The city with many names, like “ir Ha-Kodesh”, “Terra Sancta” or “al-Quds”, but united throughout religions – the holy city. Lively Jerusalem ranks among the oldest cities of the world and is home to numerous central sacred sites of three world religions, all of which have their space behind the walls. Here you’ll breathe history.
Guest post by Christina Winkler
What’s the best time to visit Jerusalem?
Most comfortable conditions will prevail before and after summer, meaning late March to early June and late September to early December. While summer is the peak season despite the sweltering temperatures, winter will assure better hotel deals along with rather unstable weather conditions.
Before visiting Israel in general, cross-check for Jewish holidays and have the importance and effects of Shabbat in mind. Especially the bigger public holidays like Yom Kippur or Sukkot will cause almost any public facility to be closed down, including markets and museums and the whole public transport. There are Arabic cabs called Sherut that will still be operating, but will of course be more expensive, along with increased room rates in general.
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A few facts about Jerusalem?
Jerusalem is a city so diverse it would make any western executive board jealous. Home to Muslims, Jews, Christians, Catholics, some more some less secular, people of countless origins, each bringing their own traditional food, markets full of various little kitsch and must-haves. Orthodox areas just a stone’s throw from the next party street. Take one step past thousands of years old ruins, take another to enter that high-end shopping mall. Exit the city center and find forests and mountains and caves on the one, wide dry desert on the other side.
The city itself is divided into four parts: You’ll have the modern, rather commercial, Jewish West Jerusalem, the Arab East Jerusalem, Me’a Shearim inhabited by the ultra-orthodox Jews, and The Old City. The latter again includes the Jewish, the Muslim, the Armenian and the Christian Quarter.
Be aware that due to the high density of different religions and their valued sights you should always dress modest. It’s a sign of respect, but especially as a woman will make you feel more comfortable – you don’t want anyone shouting at you for too short skirts.
Last but not least, unfortunate but not less important – Jerusalem has rarely been a completely peaceful and safe place. Stay up to date before going and keep away from indicated or more heavily guarded places when warnings are pronounced. Also be aware that there are security checks before any bigger sights.
One Day in Jerusalem Itinerary
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is full of secrets to discover, of which the most important all lie in the old city and close-by, thus in walking distance.
Start walking along the outer wall that was destroyed and rebuilt countless times – but still contains stones from 2000 years ago. Then enter the old town through the Jaffa Gate. Fun fact: right next to the actual gate, you’ll find a giant gap in the wall, with a big road leading in. How would that defend potential enemies though, you might wonder? Well, when Emperor Wilhelm II announced his visit to Jerusalem, people looked at the tiny entrance of Jaffa Gate and were like “no we can’t let this big guy come through here”. Instead, they filled the ditch surrounding the church on the opposite side, so that the Emperor and all his people and fancy cars could enter in a more dramatic way.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Walk along the Christian quarter through the narrow busy alleys and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus is said to have been buried and resurrected. This place is often overcrowded by tourists but definitely a must-see. People stand in line to get inside and kiss the stone, while the church itself is full of glittering mosaics and displays, and has quite a particular charm. Apparently, many years ago, people of different origin argued who was allowed to decide about its composition – and when they couldn’t agree, they left everything just the way it was. Ever since, there is this ladder that has to be placed at the outside wall, right underneath the right window, and whenever weather conditions or similar is damaging it, it has to be replaced.
Next, stroll along Via Dolorosa (“way of suffering”), referring to where Jesus was held to have walked his way to his crucifixion to the Church. You don’t necessarily need to be a religious person, but just taking in the history along the Stations of the Cross is pretty impressive. The today’s street is busy with vendors seeking your attention, old stone buildings rising on each side, ascending stone steps winding their way through the city. It also passes the Austrian Hospice which was the first guesthouse for pilgrims, with mainly Austrian guests and people from countries part of the Habsburg monarchy. It also hosts a nice Viennese coffee-house and invites to wide views over the crowded streets from its rooftop terrace.
Make your way over to the Damascus Gate, one of the main entrances to the Old City. You’ll catch another glance of the impressive outer wall and the two towers the gate is flanked by. Enjoy having a little more space; grab some falafel and hummus if you’re feeling hungry.
Finally climb the stairs up to Temple Mount, one of the most disputed holy places in the world. According to Jewish tradition, the world was founded just on the rock that you’ll find inside the Dome of the Rock.
