The City of Jerusalem is truly one-of-a-kind in its vast importance to such a great number of people around the world. In fact, Jerusalem’s centrality to the three major monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – makes it a draw for as much as half the world’s population. There is simply no comparison with any other city, anywhere, for only Jerusalem can claim such a rich spiritual and historical magnetism for so many. It’s no wonder that millions come yearly for Jerusalem tours, for all kinds of reasons. And yet, perhaps surprisingly, Jerusalem is also just such a solidly fun city, whose spirit and history provide a backdrop for a vacation getaway with an ambiance you cannot achieve elsewhere. Simply put, there are tons of things to do in Jerusalem, all while experiencing the unique essence of the city.
Talk about rich depth and intricacy in a tiny area. Jerusalem’s ancient Old City, around 3,000 years old, is the original Jerusalem, built under King David’s initiative. The Holy City was home to the two Jewish Temples, Jesus and his disciples’ meeting places, and Mohammed’s ascension to heaven.
The Old City’s four quarters (Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian) are cornerstones of any Jerusalem tour: Walk the quarters’ narrow alleyways, and you’ll be stepping on and seeping in centuries-old streets, synagogues, churches and mosques, and enlightening yourself with a variety of museums such as the Tower of David. Key visitation spots are the Western Wall (Kotel), the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock. In parallel, the Old City also offers a range of enticing restaurants and bars, as well as nightlife entertainment, from live music to light shows and festivals for all ages throughout the year.
Jerusalem boasts over 200 venue attractions, including over 60 museums and numerous holy sites and cultural venues. Jump into world and Judaica exhibits at the Israel Museum and Bible Lands Museum; get up close to all kinds of flora and fauna – including many mentioned in the Bible – at the Biblical Zoo; delight in the tastes and sights of the Mahane Yehuda Market and adjacent Nahlaot neighborhood. You can also focus on the institutions of Jerusalem as a capital city – the Knesset Parliament and Supreme Court offer daily tours. These are just a few examples of unique things to do in Jerusalem. In terms of holy sites, there are hundreds even outside the Old City, from places of worship for a myriad of sects, including Jewish, Christian and Muslim, to archeological dig centers, such as the City of David. For outside venues, Jerusalem is blessed with several family-friendly nature reserves, parks and playgrounds such as as the Gazelle Valley, Bird Sanctuary, Gan Sacher, Botanical Gardens, Liberty Bell Park, and Independence Park.
And just a short trip away from Jerusalem are the easily-accessed Bethlehem sites including the Church of the Nativity, and nearby Tomb of Rachel. Day trips are easy to arrange – the Hills of Judea, Samaria, the Dead Sea, Masada, and Ein Gedi – even Tel Aviv is just 40 minutes away.
Jerusalem is entrenched with both local and international cultural influences, and this plays out with the city’s offerings of entertainment and restaurants. Entertainment-wise, from orchestra to theater to dance to film, you have your picks of performances anytime of the year, and specifically during annual festivals such as the spring Israel Festival and the summer Jerusalem Film Festival. And for eats – you name it, you got it, from a variety of falafel stands to high-class steak or sushi – the palette choices are endless.
Must See in Jerusalem
- Haram Al-Sharif (Temple Mount): Follow in the footsteps of centuries of pilgrims, and enter one of the holiest sanctuaries on earth. Lauded by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, this is the site where Abraham (father of all three monotheistic faiths) is said to have offered his son up as a sacrifice to God, where Solomon built the First Temple for the Ark of the Covenant, and where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven during his early years of preaching Islam. It’s a place of deep significance (and contention over ownership) for those of faith. The wide plaza, above the Old City, is centered around the glittering Dome of the Rock, which is Jerusalem’s most iconic landmark. Beneath the golden dome is the sacred stone both Jews and Muslims believe to be where Abraham offered his son to God and where Muslims also believe the Prophet Muhammad began his journey to heaven. The southern side of the mount is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, said to be one of the oldest mosques in the world.
