Jerusalem is a city with a rich and complex history, making it a top destination for travelers from around the world. From its ancient landmarks and holy sites to its vibrant culture and delicious cuisine, there’s something for everyone in Jerusalem. If you’re planning a trip to this captivating city, here are some tips to help you make the most of your Jerusalem vacation. But first, why visit? What motivates people to go to Jerusalem?
Reasons to plan a Jerusalem Vacation
There are many reasons to book a Jerusalem vacation, here are just a few of them:
- Religious significance: Jerusalem is a city of great religious significance for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and is home to a number of important religious sites, including the Western Wall (also known as the Wailing Wall), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Dome of the Rock.
- Cultural richness: Jerusalem is a city with a rich and complex history, and a visit to the city offers a chance to learn about its diverse culture and heritage.
- Excellent food and shopping: Jerusalem is known for its excellent food and shopping, with a wide range of markets, restaurants, and boutiques to choose from.
- Beautiful parks and gardens: Jerusalem is home to a number of beautiful parks and gardens, including the Biblical Zoo and the Ein Karem neighborhood, which is known for its charming streets and picturesque views.
- Outdoor activities: Jerusalem is surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes, and there are many opportunities for outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, and exploring the nearby nature reserves.
- It’s a great base for visiting other destinations in Israel – Masada, Bethlehem and the Dead Sea can all be visited as day trips from Jerusalem.
Overall, Jerusalem is a city that offers a mix of history, culture, and relaxation, and is a must-see destination for anyone visiting Israel.
When to go to Jerusalem?
The best time to take your Jerusalem vacation depends on your personal preferences and what you want to do during your trip. Here are some factors to consider:
- Weather: Jerusalem has a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. If you want to spend a lot of time outside exploring the city, the spring and fall months (March to May and September to November) are generally the best times to visit, as the temperatures are more comfortable and there is less chance of rain.
- Crowds: Jerusalem is a popular tourist destination, and the city can get quite crowded during peak tourist season, which runs from April to October. If you want to avoid the crowds, consider visiting during the off-season, when there are fewer tourists and prices may be lower.
- Holidays and festivals: Jerusalem is home to a number of important holidays and festivals throughout the year, and many of these events can be a great way to experience the city’s culture and traditions. Some popular festivals to consider include the Jerusalem Light Festival (January/February), the Jerusalem Film Festival (July/August), and the Jerusalem International Book Fair (February).
- Security and Political factors – Jerusalem can see some times of tension between the Palestinians and Israelis. There can sometimes be political unrest and even bombings and security threats. Keep up to date with the news and the recommendation from the Foreign Office or Department of State.
I travelled to Jerusalem at the end of March/beginning of April which was the perfect time in terms of weather and crowds. It was mild and the city was very walkable at this time of year. I missed Easter by about a week – this was a good call as it was packed during Holy Week and there were also a few security issues (including a knife attack!).
Planning your Jerusalem Vacation – Before you go
Before you go on your Jerusalem vacation, I recommend that you do the following:
- Order your Shekels – Take some Israeli money with you and also a few credit and debit cards
- Sort out your visa (if you need one)
- Ensure that your passport is in date – Ideally you should have 12 months left on your passport and not have too many Arabic stamps in it!
- Check the travel recommendations – Keep up to date with security issues and travel recommendations due to Covid.
Apps to Download for Visiting Jerusalem
Ahead of your Jerusalem vacation, make sure that you download the following apps which will help you greatly during your visit.
- Currency XE – This will help you to convert Israeli Shekels to your own currency while you get used to the exchange rate.
- GettTaxi app – For cheap taxis in Jerusalem (their alternative to Uber)
- Abraham Tours – This app recommends walking routes around the city and allows you to book tours.
- BiteMojo – This app will take you on food based walking tours in Jerusalem including my favourite – the food tour of “Eat the Mahane Yehuda Market”.
- Voice Tours in Jerusalem – An app that offers guided walking tours of Jerusalem along with GPS maps of the city.
How Long should I spend in Jerusalem?
Well I could honestly spend months exploring this city! Seriously though, if you’re planning a shorter Jerusalem vacation, 3-4 days is a good amount of time to get a taste of the city and see some of the main attractions.
If you have more time and want to really explore the city in depth, a week or longer is ideal. This will give you time to visit all of the major landmarks and holy sites, as well as explore some of the city’s neighborhoods and museums. You could also consider taking a day trip or two to nearby attractions such as the Dead Sea or the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa.
