Best Things To Do in Jerusalem
Jerusalem can be divided into three sections: the Old City, West Jerusalem, and East Jerusalem. Ancient stone walls encase the Old City. You can access the grounds via seven different gateways. Within these walls, you'll find the city's most prominent attractions, including the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Outside of the Old City, you'll discover Jerusalem's thriving yet laid-back metropolis. West Jerusalem buzzes with life, with much of the action centered on Jaffa Road and Ben-Yehuda Street. Here, you'll find a variety of shops, restaurants, and bars. East Jerusalem is the hub of the city's Arab community. Not as modern as West Jerusalem, the East—especially the areas right outside the Old City's Damascus and Herod's Gates—brims with lively markets.
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Chances are that you'll spend much of your time here. The Old City is home to many of Jerusalem's most sought-after attractions, including the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and Temple Mount. Originally built by King David in 1004 B.C., the walled Old City comprises four distinct areas: the Jewish Quarter (or the Cardo), the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter. Each quarter exudes its own unique atmosphere, with religious sites, shops, and food offerings reflecting its respective heritage. Yet the Old City's winding alleyways and ancient stone plazas allow mixing and mingling among these cultures, making a very eclectic environment.
It's easy to lose yourself (both metaphorically and geographically) in the Old City, but make sure you devote some attention to its boundaries. You can access the Old City from seven entryways: the New Gate, Damascus Gate, Herod's Gate, Lions' Gate, Dung Gate, Zion Gate, and Jaffa Gate. Each doorway marks a significant era of Jerusalem's history. For example, Jaffa Gate is where the Tower of David (the city's primary defense point) can be found.
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The Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall or the Kotel, is the most significant historic site for the Jewish faith. This wall, located in the heart of the Old City, is a remnant of King Herod's renovation of the Second Temple and dates back to the first century B.C. Millions of pilgrims (Jewish and non-Jewish) make their way to the Western Wall each year to pray, writing their wishes on small pieces of paper before placing them between the cracks in the stone for God to answer. According to one TripAdvisor user, "Even if you have no faith at all, you can surely appreciate how important this spot is." The most prominent part of the wall measures 187 feet long and can be accessed via the Prayer Plaza. This famous portion is divided into two areas, one for women and one for men.
There's much more to the Western Wall than what is visible in Prayer Plaza. Another 80 feet can be seen in an archeological exposition just south of the main section, while another 1,050 feet extend deep below the city's surface. You can see this underground section by taking a guided tour of the Western Wall Tunnels, which lasts about an hour.
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Founded in 1965, the Israel Museum is the country's largest cultural institution and one of the world's leading art and archeology museums. Sprawling across 20 acres, the Israel Museum houses roughly 500,000 artifacts, from contemporary sculpture to ancient artifacts. Most visitors come for the legendary Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of 972 texts, which are believed to have been written between 150 and 70 B.C. The scrolls are displayed—along with other historic texts—in the Shrine of the Book, which sits underground and is covered by a white, domelike structure.
Many travelers say that a trip to Jerusalem without seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls is a wasted one, but don't forget the rest of the museum's galleries. As one TripAdvisor user puts it: "Everyone goes here for The Dead Sea Scrolls, but it has an impressive art collection and incredible antiquities." Thanks to a massive renovation completed in 2010, the collections now have a sleek new home.
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Temple Mount is one of the holiest sites in Jerusalem for both Jews and Muslims. Historians have associated it with Mount Moriah (where the binding of Isaac took place) and Mount Zion (where the original Jebusite fortress once stood); however, neither theory has been proven. Jews believe that this section of the Old City is the resting place of the Divine Presence on earth and the source of the dust that God used to create Adam. Meanwhile, Muslims believe that Muhammad's ascent to heaven took place at Temple Mount. Even if you're not a believer, travelers say that Temple Mount is worth visiting for its resounding historical significance. According to one TripAdvisor user, "It was so interesting to see thousands of years converge in one place. This is a do not miss experience in my opinion."
Despite its importance to both religions, Temple Mount's most notable feature is distinctly Muslim: the Dome of the Rock. Encased in this golden-topped structure is the rock where Muhammad prayed with Gabriel. It is also said to be the exact location of his ascension. You should also pay a visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place in Islam behind Mecca and Medina. Constructed in 720 A.D., Al Aqsa is described by many as one of the most beautiful mosques in the world.
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Named after the olive groves that once covered its slopes, this 2,900-foot mountain stands opposite the Old City across the Kidron Valley. For more than 3,000 years, the Mount of Olives has served as Jerusalem's primary burial ground and the final resting place of notable biblical figures, such as Zechariah and Absalom.
There are also several notable religious sites found on the hill's slopes. For example, the Dome of the Ascension contains the last footprint Jesus made on earth before he ascended into heaven, and the Garden of Gethsemane marks the location of Jesus' prayers before the crucifixion (you'll also find olive trees that are roughly 1,000 years old). But above all else, come to the Mount of Olives for the views. According to one TripAdvisor user, "You look over the Kidron Valley to Jerusalem and Temple Mount. You can imagine Jesus as he looked over Jerusalem and saw a vision of the destruction."
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Sandwiched between Agripas and Yafo streets in West Jerusalem, Mahane Yehuda offers a glimpse (and a taste) of authentic life in modern Israel. This vibrant marketplace houses vendors selling everything from aromatic spices to souvenirs. The lively atmosphere is thick with the scent of fresh falafel and the sound of more than 250 haggling merchants. Although you're sure to find the market crowded no matter when you visit, be prepared for extremely heavy crowds on Fridays, when Jerusalem residents are stocking up for the Sabbath (which is observed from Friday at sundown through Saturday night).
