Beit Shemesh is a city in the Shfela region of Israel, with a population of 119,000 (2018). Excluding the West Bank, Beit Shemesh is the closest city to Jerusalem.
It was mentioned in the Bible, but the modern city was founded in 1950 as a "development town" to house recent Jewish immigrants from other Middle Eastern countries. Many Jerusalem residents have moved here for the cheaper housing prices, including many Haredi ('ultra-Orthodox') Jews. The new neighborhoods in the southern half of the city, known as "Ramat Beit Shemesh", are also a very popular destination for immigrants from English-speaking countries. In parts of Ramat Beit Shemesh, you will hear more English than Hebrew.
From route 1 (north of Bet Shemesh), take the exit of Shaar Hagay off onto route 38. Drive south for about 7 minutes until you see a sign for Bet Shemesh. Travel from the airport to Bet Shemesh takes about 45 minutes via this route.
From the south, go on route 38 north, and continue driving until you see a sign for a turn to Bet Shemesh.
- 1 Beit Shemesh railway station. This station sees roughly hourly service towards Tel Aviv and hourly or two-hourly service in the direction of Jerusalem
However, from the train station it is necessary to transfer to a local bus to reach most of the city. Trains run about once an hour from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The Beit Shemesh-Jerusalem train route is slow but scenic.
There are frequent buses from Jerusalem. Less frequent buses run from Tel Aviv, Bnei Brak, and other locations. Unlike the train, these buses run throughout the city and serve all locations (not every bus serves every part of the city though.)
The city is built on a series of hills with open space between them. This makes it pleasantly quiet, but hard to get around on foot. If you are not driving, you will probably want to use the internal city buses.
- 1 Tel Beit Shemesh. The ancient city of Beit Shemesh, a city mentioned in the Bible. It is located on a hill just west of the modern city, across road 38. You can walk around the tel freely and see some of the ancient ruins, but they will be hard to appreciate without a guide or prior knowledge.
- 2 Tel Yarmut. Another Biblical city, this one known as a Canaanite city against which Joshua fought. It is still an active archaeological site. You can see the impressively tall remains of the Canaanite city wall. It makes clear why, according to the Bible, the Israelites were afraid to enter the land because the walled cities reached "up to the heavens" and were unconquerable.
- 3 Biblical Museum of Natural History, 5 Ha-Tzaba. A unique museum which explains the role of animals in Jewish tradition. Kosher laws, the shofar, and many other topics are explained using live specimens, preserved skeletons and hides, and other hands-on exhibits. You need to visit as part of a group tour - contact the museum and they will help arrange a joint tour with other visitors.
- 4 Israel Police Heritage Centre. Presents the history of Israel's police forces, starting with the communal guard organizations that were created in the late Ottoman period, and ending with current police activities. In addition to traditional exhibits, there are video and holographic presentations.
Surrounding Beit Shemesh in every direction are beautiful forested landscapes which are great for hiking. To the east, in the Jerusalem Hills, are the most rugged hills with the best views. To the north and west are more modest hills which contain many bike paths. To the south is Emek HaElah, the valley in which David fought Goliath according to the Bible.