Ramallah City

Ramallah epitomises the Palestine most people don’t know exists. This is the cultural, commercial and governmental hub of the West Bank, alive with liberalism and intellectualism. It is a loud, vibrant city from its historic market to its chaotic bus station and its hip downtown to its towering, glamorous hotels. Almost operating within its own bubble, Ramallah is an eclectic hub of activity and continues to evolve with each day. Many of its residents are refugee families from Jerusalem and elsewhere in Palestine, who were forced to seek new lives in Ramallah and in doing so made it the Palestinian Authority’s de facto capital.

In a paradoxical way, it is the backdrop of conflict, oppression and death which has driven the citizens of Ramallah to celebrate what it is to be alive in any way they can. Amongst younger generations, this unified spirit manifests itself in the form of almost constant house parties, as well as festivals and club nights in one of the city’s many venues. Ramallah seriously knows how to party. Literature, comedy and the arts in general are also of great importance here, and a cultural calendar of events can be picked in many spots. It is the modern, European vibe to be found in the ‘downtown’ area in particular which most first-time visitors find surprising; there is an international dining scene, with many restaurants serving alcohol and an eclectic range of bars sprinkled throughout the city, from the hip live music venue Radio to the cult favourite Snobar – which operates as an open-air pool bar during the day. These are the places to rub shoulders with other foreigners, many of whom live in Ramallah while working in NGOs, or are journalists, human rights activists or even simply ‘tourists’. There are two classic backpacker-friendly hostels in the city, ideal for those who want to travel and meet others.

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However, all of this is not to suggest that Ramallah is entirely detached from Palestinian and Muslim traditions; many of the older coffee shops – the places to smoke ‘argila’ – have unspoken men only rules, although foreign females tend not to face any problems. The delicious falafel vendors, fresh ice cream and juice bars are also beloved in the city, as is the bustling market, where seemingly everything can be picked up for a bargain price. The different neighbourhoods vary a great deal, from the governmental dwellings of upmarket Al Masyon, which also boasts Ramallah’s only 5-star hotel, the Moevenpick, to the energetic, modern Al Tireh. The real hub for foreigners is the Down Town, known as ‘Ramallah tahta’, where beautiful old buildings house classy restaurants and bars, quirky shops and also the city’s tourist information centre.

Ramallah’s twin city, Al Bireh, mirrors the diverse, cosmopolitan vibe. At Ramallah’s heart is the wonderful community spirit on which Palestine is built. The people are very friendly and – now so accustomed to foreign nationals that you should never feel uncomfortable or out of place – you will feel completely welcomed.

What To Do

Ramallah is undoubtedly an excellent base from which to explore the West Bank, but its own sites should not be overlooked. The city centre around al Manara square is perfect for people-watching from a coffee shop window, and the market is a lively and fascinating experience. A few minutes walk is the trendy downtown area known as ‘Tahta’, where various bars and restaurants can be found.

Yasser Arafat’s mausoleum is open for tourists to visit, and the guards will happily allow you in to take pictures of the smart but not over-elaborate compound.

The memorial site of beloved poet Mahmoud Darwish, opened in 2004, is an excellent attraction tucked away in the suburbs.

The Complex, with its Darwish museum, auditorium and exhibition rooms, is a source of pride for the locals. Darwish was a Palestinian poet and author who won numerous awards and was widely regarded as the Palestinian national poet.

Elsewhere, there are several Turkish baths dotted throughout Ramallah and Al Bireh for anyone in need of some relaxation.

When that’s done with, head to one of the city’s lively evening venues: Radio often has live bands, the Snobar is a cult favourite with its open-air pool and the likes of Orjuwan and La Vie are always popular too. Special mention must also go to La Grotta, a cosy, lovable bar which becomes a second home for the majority of foreigners either living or traveling in Ramallah.

Where To Eat

Ramallah has the best dining scene in Palestine, meaning hungry visitors are spoilt for choice.
When it comes to breakfast, there is only one place to be seen; cafe Zamn. This Ramallah institution serves up a range of exquisite, fresh dishes accompanied by the finest coffee in town.

Moving to dinner, the downtown area boasts international restaurants serving exquisite food which also don’t hesitate to serve alcohol. There is an excellent Mexican restaurant/bar, Fuego, which stands out among a range of exciting options. Elsewhere the Palestinian restaurants are also turning out great food, from sit-down three course meals or quick chicken and hummus spreads. One hidden gem is found just out of the city centre, near the Hostel in Ramallah, called Bhar cuisine. Here the owner serves the most delicious steaks in the Middle East, bought from a local farmer, with a cold beer and unbeatable views of the sun setting over Ramallah. When it comes to fast food, there are two KFCs, as well as classic shawarma BBQ places. But be sure to seek out the delicious falafel vendor in the city centre, serving up moreish pittas for the bargain price of 4 shekels. You’ll keep going back for more.

Where To Stay

Accommodation is no issue in Ramallah. Budget travellers tend to stay in one of the two classic hostels, Area D hostel and Hostel in Ramallah. Both are well located and ideal for meeting other travellers. Meanwhile, there are many good hotels to choose from which offer full suites as well as single rooms.