Photo by Roman Bruehwiler.

“Birthplace of Jesus: the Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage route, Bethlehem” is an early church and major Christian pilgrimage destination.

The Church of the Nativity was built over a cave that since the 2nd century is considered to have been the birthplace of Jesus. The present church dates from the mid-6th century and is the oldest Christian church still in daily use. The complex also consists of a number of Latin, Greek Orthodox, Franciscan and Armenian Convents and churches, and a small part of the Pilgrimage Route from Jerusalem, which is celebrated during the yearly Christmas ceremonies.

Community Perspective: Dozens of buses and tour groups visit this every day, so be ready to queue up to get a glimpse of the actual birthspot. The church itself is “not necessarily in the best state of preservation or aesthetics”.

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Community Reviews

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Thomas Harold Watson

United Kingdom - 30-Apr-20 -

Bethlehem by Thomas Harold Watson

When I first entered Bethlehem it was nothing like I had expected. You are surrounded by huge grey walls (covered in graffiti) and it felt like I was in a giant prison courtyard. As you walk through the border from Israel into Palestine you see straight away the change of cultures. Before even walking out of the security building I was being hassled by around 40 taxi drivers, all trying to convince me to use them to get to the notable sites, but I insisted on walking to them all and carried on. Now if I had to turn back time I would not have done this. I would have got the cheapest one straight to the church of Nativity. The roads were filthy, people were emptying bins onto the streets outside of their homes/shops and the cars did not seem at all roadworthy. I got funny looks by many people in the street and felt completely uncomfortable the entire walk (which took quite some time as it was a rather long distance). 

But once I arrived at my destination everything changed! Entree was free, the buildings clean and the experience seemed much better than I’d ever have imagined. It truly felt as if I had stepped back in time 2000 years! I would say that everybody should visit Bethlehem atleast once in their life to see its Nativity church. I am not religious, I do not believe in God, but the aura of being in such a holy building truly was an amazing feeling.

Be warned though, the cab back was 4X more than the ones there would’ve cost, so be sure to ask around to multiple drivers as I managed to get the price down a lot in only a few minutes! 

Read more from Thomas Harold Watson here.

Ilya Burlak

USA - 11-Jan-20 -

Bethlehem by Ilya Burlak

I arranged for a private half-day guided tour of Bethlehem in November of 2019, which included not just the Church of Nativity, but also a drive through the governorate countryside, several viewpoints, a visit to the Shepherds Field, and a stroll through the center of the town of Bethlehem.

Church of the Nativity itself is not unlike the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, in that it is a major pilgrimage destination that is shared by several Christian denominations. The Bethlehem church is less of a madhouse, though; the stream of visitors is steady, but nowhere near the volume you find at the Holy Sepulchre. You can view the remains of the floor mosaic of the original church from the 4th century, and descend to a number of secondary grottoes where you may even have the space to yourself. With the Nativity Grotto, I profited from having a local licensed guide by being allowed to enter the cave on the “exit” side, thus bypassing the long line of pilgrims who wait a couple of hours to be able to get close for just a few seconds to the spot where Jesus was reputedly born.

This is obviously a place much more meaningful to devout Christians than it is to any secular person or otherwise non-Christian. I don't believe the church is exceptional on its own merit, and its obvious from reading the inscription that the recognition is based primarily on the church's symbolic value to the Christian world. Your mileage may vary in regards to whether this raises to the level of OUV.

Private guide is clearly the expensive option for visiting Bethlehem; there are options with Israeli guides and Palestinian ones, and if you have concerns about the safety of crossing into Palestine in general, having a local guide may help alleviate those concerns. There are also plenty of group tours daily from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. But technically, you can visit Bethlehem on your own by crossing Checkpoint 300 to the south of Jerusalem and then hiring one of the many taxis that wait for customers on the other side.

Read more from Ilya Burlak here.


Philippines - 29-Oct-19 -

Bethlehem by GabLabCebu


I visited Bethlehem in May 2018 on a day trip from Jerusalem. Its Church of the Nativity is one of the holiest sites of Christianity in the world, probably only second to The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. As a Christian, it was definitely a no-brainer to go and see it for myself. The complex is made up of several churches and religious structures, but I only visited 2. First was the Church of St. Catherine, the Catholic church. It was a simple neo-gothic church painted in bright colors. Nothing much to see here, but the caves under the church were once refuge for St. Jerome, and are continuations to the one where Jesus was actually born, which is right under the Greek Orthodox Church of the Nativity. Speaking of which, it's right next door, and a small side entrance connects it to the courtyard in front of St. Catherine's. One has to bend over to get in, which makes it really practical to bow in respect of the holiness of the place. It was also used to keep horses out of the church. Once inside, it's really disorganized. This is one of the oldest churches in the world, and likewise, the nave is lined with Roman columns. In front is the characteristic Greek Orthodox altar, with its red and gold lanterns hanging from the ceiling. The walls are plastered bare, save for a few stretches of brilliant gold Byzantine mosaics. It's a really characteristic and obviously historic, though not necessarily pretty, church. Of course, I lined up for the chance to touch the star signifying the spot where Jesus was born, and that was a really indescribable spiritual experience. In the end, Bethlehem is of undeniable significance to the world, as it's the birthplace of one of the history's most influential figures, and it still shows today in the form of the churches and pilgrimage culture of the site. The site by itself is as unique show of history, though not necessarily in the best state of preservation or aesthetics. It showcases not just the origins of the site, but the effects of more recent cultural influences, and with a level of integrity greater than other pilgrimage sites I've visited in the area, like Nazareth, Bethany beyond the Jordan, or Ein Karem. It may not compare to nearby Jerusalem, or the old churches of Cairo in that respect, but Bethlehem has its own undeniable significance in the world. Gold mosaics never hurt, either.