Islamic tradition proclaims that Mohammed started his journey heavenwards from this rock. Also situated on Temple Mount is the as well as the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third most important one of the Islam after Mecca and Medina.
After descending from Temple Mount, see the Western or Wailing Wall. It represents one of the most significant historic sites in Judaism. Countless pilgrims travel to the Wall each year to pray, write their wishes on small pieces of paper and place them between the cracks in the stone. No matter what you believe in, you’ll easily recognize the importance of this spot.
If you now feel like somewhat escaping the hustle and bustle of the city a little, find your way up the roofs. It’s a whole different kind of second floor town above the old town! You can walk over most of the roofs, thus cut short the way through the crowded streets “downstairs”. It’s amazingly calm for a change and provides amazing views.
As the day comes to an end, go grab some food on one of the various markets or choose one of the small places along the countless little alleys. Finishing off, you might want to try the Arab dessert Knafeh. This will complete your breathtaking impression of Jerusalem literally with gluing your teeth together but definitely leaving a satisfied smile on your lips.
At night, check out Mahane Yehuda Market, a vibrant colorful full of various goods during the day, offering a completely different but still exciting place to be at nighttime. The closed doors and gates of the little shops are covered in stunning graffiti of famous Jewish and Israeli figures, music is floating from every direction, and you won’t be able to decide which type of fresh beer to try first. Or go for Arak, a typical, strong but tasty anise liquor. If it happens to be Shabbat but you still want to go out, head to Abraham’s hostel since it’ll be one of the few but full of cool people places that are open at all. The rooftop terrace is definitely worth a visit.
Where to stay in Jerusalem?
Abraham Hostel is definitely one of the best hostels in Israel. Actually, it’s a chain hostel with amazing service and great location – 15 min from old town by foot and 5 min from the market and city center. They also hold interesting events in hostel every day, like local beer tasting, live music, etc.
Another good one is the Post Hostel, nicely decorated in a style of postal depot. The hostel is perfectly located, just in front of the train station, one stop from the Damascus Gate and 5 minutes slow walk from the Old City of Jerusalem. It’s also close to bars, pubs, restaurants and clubs on the other side.
For something more fancy, you should pick the Inbal Hotel. It’s a very stylish, light and airy property. The public areas include pleasant lounges and outdoor spaces including a swimming pool. The rooms are fairly compact but very comfortable and have more or less every amenity. It’s also within a walking distance from the Old City and various other places.
day trips from jerusalem
A city this ancient always has something special to offer, not just within its walls and borders but also in the area around it. Therefore, when choosing the destination of your day trip from Jerusalem you will have an exceptionally wide array of options.
The Dead Sea and Masada
Masada is an incredible fortress built by King Herod more than 2000 years ago. This UNESCO World Heritage Site sits on top of a plateau from which you will have an incredible view of the Dead Sea. However, you can also wander around the remains of the palaces and see how the king lived. After that, simply go down to the beach to relax and rejuvenate yourself with the help of the water’s unique mineralogical properties.
For Christian believers, this little town needs no special introduction – this is where Jesus Christ was born. Everything here is made so that tourists can get to know the place well, so this day trip should be a pleasant one. See the Church of the Nativity, which Christians believe to be the exact birthplace of Jesus, and explore this holy town as much as you want to understand the significance it has for so many people.
The Sea of Galilee
The Sea of Galilee is another important place for Christians – this is where Jesus performed his miracles. But apart from religious significance, you can simply relax and enjoy the beaches. Lavnun beach is a pretty popular destination where you can learn to build a raft with your own hand and then set sail on it. Cool, right?
The West Bank
The infamous West Bank has been known for the Israeli – Palestinian conflict for decades now. However, visiting it can be a really eye-opening experience. Learn about the history of the conflict and then head to see the city of Jericho, one of the oldest, if not the oldest city in the world. It was the first city in the history of civilization to deploy city walls to protect its people. As you can imagine, there are loads of archaeological sites to visit and explore.
extra tips for visiting Jerusalem?
– Do two steps in Jerusalem and you will stumble upon something historic. Rather don’t do that in flip-flops. Take a pair of good walking shoes, because the ways will lead you up and down narrow cobbled alleys, along Arabic bazaars, breathing the scent of the Orient, or little stalls with brightly colored Christian souvenirs, past a lot of great food and crowded squares and hidden gems. Jerusalem is a city for endless discovery!
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