I have been to Israel 3 times in a year (and 4 times to Jerusalem overall), and I intend to go back again and again. I went pretty much anywhere: from North to South; from cities to nature. I got lost in the narrow alleys and in the nature when I hiked the Jesus Trail.
My love for this country must be somewhat contagious: so enthusiastically I talk about it that a few friends have approached me to announce they have finally booked their flights, and will be going there soon. I have even put together a proper guide for a trip to Israel for them.
A city I love visiting every time I am in Israel is Jerusalem. Mind you, it wasn’t love at first sight. At first it left me interested: I could see its beauty, but we didn’t click; I wasn’t completely charmed by it. It took me a second and third visit to get to appreciate it first, and then fall in love with it.
Discovering Jerusalem a bit at a time
Jerusalem is the kind of city that I am never quite done exploring. I guess my friend Yana, the lovely guide behind Authentic Jerusalem Tours, was right when she said that.
What I love about it is that there is always so much to discover – famous and less famous attractions; historical landmarks and hidden that are completely off the tourist radar. Different cultures meet and mix in Jerusalem – at times painfully, but typically peacefully. It is this mix of cultures that keeps it so interesting to me, I suppose.
The things to do in Jerusalem are endless. And while I have my favorite places that I always go back to, each time I go I end up in some new, pretty place: a coffee shop I didn’t know existed; a small, quirky square.
In January, I visited Jerusalem again. I spent little more than 48 hours in Jerusalem this time, but since i know the city well already, I went to all my favorite places – attractions, restaurants and coffee shops, and even my favorite hotel in town. I finally visited some of the most iconic attractions in the city – it was about time I did so. And I took the time to wander around, and ended up in some really cute squares away from all the chaos and crowds.
Exploring the historical landmarks
A city like Jerusalem is packed with attractions, and it would be impossible to visit them all (and actually enjoy them) in just one go. Picking what to see isn’t easy, in a city that has so much history and culture. That’s why I am always a bit surprised when I hear people say that they intend to go there on just a day trip from Tel Aviv.
To each their own, I guess. But if anybody asks for my opinion, I will say not to do it that way. Jerusalem is simply too special to be dismissed in just a day. It took me four visits to explore the most famous attractions, and even then I yearn to go back and see more.
Here are some of the places I visited on my fourth trip to Jerusalem. Some I had never seen before, and one I had, but I felt compelled to return to.
Temple Mount may well be the most iconic place to visit in Jerusalem. It’s the classic image one thinks of whenever hearing the word Jerusalem; the one shown by the media whenever they speak of the city. Yet, I only made it there on the very last day of my fourth visit.
Mind you – I had seen Temple Mount from a distance, and from all possible angles, many times. I first caught a glimpse of it as I walked down from Dung Gate. I then realized it was right behind me when I walked the narrow alleys of the Old City. And I admired the most amazing sunset over the Dome of the Rock from Mount of Olives.
This time I actually made the effort to go and stand in line to finally get in and properly explore it.
Though there are 11 gates scattered across the Old City that all lead to Temple Mount, tourists and non-Muslims can only enter through the Moroccan gate (Mughrabi Gate) located close to Dung Gate and near the Western Wall Plaza.
Tourists can access Temple Mount between 7:30 and 10:30 am, and between 12:30 and 1:30 pm. The line can be a bit overwhelming, but it actually moves quite fast. Needless to say, it is worth the wait. I recommend planning an early morning visit, simply because there’s more time to explore inside – the complex is actually huge.
Needless to say, Temple Mount is an impressive sight. The atmosphere inside, despite the presence of tourists (which I never perceived as overwhelming) is peaceful and silent. I could see a few people praying; others quietly chatting. The views of the Old City from it are splendid.
The City of David
I had visited the City of David on my first trip to Jerusalem, when I also walked Hezekiah’s tunnels, built by King Hezekiah in the 8th century to protect the city’s main water source from the Assyrian invasion.
The City of David is thought to be the original urban core of Jerusalem. The site is constantly being excavated, as new finds are regularly brought to the surface, bringing testimony of the way of life, the religious beliefs and the culture of the people that lived in the area.
I wanted to visit the City of David again as I had heard of the launch of the new light show, and since I was there I took the opportunity to go on another guided tour, which offered a completely new perspective – if anything because I visited during sunset (the view of East Jerusalem from the City of David is simply stunning) and then in the dark.
