Round up the best of Palestine – the holy shrines, the historical treasures, the hospitality, the folklore, the hiking, the biking, the culture, the handicrafts, the food, the beer – and you have the building blocks for one of the most interesting journeys you’ll ever take. While so many things in Palestine are interesting, some things are better defined as ‘surprising!’ We’ve selected a collection of Palestine’s Most Interesting for First-timers:
1. East Jerusalem: Jerusalem is the heart the Holy Land. There is very little that can make someone understand how this beloved city has stood the test of time, for thousands of years.
Home to the world’s three largest religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the Old City of Jerusalem is enclosed within large stone walls. It is within these walls of the Old City that one can enter the compound which holds the shining, alluring, golden Dome of the Rock, behind which stands Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in the Islamic Faith. Within the same walls of the Old City, you will find the place where Jesus was crucified, now a destination for thousands of pilgrims from all over the world.
Today the Old City is a bustling maze of winding cobble stone paths and streets, each stone carrying within it the shadows and stories of prophets, leaders and infamous visitors of the past. Each alley, each doorway, each church, each mosque, each store and each vendor — everyone and everything in Jerusalem has a story, waiting to be discovered and unleashed by your own curiosity.
2. Bethlehem: Palestine is also home to the little town of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Walking across the Manger Square and into the Church of Nativity, you can walk across time and touch the spot where the Baby Jesus was born. The diversity that this town pulls towards it can only be seen, heard and experienced if one is to visit this town during Christmas. For most, that is a life changing experience!
Descending from Bethlehem, quiet roads will lead you into the Palestinian village of Beit Sahour, where you will find the famous Shepherd’s Fields, the very fertile fields where The Star of Nativity was seen by ancient shepherds.
3. Ramallah: After an interfaith experience, when you head to Ramallah, you will be convinced that Palestine is a country of contrasts. You will be embraced into this city upon entering the Main Square of the Lion Heads, which leads you into numerous streets lined with shops, Unlike other Palestinian cities, the presence of internationals, NGO’s, and a thriving network of university students give Ramallah a different flavor and twist to the rest of your experiences within Palestine!
You cannot leave Ramallah without making a visit to Arafat’s tomb. His burial place is a temporary one awaiting relocation in Jerusalem.
4. Jericho: How about visiting the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth? It is Jericho a peaceful town that dates back to some 10,000 years. This city, also known as moon god, is called Ariha in Arabic and lies 260 meters below sea level, the lowest city in the world. Layers of 23 civilizations have been uncovered here.
Jericho embraces a number of religious and historical sites. Such as the 19th century Greek orthodox monastery that sits on the cliff of the mountain. Inside lies a cave where Jesus is believed to have stayed during his 40 days of fasting.
Three kilometers north from this ancient city is the palace of the Umayyad Caliph Hisham, which was built in the 7th century as a winter resort. It is an excellent example of Islamic art and architecture of the eighth century.
5. Beer: When visiting Taybeh, a Christian community in Palestine, you will find a little beer maker who is striking it big time. Educated at Boston University and University of Davis in California, Mr. Nadim Khoury, turned his beer making hobby in the US into a legitimate business back in his home town of Taybeh. By the way, Taybeh in Arabic means delicious and Taybeh beer certainly is delicious. The village of Taybeh is absolutely charming. The brewery is one of the best local tours and always includes a refreshing sampling of the beer.
6. Markets & Handicrafts: Everywhere across Palestine, the markets the villages and cities are vibrantly colorful, authentic and alive with people. Back in Bethlehem, you can visit olive wood carving and mother of pearl carving factories. To the north, the olive soap factory in Nablus turned out to be a real treat as we watched the manufacturing process that has not changed in hundreds of years. To the south in Hebron, the bread makers are happy to show you their skills and the hugely talented glass blowers perform amazing displays of expertise next to huge blast furnaces.
7. Heritage Centers offer a hands-on approach to learning about the Palestinian culture. Here you are warmly welcomed and encouraged to try on authentic dresses, sit in real Bedouin tents, drink tea or Arabic coffee and enjoy Dabka dance.
8. Nablus and the North: Traveling almost a hundred kilometers north of Jerusalem you will be captivated by the beautiful scenery of hills dotted with olive trees, dipping in and out of its lush valleys. Until you arrive to Nablus, one of the oldest cities in the world. A walk inside the city takes you back in time to the Ottoman Era, especially if you decide to take a Turkish bath in the old Turkish bath house in downtown Nablus. The taste of the Old City is quite exquisite. The buttery richness of Kenafa and the visits to the soap factory will leave you wanting to spend a few more days in Nablus.
Who doesn’t know the story of the “Good Samaritan?” Yet very few know that the community of Samaritans resides on top of Mt. Gerizim, right outside of Nablus, one of the oldest cities in the world.
A few kilometers from Nablus, take a look at the village of Sebastia. It is a great witness of ancient Roman civilization, with its beautiful ruins. It is indeed a marvelous painting of the past.
9. Hebron: Several kilometers south of Bethlehem lies Hebron, a city famed for its pottery and handwork. Authentic crafts of stone and glass pottery are a must see. The intertwining swirls of blue paint on white stone, intricate designs of flora and fauna on cups, plates, glasses and wall decorations are simply one of a kind. You won’t want to leave without a souvenir, and of course a visit to the burial sites of many Biblical personalities, most importantly Abraham.
10. Food: Treat yourself to Palestine’s legendary cuisine by sampling a wide variety of local delicacies like hummus, falafel, grilled lamb and assorted mezzas. Enjoy an evening in one of the spread all over exquisite restaurants featuring folk dancing and singing. Here is a guide to some of the most popular food served all over Palestine:
Falafel – Most popular and is usually served in a pita. It is a deep fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas and/or fava beans.
Shawarma – is a fast-food staple Arab sandwich-like wrap of shaved lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, beef, or a mixture thereof. The meat is placed on a spit, and may be grilled for as long as a day.
Musakhan – Taboon bread topped with pieces of cooked sweet onions, sumac, saffron and allspice, topped by one or two roasted chickens.
Maqluba – an upside-down rice and baked eggplant casserole mixed with cooked cauliflower, carrots and chicken or lamb.
Mujaddara – cooked green lentils with bulgar sauteed with olive oil.
Mansaf – having roots from the Bedouins, Mansaf is cooked lamb on top a markook bread that has been topped with yellow rice with cheesecloth yogurt from goat’s milk poured on top to give it its distinct flavor and taste. The dish is garnished with cooked pine nuts and almonds.
Knafeh – one of the most popular desserts of Palestine. It is made of several fine shreds of pastry noodles with honey-sweetened cheese in the center. The top layers of the pastry is usually colored orange with food coloring and sprinkled with crushed pistachios. Boiled sugar used as syrup.