10 Most Important Things To Do In Jerusalem
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Jerusalem is probably the holiest city in the world, and for me, It is also the most beautiful one. The three biggest monotheist religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are connected to Jerusalem. For the Jewish people, many biblical and historical events happened here. The Binding of Isaac, the city of David, and the Temples are to name a few. For Christians, it is the place where Jesus preached, died, and resurrected. For Muslims, Jerusalem is where Muhammad ascended to heaven and since then Al Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest place in Islam.
Throughout its history, Jerusalem has seen it all. From religious leaders, generals, and conquerors who wanted to take over it, to people who worshiped, and some who have died for their religion. Carrying so much history, Jerusalem of today is very spiritual, but also lively, busy, and modern. The People here demonstrate a phenomenal co-living and diversity, which makes this city as magnificent and wonderful as it is! So here are the best things to do in Jerusalem:
Explore The Old City
The old city of Jerusalem dates back to over 3000 years ago. This is where the main religious sites are, such as the Western Wall (the wailing wall), Al Aqsa Mosque, Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Ottomans built the surrounding walls in the 16th century, and up until the late 19th century, Jerusalem existed only within these walls. If you wanted to get inside, you had to pass through one of its 7 gates, that still exist today. The old city of Jerusalem changed many names and they all symbolize a part of its history. From Zion, through the City of David and Yerushalaim for the Jews, Aelia Capitolina in Roman times, Al Quds by the Muslims, and others.
Today the old city is divided into four quarters – the Jewish quarter, Muslim quarter, Christian quarter, and Armenian quarter. Each is unique, interesting, and had many sites to explore. A walk in the streets of the old city is like jumping to a different world. It’s full of archeological sites, it’s hectic, colorful, and very spiritual. Some people even got the Jerusalem Syndrom here. You don’t want to miss the Western Wall Plaza and tunnels, the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
For more information about the sites in the Old City of Jerusalem, check out Top 10 sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Tip: Enter the old city through Jaffa Gate. Go down on David st. through the market and turn right on Habad st. When You see metal stairs, climb on them. They will take you up on the buildings’ roofs to get a beautiful view of the city.
Shop at Mamilla Street mall
Mamilla avenue is an open-air street mall, opened in 2008. It is located above a big parking space, and right in front of Jaffa Gate of the old city, which makes it a perfect starting point for your walk in the area. There are 140 stores and restaurants, including well-known fashion brands, jewelry stores, and art galleries. As you walk towards the old city, take a look at the beautiful view of Mamilla and Yemin Moshe neighborhoods on your right. You can also see some of Jerusalem’s iconic landmarks like the King David Hotel and the famous Windmill.
Tip: It is best to open your day here and have a delicious Israeli breakfast with a view at one of the local restaurants. This way you avoid the long waiting time at the restaurants during lunch or dinner. Cafe Rimon is a great choice and they offer vegan options on their menu.
Watch the view from Mount Olives
Mount Olives, or The Mount of Olives, is located east to the old city. It is higher than the old city, so you get a gorgeous panoramic view of Jerusalem from one side and the Judea desert on the other side. This mountain has a long history and is related to the Ascension of Jesus, and a few religious sites were built here. The main two to visit are Augusta Victoria hospital on top of the mountain and the Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene at the bottom of it.
The west slope of the mountain is a Jewish cemetery with around 150,000 graves. The oldest ones are from the days of the first temple, making it the oldest Jewish cemetery in the world. Important Jewish figures from medieval times to modern days are buried here. A walk between the graves might sound unusual but it is one of the interesting things to do in Jerusalem. This place reveals not only the beauty of Jerusalem in front of you but also many stories from the past.
Connect with the locals at Machne Yehuda Market
The Machne Yehuda market (Pronounced Mahane Yehuda market), located between Jaffa st. and Agripas st., is the center of the local life in Jerusalem. A visit to the city is not complete without visiting the market and feeling the local life. During the day you can find here fresh fruits and vegetables, treats and sweets, and also meat and fish. Don’t miss the delicious Halva at The Halva Kingdom. Between them, there are modern cafes and food stands where you can get a snack made with fresh ingredients from the market. At nights, when most of the market stalls close down, bars open up. This is when the younger population arrives to grab a beer and have fun in Jerusalem.
Tip 1: The market is not open on Saturdays, so plan to come here on a weekday to experience it well. Thursday night and Friday morning are the best times.
Tip 2: Machneyuda Restaurant, near the market, is one of the best culinary experiences you can have in Jerusalem. The place has a market-style design (fits the location) and the open kitchen allows you to feel the food preparation. The food is traditional, yet sophisticated, made by two of the best chefs of Israel, Assaf Granit and Uri Navon. When you’re there, just wait for the music to start. Reserve your table in advance, as it’s a really popular one.
Walk in the First Neighborhoods Outside The Walls
Mishkenot Sha’ananim and Yemin Moshe were the first two neighborhoods outside of the old city walls. Mishkenot Sha’ananim was built first with two long buildings and later expanded to the bigger neighborhood of Yemin Moshe. The name is after the British Jewish banker Moshe Montofiori, who provided the funds to build them in the second half of the 19th century. For the livelihood of the residents, he also built a windmill. It has been in operation for 19 years and became a landmark of the neighborhood and the city.
