In December 2022, during our week-long trip to Jordan (for the full itinerary for Jordan, visit the blog post here), we took an overnight trip to visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem. We were based in Amman, Jordan. Although it was a bit tight, it was absolutely worth the effort, and I would do it again in a heartbeat! Here are the main things to consider.
1. Getting from Amman to Jerusalem
A. Total Transit Time
From our hotel in Amman to the hotel in Jerusalem, it took us almost exactly 4 hours. We had a rental car in Amman, and we drove from the Amman Marriott Hotel to the King Hussein Bridge Jordan Crossing. We had a private driver on the Israel side pick us up and take us to our hotel in Jerusalem.
B. Options for Getting from Jordan to Jerusalem & Bethlehem
Option 1 – Private Tour – Hire a tour guide from Amman who will pick you up from the hotel and schedule an itinerary (whether it is one-day or longer) to take you around to the highlights of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. For what I wanted, the tour company quoted me $1000 for a one-day trip. It sounded too expensive, and I thought it would be too much driving for one day with the kids. There might be better pricing alternatives, based on days and itinerary preferences. Check out this site for an example of a private Jerusalem day trip tour.
Option 2 – Drive yourself from Amman to Border Crossing + Hire Private Driver from Israeli Border: This is what we did. Drive yourself in a car rental from Amman to the King Hussein Bridge Jordan Crossing. You cannot take a Jordanian rental car into Israel; so park your car at this Border (ask the Border control police to show you where to park).
If you do not want to rent a car, you can also have a taxi cab take you from Amman to the King Hussein Bridge for approximately $44.
C. Where to Park at the King Hussein Bridge
Once arrived at the King Hussein Bridge Border Crossing, we asked the guards at the bridge on where to park our car safely. They designated someone to assist us and guided us to a parking lot. At first glance, it does not look as secure as a parking deck, but we tipped our guide extra cash and asked him to keep an eye on the car. We made sure that no valuable items were left in the vehicle. It was a little sketchy, but thankfully, everything went well when we picked up the car 24 hours later.
Keep in mind, the hours for the King Hussein Bridge are as follows:
- Sunday-Thursday open 7:30 am to 10:00 pm
- Friday and Saturday open 7:30 am – 1:00 pm
D. Border Control Process
We walked towards the Jordanian border control. I asked someone there to help us, and perhaps because I looked so confused, he kindly stayed with us and assisted. Overall, the border process looked a bit chaotic, but they clearly have a system that works. We handed one of the men our US Passports, and they asked us to take a seat and wait. We ate snacks and waited, until someone announced they were ready for us to board the bus. After getting our ID’s checked, we paid $10 per person, got our passports back, and boarded a bus. The bus drove from Amman and to the Israeli border control. Although the drive is quick, they randomly stopped for a long time, before resuming the drive. Overall, the bus was safe and clean.
There was an alternative option for a private car, referred to as ‘VIP‘, which was a bit more expensive than the bus. We did not realize that was an option or we might have considered it for the extra convenience.
E. Arriving on the Israel Side
Once you arrive on the Israel side, there is more security. You will get the luggage from the bus, check it in, go through ‘airport’ like security for the hand luggage and yourselves, get questioned by immigration, and then collect the checked-in suitcases. We have US Passports and had all our entry processing into Israel upon arrival into the country. It was quite straight forward. Beforehand, it is best to check any particular nuances on this website, Entering Israel via Borders with Jordan and Egypt.
F. Hiring a Private Driver from Israel Side
We hired a driver in advance to pick us up from the Israeli border side to drive us to our hotel in Jerusalem. He offered to take us to Bethlehem the next morning and then drive us back to the Israeli Border for our bus back to Amman. This worked out great! For the contact information for my driver, please comment on the blog post below with your email address, and I will send it to you.
2. What to do in Jerusalem
We only had one afternoon in Jerusalem, so time was limited. We stayed in East Jerusalem, and primarily walked around the area. We did the following activities:
- Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall: We walked around and explored Old City of Jerusalem and viewed the Western Wall.
- Four Quarters of Jerusalem: The city is broken into four quarters: Christian, Jewish, Armenian and Muslim Quarters. We were only able to visit the Muslim Quarters, but next time, hope to visit the other three quarters as well.
- Temple Mount and Masjid Al Aqsa: Visited Temple Mount and pray at Masjid Al Aqsa: The Temple Mount is the third holiest site for Muslims. Alongside the Abrahamic history of the site, this is where Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) made his “Night Journey” to the throne of God. In the 7th century, they built the Dome of the Rock (the gold-topped Islamic shrine). Muslims are permitted to enter to pray at anytime here. While the surrounding Temple Mount courtyard complex is open for all to see during specific visiting hours, non-Muslims are not permitted to enter into the Dome of the Rock. Similar to other holy sites in Jerusalem, visitors to the Temple Mount are asked to dress modestly. Headscarves are not required, although I was asked to keep my on by an attendant – so to avoid any issues, it is best to have a scarf as back-up, and have shoulders covered and should wear long pants or a long skirt. Men should not wear shorts.
- Eat Shawarma: Ate delicious shawarma at Al Wadi (it didn’t have signage; but ask locals in East Jerusalem, and they can direct you).
3. What to do in Bethlehem
Our driver drove us the 45 minute drive from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. We spent just a quick 2-3 hours in the city. We visited the Church of Nativity, where Jesus was born, and explored the surrounding area, shops, and ate lunch!
- Church of Nativity: This Church is where the Virgin Mary gave Birth to Jesus. Because we came here Christmas weekend, it was likely busier than usual, but we were fortunate to have a guide to helped us navigate the lines with our young kids. He showed us to the spot where we (and our toddlers) actually touched the exact spot of the birth of Jesus. Incredible is an understatement. If you are interested in hiring the same guide, please comment on this post with your email address.
- Bethlehem City & Shops: It was nice to stroll the city area and explore some of the smaller shops in Bethlehem. The Mosque of Omar is across the church, and quite pretty as well. This Mosque was built in 1860 in honor of Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, who in the 7th century conquered the Byzantine Empire. Although he prayed in the Church of Nativity, in the the Pact of Omar, he declared that the Church would remain a Christian place of worship. You can sense the historical unity of the Palestinian Muslims and Christians, as these religious places of worship are across each other.
- Restaurants: Our driver took us to Restaurant Afteem, which had delicious falafels, hummus, and bread!
Our family was fortunate enough that we did not feel unsafe in Jerusalem or Bethlehem. Having a driver who knew his way around the city made us feel more comfortable; and generally, everyone was kind to us. We feel grateful to have had the opportunity to safely explore such historical and sacred sites.
Have you ever visited Jerusalem or Bethlehem with young kids? If so, what were your favorite activities?