict . Entered through Damascus Gate? The international community recognise East Jerusalem as Palestinian territory. A good guide who understands the political situation can show you things you will otherwise miss. For example, where the former Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, controversially bought a flat in the heart of the Palestinian old city during the 1980s.
Make sure you don’t miss some of the roof-top views. To take in the best views of Jerusalem get onto the rooftops! At this level you’ll also see more of the ‘security infrastructure’ of East Jerusalem. Private guards hired to protect Israeli settlements in former Palestinian homes.
Bethlehem: What to see and do in the West Bank
Most tourists enter Bethlehem only to see the Church of the Holy Nativity, and then bus straight out again. The church is a great visit, with its mosaics and caves. But there’s so much more to see you. You could happily spend several days uncovering the layers of history.
Top of the list is the Banksy Hotel, the Walled-Off, which boasts the worst view in the world. There is a quirky museum and great off-the-wall decorations. It is a great place to cool down with a refreshing lemon juice or a beer. Afterwards why not go for a walk to admire the graffiti?
Hidden in the backstreets is one of our favourite ways to slip back in time. The Bethlehem Women’s Union Ethnographic Museum is a chance to see many of Palestine’s traditions come to life. You can buy some embroidery in the gift shop upstairs. You can acquire some unique pieces without any haggling!
What to see and do in Hebron, Jericho and Nablus
Hebron, Nablus and Jericho are great historic cities within 30-35 miles of Jerusalem and there’s lots to see and do. Each one has as many places of historical interest – Biblical, Roman, Christian, Ottoman – as the whole of Israel put together. They also feel starved of visitors so they will make you very welcome.
Hebron (Al Khalil in Arabic) is easy to reach from Bethlehem if you have transport. Hebron locals are more conservative and traditional than in downtown Ramallah.
Olive Picking: activities in the West Bank
If you want a deeper immersion in Palestinian culture you can go olive-picking during the harvest (in late October) or volunteering in a refugee camp (best during summer schemes in July) or work for one of the NGOs that cluster in Ramallah and Bethlehem. There are also groups that focus on rebuilding houses demolished by the Israeli army or protecting Palestinian farmers from settler attacks.
What else to see and do in the West Bank
Travel deeper into the West Bank to experience fascinating places like:
- Jenin (with its famous theatre)
- Qalqilya (a city surrounded on three sides by the wall)
- Taybeh (a Christian village with its own brewery)
- Sebastiya (where Salome asked for John the Baptist’s head)
- Herodion (where King Herod is buried).
You can also visit Bedouin villages threatened with demolition such as Khan al Ahmar, Susiya, Umm el Khair.
Israeli law and visiting Palestine
Israeli law bans its citizens from visiting Palestinian cities, though a few of them ignore this to enjoy the lower prices and delicious food in the West Bank or to join one of the weekly protests against the wall. This law does not of course apply to foreign tourists, who pretty much have the run of all the best sights and restaurants and hotels.
What to see and do in Ramallah, the West Bank, Palestine
A short bus ride from Jerusalem, Ramallah is the administrative capital of Palestine and a bit of a “bubble” with lots of civil servants and Europeans working for NGOs. But if you are interested in the history of the Palestinian struggle, there is an excellent Yasser Arafat Museum where you can also see the bunker where he was holed up for two years. There is also a Mahmoud Darwish museum in honour of the great Palestinian poet.
What you can learn about history in the West Bank
Whatever you see or do in the West Bank, you are knee-deep in history. Surrounded by beautiful scenery, you will meet people who are hospitable to a fault. If you engage them for any length of time in conversation, they will tell you their personal experience of the issue that dominates and shapes their lives, the 52-year-old Israeli occupation of the West Bank, though with remarkably little bitterness either towards individual Israelis (unless they are the settlers who have stolen their land) or towards Britain (whom they blame for the Balfour Declaration).
What you can see and do in the West Bank as part of a group
If you want to know more about the Israel-Palestine conflict, rather than just see the sights, it’s best to travel with a group. You can go by yourself and see the checkpoints, the wall, the settlements, the refugee camps, but you will understand far more with a guide. NGOs and the UN provide excellent briefings about the problems caused by the Israeli occupation, but they will usually only see groups. We are a non-profit company that specialises in small-group fact-finding visits for politically-aware people.
If you’d like to know more about the things you can see and do as part of our tours then get in touch!