Christmas* in Bethlehem
Please note: All prices at this stage include flights ex Sydney, Brisbane, or Melbourne (for prices for other departure points, please enquire), HOWEVER we at Heart With Wings are transitioning to pricing that does not include flights, with flight arrangement and booking being optional extras. If in the meantime this is your preference, let us know and we’ll happily work out quote/s for you.
COVID update: Sadly, cancelled for 2023, so this tour is scheduled to next depart January 2024
(*Having experienced both Orthodox and 'western' / Gregorian Christmases in Bethlehem on several occasions each, we feel strongly that 'Orthodox' Christmas [Jan. 7 in 2023] is the preferable experience to share with you, our valued guests. This allows you to experience all of the beauty, pageantry, ceremony and rich experience of being in Bethlehem for Christmas, without the mad crowds, flocks of tourists, busy-ness and bustle that come with Gregorian / 'western' Christmas there, for an infinitely more peaceful, intimate, pleasant, personal experience. Indeed, the nature of Orthodox Christianity and of the communities wherein it is practiced mean that pilgrims celebrating Orthodox Christmas bring with them particularly rich culture, diversity, celebration, dance, music, practices, rituals, and iconography that will add depth and richness to your experience of Bethlehem).
This is a specialised, small-group package (or private bespoke) tour specialising in religious history (scholarly, respectfully secular approach), culture, places and traditions.
This tour gives travellers the extraordinary bucket-list experience of spending Christmas* in Bethlehem. We then tour through traditional sacred sites, historical and/or claimed scriptural story locations, historic and simply beautiful places, throughout the West Bank, Israel, and Jordan. Along with a maximum five other people (therefore a far more relaxed, personal, potentially bespoke experience than large tour-bus tours), you will be accompanied by two passionate guides, each with university degrees in Studies in Religion (and further tertiary qualifications between them including Arabic Language, Peace and Conflict Studies, Mediation and Conflict Resolution, Facilitative Mediation, and Education) to talk with you about the history, mythologies, stories, and traditions associated with the places you visit.
Your Tour Leader has extensive experience on-the-ground in each of the places that we will visit, giving you safety, local knowledge, passion for the locations, and the special expertise that comes with first-hand lived experience.
Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee, Jerusalem, the Mount of Beatitudes, Garden of Gesthemane, Jordan River, and so many more …. even to non-religious people, or non-literalist holders of faith, so many places in the 'Holy Land' have a breathtaking ring of legend about them. They are, so to speak, 'in our blood', enshrined in our collective memories. Here at Heart With Wings, in our experience many people are captivated by the idea of visiting these places and understanding the mythologies associated with them, but shy away from being told that stories are necessarily literally/historically 'true', or truer/better than other beliefs and interpretations …. OR on the other hand being told in a dismissive or pejorative sense that that they are ‘false’. Other specialist tours that focus on religious histories/scriptural stories tend to blur the lines between history and faith, 'telling' you that this happened in that place, as if these traditions and stories are necessarily 'facts', or on the other hand dismissing and diminishing them as ‘just made up’. Our tour leaders have the passion and extensive respectfully secular academic knowledge to engage with you about the fascinating mythologies surrounding these places, without any insistence on them being literally/historically 'true/untrue' or 'historically accurate/inaccurate'. Indeed, we help you to be excited about different interpretations, different reasons for differing locations, differences in stories about places, etc. Far from delivering our our academic standpoint in such a way that it detracts from the importance of these places or the beauty of the stories, we get excited about the power of mythology and the beauty of scriptural storytelling, from an academic standpoint without any dogma nor literalist belief.
We will visit some places where certain aspects of great religious stories possibly/probably/likely/certainly happened, others that likely inspired a myth tradition but are unlikely to be 'accurate' locations, others that were more likely mythological associations that most likely didn't 'happen' at all, and we have the respect, passion, expertise and education to be able to distinguish and engage with-and-between each.
See itinerary below for full details of places visited.
Prices are all-inclusive. Flights* (ex Sydney, Brisbane, or Melbourne. For prices for other departure points, please enquire), specialist travel insurance (many other policies that you might otherwise take out might not cover some areas that we are visiting, nor several possible scenarios that may occur), all accommodation, entry into all sites, all breakfasts.
* We at Heart With Wings are transitioning to pricing that does not include flights, with flight arrangement and booking being optional extras. If in the meantime this is your preference, let us know and we’ll happily work out quote/s for you.
