As a North American in the Middle-East I often find myself craving a place where I can find a western-style coffee, a comfortable seat, and a nice relaxing ambiance. Sadly, places like this are very hard to come-by in Palestine. You’ll find a Starbucks in the distance only to discover it’s actually a “Stars & Bucks” with kitschy orange plastic chairs, unswept floors, and Nescafe on the menu. This tragically disappointing experience happens all too often and weary travelers from the West usually leave without experiencing the amazing and unique venues this ancient but thriving town has to offer. So after living in Bethlehem for a year I’ve decided to offer my retinue of knowledge. This is my list of the 5 most hip coffee shops in Bethlehem. They’re places with espresso machines (a rare commodity), a vibe that satisfies (at least some of) your homesickness, and a unique local flare that you won’t find in the West. If you ever visit or plan on staying in Bethlehem for a long time, make sure to check out these great spots.
By the way, I almost exclusively judge coffee shops based on their ambience. These ones stood out for their uniqueness, cleanliness, temperature, interior decorations, general cosiness, and “kitsch factor.”
Location: Beit Sahour, Old City
Easily the place with the most distinct and unique ambiance in the Bethlehem area; as soon as you walk in you get the sense you’re in a den of intellectuals, revolutionaries, and artists. Most of the furniture is made from recycled objects like Singer brand sowing tables (hence the name “Singer”) and the walls are lined with interesting books and paintings of great men and women of history. The food and beverages are good, and it’s very cozy in the winter. The only drawback is it feels a bit small and crowded at times.
Location: Bethlehem, Old City
This place is so well hidden it took me a year to find. Not far from the church of the nativity in the heart of the old city, it lies at the end of an alley just off Star Street (the street where, tradition has it, Mary and Joseph came down as they searched for an inn). You’ll find this beautiful and labrynthian café hidden behind a set of nice oak doors (located in the Hosh Al-Syrian Guesthouse grounds). Its small yet many-terraced layout with staircases criss-crossing in every direction make it an entertaining place to explore. As you look around you’ll discover rooftops with amazing views of Bethlehem, you’ll stumble upon cozy stone-walled indoor sitting areas, and nice patios filled with plants and decorations. Eventually when you choose a spot to settle down you’ll enjoy great service, decent Wi-Fi, tasty espressos, and an unparalleled peaceful vibe that lasts throughout your stay. (checkout this amazing article about them too, their food is legendary)
Location: Beit Sahour (5 minutes east of Bethlehem by Taxi)
Originally modeled after the l’Abri in Switzerland, this coffee shop’s primary focus was to be a learning center for young Palestinians. The property is replete with aquaponics, a grass lawn (rare in Palestine due to water shortages), a library, a music room, a small guesthouse, a lecture room, and tons of DIY furniture. Over the years ownership has changed-hands and the purpose has shifted to become more of a hang-out place than a learning center but it still retains much of the same vibe. You’ll find some of Bethlehem’s most active and well-known young artists, producers, and musicians gathering here in the evenings to drink beer, smoke hookah, play board games, or jam in the music room. Maybe not the most ideal for studying but definitely worth visiting in the evenings.
Location: Bethlehem, Old City
Directly below Holy Land Trust and across the street from Bethlehem’s central station you’ll find “Visit Palestine;” a tourist information center, giftshop, and cafe. If I ever make a list of best gift shops in Bethlehem this one would definitely top the list. It has an amazing selection of local handmade items; but the café is my favourite attraction. The arch-stoned ceiling and beautiful patio give a perfect sense of escape from the busy streets; while the modern furniture and decorations convey the excellent quality service they strive to give.
One of the best-kept secrets in Bethlehem; this café has the best interior decorations and ambiance in the entire city. Since it’s built on top of a museum, it’s meant to give a sense of the history and rich heritage of the region. It’s replete with traditional Palestinian home-décor, the walls are covered in 100-year old photographs, and the furniture, floor-tiles, and decorative metalwork all convey a beautiful rustic ambiance. They have the best prices in town for lattes and cappuccinos and, since it’s still relatively unknown, it’s a great quiet place to work. Not to mention, it’s ideal for tourists because it’s strategically located beside infamous separation wall and two Banksy artworks.