It’s such a big city with so much to do. It will have your head spinning. Since you may not have 2 months to enjoy the Holy Land I have prepared our must-see picks for Jerusalem to make life so much easier for you. Enjoy!
1. Dome of the Rock
One of the most recognizable and iconic mosques in the entire world, it defines the very cityscape that is known as the Old City of Jerusalem. Located on the Temple Mount initially completed in 691 CE on the Foundation stone, which has great significance to Jews, Muslims and Christians. It is considered to be “the most contested piece of real estate on earth.”
Unless you are Muslim there is only one way to visit this piece of art. A ramp near the Western Wall is open twice a day. Summer 8:30am – 11:30am & 1:30pm – 2:30pm and Winter 7:30am – 10:30am & 12:30pm – 1:30pm except Friday and Saturday. Non-Muslims cannot enter the Mosque, but you can still visit the surroundings including the gate that the Messiah is said to return to. It doesn’t look like a gate any more though, as a Turkish king determined to prevent the coming of the Jewish Messiah, walled up this entry to the city (and built a cemetery on the other side just to be safe).
Modest dress is required and they are not fond of touching either. Josh and I tucked our arms around each other for our picture in front of the Dome. The attending Muslim guards briskly said, “no touch, no touch” and quickly admonished us. This was emphasized with a quick air poke of a rifle. Arms quickly down, we walked away silently and respectfully. This is not a place to joke around. A short while after our visit a lady refused to cover her shoulders here and gunfire ensued between the Jewish and Muslim soldiers. Avoid stepping into ancient feuds and just cover your shoulders and avoid physical affection.
2. Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, this Church has been erected on the possible location of where Jesus was crucified and buried. Entrance is free and while modest dress does not seem to be enforced, it is respectful.
When you first walk through the arched doorway you will see a large granite stone. This Stone of Anointing is believed to be where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial. Pious believers carry out a sacred pilgrimage just to place their hankies on the stone and collect the anointed water/condensation that builds there.
To the left is a beautiful dome, very similar to the Dome of the Rock, where a beam of heavenly light shines through to make the most beautiful of pictures. Beneath this dome is the cave thought to be where Jesus’ body was laid.
3. Garden Tomb
Outside the Old City is the other popular contender for the possible location of where Jesus was crucified and buried. This place has a much more peaceful atmosphere then the traditional Church with it’s dim halls and solemn pilgrims.
This spot sits adjacent to a rocky outcrop that is thought to be Golgotha (Skull Hill). While it does not hold the same long-dating history as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, it remains a restful place of solitude and worship for Christians around the globe.
4. Rampart’s Walk
As you enter Jaffa Gate to the Old City on the left is an unassuming staircase that takes you up to the very walls of that city. These walls date back to the 16th century and provide a beautiful view of historical and spiritual struggle of the most fought over piece of land in Israel.
You can buy your tickets before going up the stairs. They were approx. $5 AUD each and the kids were free.
It’s a long walk and a hot one. We went from Jaffa Gate all the way around the north side and got off at the Lion Gate near the Dome of the Rock.
It has amazing views and you see concealed places you didn’t even know existed in the Old City – playgrounds, basketball courts, soccer fields and of course, people’s homes. It’s well worth doing. Take your own water and food because there is nothing up there and once you come down, you are down for good.
5. Underground Walk
The Western Wall (Wailing Wall), also known as the Kotel, is an unbelievable site to behold above ground. Religious Jews pray to the wall and leave prayers tucked within its ancient cracks. But there is more to it then just the small stretch you see within the Old City. Underneath is far more mystery and amazement than you can believe.
In the year 37 BCE, Herod was appointed king in Jerusalem and he soon initiated a huge renovation project for the Temple.The Western Wall is the western support wall built during this widening of the Temple Mount Plaza. When the Temple was destroyed, all supporting walls remained, however the Western Wall is the closest place to the Holy of Holies, and became the most important religious site for the Jewish people.
The exposed, outdoor section of the Western Wall is just a small part of the whole wall. The part you see in the Prayer Plaza is 57 meters (187 feet) long. The entire length of the Western Wall, however, is actually 488 meters (1,600 feet) long! That means there is 320 meters (1,050 feet) of wall continuing underground beneath the streets and houses of the Old City of Jerusalem.
You need to book in advance and tickets are only $10 AUD each, kids under 5 free. We did the night tour and it was both informative and exciting. It lasts just over one hour.
The most magical part of the night was seeing 600 tonne slab of rock meticulously placed in the wall. How did they do it? It is still a mystery, although the ingenuity and amazing construction feats cannot be doubted.
6. Eat hummus & baklava
A Middle Eastern food dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic. The Lina Restaurant in the Christian Quarter, not far from Via Dolorosa, is said to be the best place to try hummus. Our favourite variety is sprinkled with pine nuts. You won’t get much else at this restaurant so choosing from the menu is easy – go ahead and try our favourite food in Israel.
Most of the spice shops and dessert stalls are located in the Muslim Quarter with a few spattered in the Christian Quarter (along the border with the Muslim Quarter). Baklava is a rich, sweet pastry made of layers of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey. Buy it by weight and enjoy. Try a small piece first as it can be very sweet and painful on the teeth if you’re not used to it.
7. Visit Yad Vashem – Holocaust Museum
This is the world’s largest repository of information about the Holocaust. It’s a sombre and melancholy experience, but it is impacting and in my opinion, a must visit. We didn’t take our children, it wasn’t something I thought they needed to see at a tender age and my mother-in-law (whose family was deeply affected by the Holocaust) was also overrun with sorrow and could not go in.
Chilling moments come when you see the shoe collection of gassed victims underneath a glass floor or the Hall of Names where each and every Jew that perished is pictured, including a section of children. Entrance is free.
8. Visit Israel Museum – Dead Sea Scrolls
Entrance is 50NIS ($15 AUD) each, children under 5 free.
Okay, so we know museums are not always fun, but this one has some pretty amazing stuff to see. The best part being the Shrine of the Book holding the oldest biblical manuscripts – the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s housed in a white dome over a building located two-thirds below the ground. The dome is reflected in a pool of water that surrounds it.
There is also a detailed model of what the Old City looked like during the Second Temple Period.
9. Visit Markets – inside Old City, outside Old City
Israel is filled with markets, in Jerusalem and out. Two of our favourites can be found in Jerusalem, one inside the Old City and one outside.
Inside the Old City every street is a market and you could shop for hours on end looking at the different gifts, religious presents, clothes and more. The main enterance near Jaffa gate leads to a popular stretch of markets and the Damascus gate is also filled with every type of market stall you can imagine.
Outside of the Old City along the popular Jaffa Street is the Shouq (Mahane Yehuda Market). We wrote about that here. It is a delightful place filled with buzzing restaurants, fresh produce, fresh bread, all types of food as well as clothes and toys too. We went a number of times just to walk through and enjoy all the sights, sounds and smells.
10. Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives is a mountain ridge east of and adjacent to the Jerusalem's Old City. It is named for the olive groves that once covered its slopes. From it’s top you can witness the most panoramic views of the Old City and even a great Donkey to “authenticate” or “tourist” it up.
The Mount is central to Jewish tradition since it has been used as a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years and holds approximately 150,000 graves. It is known as the place the Messiah will come to Earth so Jews pay to be first in line.
We hope this guide is a useful resource for you and it encourages you to come visit the Holy Land. It has so much depth and history and remarkable places than you can even imagine… and we haven’t even stumbled outside of Jerusalem yet.