Where to Stay in Jerusalem
There are two main options that I recommend for your Jerusalem vacation – and they are Abraham Hostel for budget travellers and the Dan Hotels for those wanting to spend a little more.
If you are on a budget there is only one place you have to stay and that is Abraham Hostel. It is a friendly and great value backpackers hostel that welcomes all ages. The dorms are shared between 4, 6 and 8 people. They also have private rooms and family rooms.
The staff at Abraham Hostel are extremely friendly and the whole accommodation is geared up for solo travellers. They have leaflets, guidance on walking tours and also bookable day trips if you want to explore further afield.
The Dan Hotels were recommended to me by a good friend of mine who I met in Jerusalem (thanks Lee!). They are luxurious and great value. The Dan Panorama Jerusalem is perfectly located for exploring the Old Town, and it also has a pool and gym.
You might also like to read more on my blog about Where to stay in Jerusalem.
Suggested Jerusalem 7 Day Itinerary
In an ideal world, 10 days to 2 weeks would be the perfect amount of time to spend in Jerusalem, which could include one or two day trips out. Most people fly into Tel Aviv (Ben Gurion) airport so remember to account for the bus travel and rest after your flight! Here is a suggested itinerary for one week in Israel:
Day 1 – Main sites of the Old Town of Jerusalem
Day 2 – Further exploration of the four quarters including some minor sites and smaller Churches
Day 3 – Mount of Olives and Kidron Valley
Day 4 – City of David and Mount Zion
Day 5 – Day trip to Red Sea and Masada
Day 5 – Museums and Shopping (Mahane Yehuda Market)
Day 6 – Day trip to Bethlehem or Nazareth
Day 7 – Jerusalem Treasure hunt followed by a Jewish Meal
Of course, you can amend or extend this itinerary as you see fit. This is quite a jam packed schedule and so it is possible to spread it over 1 days and include some more relaxing time or additional sites.
Welcome to Jerusalem’s Old City!
The Old City of Jerusalem is a walled neighborhood located in the center of modern Jerusalem. It is home to many of the city’s most important religious and historical landmarks, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. You will start you Jerusalem vacation by exploring Jerusalem’s Old City and trust me, you will be astounded by the rich and diverse cultural and religious sites.
The Old City is divided into four quarters: the Jewish Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter. Each quarter has its own unique character and attractions, and it’s worth spending some time exploring each one.
Main Landmarks in Jerusalem’s Old City
Some of the main landmarks and attractions in the Old City include the Western Wall (a holy site for Jews), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (a major Christian pilgrimage site), the Al-Aqsa Mosque (a major mosque for Muslims), and the Dome of the Rock (a beautiful Islamic shrine). You can also visit the room of the Last Supper and Via Dolarosa – the route that Jesus carried his cross. These main landmarks will be one full day (at least) and you could spend a further day or two exploring some of the smaller attractions.
The Western Wall, also known as the Kotel, is a wall located in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is a sacred site for Jews, who believe that it is the only remaining part of the Second Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. The Western Wall is a place of prayer and contemplation for Jews, who come from all over the world to pray at the wall and leave notes with their prayers and wishes in the cracks between the stones. It is a popular place to visit, and can get quite crowded, especially during holidays and festivals.
Travel tip – Avoid calling it the ‘Wailing Wall’ which can be offensive to Jewish people.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered one of the holiest sites in Christianity, as it is believed to be the location of the tomb of Jesus Christ.
The church is built on the site of the former Roman city of Jerusalem, and is believed to be the place where Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected. It is a major pilgrimage site for Christians from around the world, and is an important destination for those interested in the history of Christianity. It is home to a number of important religious relics and artifacts, including the stone slab upon which Jesus is believed to have been laid after his death, and the ladder that is said to have been used to access his tomb.
It is one of the most important Churches of Jerusalem. It is free to enter for visitors – keep walking as it is busy and there won’t be too much time to stand still!
Al-Aqsa Mosque (also known as Al-Aqsa or the Mosque of al-Aqsa) is a mosque located in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is the third holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina, and is considered a sacred place of pilgrimage for Muslims.
Al-Aqsa Mosque is located on the Temple Mount, a hill in the Old City that is also home to the Western Wall (a sacred site for Jews) and the Dome of the Rock (a beautiful Islamic shrine). The mosque is the largest in Jerusalem and can accommodate thousands of worshippers at a time.
In Islam, Al-Aqsa Mosque is associated with the story of the prophet Muhammad’s Night Journey, in which he is said to have ascended to heaven from the mosque. It is also mentioned in the Quran as a holy place, and is considered a symbol of the Islamic faith.
