Jerusalem is an ancient city that has an incredibly rich and fascinating past due to its renown as being one of the holiest sites for Islam, Judaism and Christianity, drawing countless numbers of religious pilgrims from each of the religions to the city every year.
The Old City dates back to more than 3,000 years and the original city walls were built in 1538 by Suileman the Magnificent. The most important sites for the three religions include the Temple Mount, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall, to name but a few. Jerusalem is actually home to over 2,000 archaeological sites., it also boasts over 60 museums and 70 cultural centres and history buffs and religious pilgrims will not be disappointed.
There is also more on offer than just religious tourism. The lively atmosphere of the city, great food and culture means that there is something for everyone! The city streets are bustling with tourists and locals, venders selling handcrafted articles and spices as well souvenirs, there is always a vibrant atmosphere in the Old City.
Though the Old City is less than 1 kilometre squared, the whole of Jerusalem was once contained within the city walls until 1860, when the city expanded beyond the walls and into surrounding areas.
Jerusalem is divided into four quarters: the Christian Quarter, The Jewish Quarter, The Muslim Quarter and the Armenian Quarter. Each Quarter is distinct from the others with its own culture, language and religion.
Here is our ultimate guide to Jerusalem where you will discover the best that Jerusalem has to offer and how to make the most of your stay there.
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How to get to Jerusalem
There are three ways to get to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, the main Airport in Israel: bus, tour and train.
Buses from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem leave from Arlozorov Terminal, near the Tel Aviv Savidor Mercaz train station. Arozorov Terminal is NOT in the central bus station and there are direct buses to Jerusalem Central Bus Station, prices for one-way tickets start at NIS 18 and take between 45 minutes to one hour.
To return you can take a bus from Tachana Mercazit, by the Bridge of Strings landmark. This is Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station and there are regular direct buses to Tel Aviv.
Alternatively, there are tours from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which is a convenient and organized way to spend a day in Jerusalem.
To travel by train you must go to the Tel Aviv Savidor Mercaz train station. Get off at the final stops such as Malcha Mall where you can find a taxi or bus to other areas of Jerusalem. Trains take around two hours to get to Jerusalem and cost around NIS 23 each way.
Private and shared taxis are also available for this journey but are significantly more expensive. If you want to spend a day or two in Jerusalem it is advisable to leave your luggage in one of the luggage lockers around Tel Aviv to save you lugging your suitcases around the city.
What to expect in Jerusalem
Jerusalem is one of the most historically significant cities in the world, attracting over 3.5 million visitors every year. Though crowds are denser between March and August, expect to find crowds all year round.
Due to decades of tourism, most people speak English and you will have no trouble communicating in the Old City. The official language of Israel is Hebrew but Arabic is also spoken in the Arabic Quarter and Armenian is spoken in the Armenian Quarter. In some of the Haredi neighbourhoods, you will hear Yiddish spoken as well.
Though the Israel-Gaza conflict is a very real concern, tourists have little to fear of violence whilst visiting Jerusalem. Jerusalem is one of the safest cities in the Middle East due to numerous security checkpoints and patrolling armed guards, this makes it necessary to carry some form of ID with you whilst you are out and about.
One thing that shocks tourists upon their arrival is the brusque behaviour of the locals, this behaviour is very normal. Also as Israelis are passionate people, they become animated when speaking and raise their voices to emphasize their passion for the subject. It is also common for locals to ask tourists nosy questions, out of interest about their lives in other countries and should not be taken in offense.
The currency is the Israeli Shekel, and you should budget to spend around 280 shekels per day per person to include all accommodation, food and expenses. A hotel or accommodation will set you back around 155 shekels per day, food around 91 shekels. With regards to tipping, in restaurants and cafes 10 – 15% is expected, with 10% being the minimum for tipping.
Electricity in Israel is a standard 230 V with a 50 Hz frequency, which makes it suitable for most countries, the UK, European countries, Australia and Asia.
How to get around Jerusalem
Jerusalem is an ideal city for walking around, as it is actually quite small, and you can spend hours getting lost in the ancient alleys and winding streets of the city, discovering charismatic neighbourhoods in an intimate way, whilst experiencing all the sights and sounds of the city.
Sometimes you may need to save your tired feet and there are several options for public transportation. There is a light rail network, buses and taxis.
The light rail network offers frequent trains around the city, running every 8 to 14 minutes and can be used with the Rav Kav card. This is a wise purchase for budget travellers and can be purchased at the Central Bus Station, or from Egged bus drivers and topped up as a multi-use transport card. It can be recharged on buses and also at all ticket booths of light rail and train stations.
The Rav Kav card can also be used on public buses that are another efficient method of getting around. Bus 99 is the tourist bus that leaves four times daily from Safra Square on Jaffa Road and stops at all 29 major tourists sites around the city. It costs around NIS 80 and takes two hours.
Finally, you can also hire private metred taxis, though there are additional night and Shabbat charges. It is also possible to negotiate the price with the driver before entering the taxi. The cost of an average daytime journey should not cost more than NIS 40 but costs increase after 9pm.
