Taking Bus 231 between Jerusalem and Bethlehem is a cheap and easy option that I highly recommend over a taxi or private guide.
If you’ve been reading my Israel trip report, you know that we tried to keep expenses down during the trip. I considered just hiring a tour guide for our day trip to Bethlehem, but we ultimately decided to “go it alone” and are so glad we did.
From our guest house in the Old City, we walked about 10-minutes to the Damascus Gate and then proceeded out and left to the bus station on Sultan Suliman Street. We hopped on Bus 231, which runs from 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM every 15 minutes or so and paid 7NIS (~$2) each for a one-way ticket (Augustine, our three-year-old, rode for free).
The journey takes about 45-minutes. I was happy to see the bus was very clear and even had USB charging ports.
The bus dropped us off in central Bethlehem, about a 15-minute walk from the Church of the Nativity and other religious sites.
Let me warn you here – the touts will be extremely aggressive if you are on your own. Expect men to follow you for several meters trying to convince you to enlist their guide services.
It’s Not All About Money
You could view taking the bus as a pure cost-saving move, but it was more than that. Our son loved riding the bus and it allowed us to stretch out and actually be productive onboard. The seats are more comfortable than most car seats.
We also had so much fun walking through Bethlehem, the subject of another report. Not only did we stumble upon Banksy Art during our walk; we also found great coffee, lunch, and an art store where we purchased our one and only souvenir from the trip.
I don’t like being at the mercy of a driver, even if it is a great driver/guide. When I’m visiting a new city, I like to walk and explore on my terms. The byproduct was we also saved a fair amount of money.
The Border Checkpoint Returning To Jerusalem
The bus leaves and departs from the same point. On the way back, the bus was more like a tour bus than a city bus.
We did run into a security checkpoint as we left Bethlehem. Armed soldiers boarded the car and pulled off any dark-skinned passengers who appeared Arab. They were checked and all eventually allowed back on. I had my passport ready, but they skipped right over my family and me, not even checking the nationality of our passport.
Last time I was in the West Bank I had my own car and drove back from Ramallah. Then, I faced a much more scrutiny. I can imagine a private car coming from Bethlehem may also incur similar attention.
Using Bus 231 between Jerusalem and Bethlehem worked out very well for us. It gave us control over our day and cost virtually nothing. Even if you end up hiring a guide while in Bethlehem, I’d argue the journey is more pleasant by bus than taxi.