There is no place in the world like Jerusalem. This city has some of the holiest places in the world for three religions and has been the reason for almost continuous dispute for over 1,000 years.
In Jerusalem you are surrounded by history everywhere through the beautiful churches, mosques and synagogues or by simply strolling through the souks and streets of the Old City. It’s a melting pot of cultures and the whole city is alive with music, sights, smells and an intense bustle.
We can see why some people arrive here and begin to feel spiritual. The whole city was created by religions wanting to evoke awe and it certainly does. Even the most cynical of people will feel something when looking at places like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, The Western Wall or the Dome of Rock and the devotion these places inspire.
Simply put: you won’t regret a trip to Jerusalem. It is one of our favourite cities in the entire world.
Best things to do in Jerusalem - The Old City
Wander the streets of the Old City
The best way to start your trip to Jerusalem is simply by wandering around the Old City. Although it is surprisingly small, it is really easy to get lost in with its complex myriad of small laneways and souks. There are signs for the major sights such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Western Wall, Temple Mount and the main gates to exit, but otherwise there’s not much help.
However, embrace this labyrinth of streets and you’ll discover a new wonder on every corner. There are many unmarked sights here that would be top things to see in many other countries in the world. Any walk through the Old City will take a lot longer than you expect with so much to take in along the way.
We’d recommend starting at the Jaffa Gate and going through the Christian Quarter.
Although this is the most touristy area, it is a great place to start. If you’re looking for less crowds, then the Jewish Quarter to the south is the best option.
The great thing is that a lot of the major sights are easy to link up through these streets, so you can quite easily see a lot in a day in the Old City, especially when you consider that you can walk from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the Wesern Wall in 15 minutes.
A walk through the Old City is never boring and there is plenty to see by just aimlessly wandering the streets as there are many cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops to check out or you can simply people watch. Even on Shabbat, you’ll find places open in the Old City and plenty going on.
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The Western Wall
As part of walking through the Old City, make sure you head towards the Western Wall which is in the Jewish Quarter at the furthest end from the Jaffa Gate.
After the destruction of the Second Temple, the Western Wall of the Temple Mount became the most sacred place in Judaism. It is pretty busy on most days, but gets even more-so on shabbat or festivals.
This is the wall closest to where the Second Temple was built and you’ll see hundreds (thousands on religious holidays) of Jews pray whilst pressing their hand or even heads against the wall.
The Western Wall is unlike any other religious place we’ve ever seen. For one, it is simply a sandstone wall with no engravings, markings, icons or anything to suggest it is a place of significance.
Secondly, it has a festival-like atmosphere here, unlike the peace and solemnity of most mosques, temples and churches. On the way in you’ll hear music, horns and the noise of people celebrating Bah Mitzvahs.
The wall is divided into male and female sections, but you often see women who are attending the Bah Mitzvahs stand on chairs along the divide to stay involved with the ceremony.
It is also a mix of young and old, and the several sects of Judaism. If you want to experience a microcosm of this religion, the Western Wall is the best place to be.
The men’s section also has a library and prayer section where men go to read scripture and pray alongside the wall out of the sun and in a bit more peace and quiet.
Even if you aren’t Jewish, it is a fascinating place to people watch.
Getting to the Wailing Wall
The Wailing Wall is at the far eastern side of the Old City and will take about 20 minutes to walk to from the Jaffa Gate. You can get a taxi to it and walk 2 minutes if you want to rest your legs!
Depending on where you enter the wall you will have to go through a body scanner and have your bag checked.
Viewpoint of the Western Wall
If you fancy taking in the whole scene, you can get a higher view on Ha Kotel Street to the west of the wall.
Whilst there was construction going on when we were there, it was still a good spot to take in the wall, the crowds, the Temple Mount and the Dome of Rock together.
Getting to the Viewpoint
To get to the viewpoint, leave the Western Wall through the exit on the North-West. From here take a sharp left and take the stairs until you see an opening. Here you’ll find a great view of the Western Wall Plaza.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Holy Sepulchre wasn’t quite what we were expecting. After reading about it for years (studying the First Crusade was Joe’s degree) we were expecting the most important place in Christianity to stand alone, proud and overwhelming.
Instead this dark, solemn church is tucked away in the Christian Quarter and seems to miraculously appear out of nowhere!
From the outside it is not as grand as you’d expect for a place of such significance. This simple building is merged into the surrounding buildings and streets.
The most holy site in Christianity, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was supposedly built on the place where Jesus was crucified, laid to rest in a tomb and then was witnessed rising from the dead. It seemed such a tiny place for all these significant events to have happened.
