Just this morning I was reading the New York Times list of 52 places to travel to in 2015. Sadly Ramallah wasn't on it, although I think it deserves to be! So here is my showcase to entice more people to come to visit this wonderful place! I have also developed a map of Ramallah, which you can download here.
The map includes a 'setting the scene' section, must see sites, restaurants, bars, as well as a suggested itinerary for a 1-day visit. I'm hoping to attract more day visitors to Ramallah, especially from Jerusalem. So please feel free to share this map with anyone and everyone.
Introduction to Ramallah
Ramallah used to be a small Christian town that people from across the Middle East visited in summer. The city lies in the hills (on average 880m above sea level), 15km north of Jerusalem and enjoys a pleasant Mediterranean climate. From the older buildings that remain today, it is possible to recognise that Ramallah was not meant to be one of the West Bank’s main cities, but used to be a quaint town consisting of summer houses on big blocks of land. This explains in part the relatively small ‘old town' and the absence of a large souq, unlike the commercial hubs of Hebron and Nablus in the West Bank.
Ramallah’s character changed with the creation of Israel, and the influx of Palestinian refugees in 1948. Refugees walked all the way from Lod and Ramle, and other cities in historic Palestine, and there remain several large refugee camps around the city. Summer retreats have mostly been replaced with high-rise residential blocks and governmental institutions, as the Palestinian Authority as well as international NGOs have made Ramallah their base.
Today the Ramallah and Al-Bireh Governorate’s population of 350,000 make Ramallah the fourth largest city and the de-facto capital of the West Bank. Ramallah can be seen as a small town with ‘big city’ features: a bustling cultural scene, trendy restaurants and vibrant nightlife provide a unique view of what Palestinian life is like under continued occupation by Israel. Ramallah is a place not to be missed.
Why visit Ramallah?
Ramallah is known to some as a cosmopolitan, liberal city, a ‘cool’ place that has much more to offer than East Jerusalem or any other city in the West Bank, in terms of cultural activities, restaurants and nightlife. Others observe that to visit Ramallah is to visit a ‘bubble’, where the ‘5-star occupation’ enables residents and visitors alike to escape the confines of the occupation more than other cities in the West Bank.
These views highlight that Ramallah is a city full of contradictions, and visitors are confronted with a myriad of impressions about Palestinian life. Despite the cosmopolitan feel to the city, it remains under occupation by Israel, and the struggle for independence, poverty and restrictions on individual freedom can be felt on the streets, even if you need to look beyond expensive cars, up-market restaurants and security forces.
My recommendations for a one-day visit
Here some more photos to accompany my suggested 1-day Itinerary.
Assuming you arrive at the Central Bus Station, head along the main road to Al-Manara Square to soak up the environment with a juice from Al-Silwadi, or from one of the dressed up guys dispensing a sweet tamarind drink from large urns decorated with flowers. Then turn left towards the Fruit and Vegetable Market to try to find Abu Walid for the best Hummus in town. You can also check the view over Ramallah and Jerusalem from the 4th floor of the car park at the Area D hostel near the market. Check their notice board for any special events going on in Ramallah this week.
Then either walk for 20 minutes or grab a taxi to Arafat’s Mausoleum. A previous blog post gives more information on what you see there.
If it is hot, you could cool down by the pool at nearby Snowbar, or head back into town for an arabic ice-cream at Baladna, and passing by Lambada DVD on your way to the Old City.
Continue along the main road, dropping in to the Ramallah Museum and Dar Zahran’s Heritage Building. This is where you can also pick up some nice souvenirs from Palestine. On your way you will pass lots of snack bars with Falafel. The main roads are where you have lots of opportunities for people watching and observing Palestinian life - like the picture of an olive tree below, brought to Arafat square to bring attention to Palestinian refugees in Syria.
From Dar Zahran, cross the street into the heart of the Old City, where you can sneak a peek at the “Oven” (Taboun) and the Kamanjati Music School. It is a small Old City so you will not get lost.
When you find yourself on a larger road, hail a taxi and go to Mahmoud Darwish’s memorial and Museum, with great views over the city.
After this you can re-fuel with a dinner at Zarour, Orjuwan or Darna. In winter, Ziryab has a log fire and a cosy athmosphere. You can also pick up some nuts for your trip back home from Odeh.
If time permits, you can check out some of the bars in town, notably Radio, Sangria or Snowbar.
To conclude, I think Ramallah has all the ingredients for a great place to visit.