There are many incredible things to do in Jerusalem.
This is one of the holiest cities in the world and the meeting point of the three most important monotheistic religions. Yet, the city has a lot to offer not only to the most traditional tourists; but also to a younger crowd looking for more alternative, innovative and off the grid Jerusalem tourist attractions.
There’s no doubt that the most popular 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 constantly changing visit. I see some slight difference every time I go.
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 been found to enjoy the most famous attractions.
A month won’t be enough to discover all that Jerusalem has to offer. Trust me, I know: I have lost count of how many times I have been there and each time I discover something new. In this post, I highlight the unmissable things to do in Jerusalem and share some tips that will help you make the most of this incredible city.
24 Incredible Things To Do In Jerusalem
If you have been reading me for a while, you will know that I always recommend starting your ramblings through a city from the most popular tourist attractions. Call me an unsuccessful backpacker, tell me I am a tourist – whatever you want. I feel no shame. Tourist attractions are called like that because they are attractive!
The good news is that along with the most classic, you will find a whopping number of places to visit in Jerusalem that are pure fun – getting lost in the city and you will discover its most hidden gems. Continue reading to discover all the unmissable things to do in Jerusalem.
Classic Things To Do In Jerusalem
The best place to start exploring Jerusalem is the Old City – that’s where most of the classic attractions are located. Once you are done exploring those, you can go on visiting other interesting places and museums.
Place a prayer on the Western Wall
There simply is no going to Jerusalem without visiting what may well be the most iconic of all the places in town. Even if you are not religious at all (like yours truly) you will feel very moved by the Wailing Wall (as the Western Wall is also known): seeing so many people concentrated in their prayers, feeling spiritually closer to God, is a unique experience.
The wall 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 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.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: You will have to go through airport-style security to access the area of the Western Wall. This is open all day, including Shabbat. Photography is normally allowed, but during Shabbat you invited to put away your camera and even your smartphones by local activists.
Visit Temple Mount
If there is one place that you should not miss when in Jerusalem, 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.
The most prominent sights inside Temple Mount 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.
The Dome of the Rock is often considered 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.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Temple Mount is open to tourists Sundays to Thursdays, from 7:30 to 10:30 am and then again from 12:30 to 1:30 pm (winter time); or from 8:30 to 10:30 am and 1:30 to 2:30 pm (winter time). You will have to go through airport-style security to get in. Lines are common for the afternoon visit so try to visit in the morning. There is no admission fee.
Make sure to read my post “What You Must Know Before Visiting Temple Mount And Dome Of The Rock.”
Temple Mount is included in most tours of Jerusalem, like the New Jerusalem: Holy City Tour.
Visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
Compared to the rest of places to visit in town, which are visible from a distance, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher can almost be overlooked if you don’t know it is there. Yet, visiting it is one of the unmissable things to do in Jerusalem. Considered to be the biblical Calvary – the place where it is said Jesus was nailed to the cross (Mount Golgotha), then died and rose from the dead – the church is a mixture of different styles and it’s interiors are simply splendid.
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.
SECRET INFORMATION: While most tourists line to visit the holy sepulcher inside the church, go to the door on its right that leads to an almost forgotten small chapel. It’s similar to a small cave, and a tiny opening leads to a place where two tombs seem to have been excavated. You will need a torch to see them. According to research, this is the actual place where Jesus was laid.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The church is open every day from 5:00 am to 8:00 pm. There is no admission fee.
Walk the Via Dolorosa
Known to Catholics as the Via Crucis, this is thought to be the path that Jesus followed on the way to his crucifixion. The stations are scattered along and need a good eye to be spotted, so keep a good guide book at hand and walk slowly. Alternatively you may want to go on a guided tour. You can book it here.
Take in the views from the Austrian Hospice
Located along the via Dolorosa, the Austrian Hospice is one of Jerusalem’s best kept secret – it took me 5 visits to find out about its existence. This a former hostel – supposedly the oldest guest house in the city. You can walk up a terrace for incredible views of Jerusalem.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The Schwester Bernadette Terasse is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Admission fee is 5 NIS (Israeli Sheckel) – that’s less than $1.5 USD.
