Christmas in Israel: Top 10 things to see and do to feel festive in the Holy Land!

Christmas in Israel can be an amazing time! Let’s face it, however strong your faith, there’s just something about being in the Holy Land at this time of the year, at the source for all things Christmas…

To help those of you heading to Israel for the festive season, we’ve come up with a list of the ten things to see and do over Christmas in Israel. This little list goes above and beyond the usual top things to see and do in Israel, and is a guide for those who want to experience some of the major Christian sites especially relevant at this time of the year, enjoy the December weather (hopefully), and still feel festive…

Don’t miss our annually updated Christmas page for more Christmas goodies!

Visit Bethlehem

Bethlehem, IsraelAhh, there’s just something magical about visiting Bethlehem at Christmas. The must-see is, of course, the Church of the Nativity and the legendary underground grotto where the 14-pointed star is located (believed to mark the exact location where Jesus was born), but there’s also the carol sing-a-long in Manger Square and a Midnight Mass at the next door Church of St. Catherine (it’s all in Latin but worth the effort, just for that extra special Christmas feeling!). We’ve done it, and want to do it again! If you’re going to do it, this is probably the best and budget-friendliest Christmas Eve tour in town! If you want to go solo, it’s also fairly easy to get from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

Wander the alleyways of Jerusalem’s Old City

Old City marketHand in hand with Bethlehem on any Christmas visit to Israel is Jerusalem’s Old City (and they’re  just 10km away from each other). Must sees include the powerful and sacred Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a walk down the Via Dolorosa, and market haggling in the amazing Old City bazaar. You don’t have to be a believer to feel the spirituality and power in such an amazing city.

For a real taste of Jerusalem, try one of these fabulous Jerusalem tours

Head to the Beach!

Do Christmas like they do it in the Southern Hemisphere and spend a day on the beach! You might not be lucky enough to get a scorchingly hot beach day in Tel Aviv over Christmas (though people often take a dip in December!), so you might have to head down to Eilat for the best chance of some sun and ice-cream. Or… how about a little floating in the Dead Sea? If the weather’s right, we don’t think there’s a more exotic way of spending your Christmas!

Celebrate with some Christmas “spirits”

If you’re in the mood to party, then there are a few tourist bars and pubs that will be more than willing to share your festiveness. Check out places like Mike’s Place (in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem), the MASH Bar, the Dancing Camel, and Joey’s Bar in Tel Aviv for starters. I doubt there’ll be any mistletoe hanging around, but you’ll have a great time. Also check out our guide to the best of Tel Aviv nightlife for more info.

Christmas Food (Israeli style)

ShakshukaIf you’re staying in a hotel or hostel, chances are that they will lay on some kind of Christmas dinner, maybe even a party (hostels especially). But we say trade in your expectations of a seasonal turkey spread and eggnog, and go native with some delicious Israeli food (trust us, it’s yummy!). Hummus (here’s our hummus beginner’s guide) or the fantastic egg & spicy tomato dish shakshuka for Christmas lunch – why the heck not?! A lot healthier too!

Head to Petra

PetraFromIsraelSo December might be the time when you’re thinking of tinsel, mince pies, a bit of a snog under the misteltoe…but how about eclipsing all of that with a once-in-a-lifetime hop across the border to one of the world’s true wonders – Petra, the Lost City!? We say you won’t regret it, it’s a truly stunning place to visit, and coupled with a quick drive into the mind-blowing desert landscape of Wadi Rum, makes for the ultimate Christmas excursion! We’ve done it a couple of times now, and it’s a true game-changer – check out Petra tour options right here.

Eat Donuts

That’s right, eat donuts. For they will be everywhere during December. Every year around Christmas time there is the Jewish holiday of HannukahAnd the sweet smell of deep-fried donuts is almost everywhere (in 2019, Hanukkah is BANG on course for syncing up with Christmas so there may be a shortage of donuts in the ‘hood!). Highly recommended are the donuts from local bakery Roladin (Holy Moses, a Vodka Double Espresso donut!), who have a few branches throughout the country. Calorie counters – be warned!

See the Holiday of Holidays

christmas in haifaGo multicultural and experience Hannukah, Eid-al-Adha, and Christmas in the Holiday of Holidays festival, which is held annually in Haifa’s Wadi Nas neighborhood. This celebration of Jewish, Muslim and Christian holidays highlights Haifa’s interfaith harmony and cooperation. The festival is mostly abuzz on weekends throughout December. Check out the street food stalls, if you don’t mind queuing!

Visit the OTHER Bethlehem

Yes, there’s another Bethlehem in Israel! This one is officially called Bethlehem of the Galilee, and is a beautiful little moshav (farming settlement) with gorgeous old buildings, not far from Nazareth. Hence the belief by many experts that this Bethlehem is the real home of Jesus’s birth. Read more here

Explore Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus

Christmas-In-NazarethJesus’s childhood home town is perhaps the best place to come for some real Christmas festivities, especially if you’re missing your Santa and Christmas tree decorations. Nazareth has the largest community of Christians in the country, and they love their Christmas.

Watch out for the annual Christmas Parade on Christmas Eve, which starts in the afternoon, call 04-6570555 for more info (just get there EARLY!). There’s also a Midnight Mass in the Basilica of the Annunciation, and don’t miss the now annual Christmas market in Nazareth. And here’s TEN must-see Nazareth sites to get you in the mood…

Happy Christmas to you and yours!

See also our latest Christmas posts: Christmas in Bethlehem | Christmas in Jerusalem | Christmas in Tel Aviv | Christmas in Nazareth | Christmas in the Galilee

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