- Wailing Wall and Jewish Quarter: The Wailing Wall (or Western Wall) is the surviving retaining wall of Jerusalem’s First Temple. Commonly called the Wailing Wall due to the people’s laments for the loss of the temple in AD 70, it is now the holiest site in Judaism and has been a place of pilgrimage for the Jewish people since the Ottoman era. The Jewish Quarter of the Old City runs roughly from the Zion Gate east to the Western Wall Plaza. This part of the Old City was destroyed during the Israeli-Arab fighting in 1948 and has been extensively rebuilt since 1967. A major highlight here for history fans is the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, at the southern end of the Western Wall Plaza, where archaeologists have unearthed fascinating remnants of old Jerusalem. The Western Wall Tunnels, which take you under the city, back to the level of the original city, are also not to be missed. Jewish Quarter Street (RehovHaYehudim) is the main lane of the district, and veering off this road onto the surrounding side streets, there are a cluster of interesting synagogues that can be visited.
- Church of the Holy Sepulchre: For Christian pilgrims, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is Jerusalem’s holiest site and is said to have been built on the site where Jesus was crucified. The site for the church was picked by Empress Helena – mother to Constantine the Great during her tour of the Holy Land. She was the one to announce to the Byzantine world that this spot was the Calvary (or Golgotha) of the gospels. The original church (built in 335 AD) was destroyed by 1009, and the grand church you see now dates from the 11th century. Although often heaving with pilgrims from across the world, the church interior is an opulently beautiful piece of religious architecture. This is the ending point for the Via Dolorosa pilgrimage and the last five Stations of the Cross are within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre itself. The interior contains various holy relics, and the different quarters inside the church are owned by different Christian denominations.
- Armenian Quarter: Running south from the Citadel, Armenian Patriarchate Road is the main street of the Old City’s tiny Armenian Quarter. Within the narrow lanes here are the St. James Cathedral and St. Mark’s Chapel, which receive much fewer visitors than others in the Old City. Armenians have been part of Jerusalem’s community for centuries, first arriving in the city during the 5th century. Many more arrived during the Ottoman era and after the Armenian massacres in Turkey during the early 20th century. This is the Old City’s most tranquil corner to explore and a good place to wander if the press of pilgrims gets too much.
- Via Dolorosa: For many Christian visitors, the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrow) is the highlight of a visit toJerusalem. This walk follows the route of Jesus Christ after his condemnation as he bears his cross towards execution at Calvary. The walk is easily followed independently but if you’re here on a Friday, you can join the procession along this route led by the Italian Franciscan monks. The course of the Via Dolorosa is marked by the fourteen Stations of the Cross, some of which are based on the Gospels’ accounts and some on tradition. The walk begins in the Muslim Quarterof the Old City on Via Dolorosa Street (1st station, near the intersection with HaPrakhim Street) from where you follow the street west through eight stations until you reach the 9th station at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where the last five stations are. Of particular interest along the way is the Chapel of the Flagellation (2nd station), built on the site where Jesus is believed to have been flogged.
- Citadel (Tower of David) and surrounds: The Citadel, popularly known as the Tower of David, actually has no connection with David, having been erected by King Herod to protect the palace he built in approximately 24 BC. His original citadel had three towers named after his brother Phasael, his wife Mariamne, and his friend Hippicus. After Titus’ conquest of the city in AD 70, the Romans stationed a garrison here, but later the citadel fell into disrepair. It was successively rebuilt by the Crusaders, Egypt’s Mamelukes and Turks, during their years of reign over Jerusalem. The building you now see was built in the 14th century on the foundations of the original Phasael Tower. Inside is the Tower of David Museum, which relays the story of Jerusalem. While here, make sure you climb up to therooftop for one of Old City’s best views. There is also a Sound and Light show here in the evenings.