Five or six adults booked at once for 6 person (max) tour . Price per person, TWIN SHARE
One adult, single booking for 6 person (max) tour . Price per person, TWIN SHARE
Two adults booked at once for 6 person (max) tour . Price per person, TWIN SHARE
Three adults booked at once for 6 person (max) tour . Price per person TWIN SHARE
Four adults booked at once for 6 person (max) tour . Price per person TWIN SHARE
PRIVATE TOUR: Four people, price per person.
PRIVATE TOUR: Three people. Price per person.
PRIVATE TOUR: Two people. Price per person.
PRIVATE TOUR: 1 person alone
PRIVATE TOUR, five people. Price per person.
PRIVATE TOUR: Six people, price per person.
What is included
Flights and transport
Starting Point: 2:00 pm at Sderot Ben Gurion, Haifa, Israel
Day 1: 3/1/2021 Fly
A very exciting day as your adventure begins! Take your included* flight from your nearest major city to Tel Aviv, Israel. Listed prices are based on flying from Sydney, Brisbane, or Melbourne, but Heart With Wings will happily arrange flights from any major airport and adjust your price accordingly. Just let us know at time of booking or enquiry, and we'll make the arrangements.
Those flying from Brisbane will be met at Brisbane airport and accompanied by your Tour Guide. All others will be met in Israel.
* Please note: All prices at this stage include flights ex Sydney, Brisbane, or Melbourne (for prices for other departure points, please enquire), HOWEVER we at Heart With Wings are transitioning to pricing that does not include flights, with flight arrangement and booking being an optional extra. If in the meantime this is your preference, let us know and we’ll happily work out quote/s for you.
Day 2: 4/1/2021 Arrive Tel Aviv
Welcome to beautiful Israel! We love it here, and we know that you will too.
Upon arrival at Ben Gurion International airport, you will be met at arrivals and transferred in comfort to the luxurious Crowne Plaza Tel Aviv city.
After that, there is nothing on today's itinerary other than your own relaxation. We at Heart With Wings know how it feels to have to hit the ground running after a very long flight and in the midst of jetlag, so we'd never do that to you :) We want you to have a happy and wonderful experience on the tour, not an exhausted and weary one. So we give you this first day and night after the flight to just relax, rest, have a sleep, have a wander, a swim, indulge in the hotel's luxury facilities, a good night's sleep, and recover from your jetlag so that you are bright and refreshed for the great adventure that's about to begin!
Day 3: 5/1/2021 Bethlehem and Mar Saba
No matter how many times we at Heart With Wings visit, arriving in Bethlehem is always a deeply moving experience.
This morning, we travel in comfort by private transfer from Tel Aviv, crossing the checkpoint/s into the Palestinian Territory of the West Bank to Bethlehem.
We check into the beautiful Casa Nova Pilgrim House.
Your tour leader, Geoffrey, calls this his favourite accommodation anywhere in the world, and that's saying something, as he's lost count of the number of places he's laid his hat. A gorgeous old building, actually attached to the Church of the Nativity and backing onto Saint Catherine's, you literally could not be closer to the focal points of Christmas in Bethlehem without actually sleeping in the church! Your room will either overlook beautiful Manger Square, where many of the festivities take place, or the famous courtyard at the entrance of St Catherine's, or the rooftop of the Nativity Church itself! Right at the centre of it all, yet quiet and peaceful and welcoming.
Settle in, we'll have lunch, a walk in Manger Square, and look in on any Christmas celebrations taking place today. We then drive to the simply magnificent Mar Saba monastery.
Day 4: 6/1/2021 Christmas Eve in Bethlehem!
Church services, rituals, celebrations, pageantry etc. with pilgrims from all over the world celebrating Orthodox Christmas eve.
Then we explore further afield (bad pun somewhat intended) in the West Bank, visiting the Shepherds' Fields (three different locations where various denominations consider the appearance of the angels to the Shepherds to have taken place), the Fields of Boaz / Fields of Ruth, Lazarus' Tomb, with your guide discussing the history, traditions, mythologies and significance, then back to Bethlehem for Christmas Eve festivities.
Day 5: 7/1/21 Christmas Day in Bethlehem
You will never forget waking up in Bethlehem on Christmas Day!
There will be so much colour, music, ritual, celebration, pageantry, dance, song and services today to wonderfully overwhelm your senses, heart and mind, for a truly unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience, and all right at your doorstep!
On top of that, today's visits include:
Cave of Saint Jerome
Security Wall and Banksy Art
Visit a local Palestinian carpenter and his family - a great opportunity to buy some handmade souvenirs and experience local life.
Day 6: 8/1/21 Oh, Jerusalem!