Dome of the Rock
The Dome of the Rock is a beautiful Islamic shrine located in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is located on the Temple Mount, a hill that is also home to Al-Aqsa Mosque (the third holiest site in Islam) and the Western Wall (a sacred site for Jews).
The Dome of the Rock is a distinctive and iconic landmark in Jerusalem, with its golden dome and ornate exterior. It was built in the 7th century CE and is considered one of the oldest surviving examples of Islamic architecture.
In Islam, the Dome of the Rock is considered a sacred site, as it is believed to be the place from which the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven during his Night Journey. It is also mentioned in the Quran as a holy place, and is considered a symbol of the Islamic faith.
The Via Dolorosa (meaning “Way of Suffering” in Latin) is a street located in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is the traditional route that Jesus is believed to have walked on the way to his crucifixion, and is a major Christian pilgrimage site.
The Via Dolorosa begins at the Antonia Fortress, where Jesus was reportedly held before his trial, and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is believed to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Along the way, there are 14 stations of the cross, which mark important events in the story of Jesus’ passion and death.
Pilgrims who walk the Via Dolorosa typically follow the traditional route and stop at each of the 14 stations to pray and reflect.
Outside the Old City Walls
There are also some other interesting places to explore just outside the old city on your Jerusalem Vacation: the Mount of Olives, Kidron Valley, City of David and Mahane Yehuda Market.
Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives is a mountain ridge located east of the Old City of Jerusalem. It is an important site in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and is home to a number of important landmarks and holy sites.
In Judaism, the Mount of Olives is traditionally believed to be the place where the biblical figure Solomon built the first Jewish Temple, and it is also associated with the resurrection of the dead on the day of judgement. There is an extensive Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. In fact, it is the oldest and most important Jewish cemetery in the world.
In Christianity, the Mount of Olives is associated with the Olivet Discourse, in which Jesus gave his final teachings to his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion. It is also believed to be the place where Jesus ascended into heaven after his resurrection. The Mount of Olives is home to a number of important landmarks and holy sites, including the Church of the Ascension, the Mosque of the Ascension, and the Tomb of the Virgin Mary. It is a popular place for tourists and pilgrims to visit, and offers panoramic views of the Old City of Jerusalem.
The Mount of Olives is associated with the story of the prophet Muhammad’s Night Journey in Islam, in which he is said to have ascended to heaven from the mount.
Travel tips – Prepare yourself for a lot of steps on the Mount of Olives! Walking boots are best!
The Kidron Valley is a valley located in the eastern part of the Old City of Jerusalem. It is mentioned in the Bible as a place where King David’s son Absalom was buried, and is also associated with other important events in Jewish and Christian history.
The Kidron Valley is located between the Mount of Olives and the Old City, and is home to a number of important landmarks and holy sites. These include the Church of All Nations, which is located on the slopes of the Mount of Olives and is believed to be the place where Jesus prayed before his arrest and crucifixion, and the Garden of Gethsemane, which is located at the base of the mount and is associated with the story of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest.
Travel tips – The Mount of Olives plus Kieron valley will take up one full day of your Jerusalem vacation if you see the Mount of Olives in the morning and work down the the Kieron valley for the afternoon.
City of David
The City of David is an archaeological site located in the neighborhood of Silwan, just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. It is believed to be the original settlement that later became the city of Jerusalem, and is an important site for those interested in the history of the city.
The City of David is home to a number of ancient ruins, including the remains of the city’s water systems and fortifications. Visitors to the site can take guided tours to learn about the history of the city and see the ruins up close.
One of the main attractions at the City of David is the ancient water tunnel, known as Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This tunnel was built in the 8th century BCE to bring water from the Gihon Spring to the city, and visitors can walk through the tunnel to see this ancient engineering marvel.
The City of David is a must-see for those interested in the city’s history and archaeology and will take up one full morning of your Jerusalem vacation and can be followed with an afternoon exploring Mount Zion.
Mount Zion is a hill located just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. It is an important site in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and is home to a number of important landmarks and holy sites.
Some of the main attractions on Mount Zion include:
- The Tomb of King David: This is a traditional burial site for the biblical figure King David, and is an important site for Jews and Christians. It is located in a beautiful building on Mount Zion, and is a popular place for visitors to pray and reflect.
- The Room of the Last Supper: This is a small room located on Mount Zion that is traditionally believed to be the location of the Last Supper, where Jesus and his disciples shared their final meal together before his arrest and crucifixion. It is an important site for Christians, and is a popular place for pilgrims to visit.
