Jerusalem, the city of incredible blend of religions and cultures…
Did you know that Jerusalem has been continuously inhabited for over 3 500 years?
I was always curious why is Jerusalem so central for Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths and how would it be to walk around the streets where history was made?
If you are going to visit Jerusalem for the first time, read on, you will find a list of absolute must-dos, some hidden non-touristic gems and also recommendations for some great restaurants!
NOTE: Please note that I am trying to stay away from the complex politics it this post. This article is written purely for tourists that need recommendations on things to do in Jerusalem.
Here we go, things to do in Jerusalem, Israel:
1. Put a written prayer in the Western Wall
The Western Wall (also known as the Wailing Wall or HaKotel in Hebrew) is probably the most known attraction to visit in Jerusalem, at least it was for me!
The wall is believed to be a unique place where you can have a direct line to Heaven.
When there, go to the respective section (Male or Female) and insert a small piece of paper with your prayer in the cracks between the stones of the Wall.
Along with all other wishes, your prayer will be buried in a special cemetery later. The prayers are never burnt.
Did you know that you can send your prayers by email and it will be delivered to the Western Wall?
Yep, you don’t even need to visit Jerusalem to place your prayer! No worries, it will remain confidential and you will even receive a confirmation e-mail afterwards. The service is free, but a donation is welcome. Check it out here.
If you are interested to know more about the Biblical highlights of the city, I highly recommend taking the Jesus’ Footsteps tour, it includes a visit of Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown. The tour will give you a much better understanding than discovering things by yourself.
NOTE: Remember that the Wailing Wall is the holiest sites in Jerusalem and you should dress appropriate (long sleeves).
NOTE2: You can’t take pictures on Shabbat (every Saturday).
2. Go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a major pilgrimage destination for Christians.
I’d say that visiting the church is a worthwhile experience even for non-religious people.
Omitting it is like visiting Paris and not seeing the Eiffel tower!
The church was built on the site of the crucifixion of Jesus. The church is believed to contain the slab of rock where the body of Jesus Christ was laid to rest.
Again, in order to fully understand its immense history, I recommend taking a guide.
3. Explore the tunnels in The City of David
The City of David is about the 3 000 years old remains of the once-grand citadel where a dynasty of Judean kings ruled. It is believed to be the place where Jerusalem was founded.
It is one big collection of archeological wonders!
For example, there are the Hezekiah’s tunnels – the structure that used to be the main source of water for ancient Jerusalem over 3 millennia ago.
And guess what, you can walk inside those tunnels!
In 30 mins walk, be prepared to get a bit wet and to use a flashlight as sometimes it will be no light at all. But who cares, you get to experience history and adventure – two in one!
NOTE: Yes, you will get wet! Take sandals/flip flops and a pair of pants to change.
NOTE2: I would not recommend going inside the tunnels for claustrophobic people as the place gets tiny sometimes and it is dark.
4. Admire the Dome of the Rock Mosque
This architectural gem is the 3rd most important Muslim sight (after Mecca and Medina)!
The Dome is over 1000 years old and it is located in the Mount Temple.
Mount Temple is an area with about 100 different structures including prayer spots, arches and fountains from different time periods.
Again, I advise you to dress modesty if you would like to visit the mosque.
NOTE: Unless you are Muslim (then you can go inside anytime), you can only enter the Mount Temple during these hours:
Monday – Thursday (closed on Sat and Sun):
Winter: 7:30 am – 10:30 am and 12:30pm – 1:30 pm
Summer: 8:30am – 11:30am and 1:30pm – 2:30pm
NOTE: while the Mount Temple complex is open to all the people, you will not be allowed inside the Mosque if you are not Muslim.
5. Shop at the Mahane Yahuda market
Markets, as you know, are the blood vessels of a city.
Well, then Machane Yehuda market is definitely the blood vessel of Jerusalem!
Explore the endless alleys and tiny streets while soaking up the endless smells and sounds of the bazaar.
The market sells everything from fresh fruits to colorful spices of all sorts.
Don’t forget to bring your camera! And go on an empty stomach!
6. Even better – visit this market by night!
When the night falls, the Mahane Yehuda Shuk market (better known as simply the “Shuk”) becomes a hipsters’ meeting place with loads of drinks and music from every corner. It is a great place to relax with friends over some food and beers!
Shuk is still not really mentioned in tourist guides as it is a relatively new thing. Use your chance to discover something out of the tourist path!
7. Eat, eat, eat!
Hummus, falafel, schwerma, kebab, baklava …. So many things to try!
To be honest with you, I was not really a big fan of the Middle Eastern cuisine before (big mistake!), but I became one here in Jerusalem! Falafel, hummus, msabbha, shakshouka, couscous … – everything is SO good!
I even took a Do It Yourself Food tour (a pretty cool idea in my opinion!).
This is how it works:
After you install an application called Bitemojo and set your food preferences (vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free included), you just need to follow the map that will take you to some awesome local restaurants or bistros.
All you need to do is just show the app to the staff and they will hand you some treats to try!
In our case it was a “hachapuri” (Armenian cheese bread), kubeba (fried croquettes stuffed with meat), burgers with no bread (!) and some local craft beer. You only need to pay to use the tour in the app, all the rest will be taken care of.
Also, here is the list of yummy restaurants I have been to and I can totally recommend:
8. Pay a visit to Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum
The Holocaust museum in Jerusalem is not only a memorial to the 6 million Jews that were killed during the WW2, but it is also a big research and educational center on the holocaust.
Trust me, it is very sobering to visit a museum dedicated to the genocide in the place where Jews live. The museum remembers the past and ensures the memory will remain for future generations.