My night time tour also went through the water channels, of which I had a rather realistic “view.” Indeed, after the first few minutes of the visit the lights that normally illuminate the tunnels went off, and my guide and I were completely left in the dark – we could not find any torch though we rummaged through our bags. It made the experience all the more interesting, and I have to say I was truly impressed with the guide skills – she truly proved to know the place as the palm of her hand, guiding me in the dark in each and every step!
The City of David Light Show started immediately after my tour. It is a fantastic, interactive way to learn about the history of Jerusalem, with a movie actually projected on the site – right in the places where the history unfolded.
The film, which is projected on two different parts of the City of David (first on the walls, then on the actual ruins), tells the story of how Jerusalem was destroyed more than 2500 years ago, and then rebuilt thanks to the efforts of Nehemiah, son of Hachaliah, who won the support of the king of Persia.
The show lasts around one hour and 15 minutes, and currently runs in Hebrew, with headphones in various other languages. As it is in the open, it can get quite cold – so being dressed appropriately is a must. It costs 65 Israeli Shekels (which is around $19 USD, or €15) to view the show.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
I had actually seen the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from the outside, before. This time, I made the effort of going inside. I was raised Catholic, and though I am now a professed atheist I still find the history and the culture behind religions to be very interesting. So I decided to finally go inside.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located in the place where it is said Jesus had been crucified and later on buried – though he resurrected and his tomb is empty. As it is easy to imagine, the church is crowded with tourists but it still makes for an interesting visit.
It’s also the place where the last four stations of the Via Dolorosa, which representes the final episodes of Jesus’ Passion, are located.
Staying in my comfort zone
It happens in every place I visit multiple times: I have my own favorite spot in Tulum, Yucatan; I always eat in the same place in Leon, Nicaragua. Just as well, I have my own favorite places in Jerusalem. They are the ones I head to the minute I arrive; the ones where I feel comfortable exploring and the ones that I find photographically stimulating.
The Old City Bazar
I love markets. The Old City Bazar of Jerusalem remains one of my favorite places in the city, one I visit each time I am there. I love the narrow alleys, that offer some incredible photo opportunities. There are some beautiful sights, and the market is like a window to a great part of the Jerusalemite culture.
The Suq is a maze of small shops that sell anything from leather goods (though triple check the quality of the products); ceramics; spices and all sorts of other souvenirs. They also have some of the best hummus places in town, and a few good traditional coffee places.
Abu Shukri Hummus
Speaking of hummus in the Old City, an absolute must that I always make a point to visit is Abu Shukri. This is a really tiny, plain hummus place, with no more than 4 tables and just a few things on the menu – hummus, foul, falafel and traditional salads, all served with warm pita bread. Prices are more than fair (a novelty in Israel!) and needless to say the hummus is delicious.
Outside the Old City, Mahane Yehuda is a market I love going to, especially on a Friday morning when it buzzes with life and it is packed with people doing some last minute shopping before Shabbat starts. I love the noise, the colors and the flavours of Mahane Yehuda.
There’s plenty of fruits and vegetable stands, as well as places that sell all the delicious baked goods – baklava, rugelach, and much more. I also love the dried fruits stands, the tea stands, and typically make a stop at the Beer Bazar, to have a taste of a good Israeli craft beer. It’s just a place I like going for a bit of comfort food, especially on a chilly day.
Speaking of comfort, this time I decided to sleep at Inbal Hotel, the hotel I stayed at during my first trip to Jerusalem. It was a great decision, and I was glad to have a bit more time to fully enjoy all its amenties, including the amazing on site restaurants and the wine cellar.
Now that I have mentioned food, I have just remembered the breakfast spread at Inbal is almost ridiculous: there is an incredible choice of quality food – from fruits and salads, to breads and other baked goods; cheese, fish and freshly squeezed juice, as well as a variety of coffees.
What I love about Inbal is that it is right between the Old City and the more modern side of Jerusalem, near the Parliament and the German Colony and in an area that is safe, trendy, quiet and well connected.
Inbal, which opened 35 years ago, is an institution among Jerusalem hotels. It is currently going through some major works, to renovate the lobby and public areas, and to add two new floors, with the idea of having more luxury rooms, all offering lovely views of the city and with a larger and newer design. All works will be done by summer 2018.
I had the pleasure of meeting with Sharon, the marketing manager of Inbal, and to ask him the reason for all the renovation works. He explained that demand for rooms in Jerusalem keeps increasing (it’s easy to see why), with more and more people visiting each year. There’s always some conference, some event – even the Giro d’Italia biking competition is going to start in Jerusalem in summer 2018!
