Considered the holiest city in the world, Jerusalem has been fought over for millennia and remains a highly spiritual place. Sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims for different reasons, it is somewhat ironic that the city is also the place where the father of all three religions (Abraham) almost sacrificed his son before God intervened.
Regardless of whether you are religious, no Israel itinerary would be complete without a trip to Jerusalem. A city of tradition, religion, and history, but also, increasingly, of modern culture and heritage, it is a city with so much to offer that you could spend years here and still not see everything.
Here are 12 fantastic things to do in Jerusalem to explore the incredible history and diversity of this holy city.
Things to do in Jerusalem
Wander Jerusalem’s Old Town
The Old Town is a walled city in the centre of Jerusalem stretching for a kilometre and filled with incredible and intense history, sights and atmosphere. The Old City is divided into four areas, the Jewish Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, the Christian Quarter and the Muslim Quarter, each with its own unique sights and atmosphere. The one thing you’ll find in each quarter is unassuming locals simply going about their day amongst the wide-eyed tourists exploring the city.
Take time to explore each quarter (beyond the main sights), such as visiting the fantastic shopping in the souqs in the Muslim Quarter, wander the narrow streets framing Ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods in the Jewish Quarter, and soak up the calm atmosphere of the Armenian Quarter.
Walk the Via Dolorosa
By Chris of Amateur Traveler
Walking the Via Dolorosa (the “Sorrowful Way”) can be particularly meaningful to Christians as this is the route through the old city that Jesus walked on the way to the cross. It starts at the Lion’s Gate and continues on to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Along the way there are 14 stations of the cross that Roman Catholics will be particularly familiar with. You will commonly see religious groups or individual pilgrims walking this route. You can also exit the old city from the Lion’s Gate to access the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane which is marked with a beautiful modern church.
Even if you are not religious this can be one of the more interesting walks in Jerusalem. It will take you through the Muslim quarter of the city. This is not just a historic city but the current city of residence for people. For instance, the first station of the cross marks where Jesus was scourged at the old Roman Praetorium but it is now the site of the Umariya Elementary School. Peak into the side streets and alleys and stop in the shops. Some of them are definitely selling souvenirs to pilgrims but look around for the shops that are just for locals. In some ways this corner of the city feels the least changed by time.
Church of Holy Sepulchre
By Karolina of Lazy Travel Blog
One of the best things to do in Jerusalem is paying a visit to arguably the most sacred places on earth, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which encloses the site where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and buried. Easy to guess, it’s on the top of the list of holy places of Christianity in Israel. Jesus has greatly influenced the belief system and values of today’s modern world. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre itself has a fascinating history that adds to its value as a tourist attraction.
Once an abandoned stone quarry outside the city wall known as Golgotha, “the place of the skull,” a wall was built to enclose this site 10 years after the death of Jesus. When the Roman emperor, Constantine I, converted to Christianity, the nearby temple of Venus was demolished to make way for a church, marking Rome’s transition from paganism to Christianity. It was also during this process that they discovered the burial ground of Jesus.
Built over the holy sites mentioned in the Bible’s New Testament, 3.5 million pilgrims flock to this location each year to walk up the stairway that leads up to Calvary (then known as Golgotha), the area of the church with the most extravagant decor. Divided into two parts, Greek Orthodox and Catholic, it is in the Greek Orthodox section of the chapel that you will find a special hole that allows visitors to touch the rock of Calvary. Other places of interest are the modern mosaic wall depicting the anointing of Jesus’s body and the Aedicule, a small chapel which houses Angel’s Stone which is believed to be a fragment of the stone that sealed Jesus’s tomb.
Like all of the best things in life, the entrance to the church is free and it is open to people of all religions and cultures. Everyone is, however, advised to dress modestly when entering the church. Open from 05:00 to 21:00 from April to September and 04:00-19:00 from October to March, the Church of Sepulchre can be visited without joining a tour as it is easily accessible via public transport or taxi from Jerusalem. A guided tour, however, will allow you to appreciate the noteworthy details that can make the trip more interesting.
Visit Temple Mount & Dome of the Rock
The Temple Mount is one of the most sacred sites in Judaism, Christianity and Islam and has been a source of religious conflict for centuries. The mount is actually a hill in the centre of Jerusalem Old Town, home to the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.
From the Western Wall Plaza cross the wooden Mughrabi Bridge and head through the Mughrabi (or Morrocan) Gate. It is from here that you will get your first stunning glimpse of the shining Dome of the Rock.