Today, the narrow cobbled streets of Yemin Moshe are nice to stroll in and enjoy the view of the old city walls. The small museum by the windmill tells the important story of the beginning of the new Jerusalem.
Visit Dormition Abbey
Located on Mount Zion, right outside of the old city walls, Dormition Abbey is where the Virgin Mary ended her worldly existence. It is an impressive building with a unique architectural style with German influences. It is much bigger than other churches in the area, and the main hall is circular. Even though it looks older, it is a relatively young building. The German Kaiser bought the land from the Ottoman Sultan in 1898, and construction has been completed in 1910. The church and the tower next to it are part of the Jerusalem skyline.
The nearby building is known for two separate historical events. However, historians still doubt that either really happened here, which makes the place more interesting. The lower level is the tomb of King David, and the upper level is the room of Jesus’ Last Supper. Although doubtful, this is a holy site for both Jews and Christians.
Respect and remember at Yad Vashem
The Holocaust of WWII is the most traumatic event in the modern history of the Jewish people. Yad Vashem is the official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust and source for Holocaust education, documentation and research. The main museum tells the full story of what happened in Europe during the war from a Jewish perspective. It contains original artifacts, survivor testimonies, and personal possessions.
Apart from the main museum, there are more sites to visit here. The Hall of Names is a memorial to each and every Jew who perished in the Holocaust. The Avenue of Righteous among the Nations is the path leading to the campus. Each of the trees here is dedicated to one of those who helped to save Jewish lives during the Holocaust. The Valley of Communities is a massive monument craved in the natural bedrock. It is presenting the names of over 5,000 Jewish communities that were destroyed or barely survived in the Holocaust. The campus has more monuments and statues, each dedicated to an event or a person. It is very interesting to walk around and learn about them.
Tip: The entrance to Yad Vashem is free. However, you can reserve a private tour, or group tours for more than six people, through this link.
Visit Israel Museum
Founded in 1965, Israel’s Museum is one of the world’s leading archaeological museums. It has over 500,000 artifacts, from prehistory to the present day. Plus, the museum holds the world’s most comprehensive collections of the archaeology of the Holy Land, Jewish Art and Life, and more.
The important gem of the museum is the Shrine of the books. This is the house of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest biblical manuscripts, that date back to the period between 300 BC to 100 AC. Found in 11 caves (Qumran caves) in the Judea desert, the scrolls were beautifully preserved inside earthenware vessels, and are now presented here.
Stroll on Ben Yehuda Street
The heart of modern Jerusalem is here in Ben Yehuda street. Named after Eliezer Ben Yehuda, who revived Hebrew as a modern language, this street is definitely full of life. It is a pedestrian street mall, with gift shops, cafes, Falafel restaurants, and ice cream stalls. This is where the young people of Jerusalem come to hang out and be entertained by street musicians and performers. The best time to come here is on a late afternoon or an evening of a weekday and enjoy the local scene.
Visit The First Station
What used to be the first train station of Jerusalem is nowadays a culinary and cultural center. The history of this place goes back to the late 19th century when it was built to connect the coast (Jaffa) with the city. Soon after its opening, it brought tourists, pilgrims, and goods to Jerusalem. Throughout the years the usage of the train declined, and due to the low maintenance of the rails, the station was closed in 1998.
In 2013 constructions began, while preserving the classical two-stories main building, turning the place into an open mall. This is the place where adults and kids come to enjoy daily activities, alongside arts and crafts vendors, cafes, and restaurants.
For more information about opening hours, activities, and restaurants, check out the First Station website.
Shabbat – While Jerusalem is very busy during the week, on the weekend it is is totally different. From Friday afternoon to Saturday night (Shabbat) the stores, public transportation, markets, and most of the restaurants are closed. It’s a great experience to walk in the streets of the old city on Shabbat but plan well in advance to be here also on a weekday.
Jerusalem has a light train that crosses the city. The main stops are the central bus station Jerusalem, Machne Yehuda Market, City hall (Mamilla street mall), and the Damascus gate. This is the best way to travel around the city. Tickets can be purchased in vending machines in each station.
The Biblical zoo in Jerusalem is an interesting place to visit. It was found in 1993 and holds the many species of animals that are mentioned in the bible. The zoo also participates in wildlife research, including the breeding of endangered species and releasing them back to nature.
The Dead sea is a great day trip you can take from Jerusalem. One and a half hours’ drive will take you to the main beaches of Ein Bokek or Masada national park. It’s up to you if you want to climb up or just relax by the beach. Read more about the dead sea in my Top 10 sites in Israel.
Jerusalem is a one-of-kind city. There’s no other place in the world that is so holy on one side, and so earthy on the other. The streets, the markets, the people, the landmarks, and the religious sites – all join in together and create the unique Jerusalem experience. You can explore Jerusalem on your own, as a couple – and enjoy its romantic places, in a group and also with kids – there’s so much to see here. Plan around 3 days if you want to see all the main sites and also have some time to enjoy strolling in the streets. Some sites required you to book your entrance in advance, so plan accordingly.