Get lost in Old City Suq
Whether you are looking for souvenirs or not, the Old City Suq is one of the places to visit in Jerusalem that you really can’t miss. There are hundreds of tiny shops were you can buy just about anything – from spices to ceramics; from leather goods to fabrics. It’s a fun place to explore and get lost, and if you are a photography geek you will be in for a treat!
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, this one is the smallest, although it was widened by the Jordanians during their tenure of the city, so that cars could drive through.
Another gate 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.
Take a walk along the City Walls
Walking along the city walls is one of the top things to do in Jerusalem. 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.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: You can access the Ramparts from Saturday to Thursday, from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm and on Fridays from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. Admission is NIS 16 ($4.50).
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.
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. You will really appreciate how advanced the engineering work was at the time in which the city was built.
In order to access the tunnels, you should carry a change of clothes (there are changing rooms and lockers) and wear shorts and sandals that can get wet, as the water in the tunnels can be up to 80 cm deep.
You can opt to take this Ancient Jerusalem: City of David Tour
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The City of David is open Sunday to Thursday from 8:00 to 5:00 or 7:00 pm (winter and summer schedule) and on Fridays from 8:00 am to 2:00 or 4:00 pm (winter and summer schedule). Admission is NIS 65 ($18.50 USD).
The small garden of Gethsemane has some massive, ancient olive trees. This is thought to be the place where Jesus was arrested after having being betrayed by Judas. It’s close to Mount of Olives, so you can visit it on your way there.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Gethsemane is open every day from 8:00 am to 5:00 or 6:00 pm depending on the season.
Admire the sunset from Mount of Olives
You really can’t miss Mount of Olives when in Jerusalem. 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.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: It will take you around 10 minutes to walk from Gethsemane to the view point which is right by Seven Arches Hotel. Make sure to walk there in time to admire the sunset. There are several buses that will take you back to the area of Damascus Gate.
Make sure to read my post “Where To Get The Most Impressive Views Of Jerusalem.”
Visit the Holocaust Museum
Visiting the Yad Vashem Museum is a way to be reminded of the effects of the Holocaust – one of the many genocides that happened in the past. It is a strong, touching experience, but nevertheless an unmissable one. Factor in at least 3 hours to go through the whole exhibit – and that is if you go fast!
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Yad Vashem opens every day at 9:00 am, and closes at 5:00 pm Sunday to Wednesday; 8:00 pm on Thursdays and 2:00 pm on Fridays. It is closed on Saturdays. There is no admission fee but you should get an audio-guide which costs NIS 30 (around $8.50).
To get to Yad Vashem take the light metro headed west and get off at the last stop. From there, it is a 10 minutes walk – there are signs pointing you in the right direction, so you won’t get lost!
Visit the Israel Museum
The Israel Museum is one of the most important ones in Jerusalem. 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 – this is where you’ll get to see the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept. These (there are 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.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The Israel Museum is open Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm; Tuesdays from 4:00 to 9.00 pm and Fridays from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. Admission is NIS 54 (about $15 USD). It is located in the Givat Ram area, not far from the Knesset (Israeli Parliament).
Go to Ein Kerem
One of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem is visiting Ein Kerem. In fact, if you can try to spend a weekend there. This part of town is truly gorgeous – think houses built in traditional white stone with lovely small gardens; a few good restaurants; an easy going atmosphere. But there’s more.
Ein Kerem is home to some important sights. Make sure not to miss Mary’s Spring and the beautiful Church of the Visitation, which is meant to be the site where John the Baptist family had their summer house and Mary visited the family.
If you need to eat, head to the Brasserie – it’s by far the best restaurant in the area (but it’s not cheap) and if you fancy a Shabbat brunch (this very much is an Israeli tradition!) go to Mala Bistro – they have both been tested and approved!
Fun Things To Do In Jerusalem
For more fun things to do in Jerusalem, head to the New City where all the action, bars, pubs and restaurants are located.
