Ramallah (Arabic رام الله Rāmallāh) is a small city (population, approximately 57,000) in the Palestinian Territories, located within the West Bank region, some 15 km (10 mi) north of Jerusalem. Since the inception of the Palestinian National Authority, Ramallah has acted as the de facto capital city of the Palestinian administration.
Ramallah is known for its religiously relaxed atmosphere —alcohol flows freely and movie theaters are well attended —and there are cafes along its main streets. Ramallah is, without question, the cultural capital of the West Bank, with a highly educated and fashionable population. It is also the hub of Palestinian feminist activity; the city’s women frequently attend university rather than marry early, and several cafes run exclusively by women are used to fund local feminist organizations.
Modern Ramallah was founded in the mid-16th century by the Haddadins, a Jordanian tribe of brothers descended from Ghassanid Christian Arabs. The Haddadins, led by Rashid Haddadin, arrived from east of the Jordan River near the Jordanian town of Shoubak. The Haddadin migration is attributed to fighting and unrest among clans in that area. According to modern living descendants of original Haddadin family members, Rahid's brother Sabra Haddadin was hosting Emir Ibn Kaysoom, head of a powerful Muslim clan in the region, when Sabra's wife gave birth to a baby girl. According to custom, the Emir proposed a betrothal to his own young son when they came of age. Sabra believed the proposal was in jest, as Muslim-Christian marriages were not customary, and gave his word. When the Emir later came to the Haddadins and demanded that they fulfil their promise, they refused. This set off bloody conflict between the two families. The Haddadins fled west and settled on the hilltops of Ramallah, where only a few Muslim families lived at the time. Today, although the town has a Muslim majority, Ramallah retains its title as a historically Christian Palestinian town.
Ramallah's Christian roots mean that it can be seen as a more liberal and metropolitan city compared to others in the West Bank (e.g Nablus and Hebron). Alcohol can be purchased freely and is served in many restaurants and bars. Many women do not wear headscarves and the although certain behaviour and dress code is frowned upon by the locals, visitors can get away with it if they are prepared to be stared at.
One unique and great thing about visiting Ramallah as a traveller is that there are currently so few of them around - so it does feel like a venture into the unknown and foreign, which can not be said of many locations in the world. Of course there are many foreigners in the West Bank, but the vast majority of these work during the day and it is quite special to interact with Palestinians as a true visitor.
Navigating the 'way into' the West Bank is a very complex and confusing task, and the best word to describe it is unpredictable. The best thing to do is to get informed about visa, travel, entry and exit options by reading a number of sources, including travel guides, your country's foreign office / embassy / representative office and through blogs. Below are some guidelines and sources for further information.
From Ben Gurion Airport, visitors can catch a Sherut to Jerusalem (45 mins) and then either take public transport from Damascus Gate to Ramallah (30 mins), or take a taxi.
From Amman, visitors need to make their way to one of the two bridges between Jordan and the West Bank by taxi, and cross into Jericho. From Jericho, it is a 45 minute Serveece to Ramallah or a taxi.
By Public Transport Servees taxi regularly travel to Ramallah from most cities within the West Bank. Simply ask. These are great forms of transport during the day as they are cheap and leave frequently from most locations. The bus leaves when it is full (about 7 people), so it may take a while outside of normal hours or from less populated locations. In most cases it is just a question of waiting for a little while until more passengers join. If you are impatient then you can offer to pay the fare for the remaining seats. Sometimes others waiting in the taxi are keen to join this approach.
There is also a bus from East Jerusalem, from the bus stop near Damascus Gate. The bus passes through Qalandia checkpoint and and this may take some time if there are any security issues at the time. In recent times the bus passes straight through the checkpoint. It takes about 30 minutes to get from East Jerusalem to Ramallah.
By Car It is certainly possible to rent a car in both Israel and the West Bank, although take care to check the small print regarding where the cars are allowed to travel. Most rental companies in Israel do not allow their cars to enter into the West Bank (they have different number plates). However, in Ramallah it is possible to rent cars with Israeli license plates. There are some rumours that cars with Israeli license plates are targeted with stones etc in the West Bank. This is not true, and you will find many cars with yellow license plates. People often forget that 20% of Israel citizens are Palestinians, who come to the West Bank regularly to work, play and visit family. It is of course important to check your surroundings and make sure that you do not park in an unsafe area, but this applies to all places, whether in the West Bank or in New York City.