The hotel intends to position itself in the “warm luxury” market, and I can see that happening. Each and every detail is taken care here: the look of the hotel in the furnishing and colors; the background music that sofly plays in the common areas; and even the fresh fragrance that can be smelled throughout the establishment.
Rooms are incredibly cozy. Each have a large, comfortable; an espresso machine – and I do like my coffee first thing in the morning! The toiletries are top notch quality, made by a local brand called Sabon. I love the idea of keeping even the small things local.
As a sports junkie, I finally got the chance to take advantage of the fitness centre. I have traveled the world, but I typically stay out of hotel pools because they are frustratingly small for avid swimmers like me. Anything smaller than 20 meters is not worth me getting my feet wet. Inbal has an incredible 25 meters pool, attached to a state of the art fitness centre. I was extremely pleased to be able to train there!
Discovering new (old) places
The beauty of going back to a place I already know quite well is that I know my way around quite well, and I am thus comfortable taking a little side street as opposed to walking on the main one. This always leads me to discover hidden gems, quiet corners that are really just steps away from all the chaos and life. I love that.
The following are some of the hidden corners I discovered during my last trip to Jerusalem.
Yo’El Moshe Salomon Street
This actually is a less than hidden street. In fact, it is an open mall not far from Mamilla and on the way to the busy Yaffo street. I had just never been there – or perhaps I had, but never paid real attention to how pretty it is, and how quiet it is compared to the busy Yaffo street.
Yo’El Moshe Salomon Street is lined with lovely small shops, selling all kind of stuff. They are all small local businesses, where the owner also makes the stuff s/he is selling. It’s a quite artistry part of Jerusalem, in a neighborhood called Nachalat Shiva and which is one of the first that grew outside the Old City of Jerusalem. There’s also a couple of interesting bars and coffee shop.
Speaking of interesting coffee shops, right on Yo’El Moshe Salomon Street there Tmol Shilshom. To be fair, this isn’t so much of an hidden gem – it is mentioned even on the Lonely Planet. I just didn’t know of it, until my friend Ben, who lives in Jerusalem, took me there to have tea.
Tmol Shilshom is a lovely place, and a real institution in Jerusalem. It is the kind of place where one immediately feels the cozy, welcoming, and literary atmosphere – there’s bookshelves filled with books, vintage furniture, and regular exhibitions and book presentations.
The coffee shop is located on the second floor of a really old building, and while the windows face the main street, the entrance is actually at the back, in a tiny alley.
Haim Alboher Alley
I was on my way to Mahane Yehuda when I noticed a tiny alley and I decided that, since I had enough time to wander around, I could walk there and see where it took me. That’s how I ended up in a lovely small square, literally steps away from all the shops, traffic and noise of Yaffo, called Haim Alboher Alley.
There were just a few people in the square – some young guys who looked like students; a girl that was intently reading a book; an elderly man. And, as in any proper square in Jerusalem, there were cats – at door steps, on the trees, and just playing around.
I’d dare say, this was a quintessential Jerusalemite scene, one that however only those who linger a little longer in the city are able to enjoy.
Have you ever been to Jerusalem? What are your favorite places in the city?
For more things to do in Jerusalem, head over to my post “Traditional and Alternative Things To Do In Jerusalem.”
Pint It For Later
Before visiting, I used to think that pretty much all the things to do in Jerusalem would relate to its ancient history, with its being one of the holiest cities in the world and the meeting point of the three most important monotheistic religions. I had just returned from India, where I visited Varanasi, the holiest of Hindu cities, and I was curious to explore another city with such a strong religious significance.
However, after visiting I can say that there isn’t just one Jerusalem, there’s many Jerusalems. The city has a lot to offer not only to the most traditional tourists – the ones who take guided group tours and who invariably enjoy the most famous places to visit in Jerusalem; but also to a younger crowd looking for more alternative, innovative and off the grid Jerusalem tourist attractions.
There are more things to do in Jerusalem than what one would ever imagine
There’s no doubt that the most popular Jerusalem tourist attractions are the iconic ones that are regularly photographed, such as the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, or the Wailing Wall. But Jerusalem is a city in a constant turmoil – and no, I am not referring to the security concerns that are generally raised when talking about Israel. Indeed, I actually found it very safe to visit.
One of the things I enjoyed the most in Jerusalem was walking around aimlessly
When I talk of the turmoil that characterizes Jerusalem, I am referring to the fact that the city is constantly changing, and it is way more modern than one may think, in a quirky, unique way. There is a whole range of fun things to do in Jerusalem that make it a top tourist destination from all points of view.