- Christian Quarter: The Christian Quarter of the Old City runs north from the Jaffa Gate and is centered around theChurch of the Holy Sepulchre. Within this tangle of alleyways are some of the Old City’s most popular tourist souvenir souks and a whole caboodle of churches that are well worth exploring. Protestant Christ Church (Omar ibn al-Khattab Square) has a quirky museum with interesting document exhibits and a decent cafe to rest your weary Old City-plodding feet. The Ethiopian Monastery, squeezed into the corner of The Church of the Holy Sepulchre’s courtyard, contains interesting frescoes portraying the Queen of Sheba’s Jerusalem visit. The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer (Muristan Road) is where you come to climb the bell tower for incredible Old City views. And the Church of St. John the Baptist (off Christian Quarter Street) is worthy of a visit as it’s Jerusalem’s oldest church.
- Muslim Quarter: The most bustling and alive district is the Muslim Quarter, which is home to the best souk shopping in the Old City. This district roughly runs from Damascus Gate through the northeast chunk of the Old City. There are plenty of fine surviving remnants of Mameluke architecture lining the streets here including the 14th century Khan al-Sultan (Bab Silsila Street) where you can climb up to the roof for excellent views across the higgledy-piggledy lanes. If you wander down Antonia Street you’ll come to the beautiful Crusader-built St. Anne’s Church (believed to be built on top of the site of the house of the Virgin Mary’s parents) and the Pool of Bethesdanext door.
- Mount of Olives: Overloaded with churches and home to the oldest continually used cemetery in the world, theMount of Olives holds particular interest to religious pilgrim travelers to Jerusalem, but even the non-devout can appreciate the spectacular Old City panoramas from the peak. This sacred hill is believed to be the place where God will begin rising the dead on Judgement Day. For Christian believers, this is also where Jesus ascended to heaven after his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. The Church of the Ascension on the top of the mount dates from 1910 and has the best views across Jerusalem. Walking down the slope, you come to the Church of the Pater Noster built next to the site where, according to tradition, Jesus instructed his disciples. Further down, the Church of Dominus Flevit is claimed to be built over the site where Jesus wept for Jerusalem, and further along is the onion-domed Russian Church of Mary Magdalene. TheGardens of Gethsemane (where Jesus was arrested) and the Church of All Nations are next, while the Tomb of the Virgin Mary is the last big attraction on the Mount of Olives.
- Mount Zion: Mount Zion (the small hill immediately south of the Old City’s Zion Gate) is home to Jewish and Muslim shrines as well as a number of churches. Since the Byzantine Age, Mount Zion has been revered as the place where Christ celebrated the Last Supper and where the Virgin Mary spent the last years of her life, according to some Christian traditions (another tradition says her last days were spent in Ephesus in Turkey). For Jews, Mount Zion’s importance stems from this being the place of King David’s Tomb. If you climb up the stairs from the tomb’s courtyard you’ll come to the Last Supper Room, which has served as both church and mosque throughout its long history. The Church of the Dormition nearby is where the Virgin is supposed to have died, while just to the east is the Church of St Peter of Gallicantu where Peter is said to have denied Jesus.
- Old City Walls: The Old City fortifications date from the Ottoman period, and nine magnificent gates at junctions within the wall’s length lead into the Old City. The Damascus Gate is one of the most famous. Lions’ Gate (sometimes called St.Stephen’s Gate) leads onto the Mount of Olives outside the city walls. Zion Gate is the main entry into the Jewish Quarter, while Jaffa Gate is the main passageway for the Christian Quarter. Walking the wall ramparts is a wonderful way to experience the Old City. There are two sections that can be walked on: Jaffa Gate heading north to Lion’s Gate, or Jaffa Gate heading south to Dung Gate.