It is easy to find a taxi to get around Ramallah (for ₪15 fixed charge, or the amount specified by the fare-meter). Car rentals are also available, but seldom needed. As the city center is relatively small, it is not hard to walk to most destinations downtown (including the old city.) Service shuttles (shared taxis) are also available from downtown to most suburbs and to the outskirts of the city at relatively low prices (₪2.50 inside the city and up to ₪6 to nearby towns and villages). Make sure to confirm a price before getting into a taxi. Ramallah is a good location for visitors to get to other Northern West Bank cities such as Nablus and Jenin.
The city is one of the most vibrant ones in the West Bank and there are plenty of things to do, if not necessarily along religious lines when compared to other parts of the West Bank. However, the West Bank is a surprisingly small place and Ramallah makes the perfect base from which to explore the rest of the area. Both Jenin and Hebron are 2-2.5 hours using the shared taxi service.
The city centrearound Al-Manara Square is the perfect place from which to experience the Ramallah "vibe", and an excellent place for people watching. The ice-cream parlours called "Rakoub" and "Baladna" are a good starting point as they are central and a good place to sample icecream made with arabic gum. For a great view of Ramallah, Jerusalem and even an Israeli Settlement, head to the Area D Hostel near the Central Bus Station. It is on the top floor or a building that overlooks the mosque.
Then there is the old city "Tahta", a 5-10 minute walk south from Al-Manara square. There are many beautifully restored old buildings as well the Al Kamanjati Centre music school.
The 'hisbeh' produce market is also a great place to visit, where fresh fruits and vegetables can be found at reasonable prices.
There are also several stores selling handicrafts from Palestinian villages which are very interesting to browse.
In the old city, several churches and mosques can be found that may be of interest to visitors. The Friends Schools, which are one of the oldest schools in the region, are also a must visit as there is one near the old city, and another in the entrance of the downtown coming from Jerusalem.
During the night, a good number of shops are still open, especially during the summer. A common habit of the citizens of the city is going out for a drink, dinner, or an 'Argila' (flavoured tobacco waterpipe or "hubble bubble".) The cities various coffee shops, bars, and restaurants are a must see/visit. The nicer ones are often available closer the older city, and on the road going to Betunia, while some good ones can also be found outside the city center.
There is a Turkish bath in the twin-city of El-Bireh, a good destination for foreigners wanting to relax for the day.
The West Bank headquarters of the Palestinian Authority is also worth a visit. The Mukata'a is a two-block compound with a white tower that is lit up at night and visible from most parts of the city. It contains some government offices and conference rooms, as well as Yasser Arafat's mausoleum next to the building where he was held under siege by the Israeli Army in 2002.
Tomb of Arafat:Following the death of Yasser Arafat at age 75 in November 2004, he was buried on the grounds of the Mukataa, the compound that served as his headquarters in Ramallah. Three years later, an elaborate mausoleum opened on the site. The mausoleum is built according to a number of design principles that enhance the experience of any visitor who is aware of them. For example, the tomb is 11m wide by 11m high, which indicated the date on which Arafat died, the 11 November. An honor guard stands watch at the memorial, which is open to visitors. The Mukataa (or Presidential Compound) continues to serve as a headquarters for the Palestinian Authority and contains local governmental offices.
The Ramallah Cultural Palace & Mahmoud Darwish’s Memorial:Completed in 2004, the eight year-long project was supported by the Government of Japan and overseen by the United Nations Development Program. Today, the complex is a landmark in Ramallah and a source of pride for the locals. The complex contains a 736 seat auditorium, exhibition galleries and conference facilities. It hosts all types of event ranging from Classical music and hip hop to business conferences and exhibitions. Adjacent on the left side is the Memorial of the famous Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. The building contains his grave and a museum devoted to Darwish. Born in 1941 in the village of Al Birwa in the Galilee, Darwish was a Palestinian poet and author who won numerous awards for his literary output and was regarded as the Palestinian national poet. Lots of his poetry tackled loss, dispossession and exile, portraying Palestine as a lost paradise. Darwish had published over 30 volumes of poetry, many of which have been translated into English and other languages.