After all, this is a city where the market where the oldest generations shop during the day has become a hipsters meeting point at night, packed with small restaurants and pubs. It is a city where old meets new, and a little bit more. New, interesting ways have found to enjoy the most famous places to visit in Jerusalem.
Three generations all in one place: there are things to do in Jerusalem for all of them!
My visit to Jerusalem came as a bit of a surprise. I had been wanting to visit for a long time, so many are the places to visit in Jerusalem that I was keen to explore, but I had not planned to go in 2016. However, I must admit that of the places I said I’d visit in 2016, I actually went to a fraction and ended up in wholly different places. Interestingly, one of them is a place that has one of the largest Jewish communities of Africa: Djerba, in Tunisia.
To read more about Djerba, go to my post “Ten reasons to visit Djerba, Tunisia.”
I was lucky enough to experience both sides of Jerusalem – the most traditional one, and the more modern, younger one – in the very short time I spent there. Needless to say, I didn’t get to visit all of Jerusalem tourist attractions – I think a month there would not be enough to quench my curiosity for this interesting, unique, complicated and beautiful city.
Walking around is the best way to discover all of Jerusalem tourist attractions
This means two things. Firstly, of all the things to do in Jerusalem, I only managed to do a fraction. Secondly, and consequently, I need to go back – and I plan to do so as soon as possible, so that I get to see the rest of the places to visit in Jerusalem.
Meantime, here’s my selection of the places to visit in Jerusalem and of the traditional and the most alternative and fun things to do in Jerusalem.
A selection of the places to visit in Jerusalem and of the things to do in Jerusalem
Things to do in Jerusalem and places to visit in Jerusalem for the most traditional travelers
I believe there is no point at all in visiting a destination and then miss all the things it is famous for. Call me a tourist, think of me as mainstream, and even say I am an unsuccessful backpacker, but there is no way I would go to Jerusalem and avoid all the most famous places to visit in Jerusalem. So, here’s my pick on the things to do in Jerusalem for the most traditional travelers. Sure enough, I took a guided full day city tour of Jerusalem which I had booked in advance, so that I could make the most of my time there.
These are some of the best tours of historical Jerusalem:
The City Walls are among the places to visit in Jerusalem
Walk along the City Walls
Of the most well known Jerusalem tourist attractions, walking along the walls is one of the top things to do in Jerusalem and I truly liked it. The Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Ramparts Walk is a 1 km jaunt that goes on top of the city wall and it is a good way to get a breathtaking view of both the Old City, with all the incredible places to visit in Jerusalem, and the new one. Not only that: walking along the Ramparts Walk gives a proper idea of how small the city really used to be in the past.
Walking along the City Walls is one of the things to do in Jerusalem – especially to enjoy some stunning views
Explore the tunnels of the City of David
I find that one of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem is walking along the tunnels of the City of David. This is the path that in ancient times would lead to the hidden springs where kings were coronated. The tunnels were dug around 700 BC to channel water from the Gihon Spring, under orders of King Hezekiah. The idea was that of securing a source of water to the city even when it was under siege.
Walking the tunnels of the City of David is one of the things to do in Jerusalem – photo courtesy of Israel Tourism (flickr)
In order to access the tunnels, which is one of the most fascinating Jerusalem tourist attractions, it is recommended to carry a change of clothes (there are changing rooms and lockers) and wear shorts and sandals, as the water in the tunnels can be up to 80 cm deep. The walk along Hezekiah’s Tunnel lasts about 30 minutes, and it is totally in the dark (save for the flashlights). To me, this is one of the most interesting and unique places to visit in Jerusalem. What I really appreciated is the idea of how advanced the engineering work was at the time in which the city was built.
Dung Gate is one of the places to visit in Jerusalem
Visit the Dung Gate and the Jaffa Gate
According to legend, the area around Dung Gate was once the garbage dump of the city – hence the name. Of all the city gates – which are some of the most popular Jerusalem tourist attractions – this one is the smallest, although it was widened by the Jordanians during their tenure of the city, so that cars could drive through. Seeing the Dung Gate was one of the things to do in Jerusalem that I really enjoyed.
Another of the places to visit in Jerusalem is Jaffa Gate, where the breach in the wall though which everyone passes now was actually made in 1898 – the original one is on the side and it is much much smaller.
One of the new things to do in Jerusalem – which yet has a connection to the most traditional Jerusalem tourist attractions – is taking the tourist train which has recently been activated between Dung Gate and Jaffa Gate. It is a short but nice ride.
