Many travellers start at Temple Mount, one of the holiest sites in the world for Jews, Christians and Muslims. The flat hilltop plaza is surrounded by a series of battlements including the Western Wall – it was originally built by King Herod around 19 BC and is the most important Jewish prayer site, welcoming thousands of visitors each year. Temple Mount also contains the dazzlingly gold-capped Dome of the Rock which dates back to 691 AD, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque – these are two of the world’s oldest surviving works of Islamic architecture. Visiting times to Temple Mount are strict and it’s best to arrive early to avoid queues. Entry inside the Dome of the Rock building is currently out of bounds for non-Muslims but the rest of the site is open to everyone.
Jerusalem’s Old City walls are marked by open gates, the most well-known being Jaffa Gate. Next to this medieval gate tower there’s a breach in the walls, created by Ottoman authorities in 1898 for German Emperor Wilhelm II to ride through, and a stone’s throw from the gate you’ll find the Tower of David. Also known as the Jerusalem Citadel, the tower is a key symbol of Jerusalem and really comes to life at night, with light shows which illuminate the stone with vibrant hues of pink and blue. There’s also a museum which provides an excellent insight into the city’s history. Walk the Via Dolorosa, the Christian pilgrimage route commemorating Christ’s journey carrying the cross, with 14 stations along the way; you’ll start near the Convent of Ecce Homo in the Muslim Quarter and end at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter, the place where Christians believe Christ was crucified and buried and just steps from Jaffa Gate. David Citadel is in a great location just 15 minutes’ walk from the heart of the Old City, with views overlooking its walls.
Jerusalem is a surprisingly green city, with a number of pretty parks. Stop off at Teddy Park – named after Teddy Kollek, Mayor of Jerusalem from 1965 to 1995 – and see the splash fountain which flows in sync with music every 30 minutes. Drive 25 minutes out of the Old City to Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to victims of The Holocaust established in 1953 – this is the country's second most visited tourist site behind the Western Wall and a poignant reminder of a very dark period of history. Explore Mahane Yehuda Market (known locally as ‘The Shuk’), one of the most famous markets in Israel home to over 250 vendors selling fresh fruit and veg, fish, meat, cheeses, baked goods, spices, spirits, clothing and much more. It gets particularly busy on Friday mornings as locals flood in to stock up for Shabbat, and as the stalls close at the end of the day you can head to the local bars for your fill of tapas, Israeli beers and live music.
Art & culture
Mamilla is one of the best neighbourhoods in Jerusalem, established in the 19th Century and full of rich heritage – it was the site of a water reservoir built by King Herod in the 1st Century BC and one of the earliest commercial districts during the Ottoman Empire. The district is just 10 minutes’ walk west of Jaffa Gate, on the doorstep of the Old City and home to the Alrov Mamilla Avenue (Mamilla Mall), an upscale shopping centre and the only open-air mall in the city where you can browse 140 shops, restaurants and cafés surrounded by immaculate Jerusalem stone. The chic Mamilla Hotel is close to the mall and overlooks key sites including the Tower of David.
A 30-minute walk south of the Old City is the German Colony, a charming neighbourhood established by German settlers back in 1868 and known for its striking Templar-style architecture. Not far from here you’ll find The First Station, the site of Jerusalem’s first train station which has been renovated into an entertainment hub peppered with shops, markets and restaurants. And if you’re keen to explore some of the city’s museums then there are over 60 to choose from – we recommend visiting the Israel Museum, the country’s largest cultural institution which showcases the legendary Dead Sea Scrolls.
Food & drink
Food in Jerusalem is massively diverse thanks to the blend of nationalities living there – apart from Israelis, you’ll find people from places including Greece, Georgia and Ethiopia. Streets have stalls and markets filled with everything from breads, falafel and hummus to salads and stews. Popular ingredients include fresh cucumber and tomato, dried fruit and nuts such as figs, apricots and walnuts, spiced beef and beans. We recommend trying kubbeh, a popular Middle Eastern dish made from ground lamb, beef or goat with spices and served as balls or in soup as dumplings, and the sweet treat babka – unlike the traditional Eastern European version, the Jewish one is a twisted yeast cake filled with cinnamon and/or chocolate.
Kosher food is prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary law, and does not include pork, rabbit, certain birds, shellfish, or meat and dairy together. Mehadrin refers to the strictest level of kosher supervision. Food stands and restaurants (including in hotels) are obliged to display certificates proving that their food meets required standards. Most hotels have a good range of dairy and meat or fish options – if you’re vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free then these options can often be ordered in advance.
Shabbat is Judaism’s seventh day of the week and day of rest. As Jerusalem is one of the holiest places in the world, Shabbat is observed more stringently here than in other parts of Israel. From a few minutes before Friday sundown to an hour or so after Saturday sunset, businesses, shops and most restaurants close, while public transport including buses and the light rail don’t run at all during this time – some taxis continue to operate as normal though, and the city is very walkable anyway. Shabbat closing times vary throughout the year according to the sunset, which can affect restaurant times – eating in the western part of the city can be tricky but some non-kosher restaurants are available. Certain museums such as Yad Vashem close, others including the Israel Museum remain open. At the end of Shabbat on Saturday evening (Motzei Shabbat), services tend to restart almost instantly. The lack of traffic and less hustle than usual during Shabbat makes it a handy time to explore Jerusalem – the Old City is open as normal and it’s fascinating to see religious Jews flocking to the Western Wall on Friday evening (just be sure to wear modest clothing and switch off your phone).