Like much of Israel and Palestine, sections of the Temple Mount are divided into Muslim and non-Muslim areas. Non-Muslims are only permitted to access the area during certain times of day, and may not enter the interior of the Dome of the Rock Mosque. That’s alright though, as the outside of the building is still incredibly beautiful.
Security lines can take some time, so be sure to get there early. It’s also important to dress modestly, not carry any religious artefacts and to carry a passport or you won’t be allowed in the complex.
Write a Prayer at the Western Wall
By Derek of Robe Trotting
One of the most important things anyone can do in Jerusalem is to visit the Western Wall and insert a written prayer into the cracks. Standing before the enormous wall is surreal. When you enter the holy space, you immediately feel the importance of the site. The Western Wall is the holiest place in the world where Jews can pray. Therefore, it’s of huge significance and plays an important role in history and religion. The massive limestone blocks that comprise the wall were constructed under the order of King Herod over 2000 years ago.
Visitors in the modern era spend time in quiet reflection and insert a written prayer card between the stones. When you visit the site, men and women visit divided and separate sections of the wall. Nearby, there are stations where you can get all you need to write a prayer note. When the cracks between the stones in the wall become filled with prayer cards, they are collected and buried in the Jewish Cemetery. The reason for this is because, in Judaism, it’s forbidden to destroy the word ‘God’ in written form.
When visiting the site, it’s important to dress modestly. Men should wear long pants and women should cover their shoulders, chest, and arms. All tours of Jerusalem should include some time to visit, reflect and pray at the Western Wall.
Visit the Western Wall on Shabbat
By Dani of Diapers in Paradise
The Western Wall in Jerusalem is one of the world’s most iconic holy sites, known as a solemn and quiet place for prayers and remembrance. That is, unless you visit at the start of Shabbat, when the Western Wall becomes a giant, festive celebration each week!
Shabbat, the day of rest, begins for Orthodox Jews at sundown on Friday evening and lasts until sundown on Saturday. During this time of rest, observant Jews refrain from working and a number of other activities – including driving, operating machinery, and much more. It is a time for being with your family, for feasting, and for centering oneself on what really matters in life.
Shabbat is welcomed at the Western Wall with throngs of people singing, dancing, and having a lot of fun! Massive circles of young women and men suddenly form out of nowhere, seemingly trying to out-do each other as they all sing together and engage in a chaotic but very fun group dance.
An important thing to note is that Orthodox Jews do not use technology during Shabbat, and it in fact goes against their beliefs to have their photo (or video) taken during Shabbat. There is plenty to see and photograph before the sun officially goes down, but please put away the camera once Shabbat officially begins.
Visiting the Western Wall at the start of Shabbat was the highlight of our time in Jerusalem with kids.
The Tower of David
By Wendy of The Nomadic Vegan
The Tower of David is one of Jerusalem’s most iconic landmarks and is also known as the Jerusalem Citadel. This is probably a more appropriate name, as the tower doesn’t actually have any connection with King David, even though his life is showcased in the light show that takes place here at night, called the King David Show. It was Byzantine Christians who dubbed this place the Tower of David around the 5th century AD, believing it to be his palace. The citadel structure that’s visible today was built later, during the Mamluk and Ottoman periods, although underneath this are the remains of much older fortifications.
It now serves as a museum covering 4,000 years of Jerusalem’s history, from its founding as a Canaanite city to the present time. There’s a lot of information to take in, but it’s very well presented using videos, holograms and other multimedia. This is a great place to visit when you first arrive in Jerusalem, as it will help you make sense of the city’s complex history.
You can climb up on the ramparts for fantastic views of the old city. Admission to the museum costs 40 NIS for adults, or 80 NIS when combined with the light show. You can get a 5% discount by buying your tickets in advance online. The Tower of David is located near Jaffa Gate, on the western side of Old Jerusalem. It’s in a very central location, with plenty of accommodation nearby, as well as restaurants serving up delicious Middle Eastern food.
By Claudia of My Adventures Across The World
If you only decide to visit one museum during your trip to Israel, it has to be Yad Vashem. Known as The Holocaust Museum, this excellent museum is located in Jerusalem (though not in the city center) and it is open every day from 8:30 am – please note that the museum closes at 2:00 pm on Fridays and national holidays. There is no entrance fee, and you can rent an audio-guide for 30 Israeli Shekels ($8.60 USD).
This is a very large museum, and it will take you around 4 hours to visit the entire exhibition. If you decide to use the audio-guide, the visit will take even longer.