Even non-religious people will feel like placing a prayer on the wailing wall: it is one of the things to do in Jerusalem
Place a prayer on the Wailing Wall
There simply is no going to Jerusalem without visiting what may well be the most iconic of all the places to visit in Jerusalem. Even non-religious persons like I am can still feel very moved at the Wailing Wall (also known as the Western Wall): seeing so many people concentrated in their prayers, feeling spiritually closer to God, was for me a unique and touching experience.
The most iconic of Jerusalem tourist attractions was built around 2000 years ago as an outer wall to support Temple Mount, when the temple was destroyed in AD 70, Jews were forced to leave and the exact location of the temple was lost. When they got back, they avoided the Temple Mount for fear of accidentally stepping on the Holy of Holies – the ancient inner sanctum of the temple which was accessible only to high priests. So, they began praying at the outer wall.
The Wailing Wall is one of the places to visit in Jerusalem: this is the men’s side. I could only peep in from a distance
The Wailing Wall became a place of pilgrimage during the Ottoman Empire: Jews would go there to mourn and lament their ancient loss. That’s where the name Wailing Wall actually comes from. Nowadays, one of the things to do in Jerusalem is visiting the Wailing Wall (there is a men and a women section, and modest clothing is required to access), write a prayer in a small piece of paper and fold it, then place it in the cracks of the wall.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher remains one of the places to visit in Jerusalem
Visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
Compared to the rest of Jerusalem tourist attractions, which are visible from a distance, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher can almost be overlooked if one doesn’t know it is there. Yet, visiting it is one of the unmissable things to do in Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is considered to be the biblical Calvary – the place where it is said Jesus was nailed to the cross, then died and rose from the dead. It is a place of pilgrimage for Christians, and if looking for a place of Christian religious significance in the city, visiting it is what to do in Jerusalem.
Temple Mount, with the Dome of the Rock is one of the places to visit in Jerusalem
Walk around Temple Mount
If there is one among the places to visit in Jerusalem that shall not be missed, that is Temple Mount – at the centre of a recent controversy due to the fact that UNESCO ruled that Temple Mount has nothing to do with Judaism. The Jewish identified in the rock protruding from Mt Moriah the foundation stone of the world. According to the Talmud it was here that God gathered the earth used to form Adam, and later on the Biblical figures (Adam, Cain, Abel and Noah) performed ritual sacrifices here.
All in all, visiting Temple Mount gives a nice break from the noise and chaos outside. It is an astonishing complex where the most prominent sights are the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, and visiting is definitely one of the top things to do in Jerusalem. Nowadays, Al Aqsa Mosque stands on what once was the marketplace on the edge of Temple Mount. It is a mismatch of various restorations taken across time, with columns donated by Benito Mussolini too.
Visiting the Dome of the Rock is what to do in Jerusalem if in search of an iconic attraction. This is the symbol of Jerusalem, and one of the most photographed buildings in the world. As the name explains, the Dome of the Rock covers the stone that is sacred to both Muslims and Jews, in the place where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son and Prophet Mohammed launched himself to take place next to Allah.
The interior of the Dome of the Rock is generally only accessible to Muslims and so most visitors will have to make do with admiring the outside. Nevertheless, visiting the Dome of the Rock is one of the best things to do in Jerusalem.
Visiting Yad Vashem is one of the unmissable things to do in Jerusalem
Remember the atrocities of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem
Visiting the Yad Vashem Museum may well be the most important among the things to do in Jerusalem, to be reminded of the effects of the Holocaust – one of the many genocides that happened in the past. As a former human rights lawyer, I did not want to miss on this. It is a strong, touching experience, but nevertheless an unmissable one.
The funky architecture of the Israel Museum is a work of art itself, making it one of the places to visit in Jerusalem
Visit the Israel Museum
The Israel Museum is one of the most important Jerusalem tourist attractions. I found it to be an incredibly interesting structure from the architectural point of view – both inside and outside. But, most importantly so, the collection is simply incredible and what makes it one of the unmissable places to visit in Jerusalem is the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept. These (there’s 800 of them) were found in 1947 and in 1956 in eleven caves in the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea, and date to around AD 132 – 35.
When I visited the Israel Museum, I had the pleasure to meet Dr. Adolfo Roitman, who is the Curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls and of the Shrine of the Books. It was an incredible experience to have him explain the significance of the Scrolls. I appreciate that not everyone will have the curator of the museum as a guide, yet visiting the Israel Museum remains one of the best things to do in Jerusalem.
Visiting Mount of Olives is one of the things to do in Jerusalem – this is a view of Temple Mount
Get a spectacular view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives
One of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem is going on a tour of the Mount of Olives. Not only does this have a great historical and religious significance, but the view of the city from it is simply spectacular. Mount of Olives is the world’s oldest continually used cemetery, and the area is packed with churches and gardens that are nice to visit.