The best time to visit Jerusalem
Jerusalem is busy all year round but the weather is mildest between April through to May and then from October to November. These are also the least busy times to travel there and crowds tend to be thinner. Always make sure you check the dates of the main Jewish holidays such as Passover, Sukkot or High Holy Days to avoid the worst of the crowds. At these times of the year, prices soar and it can get very expensive.
Summer is usually the most popular time for tourists and it’s best to avoid this time if you want to steer clear of massive queues, overcrowded sites and sweltering temperatures.
Where to stay in Jerusalem
Jerusalem is quite a pricey place to stay due to high demand for hotels. An average hotel room costs around €130 per night. There are a few recommended hotels just under €100 per night. Here are a few for the budget conscious traveller.
Agripas Boutique Hotel – This centrally located hotel is a great base to explore Jerusalem. It is slightly run down but the rooms are clean and quiet and the hotel is within easy walking distance of the Mahane Yehuda market, Orthodox district and Sakher gardens. Rooms start from €87 per night.
Korazin Hotel – Situated only 4 minutes walk from the heart of Jerusalem, this hotel is only a minute away from the Mahane Yehuda Market and a short stroll to the Western Wall. All rooms have air conditioning and some rooms even include a balcony. The hotel is widely praised for service and hospitality, but book early, as it’s a popular choice! Prices start from €98 per night.
Mike’s House – Great apartments just 5 km from the Western Wall, with a garden, terrace and 24 hour reception and free Wi-Fi. The rooms are air-conditioned and some rooms even have a balcony or patio with garden views. There is even a business centre on site for those who need to work while they are away. The staff are knowledgeable and hospitable. This highly recommended hotel is a great budget choice for travellers to the Old City. Prices start at €83 for a double room.
Abraham Hostel Jerusalem – If you’re on a really tight budget you can always opt for a hostel. The Abraham Hostel Jerusalem is situated in Davidka Square, a short stroll to the Mahne Yehuda Market. All rooms and dormitories have free Wi-Fi and air conditioning. The hostel has a nice vibe and is situated just in front of the tram and bus stop which makes it incredibly convenient for getting around. If you choose to walk the Old City is only 20 minutes on foot. A continental breakfast is included at the Abraham Hostel, and there is a communal kitchen available. Prices start at €29 for a bed in a 10-bed dormitory.
Things to Do in Jerusalem
Discover underground passageways
On the outskirts of the old city you take an underground tour that will lead you through narrow passageways from the days of the Second Temple. There are more underground tunnels at the Western Wall to explore, When the Western Wall was constructed, half of the original height of the retaining wall was built underground in order to support it and an estimated 10,000 laborers were said to have carried out the task of excavating the underground tunnels around the walls.
The Israeli Ministry of Religion excavated the entire length of the wall in 1967. It was discovered that when Jerusalem was taken over by Muslims in the time of the Crusades, Jews prayed in the tunnels by Warren’s Gate, being the closest point to the Holy of Holies of the temple. Today the tunnels are open to the public and you can even find paper prayers slotted into the cracks in the walls underground, a reminder of when Jews once prayed there.
Walk along the City Walls
You can also walk the historic walls of the city. The Walls are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Ramparts Walk is a short 1 km walk, which offers some spectacular and breath-taking views of the city is highly recommended.
Visit the Mahane Yehuda Market
Here you can haggle and shop to your hearts content, uncovering special treasures with the wafting aroma of black coffee and mint tea from nearby cafes. This market is a must visit and is also the place where you can observe locals shopping for their groceries and also make sure you sample the bread, cakes and halva on sale. Mahane Yehuda Market is now one of the coolest places to go at night. The shutters of all the stalls are decorated with over 150 paintings of historical and modern figures of Jerusalem, night-time transforms the market into an open air art gallery.
Catch some live music
Visit the live music quarter on Yoel Moshe Salomon Street. Here you can find live music and performances and discover the vibrant music scene of the Old City.
Eat Hummus is in Abu Gosh
Visit Abu Gosh village to try what is renowned as the best hummus in Israel. It’s hard to know which restaurant is best as they all claim that they have the most authentic and delicious hummus in town!
Go to the Zoo
It may sound strange to go to a zoo, but the Tisch Family Zoological Park, also known as the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo is a fascinating place to visit. The park has 62 acres of land and is dedicated to bringing the animals of the Bible to the public as well as focusing on conservation of endangered species. It holds more than 140 different species of animals that have also revived some near extinct species of animals in an attempt to repopulate their numbers.
What to eat in Jerusalem
Food in Israel is excellent and there is something to suit any budget. If you want to save money you can always take advantage of business lunches offered by many restaurants that include two courses and a drink with a fixed price.
Street food is exceptional and cheap and you can fill up on falafel, hummus, shawarma and bagels. Israeli salad is a delicious healthy meal and there are so many incredible options that will suit the most budget conscious.