Visit Mahane Yehuda Market during the day
One of the coolest things to do in Jerusalem is visiting the Mahane Yehuda Market.
What makes Mahane Yehuda Market so special 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. During my last visit to the city, I took my mother there and I promise you she looked like a child in a candy-stop – she literally wanted to try everything.
Then go back at night
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. Make sure to go on a Thursday evening when locals head there to kick off the weekend. You will enjoy the incredible young scene, can get a meal at reasonable prices and enjoy a drink.
Have a cocktail
If cocktails are your thing, you’ll be pleased to know that there are several good cocktail bars in Jerusalem. My favorite one is Gatsby Cocktail Room. It’s a bit of a hidden place, with a fantastic retro feel and – most importantly so – a fabulous cocktail menu. It is pricey, but honestly worth every Shekel!
Visit one of Jerusalem historic hotels
There are a few incredible historic hotels in Jerusalem, and if you don’t want to splurge to stay there, you may still have a chance to walk to their lobby to admire your surroundings. The most famous ones are the American Colony Hotel, which is located in an Ottoman-era former palace and King David Hotel, which was built in the 1920s and if famous for its a pink quartz facade.
Discover the art scene of Jerusalem
Along with the most well known 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.
Go to the YMCA
The YMCA is located right in front of King David Hotel. A cultural center, a center for education and a sports center with a state of the art pool, you’ll also find a good hotel and a nice restaurant where you can eat at more than reasonable prices. Make sure to check the website for special events such as concerts and other kinds of shows.
GOOD TO KNOW: Tourists can access the YMCA sports center. The daily fee is NIS 95 (around $27 USD) and it will give you access to all the facilities. It’s honestly not cheap, but the pool is great!
Get out of the city
One of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem is to actually get out of the city and there are several places you can easily visit from town, such as the Masada, Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea; Bethlehem and Hebron. You can even do a guided tour of the West Bank if you like.
Masada, Ein Gedi and Dead Sea
Usually visited on the same day, these are three of the most beautiful places to visit in Israel.
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.
There is a cable car going to the top, but you can even walk all the way up to the top of the hill (and even then, you will still be below sea level) to watch the sunrise – it takes about 1 hour to walk up, and perhaps 45 minutes to walk back down.
The hike isn’t too hard if you are fit. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes and to take a lot of water.
Make sure to read my post “Masada Sunrise Guide: Hiking The Masada Snake Path.”
Another place to visit on day trips from Jerusalem is the beautiful natural reserve of the Ein Gedi, which is home to waterfalls, swimming holes, hiking trails and some beautiful wildlife.
Water at the Dead Sea is so salty that it is impossible to actually swim – all you can do is float! You can also cover yourself in mud, as it is said to be very good for the skin.
You may want to check out these guided tours:
The West Bank can be accessed from Jerusalem.
You can easily get to Bethlehem by public transportation – there are buses leaving every few minutes from the bus station near Damascus Gate. Once in Bethlehem you can haggle a taxi to take you around town to visit the main points of interest such as the Church of the Nativity, the Chapel of the Milk Grotto, the Separation Wall where you can see various murals, and Herodion Palace.
This guided tour of the West Bank also goes to other places such as Ramallah, Jericho and the Jordan River. It is a bit rushed in my opinion, but if you only have a day to explore the area, you may as well want to give it a try.
For more information, read my post “Everything You Need To Know Before You Visit Palestine.”
Hebron is another very interesting place to visit. Though you can get there by public transportation (buses leave from the main bus station in Jerusalem), you may actually want to join a tour such as this full day tour of Hebron from Jerusalem.This is an intense place to visit and having guidance will help you get a better understanding of what you are seeing and experiencing.
Read more about Hebron on my post “Why I took a Dual Narrative Tour of Hebron.”
Delicious things to do in Jerusalem
Last but definitely not least, make sure to check out the food scene of Jerusalem. This is a place where good restaurants abound and where you can try all sorts of foods. The best in my opinion remain the traditional Middle Eastern flavors (think hummus and falafel), but you may also check out some of the Kosher restaurants.