Ein Kerem is so pretty and relaxed, it is one of the nicest places to visit in Jerusalem
Walk around Ein Kerem
One of my favorite places to visit in Jerusalem is Ein Kerem. This is a lovely village of Arab-built stone houses and beautiful Lebanese cedars and pine trees, which is hidden in a valley right outside the city. There’s various churches to visit in Ein Kerem, my favorite is that of St John the Baptist.
The Church of St. John the Baptist is one of Jerusalem tourist – photo courtesy of Tal Pitel
However, what I enjoyed the most in Ein Kerem was the laid back atmosphere: I actually think that one of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem is spending a good day or two in Ein Kerem to just soak in its vibe.
Exploring Mahane Yehuda Market is one of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem
Shop at Mahane Yehuda Market…
I have a slight obsession with markets. It pretty much means that I have to visit the local market in every single city or village I visit. And I don’t mean a tourist market (well, I like those too and they are incredible places to shop for souvenirs). I actually like the real thing, the places where the locals go shop for their groceries. Sure enough, one of the coolest things to do in Jerusalem is visiting the Mahane Yehuda Market.
Looking at some delicious fresh produce at Mahane Yehuda Market is one of the things to do in Jerusalem
What makes Mahane Yehuda Market one of the unmissable places to visit in Jerusalem is the fabulous, colorful array of produce on sale: from the freshest fruits and vegetables, to the freshly baked bread; from the mix of dried fruits and nuts to the hundreds of teas and infusions; it is simply impossible to resist the temptation to shop here.
… and then look for souvenirs
Even though I prefer regular market to tourist markets, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy looking around for souvenirs. Sure enough, one of the things to do in Jerusalem is exploring the small shops at the market and – even better – observe the locals.
Shopping at the Old City Suq is one of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem
Eat at a fabulous restaurant…
There is no such thing as going hungry in Jerusalem. Good food is available pretty much anywhere in the city and the restaurant scene is thriving. There are a lot of vegan restaurants in Jerusalem too. There is no doubt that one of the things to do in Jerusalem is enjoying local food (hummus, anyone?) and have one or more fantastic meals. I have had the pleasure to try the Machneyuda, the best restaurant in the city, and surely one of the top ones in the world: the use of excellent seasonal local ingredients cooked to perfection by the chef, the cozy and easygoing atmosphere make it a top choice in Jerusalem.
Eat! That’s one of the best things to do in Jerusalem
If eating is what to do in Jerusalem, I was surely not disappointed by some other fantastic places to eat: the Modern, which is the restaurant adjoint to the Israeli Museum; Adom, located at the First Station (Jerusalem old railway station) and Anna, an Italian style restaurant that has recently opened and that has already become one of the top ones in the city.
… and enjoy a good cup of coffee afterwards
I am a coffee addict, and even more so I am a coffee snob. Don’t think of me as the typical Italian who would only drink espresso, though. Save for instant coffee, I enjoy pretty much any kind of coffee: French press, American filter, espresso, Italian coffee pot, Costa Rican sock coffee… you name it. As long as the quality is good and there’s no sugar involved, I am in. Needless to say, I did not pass on coffee in Jerusalem. In fact, I think that having coffee in one of the traditional coffee shops is one of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem.
Coffee is a real ritual and one of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem is to enjoy it at a lovely coffee shop
Coffee here is more a ritual than a drink: it is brewed slowly, cardamom and other spices are boiled with it, and it is served piping hot and accompanied with traditional sweets such as baklava – which is packed with honey, butter and different kinds of nuts and is totally yummy. Having coffee is definitely what to do in Jerusalem to have a break from all the sightseeing!
Things to do in Jerusalem and places to visit in Jerusalem for the youngest and most alternative travelers
One of the things I enjoy the most when I travel is getting lost. I do get lost because I start wandering, deep in my thoughts, taking pictures of the interesting life around me. That’s how I end up discovering many interesting places – with less tourists, more locals, and with incredible sights. Sure enough, one of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem is getting lost in its narrow alleys and get a bit off the beaten path. That is how I came across some of the most unique things to see in Jerusalem.
Discovering hidden corners such as this is one of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem
The good news is that there are a lot of places to visit in Jerusalem that are great, and fun and alternative ways to discover the city and that make the experience all the more enjoyable to younger generations – as well as older ones, because really: who says that only younger people enjoy a little bit of fun and games?
