CODE Travel Guide: Bethlehem

Published 1 June 2019

CODE’s Editor Lisa Markwell reports back from Bethlehem on where to stay and eat.

Check into Hosh al Syrian guest house

This serene, picturesque space is run by Fadi Kattan with a warm welcome, deep knowledge and wicked sense of humour. Rest in one of the cool, peaceful rooms before you venture into the city and don’t forget to make time for the delicious breakfast – or dinner in its Fawda restaurant, complete with its chic interpretations of classic Palestinian cuisine. hoshalsyrian.com

Lunch at Afteem

OK, so there’s a picture of David Cameron on the wall, but don’t let that put you off, this family-run business has survived in Bethlehem for 71 years because it serves light, crisp, dreamy falafels (made out front) with a pile of pillowy flatbread and the smoothest hummus in town. gobethlehem.com/category/afteem

Coffee break in the souk

Getting a brew from Sami at the hole-in-the-wall spot near the guesthouse means you have a respite from the heat and hectic Star Street in front of you. Sami gets his coffee from the tiny coffee and spice shop round the corner and so should you, for back at home – the dark and blonde beans (mixed and ground to your preference) are superb.

Dinner at Abu Eli

A true survival story of Palestine, the restaurant was established by Eli’s father and despite the unwelcome arrival of the looming wall nearby and once being destroyed, it continues to serve melt-in-the-mouth grilled lamb cutlets and tender kebabs – watch the meat being chopped and blended into a secret mix of herbs, pine nuts and salt with a cleaver the size of your arm. gobethlehem.com/category/abu-eli-restaurant

A drink at the Walled Off Hotel

Powerful statement on the occupation or trendy ‘tragedy tourism’ hotspot? You decide. A hotel created by the artist Banksy is certainly a talking point – especially the presidential suite complete with bath filled via a water tank riddled with bullet holes and the graffiti-strewn wall just a couple of metres across the street. However, the in-house museum is an excellent starting point for understanding how the conflict has affected the city. walledoffhotel.com

Take the Fayarek Food Quest

The market is in full swing and even though you’ll be fueled by breakfast at Hosh, make space for the pancakes and huge variety of breads (warm kaek in particular) and stock up on za’atar, sumac, fresh chick peas and more – the Fayarek Food Quest team will take you to all the best places. Here, the overwhelmingly positive, creative and generous spirit of Bethlehem’s community is remarkable. farayek.com

Visit the Baituna alTalhami Museum

This is not only a deeply evocative space where clothes, furniture, photographs and jewellery of the local people has been preserved, it also tells the story of – for instance – how Palestinian families historically preserved and cooked their food. And, as it is run by the Arab Women’s Union, you can also buy handicrafts and bread, pastries and much more.

Take a moment to reflect at the Aida camp

A visit to Bethlehem cannot be complete without a visit to this touchpoint. The Aida camp, started as a tented refuge in 1950 for displaced people, has now become a permanent home for many, right in the shadow of the wall, and its vast key symbol above the entrance is a permanent reminder of those who kept their house key, thinking one day they’d be able to return home.

This article was first published in Issue 19 of CODE Quarterly.  

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