25-May-18 -

Extensive restoration has begun since 2013. This isn't an ideal time to visit; almost every inch of the interior except for the altar and the Grotto of the Nativity is covered by scaffolding.

Since the church was in such a compromised state, I had two choices: I could leave immediately or I could go against my better judgement and queue up for the Grotto. At the end there was really one choice, so I hesitantly threw myself into the crowd, a mix of pilgrims from all over the world. When I could finally see the entrance to the Grotto, some 80 minutes of being smouldered in a sweaty chamber later, I improbably lost my will to continue and left.

Forget for a moment the church's obvious significance as Jesus' birthplace, this Christian structure has, due to both luck and the perseverance of many dedicated parties, remarkably remained standing almost 1,500 years later in this often tumultuous region. History has a price -- the wear and tear has turned the Church of Nativity into what might very well be the ugliest major church I have been to, but this intangibility is also the crown jewel that puts this place on the map. Millions before me have made this pilgrimage to this humble outpost and millions will continue to do so after me.

Read more from DL here.

Gary Arndt

USA - 16-Mar-18 -

Bethlehem by Gary Arndt

Traveling to Bethlehem from Jerusalem is not difficult if you are not an Israeli. There are some restrictions when going into the Palestinian Territories, and your van might get searched crossing the border, but dozens of buses and tour groups do this every day and it is quite normal. There are currently no safety issues going to Bethlehem.

Most groups visit the Church of the Nativity and leave. There is more to see in the area including the Milk Grotto and Star Street.

The church is very old. The current building was built in 565 by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. Over the centuries there have been many restorations and repairs to the building, including a recent restoration which took place in 2017.

The birthplace is in a very small alcove under the main altar area. There is usually a long line to visit the spot which is marked by a silver star, which is shown in the photo above.

The door into the church is also ridiculously small, so you will have to crouch to enter the church. This was created several hundred years ago to prevent horses from entering the church.

Wojciech Fedoruk

Poland - 30-Dec-15 -

Although in December 2015 political situation in Palestine is not very stable and media report about safety threats, I decided to visit Bethlehem with my family (including two babies). From Damascus Gate in Jerusalem we took bus 231 directly to Bethlehem (8 NIS per adult) and after about an hour, without security controls, we reached this place. The Church of the Nativity is not very far (definitely in a walking distance) from the bus stop, but we also wanted to visit some other places in Palestine, so we took a taxi.

Although in ‘normal’ times the Church is crowded with tourists, two weeks before Christmas 2015 it was nearly empty. We did not need to stand in a queue and went directly to the basilica. Unfortunately, interior of the basilica is under overall renovation and all area is covered by scaffolding. Works are even in the Grotto, which however kept its unique character. Near the basilica I recommend visiting St. Catherine church and its courtyard.

We returned to Jerusalem on the same bus 231, this time with detailed control of Palestinian citizens (we, as foreigners, did not even show our passports). Overall, I liked Palestine very much, we did not feel unsecure in any moment and everybody was friendly (our taxi driver was really happy that foreigners visit Palestine and each time he mentioned foreign tourists he named them courteously ‘dear visitors’).


Malta - 07-Sep-12 -

Bethlehem by Clyde

Very interesting to visit is the Church of the Nativity. However, the highligh of this WHS is that so many different or closely related faiths interact with one another in the main square and use the same place to worship the same God! Apart from the WHS though, the situation in the region is very sad and I won't be visiting Israel or Palestine again before the Disgraceful Walls are demolished.

Tony H.

Finland - 02-Jul-12 -

I visited in Bethlehem in January 2011 and of course the main site there is the Church of the Nativity. When I entered the church (through very small door) there was service still going and the priests (or monks) were singing and incense was smelling strongly. Because the priests were inside of the Grotto of the Nativity their singing was echoing mysteriously around the church. Very mystic atmosphere. After the priests left somewhere through a secret door I went to see the grotto myself. Smell of incense was very strong and I had hard time breathing. I watched some time how people kissed the spot where Jesus was born and then walked around the church complex. When big Russian tourist group arrived I decided to leave the church.

As this is the most holiest place in Christianity I think it deserved the World Heritage Site status. The Church of the Nativity itself isn't really spectacular looking and also inside it's quite simple but the history is the thing that matters here.

