If Tel-Aviv is on one end of a scale, then Jerusalem cannot be further on the other. While the capital is vibrant, busy but easy going (check out my post here), Jerusalem is a city filled with immense history, culture and religion. The Old City is divided into four quarters: Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Armenian, each with their own characteristics and personality. A visit to this city is a truly unforgettable experience and as you meander around, you will truly feel the underlying importance of the Holy City.
The Old City of Jerusalem
Enter via Jaffa gate and you will immediately see the Tower of David on your right. Although there is no huge significance to this tower, it offers a Rampart walk along the City’s walls which provides views of the Old City from a different angle. Following right and along the wall, you will immediately be in the Armenian quarter. This area tends to be more quiet but it is worth exploring, peaking through doors and archways and getting lost.
The Jewish quarter is often filled with kids and young adults hanging out on the streets doing their homework and chit chatting. You can visit the Istanbuli Synagogue, but experience shows that this is male entry only.
Western Wall and Temple Mount
Head towards the Western Wall and you will be greeted by a security check point. You will soon see a number of people praying towards and right up against the wall. In Judaism, the Western Wall is considered very special as it is connected to the Temple Mount. This is a very unique experience and definitely worth seeing.
The Temple Mount can be entered via the new bridge on the right hand side. It is best to check entry times as they change regularly. There tends to be entries before noon and after noon. Females showing arms, shoulders and legs will be asked to buy a scarf to cover up. Men with shorts are also asked to cover up their legs, so be prepared!
The area is predominately flat, with the Dome of Rock in the middle. The golden dome can been seen from outside of the city and is a beautiful structure. It is believed that inside the Dome of Rock was were Abraham almost sacrificed his son and also the place where Mohammad ascended into heaven (Source: Wiki). This goes to show the religious significance of Jerusalem. Beware that the Dome of Rock is only permitted to enter for Muslims.
Most Christian visitors will enter via the Lions Gate and follow the signs indicating the path that Jesus took to be crucified. The Via Dolorosa is marked by stations indicated on the wall. A good guide to each station can be found here.
The final stations are in the Church of Holy Sepulchre, where Catholics believe Jesus was crucified. Be sure to follow the guide to get on top of the Church, as it is easy to get lost while navigating the central market area. At the entrance is the Stone of Anointing, which is believed to be the spot where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial. Watching from the side, you can see visitors put their personal belongings on top of the stone, as a sign of blessing. Visitors can even go down to where the Roman street levels used to be.
For those looking for a quick break from the busy streets, head to the Austrian Hospice. It was first opened in 1863 as the first national pilgrims’ guesthouse in Jerusalem and offers a chapel, spectacular views and a Viennese coffee house. The design of the hospice is very different to the rest of the Old City and offers a European feel. Head to the top floor for probably the best view of the city, before settling down in the garden for a nice iced coffee.
If you are looking something local, trying a Jerusalem bagel, from any street vendor, a delicious fresh bread covered in spices. Shoppers can also walk along the central market and pick up some souvenirs such as crosses, necklaces and holy water. And of course, those random t-shirts for family and friends. Don’t forget to barter and get a good bargain.
Outside the Walls
A walk up Mount of Olives is a recommended trek. The top offers a fantastic view of the Old City, also believed to be where Jesus first saw Jerusalem. Christians will no doubt want to head to the Garden of Gethesemane, where Jesus was betrayed by Judah before being captured. It is a beautiful garden with a small church. The front of the church had a somewhat interesting sign about what one should and should not do and carry.
Just outside the south side of the Old City is the site of the Tomb of King David. The room is divided into male and female sections, each side having access to half of the tomb. Next to this is believed to be the location of the Room of the Last Supper, where Jesus ate with his disciples before being betrayed and captured.
The Garden Tomb is a short walk from Damascus Gate, where some Christians believe Jesus was buried after his crucifixion. The garden is a very peaceful area and is very well maintained by the Garden Tomb Association, a registered charity from the UK.
The west side of Jerusalem is newer and more modern and houses the Israel Museum. This is a very modern and large museum dedicated to Israel and includes many historical artefacts such as the Dead Sea scrolls and the oldest artwork in the world (Venus of Berekhat Ram). Visitors can also see a model of what Jerusalem used to look like in 60AD. The museum also offers a fantastic view of the landscape of Jerusalem, especially the structure of the Judean hills. For those looking for a nice walk, the hike from the museum back into town is a nice scenic route. Taking around an hour and a half by foot downhill, you can really get a feel of the neighborhoods and views of the hills.
For music and concert goers, the Jerusalem Theatre offers contemporary concerts and performances. I was lucky to catch a performance of Odessey, a solo cello performance by Sonia Weider-Atherton, accompanied by recordings of text written by Aharon Applefeld. The performance was very experimental and offered a very different experience, especially with the balance between cello and poetry.
Food and More
Mahane Yehuda is the main market in Jerusalem. It is busy and stalls sell everything from spices to fresh food to nuts, alcohol and pastry. In the evenings, the market is a great place for food and drinks. Manou Ba Shouk is one of the top rated restaurants on TripAdvisor. Their aubergine and hummus with mushrooms are unbelievable. Sima also offers fantastic food and is located just outside the market.
My first day at Jerusalem so happened to be on the Sabbath, which meant restaurants in the market were closed for dinner. Walking around an empty Mahane Yehuda is quite unique and it is almost impossible to find anything open. For those who can’t wait for the market to reopen later at night, head over to Hillel Street. Here you will find a selection of pizza and burger restaurants. Try out Focaccia bar for their meaty meatball focaccias.
Any local looking restaurants is guarantee to provide some decent tasting hummus. But if you really want to up your game, then try out Ta’ami in West Jerusalem. To be honest, any one of these five places are going to be pretty decent.
Jerusalem: A city.. to explore
If Tel-Aviv was a city for everyone, then I am not sure what Jerusalem is. But it definitely is a city worth visiting. Whether you are religious or not, the Holy City has a long and interesting history, fantastic culture and it is time well spent to walk around and absorb the city’s vibe. I can definitely spend days and days walking around, getting lost and exploring this Holy of Holy city.
Also published on Medium.