Crusader Church of the Holy Family and Omari Mosque:At the heart of the old town of Al-Bireh are the remains of the Crusader Church of the Holy Family,which was possibly built in 1146 on top of an older Byzantine structure.
Dar Zahran Heritage Building: Attractive, historic building with a unique history. For 250 years, this building has been the property of the Ramallite Dar Zahran Jaghab family, serving as a family home, guest chamber "Al-Madafeh", and the place of residence of Ramallah's” Mukhtar” (leader). It includes an art gallery, a photo gallery of Ramallah from 1850 to 1979, a souvenir shop and a Fair Trade corner selling authentic Palestinian food products, embroidery, pottery, books, and jewelry. Visit Dar Zahran to experience a journey through centuries of Arab Christian life in Palestine. www.darzahran.org
In the outskirts
Jifna:The village of Jifna lies around 5 km north of Ramallah on the road to Beir Zeit. This small scenic village lies on the old Roman road connecting Jerusalem to Nablus, and it was considered at the time the second most important city after Jerusalem. It was once an important Roman – Byzantine city known as Gophna of Josefus. Today this little village is a beautiful summer escape. The village has two churches. The Latin church built in 1859 stands opposite an old Byzantine Church known as St. George’s church. A winery was also found in the eastern border of the village. There are two small citadels in the village whose origins are attributed to the crusaders or the Muslims.
Bittin:The Palestinian village of Beitin is located about 5 km northeast of Ramallah. Also known as the Bethel (House of God) of the old Testament, archaological finding in the village have dated back to the Chalcolithic Period and include pottery and fint tools. Byzantines built a church and monastery here that the Crusaders turned into their stronghold, and later Salah Eddin into a mosque in 1892. An old tower, known as the tower of Beitin is believed to be the site where Abraham, on his way from Hebron to Nablus, built an altar. It is also believed to be the site where Jacob dreamt of a ladder reaching up to Heaven.
Taybeh:Located a few Km east of Ramallah some 30 km north east of Jerusalem between Jerusalem and Jericho, is the Palestinian Christian village of Taybeh. Sitting on Mount Asur, with a population of nearly 1400, Taybeh is a predominantly Christian village. Recently Taybeh became as home to the only Palestinian Beer; Taybeh Beer. Every year in October, the village hosts locals and international visitors for the annual Taybeh Beer Festival. Besides this modern fame, Taybeh is also rich in history and culture. The famous Saint George Church which dates back to the Byzantine period is located in the center of the town. Visitors can admire its ruins behind Melkite (Greek Orthodox) church. Next the Church, ancient mosaics were recently uncovered.
Birzeit:Located 4 miles north of Ramallah is Birzeit which literally translates to “Well of (olive) oil referring to the wells in which inhabitants historically stored virgin pressed olive oil. With a population of some 6000, Birzeit is also famous for it university, one of Palestine’s flagship educational institutes. Founded in 1924, Birzeit University is the largest and most important university in Palestine. Much of the surrounding land consists of olive trees which historically was a source of sustenance for what was primarily an agrarian society. This has led to a business expansion within the town consisting of several restaurants, cafes, internet cafes, and salons.
Deir Ghassaneh: A throne Village 30km northwest of Ramallah. It was founded in the pre-Islamic era by the Ghassanids, a Christian Arab tribe who once had an independent kingdom in parts of modern day Syria, Palestine and Jordan.
There is more to do in and around Ramallah than most people think. For an up-to-date listing, check the webpage for This Week in Palestine, a monthly publication. Also, Palestinian businesses such as restaurants and other organisations involved in tourism tend to prefer using facebook to communicate and update their audience, so this is also a good place to check out what's going on.
Hiking / Walking Walking is growing in popularity with visitors and locals alike, and there are several options to choose from on most weekends. Note that because of Ramadan and the hot weather, walking in July / August is less desirable (though still possible of course!). Walkers can either join one of several groups, or walk on their own. A popular resource for walking is the Walking Palestine website and associated book.
Cultural / Political Guided Walks Guided walks are another popular activity, which take place not so much in nature but along key political and cultural sites.
Green Olive Tours run several guided walks per week from Ramallah and East Jerusalem
Visitors can also enquire at their hotel / hostel, as some of them organise walks as well.
