Hosting a staggering 4 million visitors a year, it can be difficult to avoid the abundance of tourist traps in Bethlehem serving overpriced and below-par food and drink. Away from the bustle of Manger Square however, are a number of lively cafés and bars that will satisfy your cravings for a silky cappuccino or an ice-cold beer, and are also home to a thriving social and cultural scene.
Tucked away on a leafy street next to Bethlehem University, on weekends and evenings this café is buzzing with groups of local students. The outside area provides comfy and shaded seating amongst the trees, and the air-conditioned interior offers the perfect shelter from the sweltering heat of a summer’s day. The menu has a varied selection of meals, snacks and salads ranging from traditional hummus, manqousheh and fattoush, to a more international burgers-and-chips fare, and all at great value for hard-up travellers. There is also a wide selection of drinks, including Taybeh and imported beers, wine and arak. Head down on Saturday evening for the legendary karaoke night.
Located in the old part of Beit Sahour, a suburb of Bethlehem, lies this Palestinian-Dutch café. Popular with locals, travellers, students and expats alike, the café provides a cosy place to enjoy good coffee and food, serving what may be the best espresso in the Bethlehem area. In terms of food, you’ll find a wide range of sandwiches – from a take on the Iraqi classic sabih to the more eclectic mozzarella and pesto bagel – as well as pastas, hearty salads and even Dutch pancakes. A selection of beer and wine is also available. Singer’s also has varied programme of cultural events on offer, for example, a weekly political tour of Bethlehem every Saturday, as well as art walks and cultural evenings.
Meaning ‘the bar’ in Arabic, al-Jisser is Singer café’s wilder sister joint located just around the corner. Lively with both locals and foreigners most nights, tables and chairs spill out onto Beit Sahour’s streets in the evenings. With live music every Saturday, and a DJ on Thursday nights, this is the place to see and be seen for the younger and trendier Bethlehem crowd. A great selection of Palestinian craft beers is served, including Taybeh, Shepherds, Wise Men Choice and Nazareth, as well as wine and cocktails.
Despite its seemingly modest exterior, Rewined offers the perfect place to ‘wine-d down’ over a glass of Palestinian-made red or white. An extensive selection of beer and cocktails is also on the menu in this Manger Street haunt. The cute and quirky terrace fills up on Friday nights with a slick Bethlehem crowd who smoke argileh (hookah pipe) and soak up the relaxed ambience. The staff are attentive, friendly and speak excellent English, and they also serve delicious plates of gourmet fast food.
Housed in the gorgeous Hosh al-Syrian guesthouse, a boutique hotel in the Old City of Bethlehem, restored as part of an Italian-funded project to conserve Bethlehem’s old architecture, the Fawda café provides a cosy and classy atmosphere with both indoor and outdoor areas from where one can enjoy the Ottoman-era architecture and the views over Bethlehem. Coffee and alcoholic drinks are available all day. Reserve a day in advance if you want to eat in the restaurant.
If it’s coffee and cake you crave, head to Special Café to feast on home-baked delicacies such as cheesecake or tiramisu, accompanied by an excellent cappuccino or hot chocolate. Everything is baked on-site, and service is charming and relaxed, so sit and enjoy for a few hours, or make use of the free WiFi and load up on cake and strong coffee to catch up on work.
Jivana’s cosy roof-terrace is the perfect place to unwind over a limonana (fresh lemon and mint juice) or an ice-cold beer. The views over the Bethlehem hills are unbeatable at night, and its central location on Manger Street makes Jivana both a convenient and charming hangout; perfect for bringing friends, family or fellow travellers after a long day of exploring the city and its surrounds.