Again, no matter how many times we at Heart with Wings visit here, that first glimpse of the walls of the old city of Jerusalem coming into view takes our breath away every time.
Today, we travel back through the checkpoint/s into Israel, to the Old City of Jerusalem.
And then...we pass through Damascus gate and ...Oh, Jerusalem! There is no place in the world quite like it.
Church of Holy Sepulchre
Garden of Golgotha / Tomb Garden
Temple Mount / Dome
Western Wall (the 'wailing wall)
Last Supper rooms (Cenacle and Syrian Orthodox Church of St Mark)
The Via Dolorosa
Overnight in Bethlehem
Day 7: 9/1/21 Jerusalem
Today we walk through the Old City of Jerusalem, taking in its beautiful cobbled streets, the markets and thriving buzzing sidetreets and alleyways of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Quarters.
Then we walk out through out through Lion's gate to the Garden of Gesthemene, the Church of All Nations, and Mary’s Tomb. Then on to the Mount of Olives with its famous churches, sites, and spectacular views over the Old City, Pater Noster, and teh Dome of the Ascension.
Overnight in Bethlehem
Day 8: 10/1/21 Ain Karem
The road trip begins.
After breakfast and one more walk in the Old City, we say goodbye to beautiful Bethlehem and cross back into Israel, where we pick up our private van and head to Ain Karem, a stunningly picturesque and peaceful town, with plenty of history and significance to discuss with your tour guide.
Here, we check into another very special place of accommodation, again actually within / attached to the historical building at the centre of Ain Karem's significance:
Day 9: 11/1/2021 Jericho, Qumran and more
Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls)
- Ancient City
- Mount of Temptation and Monastary of Qarantul
- Zaccheus’ sycamore tree
St Euthymius Church, traditional 'location' of the Good Samaritan parable on the Road to Jericho.
Traditional location of the 'Valley of the Shadows'.
Wadi Qelt and the spectacular St George's monastery.
Night in Ain Karem.
Day 10: 12/1/21 Megeddio, to Mount Tabor
Megeddio (Ar Meggedio, i.e. 'Armageddon') National Park and UNESCO world heritage centre.
Mt. Tabor. (considered deeply sacred for thousands of years, including but not limited to being the traditional place of the 'Transfiguration of Jesus'.
Yet again, we stay in a magnificent old building that is actually part of the church of most significance upon Mount Tabor itself:
Day 11: 13/1/21 Nazareth and surrounds
- Church of the Annunciation
- Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation
- Church of St Joseph
- Mary’s well
- The Synagogue Church
- Nazareth Village
- Marie de Nazareth
Mount Precipice (in Christianity), held by Christian tradition to be the location of the 'rejection of Jesus by his own' as reported in the Gospel of Luke.
Cana wedding church (water into wine)
Stay at Mt. Tabor
Day 12: 14/1/21 Masada and Tiberias
Breathtakingly spectacular Masada UNESCO World Heritage site and National Park
Lake Tiberias / 'Sea' of Galilee
Stay at Mt. Tabor
Day 13: 15/1/21 'Sea' of Galilee and surrounds, Safed
- Mount of the Beatitudes
- Peter’s church
- Church of the multiplication (Tabagh)
House of Love and Peace for Shabbat
Day 14: 16/1/21 Caeaserea
Caeserea UNESCO world heritage site and National Park
Back to our old 'home' at Ain Karem
Afternoon options: Afternoon to yourself in Jerusalem (we'll drop you off and pick you up) or a peaceful afternoon at 'home' in Ain Karem
Day 15: 17/1/21 Marhaba, Jordan!
We bid a fond farewell to beautiful Israel, travelling by private bus, crossing at the Jordan River border crossing into Jordan
To Amman: Our tour leader loves Amman, considering it his second home, calling it 'waTtan qalbee' or 'home of my heart' , and we know that his passion for this vibrant city will rub off on you.
We check in to our home in Amman, the lovely 'The Y Hotel', perfectly situated on Jabal Amman, close to the wonderful neighborhoods of First Circle (Rainbow Street), Second Circle, and Wasat Al Balad ('Downtown')
Day 16: 18/1/21 Amman
- The Citadel
- Roman Amphitheatre (Philadelphia)
Practicalities (Post office, sim cards, etc.)