Many international visitors to Ramallah come to get taxi rides to see the protests in the neighbouring villages (like Nabi Saleh and the world famous Bil'in protests) against the Israeli built security fence.
Rock Climbing Yes, it is even possible to go rock climbing in Palestine. The friendly staff at Wadi Climbing organise several trips per week.
Going out The city's active nightlife and its relatively liberal culture makes it a hot destination for visitors from other cities including Jersualem during the weeknights and weekends. There are many evening activities usually associated with metropolitan cities including Salsa evenings, Jazz nights, Live music, literature readings, and more.
Other While there, it is easy to make small talk with the locals. Unless you are firmly anti-Israeli occupation, it is advisable that you do more listening than actual talking yourself, however. For the most part, Palestinians are glad to share their problems and plight with any western visitors. However, do not force any topic.
also there are many cultural and entertainment centers in Ramallah like First Ramallah Scout Group it was Established in 1985, the 30-strong Sirriyat Ramallah Al-Ula Folk Dance Group has won numerous awards for its work and is one of the most popular touring dance companies in Palestine. It has participated in many arts festivals throughout the wider region and has also toured overseas, appearing at the Womad Festival in London in 1993 and at the Festival of Al-Seyaq Ramadan at the Cairo Opera House in 1995, also A.M. Qattan Foundationit is an independent UK-registered charity (no, 1029450) founded in 1993 to support the development of culture and education in Palestine and the Arab World, with a particular focus on children, teachers and young artists. The Foundation works through three main programmes: the Qattan Centre for Educational Research and Development, the Culture and Arts Programme, and the Qattan Centre for the Child. to know more centers go to click here
Ramallah is the home of the Friends School in the Palestinian Territories. The school has two campuses, one for grades 1-6 and is located near the old city. The other is for grades 7-12 and is located near the old police station destroyed by an Israeli air strike. The schools are famous for their international learning environment, intensive English language focus, and liberal learning atmosphere. The schools are private and have a number of notable Palestinian alumni.
The city also has a number of public and private schools that serve a good number of the West Bank youth population. Private schools with specific religious affiliations can also be found.
In the twin city of El-Bireh, there is also a school for the blind that also serves as a vocational center.
Birzeit University, which is in the neighboring town of Birzeit, is one of the Palestinian Authority's leading educational institutions. The University offers a large number of study options and at different levels for students. It also has several links with international institutions, and often has a number of international students attending it. The PAS (Palestinian and Arab Studies) program is popular with internationals visiting or working in the West Bank who want to learn Arabic and take classes on the history and politics of the Palestinian Authority.
The city also has branches for Al-Quds Open University, which offers continuing education opportunities to many Palestinians.
There are a number of vocational training centers in the city, neighboring towns, and refugee camps.
Ramallah is a vibrant Palestinian business hub, especially as most international agencies and governmental offices are located in the city. However, with the immigration of Palestinians from other cities in the West Bank to Ramallah, there is a highly competitve job market and many Palestinians, especially young men come to the city seeking work. The most popular career portal In Ramallah and Palestine is Jobs in Palestine .here you can find most jobs advertised by INGOs,NGOs,and local companies
Major working opportunities in Ramallah include information technology, pharmaceuticals, development cooperation, and the public sector. Restaurant and coffee shop jobs are also available, mainly during the summer. Agricultural jobs are minimal in the city, but a few can be sought in neighboring villages.
For foreigners, work opportunities tend to include consultancies in certain private sector markets - IT is most common. The vast majority of foreigners working in Ramallah are doing development or humanitarian work. A significant number are focused on human rights and advocacy. A number of UN agencies work directly in the West Bank and many, such as the UNDP, maintain office in Ramallah.
Volunteering opportunities are common in small and medium sized Palestinian NGOs as well as some international NGOs. Volunteering is an excellent way to get to understand an organisation and the field they operate in. Most local NGOs will appreciate foreign volunteers, particularly if they have good written English skills, enabling them to support fund raising work. Volunteers are often paid small sums to cover basic travel costs but this varies. If you are planning to volunteer, have enough money to support yourself as Ramallah is not a cheap place to live.