You simply can’t visit Jerusalem without seeing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as you’ll be witnessing not just an incredibly important place, but the devotion and inspiration it brings to believers who come here. The church is built in a Greek Orthodox/Catholic style with lanterns, huge paintings and ornate decoration to tell the stories of Christ.
At the entrance is the Stone of Anointing where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial and you’ll likely see people surrounding, praying and touching it.
This is just the start of several spots where Christians will pray and try to envision the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection from the dead.
Then there’s the chapel above on the site where Jesus was crucified (it is literally a few metres away) which is decorated with mosaics and art across the ceiling, arches, wall and floor. This is the Rock of Golgotha - the site where Jesus was crucified and under one of the altars is the stone which is believed to be where Jesus’ cross was placed.
There was a ceremony going on when we visited with a priest chanting to a captivated congregation.
The main centre of the church is the Oedicule which is built within a domed building. This is the site where Jesus’ tomb is believed to have been.
Many Christians queue to go inside and pray by the marbled sides of what is thought to be his tomb. There’s a priest inside whose job it was to tap on the wall every 10 seconds to let people praying know they had to move on (something which won’t be winning any world’s best jobs awards any time soon).
There is a lot more information and detail around the church and we highly recommend reading up or watching a video (like this one). Hiring a guide may be an even better choice as they take you through the church and go through it all in detail. We visited without any information and it was quite hard to discern what was what until we did some reading after!
Throughout the year it opens at 5:00am. It closes at 20:00 from April to September, and at 19:00 from October to March.
Entrance is free.
Getting to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
As the church is blocked in by the surrounding buildings, the only way to get here is to walk. It is a 10 minute walk from Jaffa Gate or Damascus Gate.
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The Temple Mount & Dome of Rock
The Temple Mount (or Haram Ash-Sharif to Islam) is probably the most contentious place is a very contentious city.
The rock the originally protruded from here has been the centre of a lot for both Judaism and Islam. For the Jewish people, this is the foundation stone of the world as it was here that God collected the earth that was used to form Adam.
Abraham was going to sacrifice his own son Isaac on this rock (before God intervened). The Temple Mount got its name as this is the place where Solomon built the First Temple. The Babylonians destroyed it, so the Second Temple was built (which was subsequently destroyed by the Romans). You can see why Jewish people see this as the centre of their religion and the holiest place in the world.
For Islam, this is the place where Mohammed said he had travelled to from Mecca in a single night, leading other prophets in prayers at the Temple Mount. This event was known as “Isra” and was soon followed by Mohammed’s ascension to heaven (miraj). These events make Haram Ash-Sharif the third holiest places in the world to Muslims.
The Dome of Rock was built in the 7th Century on the Temple Mount with its gold coloured dome that still shines today. Despite Jerusalem being under the control of Israel, the Temple Mount is administered by the local muslim community.
The site is an immediate change from the narrow streets, bustle and crowds of the Old City. Instantly it all opens up to a huge area lined with cypress trees.
It is a peaceful place and in the middle sits the Dome of Rock - a building that has seen better days. Whilst it is significant, you can see that parts of the ornate art on the exterioir is crumbling and fading through time.
I even read that the gold on the dome was sold off by a poor caliph to be replaced by iodised aluminium with a golden colour.
The Dome of Rock won’t blow you away like the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dabhi or the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, but its significance and setting makes it special. We recommend going up to the Mount of Olives to see it from another beautiful perspective too.
You cannot enter the dome itself unless you are Muslim.
Clothing & rules of the Temple Mount
You won’t be allowed into the Temple Mount if you have your arms or legs showing, so make sure you have a long sleeved top on and a long skirt or trousers.
You also cannot show any form of intimacy including holding hands or touching other people here.
Getting to the Temple Mount
We recommend basing your visit to Jerusalem around the Temple Mount as this is the place with the most restricted opening times. It is completely closed on Fridays and Saturdays, and only opens from 8-11am and 2-4.30pm on Sundays - Thursdays.
The only way for non-Muslims to enter is by the wooden bridge at the Western Wall (only Muslims can enter the Dome of Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque).
We recommend arriving early as there are queues and security checks to go through.You can exit through any of the gates around the Temple Mount.
Entrance is free of charge.
Walk the Ramparts
Walking on the city walls is a great way to get a different perspective of the confined space of the Old City. Starting at the Jaffa Gate, the walk will transition you from the crowded market streets of the Christian Quarter through to the less busy, but still noisy Muslim Quarter.
