The problem about getting the quickest way to Bethlehem from Jerusalem, is that you have to pass the "security" wall - it's not really a problem unless you are Palestinian, but it involves taking two different taxis. The first one from Jerusalem to the Hebron road checkpoint, and then one from the checkpoint into the city itself, following the wall for a good stretch of road.
The checkpoint is quite a scary sight: imagine you were to enter a maximum security prison with its iron gates and fences - that's exactly how you'll feel at the checkpoint, except the fact that the construction is 10 times larger. To be fair, the procedure was straightforward enough: we flash ed our documents, our bags got x-rayed and not a single question was asked. Still, the whole thing seemed eerie enough...
WE went to Bethlem from Jerusalem. Our driver left us on the israelian side of the wall that separetes the two terrirories, then we crossed the wall walking and the palestinian guide was waiting for us on the other side. That walk is something surreal as it is just a few meters long but with this wall so high and long that you cannot think of anything else than prison, infact, once outside on the palestinian territory, the cooment of us all coming from different contries was: prison, that's the feeling.
Most people choose to go with a tour group to Bethlehem or are willing to drop a chunk of change and take a taxi. However for those of you on budget you can go the way the locals go...by bus. Its actually pretty easy and the cost is very affordable, you catch the #20 bus from the Arab bus station across the street from the Damascus Gate. It runs about every 30 minutes and cost about $5 US round trip, its about 45 minutes each way and the bus is almost always full so don't even think about trying to catch the bus in front of Jaffa Gate. Take the bus to the end of the line in Bethlehem, from there you walk up the street thats on a hill and go about three blocks until you come to a church that has a street going to the left and a street going to the right. Take the street on the left and it will take you right to the Church of the Nativity. You catch the bus back to Bethlehem across the street from where it drops you off. Keep in mind the return trip take longer because of the security checks....be sure to have you passport with you!
There is a bus (number 124) that leaves Jerusalem from the Arab bus station near Damascus Gate. The bus itself is a sherut that can hold about 20 people. It cost 4 NIS and runs to the Bethlehem Checkpoint and back. You must travel through the checkpoint to reach Bethlehem. Make sure to bring a passport as your form of identification. From the checkpoint, you can either walk (as I did) or take a taxi to the centre of Bethlehem. The walk took me about 30 minutes from the wall to Manger Square (2-3km).
Take taxi from Damascus gate and you can get into west bank cities because taxi would have palestianian plates. This is probably best way. Taxi driver will double as a tourguide i am sure if you ask. Or you can take israeli cab and then get dropped off at checkpoint, catch a cab inside the west bank.. but first option seems easiest.
I went to Bethlehem in October 2007. From the Arab bus station on Nablus Rd. across from the Damascus Gate, I took Bus #21 (Bet Jella) cost 5.50NIS. I got off at the town center (bab isska) and took a taxi (10 NIS+) to Manger Square. From there, walked across to the Church of the Nativity and/or the St. Catherines Church. To go back, take taxi to the No. 21 bus terminal. At the checkpoint before entering Jerusalem, everyone gets off the bus to show their ID or passport and back on the same bus and continue to the Arab bus station on Nablus Rd. in East Jerusalem. If you don't want to take the taxi, you can walk upwards towards the souk, follow that road til you get to Manger Square.
Despite being warned and told by our hotel that we should go there with a guide and get a cab to get in, we have given it a try with our rent car and managed to get in and find a decent and looking like a safe parking with some friendly locals...they have eventually also exchanged us some money and guide us a bit around...
Most entrances into and exits from the Bethlehem agglomeration to the rest of the West Bank are currently subject to Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks, with the level of access varying based on Israeli security directives. Travel for Bethlehem's Palestinian residents from the West Bank into Israeli-controlled Jerusalem is regulated by a permit-system. Acquiring such permits to enter, what in the past served in many ways as an urban anchor to Bethlehem, has become exceedingly rare since the onset of the violence surrounding the al-Aqsa Intifada, though Israel has subsequently erected a terminal for the stated-aim of easing transit between the two adjoining cities. After the Intifada's onset, Bethlehem was periodically placed under strict curfews which prevent residents from leaving their homes. Palestinians are not allowed to enter the Jewish holy site of Rachel's Tomb, which is on the outskirts of the city. Since Bethlehem and the nearby biblical Solomon's Pools lie in Area A, Israeli citizens cannot go there without a permit from the Israeli military authorities.
The construction by Israel of the West Bank barrier has had a severely negative impact on Bethlehem; politically, socially, and economically. The barrier runs along the northern side of the town's built-up area, within metres of houses in 'A'ida refugee camp on the one side, and the Jerusalem municipality on the other.
To get here take Bus 22 from the main Arab bus station at Damascus Gate. Damascus Gate is where all the Arab buses depart from. Leaving the Old City from Damascus Gate, take a right, and the station is about 100 meters on the left. On Christmas day there is so much traffic from Jerusalem to Bethlehem that they commandeer all kinds of buses to run the route. I travelled on Bus 175 there, and then a big tour bus took me back, all on the same system. The Bus to Bethlehem will stop at Jafa gate, but you'll have to flag it down.
The bus doesn't go all the way to Bethlehem, it cannot because of the Israeli wall and checkpoint. You'll be dropped off at the wall, where you must then pass through security. On the way into Bethlehem, the security is light: just a document check. On the way out, and back into Israel, it is more stringent. You'll have to pass through a metal detector and have your bag x-rayed. The detector is very sensitive, and you may have to take off your boots if they contain metal.
On the Palestinian side you should be able to get a bus, shared taxi or a private taxi, but if you thought Damascus gate was chaotic, on the West Bank side it is totally confusing. The taxi drivers will make use of that confusion to convince you that you must get in their taxi, and at an exhorbitant price. The price of a taxi from the checkpoint to the centre should be 10 shekels, and no more than 15. That's a normal price, on a normal day, for Palestinians. If you are a foreigner turning up on Christmas day you'll probably have to pay a lot more. I couldn't get a taxi driver to leave his carefully secured spot by the checkpoint for 30 shekels, he passed me on to someone else who was in a worse place.
Travelling from Jerusalem to Bethlehem should not be a too big problem, but things change quickly in this area. I was travelling on a day that the main border crossing was closed for Palestinians and there was no direct bus to the Wall. In a normal situation, take minibus no 22 from the bus station at Suleyman Street, Jerusalem. People will help you there finding the right bus. It cost about 3 NIS to take you to the border crossing.
I was taken to the outskirts of western Bethlehem with bus no 21; a taxi from there to the centre costed me 40 NIS.
Back from the centre of Bethlehem to the Wall, I took a taxi which costed 15 NIS, I paid 20 NIS. After the checkpoint, I had to walk a few hundred metres; an Arab minibus was waiting there heading for Jerusalem.