Welcome back to the destination of the week, each week we will highlight a popular destination and give you all the information and first-hand recommendations you need to have an amazing holiday there.
This week you told us that the next destination should be Palestine. Don't forget to join in on our Instagram polls @tysontrails to let us know which places you would like to see next!
When you think of a family holiday I'll be the first person to admit that Palestine is not the first... maybe even not the tenth place you would think of. I had not heard much about Palestine before we visited and wondered whether there was actually much for us to do there. My mind was absolutely blown once there, Palestine is a captivating place. It is split into two sections; Gaza strip - this is strictly off-limits to tourists and you must be a journalist or NGO worker to be allowed entry.
Then you have West Bank which is relatively peaceful and safe to travel to. The locals are some of the friendliest people I have met on travels and are always on hand to help you.
The majority of tourists that visit Palestine will do so for its 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.
Currency: Shekel (Israeli) or the US Dollar is also widely used
Time difference: GMT +3/BST +2
Flight time: London to Israel is around 4 hours and 55 minutes - Palestine has no airports so we flew to Ben Gurion and then took a taxi to Bethlehem which takes under an hour
British Embassy: British Consulate General Jerusalem (+970 2 541 4100), Rajeib Nashashibi St 15، القدس, https://www.gov.uk/world/organisations/british-consulate-general-jerusalem
Emergency services: Ambulance 101, Fire 101, Police 100
Important local laws in Palestine
Palestine is often not shown in a great light with lots of protests and wars going on, as tourists visiting we did feel safe at all times. We had a local guide that stayed with us when we were out just wandering and exploring, we did visit lots of sights by ourselves though and never felt uncomfortable. Local laws can be extremely strict and it is very important to keep within the law when visiting -
Dress modestly in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. Local residents in ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods can react strongly to anyone (particularly women) dressed inappropriately.
Palestine is a Muslim country and therefore celebrates Ramadan. During Ramadan eating, drinking and smoking between sunrise and sunset are forbidden for Muslims. As a courtesy, you should avoid drinking, eating, and smoking in public places in the Occupied Palestinian Territories during Ramadan.
Be sensitive about taking pictures of people in Muslim and Orthodox Jewish areas. Don’t take photographs of military or police personnel or installations.
Carry id with you at all times (eg a photocopy of the personal details and entry stamp pages of your passport).
The penalties for smuggling and trafficking illegal drugs are severe. Those caught in possession can expect a prison sentence.
Same-sex sexual activity is legal in the West Bank but is illegal in Gaza, where it carries a 10-year prison sentence. Attitudes towards LGBT issues within some parts of society can be hostile. All public displays of affection, regardless of the gender or sexuality of those involved, may attract negative attention in more conservative areas. Homosexuality is largely taboo in Palestinian society.
Best time to visit Palestine
For the best weather plan your visit from March to May and from September to November, when the weather is warm and dry. We visited in December and it was quite cold in Bethlehem however, when you head further into the desert it does warm up.
What to pack
Dress respectfully and cover-up, especially when visiting areas of religious interest but I would recommend dressing conservatively the whole time. Shorts or t-shirts should be avoided and women should cover their hair with a scarf when visiting mosques.
Things to see and do
Church of the Nativity – located in Bethlehem, whether you are religious or not this is a must. It can get extremely crowded inside, especially in the underground room where you can see the place that is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus. There are lots of other rooms to explore and you can spend as long or as little time as you want here taking it all in. Most visitors use a tour guide and when you are queuing to enter you will be approached by tour touts offering queue jumps, we chose to go it alone as we prefer going at our own pace.
Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron – The Cave of the Patriarchs or Tomb of the Patriarchs, known to Jews as the Cave of Machpelah and to Muslims as the Sanctuary of Abraham, is a series of caves located in the heart of the Old City of Hebron
Jericho - Located in the Jordan Valley with the river Jordan to the east and Jerusalem to
the West, it is thought to be one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world dated around 9000 BC it provides evidence of the first development of permanent settlements and the first steps towards civilisation, we spent the morning here on our route to the Dead sea it is a great town to explore.
Mount of temptation - you can walk up but as we had Roman we chose the fast route taking the cable car which offered amazing views over Jericho, once you are up you can then explore at your own leisure. Known in the bible as the mountain that Jesus was tempted by the devil during his 40 days and 40 night fast. At the top of the cable car, you can get lost in the hidden rooms, winding lanes and gravity deifying monastery views, unlike most Greek Orthodox Monasteries they allow women visitors, as well as men, just make sure you have a light jacket or scarf if you have your shoulders out.
Banksy - This was the main reason that we were visiting Palestine, Roy is a massive Banksy fan and collects his art. Banksy opened a hotel in Palestine in 2017, it is one of the most unique places we have ever stayed. Inside the hotel, you will also find an art gallery and museum that is free to guests and a small fee just to visit. The hotel's design is very British which is also the twist, you can grab afternoon tea whilst enjoying the show from the self-playing piano. There is a stencil shop next door where you can have a go at being a street artist yourself and spraying your masterpiece onto the famous wall.
Where to eat
Most days we ate shawarma (kebab), You can get this pretty much everywhere whether it's a food stall or restaurant and every one was delicious! We also tried some of the street food stalls in the centre of bethlehem selling falafels and humous. The best way to really experience Palestinian food is to order lots of mezze dishes. You may also notice when driving around lots of people on the roads selling Arabic tea and coffee, I definitely recommend stopping for this! the tea is a sweet mint tea and if you are a strong coffee lover you'll love the Arabic coffee.
How to get around
The transport options in Palestine are quite limited, buses are available and can connect you from city to city. You can also opt to visit Palestine on tours, we saw a lot of people who chose to stay in Jerusalem (Israel) and take tours to and from the sites. As we were staying in Palestine at the Walled off hotel we actually met their main driver called Alaa (check him out on Instagram) We used him daily and he took us to all of the sites, drove us around for food and took us places we didn't even know about. Since first visiting, we have stayed friends with Alaa and Roy has actually returned and visited his family for dinner. There are also taxis that are widely available and very cheap too, you can pick up a taxi in most busy areas and hotels.
Where to stay
Budget - Assaraya Palace Hotel
Assaraya Palace Hotel offers comfortable rooms with free WiFi in Bethlehem, well set within great distance to lots of attractions. The hotel has air-conditioned rooms with a private bathroom. Reviews show the great hospitality of the staff in the hotel and the price is amazing for such a great location.
Mid/Luxury - Walled Off Hotel
This was actually the main reason for our visit as we had heard the hotel was due to shut. Banksy opened a hotel in Palestine in 2017, it is one of the most unique places we have ever stayed, every room is different and designed by Banksy himself with each room showcasing original Banksy artworks. You can sleep in a room with a 6 if not 7 figure piece of art staring at you (there are lots of rules and checks in place to make sure you don't think about slipping things in your suitcase)
The hotel is actually now owned by a Palestinian man and once they have paid all of their staff with the takings the rest of the money is donated to the city of Bethlehem. We spent 3 nights here in 2 different rooms.