Explore Jerusalem by segway
It took me a few tries to be able to stand and move on a segway, but once I got the hang of it, I truly enjoyed this way of exploring various Jerusalem tourist attractions. I started off at Jaffa Gate, then zipped along King David Street, passed the YMCA and other beautiful buildings. I then made my way through the picturesque neighborhoods of Mishkenot Sah’ananim and Yemin Moshe and finally arrived to the viewpoint of Moshe Montefiore Windmill, from where I enjoyed a breathtaking view of the city. Doing a segway tour is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem.
Once I learned how to use it, doing a segway tour was one of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem
Participate in a Scavenger Hunt
I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I signed up for the Scavenger Hunt. All I can say is that it was one of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem among those I tried. It was a nice way to discover more about the history of the city, to explore some of the places to visit in Jerusalem and to find some of its hidden gems. Too bad my team did not win the hunt, but we surely had a great time.
Doing a scavenger hunt is a fun way to discover hidden places to visit in Jerusalem
Discover the art scene of Jerusalem
Along with the most well known Jerusalem tourist attractions, there is a whole range of things to discover – in particular, Jerusalem has an incredibly vibrant art scene, with entire buildings that were once abandoned and that are now used as art galleries and to create art. It is just an interesting way to discover another side of the city, and one of the things to do in Jerusalem that a younger, artsy crowd may truly enjoy.
Jerusalem tourist attractions include some very interesting art installations
Enjoy the Mahane Yehuda Market by night, and discover its street art.
A proper shopping market during the day, Mahane Yehuda becomes the ultimate place to hang out in Jerusalem at night. Not only that: hidden in the shutters of the stalls, there are more than 150 paintings of historical and contemporary figures, which make Mahane Yeduda a proper, open air art gallery. I truly believe that one of the coolest things to do in Jerusalem is enjoying its night life at Mahane Yehuda. There even is an organized pub crawl of Jerusalem: can it get any better than that?
Enjoying a drink at Mahane Yehuda Market is one of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem
This is packed with small street food places where it is possible to taste some local specialties, as well as lovely restaurants; there are lots of bars and pubs and, more importantly, the atmosphere is incredibly friendly and laid-back. It is a good place to see and be seen. One of the coolest places to visit in Jerusalem at night.
Do a guided food tour
I love food tours. I think they are an incredible way to get to know the culture of a place much more in depth – there’s so much of what we are and of our ways of life in the way we eat, and in what we eat. Besides, during a food tour one walks around a city and enjoys some good sightseeing. That is why I think that doing a food tour is one of the coolest things to do in Jerusalem. Sure enough I didn’t want to miss out, so I went on a food tour of Jerusalem.
These are some of the best food tours of Jerusalem:
Starving? One of the coolest things to do in Jerusalem is a self guided food tour
In Jerusalem food tours have been taken to the next level. Through the app Bite Mojo it is possible to book a self guided food tour, that can be completely tailored to one’s needs (which is super convenient to a picky eater like me!) and rhythm. It is a super fun way to do a food tour for technology savvy people. Besides, all the food I tried on my tour was delicious. If eating is what do to in Jerusalem, a self guided food tour is how to do it.
Pet all the cats
I love cats, and I automatically love all cities where I get to befriend them. Jerusalem is packed with cats that roam around freely, and I could not help but notice them. They were in the streets, near homes, by archeological sites, at the market… One of the things to do in Jerusalem that I enjoyed the most is petting the cats. In fact, I would even dare suggest the development of a whole tourism theme around them, similarly to what other cities (Rome and Istanbul are just two of them) have done already.
Mike Huxley got it right: befriending the local kitties is one of the cutest things to do in Jerusalem
Other fun things to do in Jerusalem
One of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem is to actually get out of the city. The following are some of the best day trips to take from Jerusalem:
Doing a tour of the Masada, Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea is one of the coolest things to do in Jerusalem. The Masada is a gorgeous archeological site that is at about one hour drive from the city. There is a cable car going to the top, but I walked all the way up to the top of the hill (and even then, I was still below sea level) to watch the sunrise – it took me about 1 hour to walk up, and perhaps 45 minutes to walk back down.
Doing a sunrise tour of the Masada is one of the best things to do in Jerusalem
Wearing comfortable hiking shoes is important: the hike isn’t too hard, but the terrain is hard (lots of stones) so not a place to go around in flip flops.
A day trip to visit the Masada is one of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem
The Masada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001, is a gorgeous fortress, which became famous for having resisted during an incredible long siege. It was built between 103 and 76 BC and fell into the hands of Herod the Great in 43 BC. The view of the Dead Sea at sunrise from the top is simply spectacular – and I recommend doing this tour as one of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem.