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.
The following is a list of tried and tested restaurants in Jerusalem that you are guaranteed to enjoy:
Adom, located at the First Station (Jerusalem old railway station), is a classy fusion restaurant where you can enjoy some Israeli staples as well as steaks and risotto. By the way, this is by far my favorite restaurant in town.
Machneyuda, known to be the best restaurant in the city: 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.
Modern, the restaurant adjoint to the Israeli Museum, offers truly delicious food.
Anna, an Italian style restaurant that has become one of the top ones in the city, is expensive but the sophisticated.
Tmol Shilshom, a literary café that serves kosher food in a cozy environment.
Jacko’s Street, great food in a fun environment, perfect for a party night out.
Make sure to read my posts “Tel Aviv Vegan Food Guide – The Best Vegan Restaurants In Tel Aviv“ and “A Complete Guide To Israeli Food.”
… and enjoy a good cup of coffee afterwards
Coffee here is more a ritual than a drink in Israel. The traditional one 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.
Enjoy a good Shabbat dinner
To be fair, unless you are religious experiencing a Shabbat in Jerusalem isn’t exactly the best experience and if you can I recommend heading out of town. Everything shuts as soon as Shabbat starts (only a handful of restaurants are open in town during Shabbat, one of them is Adom); public transportation stops working and you can only rely on Palestinian taxis and buses; and you may even experience Ultra Orthodox blocking cars from circulating and the police trying to keep them at bay.
If you want to have a local experience during Shabbat, you can get in touch with Betzavta and ask them to put you in touch with a local family. It’s a great way to get to know the Israeli culture from within.
Make sure to read my post “What You Need To Know About Shabbat In Jerusalem.”
Practical Information To Plan Your Trip To Jerusalem
Guided tours of Jerusalem
Guided tours are a great way to discover a city, especially if you are short on time. This applies to Jerusalem as well! Sure enough, make sure you take a full day city tour of Jerusalem which you should book in advance, so that you can make the most of your time there.
These are some of the best tours of historical Jerusalem:
Where to stay in Jerusalem
A major tourist destination such as Jerusalem is packed with good accommodation options for all budgets and all tastes.
Here are some places I recommend:
- Feingold Studio, a tiny but fully equipped and absolutely beautiful apartment that you can rent through Airbnb. It’s located in 31 Yafo Street, which is at a 10 minutes walk from the Old City, and at a 10 minutes walk from Mahane Yehuda Market, where all the action is. It’s a clean, safe haven in the city and the host is a legend.
- Inbal is located at walking distance from either modern Jerusalem and to most of Jerusalem tourist attractions. It 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. Click here for the latest rates.
- Mamilla is a state of the art hotel with fabulous interiors. Rooms are stylish, with a fantastic bathroom where the glass turns opaque with just a switch. Have I mentioned the incredible breakfast? Click here for the latest rates.
- In 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. Click here for the latest rates.
- Abraham, which is located in the city centre and close to all the coolest places to visit in Jerusalem, is a good hostel for travelers on a budget. The Abraham has both private rooms and dorms; 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. Click here for the latest rates.
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. You can reach Jerusalem either by direct bus from the airport, by private transfer (this is the most expensive way); by sherut (shared taxi) or you can opt to use the brand new direct train from the airport to Jerusalem Ytzhack Navon train station. This is the easiest, quickest and most budget friendly way, costing around $5 and taking you to the center of Jerusalem in just 20 minutes.
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.
For reliable public transportation from Ben Gurion Airport to Jerusalem, click here.
To find out more about Tel Aviv, read my post “Twenty things to do in Tel Aviv.”
Further readings about Israel
Should you be planning a trip to Israel, make sure to read my other posts:
- How to make the most of a trip to Israel
- A Guide To The Things To Do In Haifa, Israel
- 17 Unmissable Things To Do In Eilat, Israel
- The 13 Best Day Trips From Tel Aviv
- 9 Fantastic Day Trips From Jerusalem
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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