For nearly two millennia, pilgrims have been making their way to what Christians believe to be the birthplace of Jesus. In the streets around the Church of the Nativity and Manger Sq, you'll see ancient stone buildings and narrow alleyways that look much as they did centuries ago. But the past is only one side to Bethlehem: the city is also one of the best places in the West Bank to sample Palestinian food, both modern and traditional, and is home to a good few bars.
Nadim Khoury and family have been brewing Taybeh beer in this tiny Christian village for more than 25 years, and the Palestinian amber nectar is now widely available across the West Bank, Israel and even Europe and the US. At Taybeh Brewing Company, visitors are given a tour of the facility and can sample the Khoury family's latest creations, including a new IPA in 2017. Down the road is the family's winery and hotel, where visitors can sample wines produced in the hills that surround the village.
Bethlehem isn't all about the past: the separation wall, which cuts the city off from Jerusalem, has become a vast canvas for street artists, from local Palestinians to British veteran Banksy, who in 2016 opened a hotel on Caritas St, just metres away from the barrier. The Walled Off Hotel is an excellent place to begin a tour of the street art, including half a dozen Banksy stencils, as well as works by local and international artists. A number of shops offer the opportunity to add your own message.
The West Bank's second city sprawls between Mt Gerizim and Mt Ebal (known as the mountains of blessings and curses respectively). At its myriad market stalls, Palestinian shopkeepers hawk everything from fruit and vegetables to rich perfume and pungent spices. More sensory pleasure can be had at Al Aqsa kunafeh (warm, syrupy cheese-based pastry) stand, home of Nablus' most famous culinary delight, and at either of the city's two tourist-friendly hammams. On Mt Gerizim are ruins that the Samaritans consider to be the first piece of land created by God.
Walking amongst the ruins of ancient Jericho is an essential part of any traveller's itinerary in the West Bank, but there is a lot more here than the remains of the oldest city in the world (which is 10,000 years old according to some estimates). Take the time to check out the mosaics at Hisham's Palace and don't miss a cable car ride to the epic Monastery of the Qurantul. Jericho is also home to one of the best youth hostels in the West Bank, Sami Youth Hostel.
Mar Saba Monastery
A bleak and beautiful drive through the Judean mountains south of Bethlehem brings you to Mar Saba Monastery, built into a cliff face above a wadi. Men can exercise their privilege by going inside to meet the monks, check out the wall paintings and see the tiny shrine that contains the remains of St Saba (439–532 AD). Sadly, women will have to be content with a view from the adjacent hillside, where a small tower at least provides some shade.
Home to most of the West Bank's best budget accommodation, as well as the bulk of its bars and clubs, Ramallah is an excellent base for visitors and an exciting, cosmopolitan and vibrant city in its own right. Since 2017, the city has also hosted the excellent Yasser Arafat Museum, located in the compound where the late Palestinian leader spent his final years under Israeli siege. Also in the de facto Palestinian capital is a museum to 'Palestine's poet laurette' Mahmoud Darwish.
Since the demolition of Jenin's world-famous cinema in 2016, the Freedom Theatre is one of the northern city's few remaining sights, and continues to persuade tourists to come to the city either via the checkpoint at Jalameh or from Nablus (a two-hour drive). The theatre accepts visitors daily and holds regular events, including performances and plays in both English and Arabic. At the centre of Jericho's refugee camp, the Freedom Theatre also provides essential work in the community and is often looking for international volunteers.