The two quarters feel like night and day, with the Christian Quarter utilising every spare inch in its perfectly manicured streets full of tourist stalls, whilst the Muslim Quarter is a more spread out but rustic space, full of market stalls and shops for locals.
We walked on the northern side which followed round to the Herod Gate which culminated in beautiful views overlooking the rooftops to the Dome of Rock. It doesn’t take long and is a great way of getting around and seeing the city without having to go through the usual crowded streets.
Getting to the Ramparts Walk
Whilst you can leave at several gates, the Ramparts Walk starts from Jaffa Gate. You’ll need to buy a ticket from the office (18 shekels per person) and then try to work through the most annoying entry system we’ve seen!
Note that currently not all the city walls are open.
After the ramparts, you can walk back to the Jaffa Gate by taking the historic Via Delarosa. This is the route Jesus took when carrying the cross, culminating in Calvary which is now where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located.
The walk is probably not what you will have been expecting as it is now a bustling souk. Via Delarosa will transport you from the Muslim Quarter to the Christian Quarter, showing you the different characters of each area.
It also has Bassem coffee which serves some of the best in the Old City, as well as Pizzeria Basti a good spot for lunch which has been around for 100 years. This place serves up good falafel pittas (which are cheaper if you take them away).
Getting to the Via Delarosa
The Via Delarosa starts at the Lions Gate in the Muslim Quarter and continues for 600m until the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter.
Best things to do in Jerusalem outside the Old City
Yad Vashem- The Holocaust Museum
The Holocaust Museum is one of those places you don’t look forward to visiting, but feel compelled to see. The museum is set on huge grounds overlooking Jerusalem with the History of the Holocaust Museum being at the centre.
It is a place that vividly describes the horror of the Holocaust in the Second World War. There are moments of graphic detail, but the majority of the museum focuses on stories, facts, information and the humanisation of the event. You will feel the impact this had on the Jewish people and the world by the time you leave.
Give yourself a couple of hours to take it all in as there is a lot of exhibits and information to take in, even with a couple of hours you won’t be able to read everything. The museum is full of personal accounts to put a face to the horror as it is easy to be desensitised by the event with just large numbers.
There are videos, belongings and recreations of ghettos and camps that helps with the visualisation and understanding of the horror of this dark point in history.
The History of the Holocaust Museum also does a brilliant job of putting the Jewish experience at the centre of it, describing not just what Nazi Germany did, but other countries did by refusing them entry to escape persecution.
After going through the museum, you really understand how the Jews were deserted by the rest of the world and why the victors of the Second World War felt compelled to create Israel as a country that would mean that the Jewish people will never face the prospect of not having a safe haven again.
Getting to Yad Vashem - the Holocaust Museum
Yad Vashem is about 7km from the Old City and should take about 15 minutes by car to get to. Entry is free and it is open from:
8.30am until 5.30pm on Sunday - Wednesday
8.30am until 8pm on Thursday
8.30am - 4pm on Friday
Closed on Saturday
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The Garden of Gethsemene
Tucked away at the foot of the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemene would be something you breeze past if you didn’t know its history.
This was the place where Jesus was arrested and taken away before his crucifixion. Unlike some of the sights in Jerusalem, there’s no ambiguity about this one. The gospels all agree this is where Jesus was and the site has never moved!
Nowadays the garden is pretty small, with a few olive trees and a paved pathway around it. There’s the imposing Church of Nations next to it with its colourful facade.
The garden would be a much more peaceful spot if it wasn’t so close to the road with is continuous horn beeping.
Getting to the Garden of Gethsemene
The Garden of Gethsemene is at the foot of the Mount of Olives and is about 5 minutes taxi ride outside of the Old City.
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Take in the view at the Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives sits to the east of the old city and offers the classic viewpoint for the city. You will want to go to the pavement in front of the Seven Arches Hotel to check out the view which looks directly to the Temple Mount, Dome of Rock and the old city behind it.
The morning is the best time to visit as you won’t be looking directly to the sun. Sunset is also a nice time for photography as the soft light creates a golden hue.
Getting to the Mount of Olives viewpoint
The viewpoint at the Mount of Olives is just outside the Seven Arches hotel. This is up a pretty steep road and about 5-10 minute drive from the Old City.
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The Cenacle - The Last Supper Room
The streets outside the Zion gate are some of our favourites and tucked in these cobble stone streets is the place which is believed to be the scene of the Last Supper. It is also home to a pretty stunning photography location (as you can see below).
There isn’t too much to see nowadays as it is literally an empty room with not much explanation. It isn’t obvious to find as the room is tucked away up some narrow stairs and was hosted in a pretty confined space for 13!