For great Hummus and a hipster vibe, check out Hummus Shel Tahini, Jerusalem Nissim Bachar 23. Alternatively for more authentic style hummus you can visit Akramawi, Nevi’im 2 in the Old City.
The sweets you can buy from street stalls are excellent too but incredibly sweet; these include halva, baklava, Kanafeh (a Middle Eastern cheese pastry soaked in syrup). One of the best places to indulge in sweets is Ja’afar Sweets, in Khan Al-Zeit Street.
Places to visit in Jerusalem
This memorial site is dedicated to the millions of Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust. The purpose it to ensure that future generations can learn about this tragedy and is visited by over 800,000 people every year. Entrance is free.
Learn about Israel in the Israel Museums
This is one of the best museums about Israeli culture in the world, with artifacts and art, historical relics and more. The Shrine of the Book and the Second Temple model are unmissable.
Check out spectacular vistas at the Mount of Olives
In the Eastern side of the city you can check out panoramic views of the Old City. This site is part of the holy pilgrimage for many Christians and Jews as it served as a burial site in Jerusalem for 3,000 years and has over 150,000 graves.
Leave a prayer at the Wailing Wall
The Western wall is also known as the Wailing Wall and you should not leave Jerusalem without seeing it. The wall evokes raw emotion and you can see many people slipping tiny slips of paper with written prayers in the cracks of the wall. You can even explore the underground passageways or walk along the ramparts. Note – women are not allowed in this area, you can only view from afar.
Experience ancient history in the City of David
This is the largest collection of archaeological and historic wonders of Jerusalem and a guided tour is highly recommended. You will feel as if you are walking through history. You can also visit the Tower of David Museum and visit the Kishle, a military compound established in 1834, which was later, used as a police station and prison. Archaeologists have found relics and findings from almost every period of the city’s history and a visit will transport you to another time.
You can visit Hezekiah’s Tunnel is a water tunnel under the City of David that was built to deliver water from Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam. It was constructed in the 8th century BC. You can enter the tunnels, however, the wet route means that you will be wading in pitch-blackness and knee deep in water! A flashlight, water shoes and a change of trousers are highly recommended! There is also a dry route, which is the more comfortable option so make sure you know which route you’re on before you get wet!
The Dome of the Rock
In the Muslim Quarter you will find the Dome of the Rock, which is of deep religious significance to Muslims as the home of the Foundation Stone. They believe that Muhammad ascended to heaven accompanied by Gabriel, in this very spot. There is also another important site for Christians is called the Monastery of the Flagellation, where legend tells that this was where Christ was flogged by Roman soldiers before his crucifixion and is the first of the 14 Stations of the Cross.
Visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
This important landmark in the Christian Quarter is a major pilgrimage site for Christians but is also fascinating for non-religious visitors. The church was said to have been built on the site of Christ’s crucifixion and is said to contain a slab of rock where his body was laid to rest. Having a guided tour is recommended so that you can get much more out of your visit and learn about the history and importance of this site. From here you can take a stroll down Via Delarosa, the path the Jesus walked just before his crucifixion.
Tours to do in Jerusalem
Sandemans offers a free walking tour of the city will take you around the historic sites and an experienced guide will provide you with a better understanding of the history and significance of these sites. Remember to tip the guide at the end!
Take a three-hour excursion into the senses and savour the best that the market has to offer with an experienced local guide. Learn about the hottest foodie places to visit.
This cooking course will take you on a private culinary tour of the Mahan Yehuda market and Nachlaot neighbourhood. You will buy ingredients and learn to cook some local dishes, the perfect souvenir so you can replicate the delicious dishes at home.
Day trips from Jerusalem
A full day tour to see the desert fortress of Masada by cable car, here you can visit the ruins and remains of palaces, a synagogue and Roman Baths. This tour will also take you to the Israeli coast where you can float in the famous Dead Sea.
Discover some of the holiest sights in Israel with a full-day excursion from Jerusalem. In 12 hours you can visit Nazareth and see St. Joseph’s Church as well as the Church of the Annunciation. From there the tour takes you to view the Mount of Beatitudes and the Church of the Multiplication of loaves and fishes. This is followed by a visit to the Sea of Galilee and the ruins of the Capernaum synagogue.
The visit will also take you to Tiberias and the Jordan River, where you can participate in a baptismal service.
This trip takes you along the Mediterranean coast, stopping to explore ancient Roman ruins and the Baha’i Gardens; you will also visit limestone grottos, and take in the sights and smells of a local market.
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Recommend budget tours in Jerusalem
- Masada and the Dead Sea Day Trip from Jerusalem
- Jerusalem Three Religions Holy City Walking Tour
- 2-Day Petra and Jordan Tour from Jerusalem
- Guided Tour of Jerusalem: The Biblical City of David
- Underground Tour: From the City of David to the Western Wall
- Jerusalem Private Guide Half Day Tour
- Beyond the Walls of Jerusalem Walking Tour Including Market Visit and Food Tastings
- 8-Night Israel, Jordan and Egypt Tour from Tel Aviv
- Mahane Yehuda Market Tasting Tour
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