There are a number of shops selling traditional Palestinian clothing and handicrafts, including the beautiful embroidery often made by women in neighbouring villages. Shop-keepers are among the most ready-to-talk and many have colourful lives. It gives you a good reason to walk around and take your time.
Don't forget to bring cash to Ramallah. Although there are several ATMs dotted across the city, many do not work properly and at the time of writing (May 2015) do not accept Master Cards. Instead it is possible to exchange money at one of the many exchange shops - although they look dubious, they are known for providing better rates than the major banks.
You will never find everything under one roof, but for a basket of common necessities, you will need to visit a baker, grocer, butcher, pharmacy and mini-market. Ramallah city centre, despite the development and growth of some new stores retains a small-town feel due to the protections for tenants that mean many shops have been in the same location for decades (rent agreed at the outset cannot be increased, so in many cases is only a few USD per year).
The central 'Souq' or market, is located near the main bus station and the central mosque, about 50 m away from al-Manara Square (the centre of Ramallah). It is the cheapest place to buy fruit and vegetables, although the quality can vary. Produce is a mixture of Palestinian, Israeli and imported goods. As is usual with a souq, prices are not fixed and bargaining is the norm.
There are also fruit and vegetable stores dotted around Ramallah. Prices are higher but there is also an increase in quality and no bargaining means that the experience can be more enjoyable for some. It is also usual for store owners to offer arabic coffee to their visitors.
Modern stores that stock a lot of international goods are also slowly opening in Ramallah - though again the prices are quite high compared to buying local goods.
The bakery on Al-Quds street where the buses emerge from the bus station is one of the best in town. The staple is 'kmaaj' or pitta bread. A bakery in the Old City (Ramallah Tahta) produces brown kmaaj and sliced bread.
Butchers in Ramallah normally sell meat (Beef/Lamb) or chicken. If they sell both, they are separated and attended by different people. One of the best butchers is on Tireh Street about 1km from Al-Manara. The butcher will cut the meat to your specification and will mince it for you while you wait for no extra charge. If you ask for barbeque meat, you will also get a mix of coriander, garlic and spices ready for BBQ.
Palestinians seem to love fresh fruit-juice. For under ₪10 you can get a large juice with a mixture of anything from Pomegranate to Orange juice. On Al-Manara square, Silwadi juice shop is the most famous and has been around for decades. Silwadi's something of a purist - if you want a 'cocktail' which includes ice-cream, nuts and dried fruit as well as chocolate sauce (₪10) head to the other side of the square.
Eating should be no problem in Ramallah, regardless of the budget of visitors. There are a huge number of falafel and shawerma places on all of the main streets.
Another good place to visit is the "Nazareth Restaurant" at the end of the main street, which is popular for locals and serves really great (but hummousey) falafel. The other excellent falafel place is "Saba" on the main street across the road from the famous "Rukab" Ice-Cream shop.
Another place to eat is Angelinos on the left at the end of the main street. We went there with a group of friends and we all like sandwich with turkey, stuffed pigeon and pizzas. Price/quality is very satisfactory.
The Arabic variety of ice-cream in many places in Ramallah is worth trying - a very different and more gooey and sticky version of what is available in the west. Regular ice cream can be found everywhere also. Try "Rukab's" and "Baladna" ice cream shops on the main street.
You can also have a delicious dish of fresh fish or other seafood dishes at "Fish and Chips" restaurant located in the old city. You can choose your favourite fresh fish from Palestine Fishery and ask the chef to prepare that fish for you in the way you like. They also prepare very delicious fish sandwiches at reasonable prices.
For those who want more American/Western food, there is a "Checkers" fast-food joint in the mini-mall and on the main street. There is also "Chicago Cheese Steak" on Manara Square. Try "Tomasso's" pizza for a nice pizza dine-in or take-out.
Ramallah offers a wide variety of coffee shops ranging from the local low-scale ones serving Arabic Coffee for ₪2, to those fancy places serving the same item for ₪10-15. Try the Arabic drinks (arabic coffee, mint tea, sahleb, etc ), cappucinos and lattes, and fresh juices and cocktails at the numerous cafes around downtown and in the suburbs. Also try "European" and "Karameh" on main street.