Mahane Yehuda is open from Sunday morning through Friday afternoon, and it's free to explore (although you'll want some cash in case you find something appetizing).
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Located about four miles from the Old City in West Jerusalem's Mount Herzl neighborhood, Yad Vashem contains the world's largest collection of information on the Holocaust. Stretching out over 45 acres, this facility is comprised of both museums and memorials. The Holocaust History Museum and the Museum of Holocaust Art display artifacts and artworks that detail the tragic events. Meanwhile, Yad Vashem's unique memorials, such as the Hall of Names and the Children's Memorial commemorate the Holocaust's victims.
Recent visitors describe Yad Vashem as very thorough and well thought-out, and they praise the facility for its beautiful and serene design. Travelers also warn that a visit to Yad Vashem can be an extremely emotional experience. According to one TripAdvisor user, "The Children's Memorial is very hard to go through, but done so well."
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Believed to stand directly above Jesus Christ's tomb, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered one of the world's holiest Christian sites. Emperor Constantine originally built the church in 326 A.D. as a Byzantine place of worship. Since its formation, the Church has been destroyed twice, first by the Persians in 614 A.D. and then by the Egyptians in 1009. Today's church is a product of 12th-century Crusaders.
Travelers describe the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as nothing short of breathtaking. While the tomb of Jesus is the church's main attraction, and you will likely encounter long lines to enter the area. Many visitors say that the wait makes the church feel commercial rather than spiritual. One TripAdvisor user writes: "Obviously for Christians this is the most holy site. [But it] was a bit distracting because of the number of pilgrims and tourists taking pictures."
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The City of David, founded more than 3,000 years ago by King David, serves as a major archeology site and a functioning residential neighborhood within the Old City. Visitors explore what remains of this ancient city (which includes what's left of the First and Second Temples), both above ground and below. Before you start your exploration, stop in at the visitor's center (located just outside the Jewish Quarter's Dung Gate), where you'll find information on City of David sites and guided tours.
For most visitors, the highlight of a City of David visit is Hezekiah's Tunnel. The tunnel was ancient Jerusalem's primary source of water, according to the Bible. Today, you can traverse this ancient waterway, an amazing feat of ancient engineering. One TripAdvisor warns, "This is pretty strenuous and can be damp, so wear proper clothing and shoes."
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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre may have a shrine, but it is widely believed that Jesus Christ was actually buried and then resurrected in the Garden Tomb. Located just a short walk from the Old City's Damascus Gate, this lush garden contains ruins said to be the sepulcher of Joseph of Arimathea. Today, recent visitors describe the garden as serene. According to one TripAdvisor user, "This wonderful place is a must see if you are looking for a spiritual experience. Very peaceful, beautiful and meaningful."
The Garden Tomb is open to visitors Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to noon, and from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is free, as are guided tours and pamphlets. For more information, visit the Garden Tomb website.
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The Tower of David Museum inhabits the medieval Tower of David. Despite its name, the Tower of David did not actually have anything to do with Kind David. While the tower's original purpose was to defend Jerusalem, it now contains an extremely comprehensive museum the details Jerusalem's history. While walking through the citadel, you'll find informative panels and miniature models depicting Jerusalem at different points of its existence.
Recent travelers praise the nighttime light show. According to one TripAdvisor user, "It tells the story of the history of the city and it is extremely well done. The setting as well, in the courtyard of the Tour of David, is beautiful to see at night."
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Flanking the northwest corner of Temple Mount lies Via Dolorosa, which translates to "way of sorrows." This passageway led Jesus from Pontius Pilate's sentencing to Golgotha, where the crucifixion is believed to have taken place. While Christian hymns depict this road as quiet and lined with olive trees, today's Via Dolorosa can oftentimes feel crowded and noisy as it brims with ancient stone buildings and souvenir shops. The street leads to many notable sites (all of which are marked) that Jesus passed, including the Praetorium, where he was sentenced, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where he is believed to have been laid to rest.
To make the most of your walk down the Via Dolorosa, recent travelers suggest wearing comfortable shoes. And according to one TripAdvisor user, it "doesn't really take too long to walk down the entire way […] but is really important to have a knowledgeable tour guide who will explain the significance of every station."
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If you're planning on spending several days to a week in Jerusalem, consider taking a day trip to the Dead Sea. Located southeast of Jerusalem, along the Israel-Jordan border, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on the surface of the earth. Recent travelers describe a swim in these waters, which are so salty that no living organism can survive in them, as otherworldly; the salt causes you to float effortlessly on the surface. Many also believe that the Dead Sea (and its mud) has healing powers. Although that hasn't been proven, both the mud and the salty water have soothing effects on skin.
While in the area, you must visit Masada, which sits about 60 miles south of Jerusalem along the southeast coast of the Dead Sea. Overlooking the sea from its cliff-side perch, this archaeological site houses the remains of a Sicarii settlement. The Sicarri was a group of Jewish radicals that defeated the Roman troop stationed in Southern Israel. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D., the Sicarii fled Jerusalem and settled at Masada, but four years later, the Romans laid siege to their city. According to legend, rather than endure defeat, the Sicarii committed a mass suicide, leaving only an empty city for the Romans to conquer. Today, you can explore what remains of this community. According to one TripAdvisor user, "The view of the Dead Sea and the surrounding mountain ranges alone makes this hike/journey worthwhile."
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