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. If you happen to visit, however, you will notice 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’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 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.
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 been found to enjoy the most famous attractions.
A month won’t be enough to discover all that Jerusalem has to offer – but you may as well try. 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.
29 Incredible Things To Do In Jerusalem
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 you should go to Jerusalem and not hit them all.
So, below is my pick on the things to do in Jerusalem that you can’t miss. And, if you are a little bit like me and love getting lost in a new city, you will be pleased to know that Jerusalem is perfect for that!
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?
Now, without any further ado, let me tell you what the unmissable things to do in Jerusalem are.
Go on a guided tour 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:
- Jerusalem Holy City tour
- Full day Jerusalem and Church of the Holy Sepulcher tour
- Jerusalem City Morning Tour & Tower of David
- Full day city tour of Jerusalem
- City of David and Underground Jerusalem Day Tour
- Jerusalem City Pass: Skip The Line Museum Entry
- Mount of Olives tour
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Here are some great tours that go to the tunnels of David:
- Ancient Jerusalem: City of David Tour
- City of David & Underground Jerusalem Day Tour
- From City of David to the Western Wall
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.
You can also take the tourist train which has recently been activated between Dung Gate and Jaffa Gate. It is a short but nice ride.
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 non-religious persons 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.
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 didn’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 (Mount Golgotha), 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.
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.
For some more biblical-themed tours in Jerusalem, try these:
Walk around 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.
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.
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.
Temple Mount is included in most tours of Jerusalem, like these ones:
Remember the atrocities of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem
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. 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. Factor in at least 3 hours to go through the whole exhibit – and that is if you go fast!
For tours of Yad Vashem, try these:
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.
Get a spectacular view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives
You really can’t miss a tour of the 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.
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.
Take in the views from the Austrian Hospice
Another of Jerusalem’s best kept secrets is the beautiful views from the Austrian Hospice. This is located along the via Dolorosa. It’s a former hostel – supposedly the oldest guest house in the city. You can walk up a terrace, where you will be asked to pay just 5 NIS (Israeli Shekel) to enjoy some beautiful views.
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 you may want to go on a guided tour. You can book it here.
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 are various churches to visit in Ein Kerem, but my favorite is that of St John the Baptist.
However, what you will really appreciate in Ein Kerem is 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.
Shop at Mahane Yehuda Market…
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.
Here are some fun tours of Mahane Yehuda:
- 2-Hour Self-Guided Tour App
- Open-Group Market Tour
- Mahane Yehuda Market Bite Card
- Market Tasting Tour
- Self-Guided Nightlife and Food Tour
- Veggie Self-Guided Tour
… and then look for souvenirs at the Old City Suq
If you are looking for souvenirs, head straight to the Old City Suq. 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!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Anna, an Italian style restaurant that has become one of the top ones in the city.
- 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. Having coffee is definitely one of the things to do in Jerusalem to have a break from all the sightseeing!
Explore Jerusalem by segway
It may take you a few tries to be able to stand and move on a segway, but once you get the hang of it, you will definitely enjoy it. You can go on tours that typically start at Jaffa Gate, then zip along King David Street, pass the YMCA and other beautiful buildings. You will then make your way through the picturesque neighborhoods of Mishkenot Sah’ananim and Yemin Moshe and finally arrive to the viewpoint of Moshe Montefiore Windmill, from where you can enjoy another breathtaking view of the city. Doing a segway tour is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem.
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.
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.
Participate in a Scavenger Hunt
A Scavenger Hunt is one of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem to get to know it from a different perspective. It is a nice way to discover more about the history of the city and to explore some of its hidden gems.
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.
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. Make sure to go at night to enjoy the incredible young scene, eat a meal at reasonable prices and enjoy a drink. There even is an organized pub crawl of Jerusalem: can it get any better than that?
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!
Do a guided food tour
Food tours 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 you get to walk around a city and enjoy some good sightseeing. Doing a food tour is one of the coolest things to do in Jerusalem. Make sure to go on a food tour of Jerusalem.
These are some of the best food tours of Jerusalem:
- 3 hour self guided food tour app
- Tastes of the Old Town with breakfast
- 2-Hour Self-Guided Vegetarian Food Tour
- 3-Hour Night and City Food Tour
- Hummus Workshop and Dinner
Enjoy a good Shabbat dinner
To be fair, unless you are religious experiencing a Shabbat in Jerusalem isn’t exactly the best experience. 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.
Pet all the cats
If you love cats, you’ll be pleased to know that Jerusalem is packed with cats that roam around freely. They are in the streets, near homes, by archeological sites, at the market… Lots of local organizations take care of them and you may even get in touch with them to support them.
Get out of the city
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:
- Masada at sunrise, Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea
- Masada and Dead Sea full day tour
- Full day tour of Hebron from Jerusalem
- Half day tour of Bethlehem from Jerusalem
- Best of the West Bank full day tour from Jerusalem
- Nazareth, Tiberias and Sea of Galilee tour 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, 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.
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.
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.
The tour finishes with a visit the Dead Sea, where the water 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.
Read more about Hebron on my post “Why I took a Dual Narrative Tour of Hebron.”
Make sure to also read my post “Everything You Need To Know Before You Visit Palestine.”
Practical Information To Plan Your Trip To 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.
My top choice is 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.
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.
If staying in a boutique hotel is your choice, 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.
Last but not least, if you are traveling on a tighter budget you 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:
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.”
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.
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
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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