NOTE: If you are traveling with kids, keep in mind that children younger than 10 will not be permitted in the museum.
PRICE: free to enter. You can also book a guided tour in advance here or you can get an audio guide for 25 NIS (~7 USD).
9. Israel Museum
The Israel Museum is located not in the capital. It is, of course, in Jerusalem – the city with centuries of history! Israel museum is the biggest one in the Middle East. You can easily spend a couple of days there!
One of the highlights in the museum collection is the Shrine of the Book with the Dead Sea strolls – the oldest known today Bible manuscripts. The manuscripts is the major archaeological discovery that changed the way we were thinking about history.
PRICE: 54 NIS for adults and 39 NIS for students. Check the rates here
10. Stroll Ein Karem trendy neighborhood
I LOVED Ein Karem neighbourhood, it was probably my favorite area in all Jerusalem!
Ein Karem is a great place to get away from the touristy hustle and bustle and stroll in the narrow lanes of the picturesque village stopping by Mary’s spring.
Also, the village is traditionally known as birthplace of John the Baptist.
There is even a beautiful church built in his honor there. The church is completely different from the ones mentioned above – it has a serene atmosphere and there were almost no people when we visited.
11. Enjoy the view from the Mount of Olives
Go to the Mount of Olives for a panoramic overview of the whole city.
Mount of Olives was considered the center of Jerusalem before. Now it is a holy pilgrimage site for Jews and Christians.
You can also see the beautiful St. Mary Magdalene church, which is easily recognized by its Orthodox style golden domes.
Here we go, that was 11! But seriously, there are so many more things to do in the heart of the Holy Land, I mentioned just a few of them!
My best advice to you would be to just walk around the city, feel its diversity, visit the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian Quarters.
How many days to stay in Jerusalem?
I would say, at least 2 to see all the main things. If you want to visit with no rush, 3 days would be perfect.
Given its immense history, there are way more that 11 things to see and discover in Jerusalem, of course! The points of interest I mentioned here make up only the tip of the iceberg, just the definite must-do!
Hotels in Jerusalem:
I stayed in Imbal Hotel and my experience with them was outstanding!
The service was good and the room spacious and tastefully decorated. Inbal is located close to the main attractions so it was quite convenient.
I only wish I had a bit more time to enjoy all the facilities provided by the hotel! They have a gym, a hammam, a fantastic executive lounge and a soup festival that that happens every day! Sorry Inbal, you are awesome, but the city itself has so much to offer, I just didn’t have time!
I have always skipped breakfasts (baaad girl!), but my friends who stayed with me in the hotel told me it was amazing!
Other options to stay:
Medium: Alegra Boutique Hotel – fantastic view to the city, rooftop and just chill atmosphere.
Budget: Abraham hostel
How to get to Jerusalem?
There is no airport in Jerusalem itself, but Tel Aviv International Airport serves 2 cities pretty well, it is not that far from each other.
Jerusalem is 66 km. away from Tel Aviv which makes it about an hour drive (or about 40 minutes if you drive from Tel Aviv airport) (here is a great side to choose a car).
PRICE: 250 NIS for the car (300 NIS during Shabbat)
By sherut (shared taxi)
I think sherut might be the most convenient way in terms of money/comfort combination. The shared taxi will deliver you right to your hotel doors, but you will share the car with other people.
PRICE: 60 NIS
The cheapest option, but it might require a bit of hustle.
In order to get to the bus you need to first take a free shuttle to the bus stop from the airport, then take a bus number 945 or 947. Keep in mind that it might be full and so you might need to stand up for the whole duration of the trip.
PRICE: 30 NIS
PRO TIP: If you are staying in Tel Aviv and you just want to see the main attractions in 1 day trip, this tour is for you! You will explore the must-see places with a live guide, the tour will organize all the transportation and the entry fees for you. No need standing in lines as an extra advantage!
Things to remember when visiting Israel:
- Shabbat – (every Saturday) is a rest day for Israelis and most of the things are closed on Saturdays, especially in Jerusalem. That includes museums and many stores and restaurants.
- The Israeli currency is shekels (NIS). At the moment 1 USD is 3,6 NIS. Check the up-to-date conversion rate here. Cards are generally accepted, but you will definitely need some cash too.
- The airport security is not exactly a piece of cake in Tel Aviv, thus, I recommend arriving to the airport (both flying in and out) at least 3 hours before the flight.
- Upon arrival to Israel your passport most probably will not be stamped (this is to help avoid possible problems when entering countries that are in political conflict with Israel). Do not lose the sticker given to you, you will need it upon departure.
- When flying in Tel Aviv from Jordan my bag was slightly destroyed because I closed it with a lock (it said it was allowed). If you want to avoid the possible damage to your luggage, do not lock it.
- Visiting Palestine is totally possible, but I highly recommend to do it with an organized tour – this way you will learn about the West Bank from the first-hand experience and you do not need to stress about the transportation and boarder control issues.
Two words about security in Jerusalem:
You know how you have an intuition sometimes that walking around at 2 a.m. here might not be your best idea?
It is absolutely not like that in Jerusalem! I felt it was really safe and I did not have any troubles walking around the city. The Middle East is so complex, you cannot just omit it, but the days when you could hear about bombs in the city are long gone.
Disclaimer: I was invited to Jerusalem by the Ministry of Tourism of Israel and TBEX conference, I am, as always, expressing my honest opinion about my experience.
Deeply religious, but at the same time so intense and contemporary – it is no surprise that 800 000 people choose to visit Jerusalem every year!
The city where 3 ancient religious collide, the Old city and the New city in one is an absolute crazy blend!
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