Yad Vashem tends to be crowded with school groups and guided visits from all over the world, so you have to dodge the crowds a bit. This however will not distract you from the excellent exhibition and from the overall learning experience.
The exhibit consists of a series of documents, photographs, and even clothing and visual materials that help reconstruct the story of the Holocaust. It is a way of learning more about the creation of Israel, as well as World War II.
Photos aren’t allowed inside.
To get to Yad Vashem from the center of Jerusalem, hop on the light rail towards Har Herzl. You have to get off at Har Herzl, which is the last stop. From there, it’s a 10 minute walk to the museum – you will see signs pointing to it.
Walk the Mount of Olives
By Albína of Ginger Around the Globe
The Mount of Olives lies east of Jerusalem’s Old City gate to the Old city. It is a place where you can see all of the Old Told city in its beauty, including fantastic views of the Dome of the Rock. Like much of Jerusalem the Mount of Olives is religiously significant and is frequently mentioned in the New Testament. Most notably it was the Garden of Gethsemane on the mountain where Jesus was arrested after the Last Supper.
Nowadays it is used mainly as a viewpoint for Jerusalem. You can go there directly from the center of Old Jerusalem, which is a nice walk but it can get a bit steep. I would also recommend going there during sunset because seeing sun setting over Jerusalem is just an awesome experience. One of the reasons why go there during the sunset is also the fact that in the evening it is not as hot as it would be during the day. But remember to take a jacket with you as it can get cold in the evening and it is a long walk back to the hotel if you are freezing.
Another important thing to notice here is the Jewish cemetery that you’ll see on your way up. It is used as a cemetery for about 3,000 years, making it one of the oldest cemetery that is still in use.
Explore Mahane Yehuda Market
Known locally as ‘the Shuk’, Mahane Yehuda market is the largest market in Jerusalem and one of the most famous in the Middle East. Existing as a marketplace since the Ottoman era, Mahane Yehuda today is a cultural, shopping and nightlife centre for locals and tourists alike in Jerusalem.
Wander the streets and narrow alleyways between Aggripas and Jaffa Streets taking in the myriad of sights, sounds and smells that punctuate the market. During the day the market is packed with local produce, butchers stalls, sweets and flowers, while at night it transforms into a nightlife oasis with busy restaurants and bars.
To experience the full atmosphere, join the groups enjoying the bars and restaurants on Thursday night (the start of the weekend), or if you’re really game (and don’t like personal space) head to the market on Friday and join the throngs of locals stocking their baskets before Shabbat.
Have a Drink at Gatsby Cocktail Room
By Claudia of My Adventures Across The World
One of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem is having a fun night out, and few places can beat Gatsby Cocktail Room for a fun night out. This retro cocktail bar is located in Hillel St 18, in the center of town, minutes away from Yaffo Street. It’s a bit hidden, so you really have to look carefully to find it. It’s better to make reservations, as it tends to get packed and you may be turned away if you have not reserved a table. Tables are usually reserved for up to two hours slots.
The ambience is easy going yet very stylish. There is a fantastic bar and tables where you can sit. The cocktails served have all been invented there. Many of them are based on rum, but you can also get gin and vodka cocktails if you prefer something less sweet.
It is expensive – expect to pay up to $15 USD for a cocktail. But the prices are more or less in line with those of Jerusalem. You can also have a bite – either a snack or a proper meal, though this isn’t a restaurant proper.
Make sure to look out for live music for an extra fun night!
Eat Amazing Vegetarian Food at Jachnun Bar
Located in Hillel street (near Gatsby Cocktail Room) and in the Mahane Yehuda market, there’s no excuse not to try the incredible street food at Jachnun Bar. A favourite for tourists and locals alike, the prices are incredibly affordable (for Israel), costing around 20-25 ILS ($5-7) for a meal, and the food is absolutely delicious! We actually ate here every day we were in Jerusalem.
The absolute highlight was the delicious Malawach wraps, comprised of traditional Yemeni Jewish flatbread wraps piled high with fresh vegetables and a range of sauces. Though the Israeli shakshuka was also fantastic!
You’ll get dinner and a show eating at Jachnun, as the friendly and dextrous staff laugh and joke with you while flipping your fresh-cooked bread around their frypans.
Try it once and you’ll be back for sure!
Hopefully these fun things to do in Jerusalem have inspired your next trip! For more Israel inspiration check out these helpful guides:
- The Perfect One Week Israel Itinerary
- Why Hebron Should be on your Israel Itinerary
- Essential Tips for a Visit to the Dead Sea