Souqs (markets), sights and sounds of Amman
First and second circles, Rainbow Street, Wasat Al Balad
Day 17: 19/1/21 Amman
More sights, sounds, experiences, locations, views, souqs, restaurants, stalls etc. in Amman
Your leader takes you to his pick of the best and most genuine markets and stores for your souvenir shopping
Day 18: 20/1/21 Umm Qais (Ancient Gadara)
We drive to the far north of Jordan to Umm Qais, with its moving views of Jordan, West Bank, Israel, Golon Heights, and Syria.
Gadara UNESCO World Heritage site and Ancient Gadara; extensive historical, traditional, and scriptural significance including traditional site of Jesus expelling the demons (the 'Miracle of the Swine' or 'Exorcism of the Legion', as told in three synoptic gospels).
Stay in stunning Jordan Ecopark
Day 19: 21/1/21 Jordan Valley, Dead Sea
Today, the awesome experience of travelling the length of the Jordan Valley, so rich with ancient as well as modern traditional, mythological, religious, and geographical significance
We arrive in our breathtaking chalets at Mujib National Park on the banks of the Dead Sea, with private Dead Sea beach. Float in the Dead Sea as the sun sets over it behind the hills of the Judaean Wilderness, Israel, and West Bank.
Day 20: 22/1/21 Baptism site, Madaba, Mukawir
Bethany upon the Jordan / Al Maghtas Unesco World Heritage Site: Traditional site of the baptism of Jesus of Nazareth by John the Baptist
Mount Nebo: Tradition holds that this is the place where God showed Moses the 'Promised Land' after 40 years in the Wilderness. We discuss this story tradition while looking out over breathtaking views of that very wilderness in one direction, and across the Jordan River and Dead Sea to that 'Promised' land in the other.
Madaba, with its stunning mosaics, including the ancient mosaic map of the Holy Land (the oldest known geographical floor mosaic in existence).
Mukawir; Rising spectacularly above the surrounding desert wilderness, ethereally beautiful, and the location of Herod's Palace where according to the biblical story (in the synoptic gospels) John the Baptist was executed. You can almost see Salome dancing.
Um Ar Rases: Ancient city archaeological site, more mosaics, and according to traditions/theories possibly the biblical Mephaat of the Old Testament / Tanakh.
Dead Sea Museum
Night at Mujib chalets
Day 21: 23/1/21 Petra
We drive through beautiful countryside from Mujib to Wadi Musa, where we check in to the wonderful Petra Guest House Hotel, four star comfort right at the entrance to the ancient city of Petra.
Have your bucket list handy and be ready to tick of what should be an item on everyone's list - the indescribably awesome ancient city of Petra, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Breathtaking, extraordinary and surreally beautiful.
Your entry to Petra is included for two days, as is a donkey ride to the Monastery.
Extra option if you choose: Petra by Night candlelight experience.
Day 22: 24/1/21 Petra, Siq Al Barid (option), Wadi Musa
A second day in Petra (not overkill, trust us!), OR Included option: Anyone who prefers a visit to Siq Al Barid Nabatean archaeological site ('Little Petra') to a second day in Petra-proper, we will include a side-trip there while the others further explore Petra.
Extra options if you choose: Local bedouin guide, horse riding in Petra.
Drive to Wadi Rum: The other-worldly beauty of the Wadi Rum Desert is simply indescribable - it must be seen and experienced to be believed. We arrive at the Wadi Rum National Park in time to watch the famously magnificent Wadi Rum sunset, then spend the night in comfort under the equally-famously magnificent Wadi Rum stars, in a ecologically sound locally-operated luxury Bedouin camp.
Night in desert ecocamp.
Day 23: 25/1/21 Wadi Rum, Dana Biosphere
Ride a camel through the hauntingly beautiful, awe-inspiring desert of Wadi Rum, led by a local Bedouin camel driver and guide.
Visit the haunts of 'Lawrence of Arabia', including Lawrence's Spring.
Then to the extraordinarily beautiful Dana Biosphere reserve National Park.
Day 24: 26/1 King's Highway, Fly Home
We drive the extraordinarily picturesque KIng's Highway through the day, following a route that has been an important trade and travel route for over 5000 years.
Unless you have booked extra day/s* with us, this is our final day together, so late in the evening we take you to Queen Alia Airport, where we say goodbye.
*If you want to see any of Jordan's beautiful locations and amazing historical sites that are not among the many that are many included on our itinerary (e.g. Jerash, Ajloun, the desert castles, Ma'in Springs), book extra days for the end of the tour. Our tour leader will personally take you to any location you wish to see. All transport, accommodation, entry fees, and breakfasts included. See 'add ons' option below
Day 25: 27/1/21 - 28/1/21 Arrive home
Arrive back at your home airport