- East Jerusalem: Outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate is Jerusalem’s mostly Arab neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. Just to the east of the gate, within the gardens at the foot of the wall, is Solomon’s Quarries, a cave system that extends under the Old City. According to ancient tradition, the stone for Jerusalem’s First Temple was quarried from here. The cave is also known as Zedekiah’s Grotto as in Jewish tradition, Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, hid here from the Babylonian forces in 587 BC. Slightly east from here (along Sultan Suleyman Street) is the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum. Inside are exhibits from the Stone Age right up to the 18th century. If you’re short on time, some of the highlights of the collection are the skeleton unearthed on Mount Carmel known as the Carmel Man in the South Gallery, the 6th century BC Lachish letters in the North Gallery, and the ornately carved beams from the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the South Room. If you walk down Nablus Road, you’ll come to the Garden Tomb, which dates from the Roman or Byzantine period. Found and identified as Christ’s tomb by General Gordon in 1882, some Protestant Christians still believe that this is the true site that Christ was buried and rose again. Heading north along Nablus Road is the French Dominican Monastery of St. Stephen where its namesake, the first Christian martyr, is believed to have been stoned to death. Veer off onto St. George Street from here, and you’ll come to the site of the Mandelbaum Gate. Between 1948 and 1967 it was the only crossing-point between the Israeli and Jordanian sectors of Jerusalem. The site is marked with a plaque. Also on St. George Street, is the Museum on the Seam; a one-of-a-kind (in Israel) contemporary art museum that exhibits works dealing with social commentary on human rights and conflict.
- Central City Sites: From the Old City’s Jaffa Gate, you enter Jerusalem’s modern central city district with Jaffa Road running northwest to Bar Kochba Square and Zion Square. Northeast from Bar Kochba Square, you reach the Russian Compound dominated by the green-domed Russian Orthodox Cathedral. This area grew up in the late 19th century as a large walled complex for Russian pilgrims. On the northeast side of the complex, were the Russian consulate and a hospice for women; to the southwest were a hospital, the mission house, and a large hospice for men that lies beyond the Cathedral. The buildings are now occupied by various government institutions. North from here is Ethiopia Street where you’ll find the Ethiopian Church. The reliefs of lions above the doorway recall the style of Lion of Judah borne by the Abyssinian dynasty, which traced its origins back to the Queen of Sheba. Further north from Ethiopia Street is the Mea Shearim district, home to a community of ultra-orthodox Jews. If you’d like to explore this area, be aware that modest dress (covering arms and legs) is mandatory, and taking photographs of inhabitants is not allowed. The people of Mea Shearim still wear their old East European dress and speak mostly Yiddish. Some extreme groups refuse to recognise the state of Israel because it was not established by the Messiah and regard themselves as a ghetto of true orthodoxy within the Jewish state. South from Jaffa Road is the Time Elevator (Hillel Street), a child-friendly introduction to Jerusalem’s history, and the Museum of Italian Jewish Art & Synagogue with an extensive collection of Judaica. Running west from Zion Square on Jaffa Road is the pedestrianized Ben Yehuda Street; Jerusalem’s main vortex for dining and shopping.
- Kidron Valley: The Kidron Valley lies between the Mount of Olives and Mount Zion and is one of the oldest areas of Jerusalem. Both Jews and Muslims believe that the Last Judgement will take place here; a rope will extend from the battlements of the Temple Mount, over the valley to the Mount of Olives, and the righteous will cross over, supported by their guardian angels, while the sinners will be cast down into damnation. Archaeological excavations here have uncovered a settlement that dates back more than 4,000 years. The archaeological site is known as the City of David,and archaeologists are still working here. Area G is the oldest part of the site, dating from the 10th century BC. From here, you can walk down into the tunnels known as Warren’s Shaft andHezekiah’s Tunnel and proceed onto the Pool of Siloam and Shiloach Pool, which some people think may be the site where Jesus performed the miracle of healing a blind man.
- Yad VaShem: Israel’s major Holocaust memorial is Yad Vashem. In the main building, the Hall of Remembrance, the names of the Nazi death camps are set into the floor and an eternal flame burns in memory of the dead. Opening off the main hall are a room containing victim names, a photographic exhibition, the extremely moving children’s memorial, and an art museum with work produced by inmates from the concentration camps. The extensive surrounding grounds hold numerous works of sculpture and memorials.
How to get there
Our tours to Jerusalem
- Tour “Discover Israel”
- Tour “Christian Israel & Netanya”
- Tour “Christian Israel & Eilat”
- Tour “Christian Israel & Dead Sea”
- Tour “Figure Correction in Israel”
- Tour “The Holy Land Jewish Pilgrimage”