Site Info

Full Name
Birthplace of Jesus: the Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem
Unesco ID
4 6
Religious structure - Christian

Site History

2019 Removed from Danger list

2012 Advisory Body overruled

Inscription after an ICOMOS "not inscribed", by a 13 to 6 majority in a secret ballot

2012 In Danger

Inscribed on an emergency basis

2012 Inscribed


The site has 1 locations



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A. Mehmet Haksever AC AGuzzo Adrian Turtschi Alberto Rodriguez Gutierrez Alexander Barabanov Alexander Lehmann Alexander Parsons Alexfangel Ali Zingstra Alice Alicemears Allison Vies Ammon Watkins Angel Ying Liu Ani Anna Wludarska Argo Ari Kailash Arnaugir Artur Anuszewski Aspasia Atcardamone Athena2186 Atila Ege Austra78 Bamse Bazikoln Ben Pastore Bergecn Bob Parda Bodil Ankerly Boroka Szamosi Bram de Bruin Brigitte Huber CHJLondon CalvinLoh Can SARICA Carhansen0131 Carlos Garrido Cezar Grozavu Cheryl Chris Law Cirene Moraes Clem C Clyde Cmtcosta Cody Ayers Col Corbomite Coulpete Craig Harder Ctravel Czesioszpachelka DL DanVoyageur Dauco11 David Berlanda David Marton Debfc Dennis Nicklaus Dibro Dimitar Krastev Dirk-pieter Djpatten Dkabanov Donald M Parrish Jr Dorejd Duesi73 Dutchnick ELVAN YURDUSEN Edstar500 Elaine McArdle Eleonora Eric Lurio Erik Jelinek Eva Kisgyorgy Ezio1990 FGKJR1492X Fan Yibo FedeCambo Filip Murlak Finsbury_jo Flitterfever Fmannucci Frank Britton GabLabCebu Gary Arndt George Gdanski Gilles GithaK Glenn Nightingale Gordon Mitchell Greg Troy Gwythyr Hadrianus Hanming Harald T. Harry Mitsidis History Fangirl Hokee Homadism Houqian Howard Howard Brayer Iain Jackson Ilya Burlak Ivan Rucek JFrederking J_neveryes Jan Zimmermann Jana and Matt Jancidobso Janina Lehmann Janssens Jarek Pokrzywnicki Jason and Corrinna Jasonfd247 Jay T Jballard650 JeanK Jeanaimart Jeanne OGrady JobStopar John John Smaranda John booth Jolieb Jon Eshuijs Jonathanliao Joshuakirbens João Aender Jsalda Jsrinivasan Judith Tanner JudyWalsh Julie July K2flake KAO KB1 KYLE ROUSSEL Kasienka5 Kasper Keith90245 Kelly Henry Kelseyyurek Keqi Kevin Padley-Knight Kjlauer Kjsisney Klaus Bondar Knut Koen Vliegenthart Krijn Kurt Lauer Kutasp Kwyjibo Lameduck99 Lara Adler Lars Jensen Linda Sereno Liu tuo Loic Pedras Londonium Longdutch Lorenzo Mejino Lucio Gorla Ludvan Luis Filipe Gaspar Lukas_PV MMM MaYumin Maki Wang Malgorzata Kopczynska Marcobrey Marek Marta Lempert Martina Rúčková Marton Kemeny Mateusz Matthewsharris MaxHeAnouBen Małgosia Łupicka Merveil Michael Mett Michael Novins Michal Kozok Mikek Mikko Milan Jirasek Miloš Tašković Mirasworld MirksB Monica Tasciotti Monica66 Moreworld2c Nan Niall Sclater Nihal Ege Nmocosta Nmocosta79 Nomad99 NonDuality Orphanos PJ Pandapearls Pang Liang Fong Paola Laura Patrik Patrik_globe Payen de La Garanderie Isabelle Peter Alleblas PeterA Petri Jurescu Petteri Philipp Leu Philipp Peterer Potsdamer Pressdm Purrfect Rae25 Rahelka Rdroghetti Red Ri Robin Frank Roger Ourset Roland Roman Bruehwiler Roman Koeln Roman Raab Rudegirl Ryan09sb S. Anril Tiatco SHIHE HUANG Sascha Grabow Saxondean Sclowitz Seethebee Sergio Arjona Shaka_schulz Sharon M. Bressen Shkedy_uri Sidburr Sncjob Sneijder55 Socon Solivagant Sophie Stanislaw Warwas StaziG Stephanv Stephanvermeulen Super-Sophie Sutul Sweetjesus Szucs Tamas Tarquinio_Superbo Tatiana Nikulnikova Tcchang0825 TheShabe Theresa Goh Thomas Buechler Thomas Harold Watson TimAllen Timonator Timothy C Easton Tino A Offner Tischae Tkinou Tom Flaten Tony H. TravelPeter84 Traveling Girl Travellingcat Travelure Trine Tsunami Uellendahl Valentina Vanessa Buechler Vernon Prieto Vicente B. Avanzado Jr. Voyager WalGra Walter Werner Huber Wojciech Fedoruk Wtrentfox YaroMir Zach Zizmondka Zoë Sheng Zsuzsanna Forray