Palestine travel guide, including map of Palestine, top Palestine travel experiences, and tips for travel in Palestine
Now recognised as a non-member state by the United Nations (UN), Palestine is a compelling place. While the Gaza Strip is strictly off-limits, the West Bank is relatively peaceful and safe to travel. Although certain areas can be difficult to navigate, the locals’ friendly attitude more than makes up for the hassles.
The West Bank is basically two countries laid on top of one another. Israeli ‘settlers’ have their own walled towns, with roads that only Israeli-plated cars can drive down, their own police and a separate infrastructure. Israeli checkpoints at the entrance to every Palestinian town and across major routes are a feature travellers will soon become familiar with.
However, Palestine is well worth the inconvenience. Thronged with history, there are numerous important Christian pilgrimage sites – such as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem – as well as other places of interest such as Sebastia, an ancient ruin in the north of the West Bank.
The cuisine of Palestine is infused with the region’s rich history. The kebabs are fantastic, though Palestinians do not use this as a staple and nor do they rely heavily on large chunks of lamb or pieces of chicken on a stick. Fresh and exciting, Palestinian food is heralded by many as the best in the Middle East.
Travel writer Matthew Teller sums up the experience: “Visiting Palestine isn’t about ticking off places and – perhaps contrary to expectation – it isn’t really about politics either. It’s about the cast of characters. My week in Palestine was full of people, of talking, exchanging stories, overturning preconceptions. Everybody had a tale to tell.”
Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem – Ethereally beautiful seventh-century shrine, its golden dome soars above the Old City
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem – Supposedly built on the site of Christ’s birth, this ancient building draws huge crowds for Mass on Christmas Eve
Souk, Nablus – Vivid, absorbing souk that rambles through the centre of this ancient city
Sebastia – Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine ruins on a northern West Bank hilltop
Cave of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque, Hebron – Roman-era shrine built over Abraham’s tomb, now partitioned into a mosque and a synagogue, with separate, guarded entrances
Travellers should dress conservatively while in Palestine and specifically when visiting areas of religious interest. Shorts or t-shirts should be avoided and women should cover their hair with a scarf when visiting mosques.
Capital of Palestine: Jerusalem (proclaimed); Gaza (administrative)
Population of Palestine: 4 million (West Bank and Gaza). Around 200,000 in East Jerusalem. Figures exclude 500,000 Israeli settlers
Languages in Palestine: Arabic; English widely spoken
Time in Palestine: GMT+2 (Apr-Sept GMT+3)
International dialling code in Palestine: +970, (Israel code: +972)
Voltage in Palestine: 230 V, 50 HZ
Visas in Palestine: Entry is via Israel. Find out about Israel visas here
Money in Palestine: Israeli shekel (ILS or NIS). ATMs are widespread
Palestine tourist board: Palestine tourist board
The best time to visit is from March to May and from September to November, when the weather is warm, sunny and mostly dry. The summer months of June to August are notoriously hot; avoid strenuous activity during the day.
December to February is generally wet and cold. Although you can get some reasonable bargains, Christmas is very busy with thousands heading to Bethlehem for Christmas Mass.
Palestine has no airport. It is possible to enter either via Jordan, or from Tel Aviv in Israel, which is around a one-hour drive from Jerusalem.
Palestinian buses and shared taxis run frequently, but information is scarce and direct routes are often cut by Israeli checkpoints.
Self-drive is possible but tricky. If you hire a car with Palestinian plates, the Israeli army will prevent you from entering Jerusalem or from using Israeli-only West Bank roads. If you hire a car with Israeli plates, Palestinians may mistake you for a settler and throw stones. Most Israeli firms expressly forbid entering the West Bank.
There’s a host of accommodation choices. Hotels, homestays, hostels and guesthouses are all available.
The best way to eat is to order a tableful of mezze – small dishes of dips, salads and savoury pastries. Main-course favourites include maqloubeh (meat with rice and veg) and musakhan (chicken with bread and pine-nuts). Street-food – falafel sandwiches and shawarma (donner kebab) – is delicious.
No vaccinations are required to visit Palestine but it is wise to be up to date with hepatitis A and typhoid jabs. Medical care is good.
Although relatively safe, the West Bank is still under great political strain. Exercise caution and be aware of any potential demonstrations or events that could cause potential problems. Clashes with Israeli forces are usually predictable, so avoidable.