Enjoying a beautiful sunrise from the Masada – one of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem
The view from up there is simply stunning – I surely recommend not missing on this one.
The view of the Dead Sea at sunrise, from the Masada: one of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem is participating in a day tour there!
Among the things to do in Jerusalem, there’s taking a day tour to Ein Gedi
After descending from the Masada, the tour continues to the beautiful natural reserve of the Ein Gedi, which is home to beautiful waterfalls and some beautiful wildlife.
Covering myself in mud from the Dead Sea – one of the iconic things to do in Jerusalem – photo courtesy of Margherita Ragg, of The Crowded Planet
The tour finishes with a visit the Dead Sea, and that is where the fun begins. As soon as I got there, I changed into my bikini to walk down to the sea and simply float on it – the water is so salty that it is impossible to actually swim there, and in any case it is recommended not to put the head in the water as it hurts! I also covered myself in mud, as it is said to be very good for the skin. All I can say, is that going to the Dead Sea is one of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem.
Margherita and I posing for the iconic “floating with a magazine” picture in the Dead Sea – photo courtesy of Margherita Ragg
If taking a tour outside of the city is one of the best things to do in Jerusalem, I also wholeheartedly recommend to learn more about Palestine, by doing a guided tour of the West Bank, even better, by taking a dual narrative tour of Hebron.
Read more about Hebron on my post “Why I took a Dual Narrative Tour of Hebron.”
One of the best things to do in Jerusalem is taking a dual narrative tour of Hebron
Where to stay in Jerusalem
A major tourist destination such as Jerusalem is packed with good accommodation options for all budgets and all tastes.
One of the coolest things to do in Jerusalem is staying at a fabulous hotel such as the Inbal, which is located at walking distance from either modern Jerusalem and to most of Jerusalem tourist attractions. Inbal has spacious and cozy rooms, a fabulous 25 meters swimming pool and a gym, an executive lounge and a restaurant. The breakfast buffet is out of this world – I don’t think I have ever had a better breakfast in a hotel.
Staying at Mamilla is definitely one of the coolest things to do in Jerusalem
If staying in a boutique hotel is one of the things to do in Jerusalem, nothing beats Mamilla for that. This state of the art hotel has fabulous interiors. Rooms are stylish, with a fantastic bathroom where the glass turns opaque with just a switch. Have I mentioned the incredible breakfast?
Outside the city, in the lovely neighborhood of Ein Kerem, there’s the fabulous Alegra Boutique Hotel. This is located in a beautiful building that dates back to 1850, and staying there is what to do in Jerusalem if needing some special pamper treatment.
Ein Kerem is one of the places to visit in Jerusalem – and one of the nicest areas to stay
Last but not least, those that are traveling on a tighter budget can count on a fantastic hostel, the Abraham, which is located in the city centre and close to all the coolest places to visit in Jerusalem. The Abraham has both private rooms and dorms, which are all impeccably clean. There is a bar, guests can use the kitchen and there are plenty of common areas. More than anything else, the Abraham offers a really good, easygoing vibe which makes anybody feel welcome and at home.
These are the best places to stay in Jerusalem:
Alegra Boutique Hotel
How to get to Jerusalem
The closes airport to Jerusalem is Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, which is at about 60 km (roughly a one hour drive) to Jerusalem. Israel airport security isn’t exactly a piece of cake, but once out there are various buses departing daily from Tel Aviv Central Bus Station to Jerusalem, and although these work quite well during the week, counting on public transportation during the Shabbat (from Friday afternoon) is not one of the things to do in Jerusalem.
To find out more about Tel Aviv, read my post “Twenty things to do in Tel Aviv.”
Needless to say, there are many more things to do in Jerusalem, and many more places to visit in Jerusalem than the ones I have mentioned. In fact, as I have said before, there isn’t just one Jerusalem, but there is many Jerusalems: there’s the religious, orthodox one that looks down upon anybody who is not a believer; there is the modern, welcoming Jerusalem of the younger generations that strives to keep up with the latest trends.
I feel that in my time there I have barely scratched the surface and another visit is due soon, because I want to at least try to unveil some of the mysteries of this incredibly beautiful, yet enigmatic city.
Finally, find out how to make the most of a trip to Israel.
Legal Disclaimer: This article is written in partnership with the TBEX, the Tourism Authority of Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem Development Authority as part of the #ilovejerusalem and #tbexjlm campaigns. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.
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