From ancient temples to markets and landmark museums, Jerusalem invites travelers to explore the past, sample local cuisine, and discover traditional culture. Since key sites are found in the compact center, you can cover the essentials with just one day in the city. Here’s how.
Church of the Nativity (Basilica of the Nativity)
Rebuilt several times since its construction in the 4th century, the Church of the Nativity is one of the world’s oldest surviving churches. Explore its unassuming interior on a self-guided tour—admiring frescoes, mosaics, and altars—before descending into the Grotto of the Nativity, which marks the birthplace of Jesus.
Nearly all Bethlehem day trips visit the church; some combine Bethlehem highlights with stops in Jerusalem, Jericho, and the Dead Sea. Other options include Christianity-focused excursions that cover biblical locations; multi-day vacations that showcase the West Bank; and Christmas Eve tours that typically combine a Jerusalem tour with time in Bethlehem to watch the midnight mass service broadcast to crowds in Manger Square.
Things to Know Before You Go
Due to its historical significance, the Church of the Nativity is an essential for Christian visitors and history enthusiasts.
Entry is free yet visitors should dress modestly and wear clothes that cover shoulders and knees.
Wheelchair-users can access the church, but not the Grotto.
How to Get There
Church of the Nativity is in central Bethlehem, 6 miles (10 kilometers) from Jerusalem. Cabs don’t run from Israel into the town itself so unless you want to hire a car, the easiest way to reach the church is as part of a tour. Alternatively, catch one of the regular Egged company buses or the number 21 Arab bus from Jerusalem—the latter depart from near the Damascus Gate.
When to Get There
The church attracts crowds year-round, so expect to join sometimes-chaotic lines to enter and visit the Grotto. To avoid the busiest times, plan on an early or late visit: the church is open between 6:30am-7:30pm, April-September, and 5:30am-5pm at other times. The Grotto is closed on Sunday mornings when the church hosts mass.
Church of the Nativity Highlights
While the star marking Jesus’ birthplace in the Grotto of the Nativity is the highlight, there’s plenty more to see around the Church of the Nativity. Crusader paintings, floor mosaics dating from the original basilica, and the church’s low-roofed entrance—which was designed to prevent entry by cart-driving looters—are all interesting details. And while you’re in Manger Square, visit other must-sees such as the neighboring Church of St. Catherine and the Milk Grotto, where it’s believed that Mary nursed the baby Jesus.
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