The queues are the giveaway as it doesn’t take much to fill this cramped space.
Getting to the Last Supper Room
The Cenacle is just outside the Zion Gate, which is the southern exit of the Old City. From here it is a 5 minute walk.
Take a day trip to Bethlehem
A day trip to Bethlehem is a fun way to change the pace of your visit and get a glimpse of the Palestinian side of life in the Holy Land.
In this small town you can visit one of the holiest sites in Christianity - the Church of the Nativity. Under the ground is a shrine and star that marks the spot where people believe is the exact place where Jesus was born.
It is a highly significant place to Christians and you feel this when you visit.
The other popular thing to see in Bethlehem is the Banksy art (see our article about Bethlehem to see the locations) and the murals painted on the huge wall built by Israel.
On the Israeli side, this wall is completely clear. On the Palestinian side, the wall is covered with sarcastic murals such as Donald Trump hugging a wall proclaiming “I will build you a brother”.
It is a modern day Berlin wall, designed to keep one population out whilst allowing the other to move freely. To enter the West Bank you simply walk through a gate. To enter Israel you’ll pass through a checkpoint that requires your passport and a search of your bag.
We understand that there is history of attacks on Israel and measures are needed to maintain security. However, it’s hard to feel anything but that walls were a feature of the 20th Century that only ever made matters worse.
Getting to Bethlehem
Getting to Bethlehem is straightforward and something you can do on your own. Check out our guide all about how to visit Bethlehem from Jerusalem.
Things to know before you visit Jerusalem
Paid parking in Jerusalem….
Is a nightmare. Jerusalem has implemented an extensive paid parking system where you can only buy tickets through an app…… which is only available to people in Israel. I tried to download it to my iPhone but it kept switching me to the Israeli store, then saying I was in the wrong one!
Even the residential areas have strict paid parking, meaning you can only park for free in the evenings.
But fear not. We have a solution for you.
…. Free parking in Jerusalem
Luckily there’s a place very close to the Old City which has free parking. It is by Liberty Bell park, just make sure you park on the dirt and not the concrete, otherwise you’ll receive a ticket. You can find the location below.
Check your holidays and festivals
Every week Israelis celebrate Shabbat from Friday evening to Saturday evening (which is frequently rolled onto Sunday morning). This means a lot of places are closed and simple things like coffee is impossible to find. Judaism believes firmly that no one should work on Shabbat and that includes changing something from one form to another (i.e the creation of food or drink). Some places work round this by having pre-made food, but others simply close.
This also applies for certain days round Passover and other religious festivals. You can get round this by visiting the Muslim Quarter or any restaurants run by Arabs or Muslims.
The upside of Shabbat is that driving a car is considered work, so the roads are blissfully quiet. We suggest planning any driving in or around Jerusalem (such as visiting Bethlehem) on that day as your stress levels will be dramatically lower.
You can walk everywhere
If you’re prepared to rack up a few steps (we all want to go past 10,000 a day don’t we?), then Jerusalem is a great place to see on foot. The Old City is pretty small and the major sights are all within walking distance of each other.
It is also really enjoyable as the Old City is amazing and even the streets outside the Old City are full of beautiful gardens, making it much less stressful than crossing the usual bustling streets of a city centre.
What to pack for Jerusalem
You’ll be on your feet for a lot of Jerusalem, so pack a comfy pair of shoes (trainers or hiking shoes will do) and a few bits so you can carry everything you need with you.
Where to stay in Jerusalem
We strongly recommend picking a hotel that is near to the Old City as this will ensure you don’t spend your time getting over priced taxis back & forth.
Our Pick: The Templer Inn
Just a 15 minute walk from the Old City, the Templer Inn offers is a modern twist on an old style inn: beautiful, stylish rooms with a kitchenette - useful for when you fancy a break from the local dining scene. The owners here are really informative and helpful, plus the rave reviews means you won’t go wrong.
Jerusalem Center Boutique
The Center Boutique is a little further out than the Templer Inn (20 minute walk as opposed to 15) but these nicely styled rooms are pretty popular. Each room comes with a kitchenette and the owners go out of their way to ensure everything is how you want it to be.
Budget: Cinema Hostel Jerusalem
The Cinema Hostel in Jerusalem is one of the best value options (including private doubles) and is also pretty close to the Jaffa Gate. It looks like a pretty stylish hostel with great common areas where you can chill after a long day exploring. Add in a buffet breakfast and you have a great budget choice.
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Are you planning a trip to Jerusalem? Where are your favourite places in the Holy Land? Let us know in the comments below.