A filling falafel or hummous pita sandwich with a drink should run you around ₪4-6 from any of the common downtown restaurants. At nicer restaurants, such a combination will run you a bit more. Saba, Nazareth, and Abu Khalil in al Tireh Street are the best Falafel shops in Ramallah.
A large Shawerma, Kebab, or Chicken sandwich goes for around ₪15-20 in most restaurants. A hamburger, fries, and a drink go for around ₪25-45 depending on the restaurant. Abu Alabed is an excellent Shawerma place located in the old city next to fish and chips restaurant. "Big Bite" located at the end of the main street offers a wide range of hot and cold sandwiches.
The city has a number of upscale restaurants: juicy steaks or fresh seafood. The prices are moderately priced compared to the States. "Tropicana", "Darna", "Angelo's", "Azure" are all nice options for upscale dining.
Although predominately Muslim, Ramallah is still a Christian town, hence Ramallah's large restaurants usually serve alcohol. Expect a selection of imported beers (Heineken, Corona,and the famous tybeh palestinian beer ), spirits, and perhaps red or white wine. Do not display public intoxication, as at best, it is rude and inconsiderate to your Muslim hosts in the city. At worst, it could be dangerous specially near the downtown area close to vegetable and fuit market that is al-bireh municipality and no alcohol is served or allowed in that area of the city.
Popular local places to get served alcohol are cafe la vie,pronto, Zryiab, Stones, Angelo's, and Sangria's. They all serve food as well and the local Palestinian beer "Taybeh" (which can challenge most European beers). For more robust beer lovers, Taybeh also comes in a delightfully rich tasting dark version although this isn't as widely sold as the lighter ale.
Most neighborhoods, particularly traditionally Christian ones have a couple of stores that sell beer, wine and spirits. "la grota" a small and cozy bar a one old room full of locals and travelers in the old city of ramallah.
'Coffee shops' are places to drink coffee and smoke waterpipes. The term 'Argila' is often used in Ramallah to describe the waterpipes, while 'Shishah' is also used at some places. You might even see 'Hookah' or 'Hubbly Bubbly'. You can also smoke Arghila in almost any restaurant, although some have special areas for them. Smoking in such a coffee shop is especially something for men- if you are a woman, it's wiser to go to a restaurant and order the argila there.
You can order normal ('aadi') or fresh ('fresh'). Fresh means the tobacco is placed in a piece of fruit like an orange (or even a watermelon). It has a smoother flavour but is more expensive. You should also choose your flavour. Common flavours are double-apple ('tufateen') and lemon and mint ('limun-w-nana').
Depending on the location and type of restaurant of cafe, the price of smoking a nice and soothing tobacco waterpipe costs anywhere between ₪15-30. The cheapest places do have an unwritten men-only rule and the argileh is stronger tabac(tombac).
Cigarettes can be bought from most grocery shops and supermarkets. Most international brands can be found, in addition to locally produced ones. A pack of imported cigarettes costs around ₪20.
Ramallah has only 2 real hostels that focus on guests' social experience:
Some older downtown hotels go for around ₪190-250:
Around 80 U$D will get you a nice room.
Generally speaking, Ramallah is safe for non-Israeli foreigners. The Palestinian residents are usually quite happy to have foreign nationals visit them. Theft is relatively rare, although do not interpret that statement as an OK to let your guard down.
Bear in mind that although Ramallah has been under military occupation since 1967, the city is relatively stable. However, very rarely the Israeli military enters the city to arrest wanted Palestinians. This usually only happens in the dead of night, and they disappear before anyone realizes that they were there. However, the Israeli military can enter Ramallah bluntly, and in large numbers. If this should happen while you are staying in Ramallah, do what the majority of Palestinians do, and stay inside until they leave and away from any soldiers or military vehicles. Do not assume that just because you are a foreign national that you will be safe.
That said, Ramallah hasn't seen any widespread violence since 2006 and it is highly unlikely to happen (unless there are escalations with Israel, which will be very apparent via international media). When the Israelis enter, it is usually to arrest a wanted Palestinian in a refugee camp in the middle of the night on the outskirts. They will rarely enter the city centre, so as to avoid an unnecessary confrontation with large crowds of civilians.
Check with your embassy if they have a registry for foreign nationals. If you are registered then you will be evacuated ahead of any Israeli incursions.