With fertile river plains and scrubby desert, Mediterranean olive groves and many historical marvels, Palestine has plenty to offer. Sadly, war and outbreaks of violence have badly damaged the appeal of this hotly contested land. But despite the widely held perception, Palestine is not a tourist-free zone, with more than two million travellers arriving each year.
The bulk of tourists head for Bethlehem, largely through organised tours from Jerusalem. The main attraction is the Church of the Nativity, thought to mark the spot where Jesus Christ was born. There’s also the winding Star Street, believed to be the path Mary and Joseph took on entering the city.
Far from just a pilgrimage site, Bethlehem is fascinating for what remains of the ancient biblical town, as well as its little medina-style streets and bustling market. Foreign investment is trickling through the city, which isn’t as down-at-heel as many expect, with a few museums now open and lots of shops.
Adventurous tourists head for the Separation Barrier, just outside Bethlehem; apart from dividing Israeli and Palestinian territories, the wall is covered in spectacular graffiti by local and international artists including Banksy.
At present, the majority of tourists stick to Bethlehem. But Hebron in the southern West Bank is the largest city in the territory and essential viewing, not least for its fabled souks. The ancient city of Jericho is also attractive for its garden restaurants and stunning Hisham Palace, while Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinian Authority, is interesting for its lively energy and ubiquitous cafés.
Travel to Gaza, a densely populated slither of coastal land bordering Egypt and separated from the rest of Palestine by Israel, is nearly impossible – especially after the devastating 2014 conflict. But the West Bank remains surprisingly accessible, and while travel advice should be heeded, it is relatively safe.