- The Dormition Abbey: This is a beautiful church located on Mount Zion that is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is an important site for Catholics, and is a popular place for visitors to pray and reflect.
Mahane Yehuda Market
Mahane Yehuda Market (also known as the “Shuk”) is a bustling open-air market located in the center of Jerusalem. It is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike, and is known for its vibrant atmosphere, delicious food, and unique shopping experiences.
The Mahane Yehuda Market is home to a wide variety of vendors selling fresh produce, spices, clothing, jewelry, and other goods. It is also home to a number of restaurants and food stalls, offering a wide range of Israeli and international cuisines.
One of the main attractions of the Mahane Yehuda Market is the opportunity to try a variety of Israeli foods and delicacies, such as falafel, hummus, shakshuka, and more. The market is also a great place to pick up souvenirs and gifts to bring back home. Also make sure that you check out Mahane Yehuda Market when the shutters come down – they are decorated with phenomenal examples of Israeli street art!
Museums of Jerusalem
Jerusalem is home to a number of interesting and informative museums that are worth visiting during a trip to the city. Many of these will be a full day or at least half a day and so plan these into your trip according to your interests. Some of the top museums in Jerusalem include:
- The Israel Museum: This is the largest and most comprehensive museum in Israel, and is home to a wide variety of art, archaeology, and natural history collections. The museum is located in the Givat Ram neighborhood of Jerusalem, and is a must-see for those interested in the history and culture of Israel.
- The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum: This is a powerful and moving museum that is dedicated to preserving the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. It is located in the Mount Herzl neighborhood of Jerusalem, and is a must-see for those interested in World War II history.
- The Tower of David Museum: This museum is located in the Old City of Jerusalem and is housed in the historic Tower of David citadel. It is dedicated to the history of Jerusalem, and offers a wide variety of exhibits and interactive displays on the city’s rich and complex history.
- The Biblical Museum of Natural History: This museum is located in the Mamilla neighborhood of Jerusalem, and is dedicated to the natural history of the region as it is described in the Bible. It is a great place to visit for those interested in the natural history of the Middle East.
Day Trips from Jerusalem
Jerusalem is an excellent base for exploring other cities in Israel. here are some popular day trips that you might want to include in your Jerusalem Vacation:
- Masada and the Dead Sea
- Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls
- Tel Aviv
Jerusalem Travel Tips
Finally, I have this summary of top tips to help you to travel easily and safely in Jerusalem:
- Download these apps – Gett Taxis, Abraham Tours, Bitemojo, Voice Tours in Jerusalem.
- Get the RAV travel card – This works on trains and buses in Israel. It is easy to use and can be topped up.
- Where to stay – Stay at Abraham Hostel if you are on a budget or Dan Hotels if you have a healthier wallet.
- Plan your time in Jerusalem – There is a hell of a lot to see so identify your key sites and museums and then stick to your plan.
- Plan some day trips – If you have 10 days or two weeks then plan some day trips. I would highly recommend Masada and Bethlehem.
- Avoid Damascus Gate in Jerusalem – Damascus Gate is an area of Jerusalem that you should avoid going to particularly alone as a tourist. DO NOT go through Damascus Gate when there are protests or demonstrations because things can turn violent pretty quickly.
- Avoid Ultra-Orthodox districts in Jerusalem – Sometimes things can get violent or confrontational in certain areas of Jerusalem. Locals in Bnei Brak, Modi’in Illit, Beitar Illit, Beit Shemesh and Safed may react strongly to women who are inappropriately dressed. Do not drive into these ultra–Orthodox Jewish areas of Jerusalem on the Sabbath (from sunset on Friday to nightfall) – there have been reports of rocks getting thrown at the cars.
- Avoid Drinking in Muslim areas – particularly avoid alcohol in Muslim areas during Ramadan.
- Avoiding offending people with the wrong terminology or language – Learn about what terms are appropriate to use and not use when speaking to people of different cultures and religions. Obviously you don’t want to use Arabic when addressing a Jew and you do’t want to use Hebrew when addressing a Muslim, so it may be best for you to stick to English.
- You can travel into Jordan from Jerusalem! Many people don’t realise how close they are to Jordan. A lot of travellers do a 3 day trip to Jordan from Jerusalem to see Petra. Abraham hostels runs this trip and it is worth it if you have time.
If you enjoyed this article on planning your Jerusalem Vacation you might also be interested in reading about Solo Travel in Israel.