Jerusalem is the religious and historical epicenter of the world. A surreal and vibrant city, holy to Jews, Muslims, and Christians – over one-third of all the people on earth. Jerusalem is as unique as she is special. Beyond her religious and historic significance, Jerusalem is the capital of modern-day Israel and an advanced, dynamic city. Jerusalem has to be seen to be believed. Exploring Jerusalem solo is fantastic, and if it is your first time visiting this glorious place, a tour is simply a must. With so much to see and know, having an experienced guide with you is indispensable and worth every penny.
Old City from the Mount of the Olives
The Old City of Jerusalem is full of the historic and religious elements that make this city so special. The one-square-kilometer walled area is central to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. The Western Wall, in the Jewish Quarter, the last remaining wall of the Jewish Temple compound, is the holiest site in Judaism. Jesus died, was buried and resurrected in Jerusalem, and the Church of the Sepulchre in the Old City is shared between many denominations. In Islam, Jerusalem is said to be from where Muhammad rose into the heavens, and the Dome of the Rock makes this city the third holiest for Muslims. The four quarters of the Old City, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian, each contrast with each other, yet what remains bizarrely constant is the way in which the residents of this surreal place rush about on their daily business. A great overview of the Old City can be had from the Ramparts Walk. The Old City of Jerusalem simply cannot be missed. The Half-Day Old City Tour or the Jerusalem Day Tour is a great way to get a fully-guided experience of this amazing place. If you’re staying in the South of the country, in Eilat, this Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Dead Sea Day Tour from Eilat is a good option, too.
Jerusalem is not all old, though. Modern, West Jerusalem is the capital of modern-day Israel containing the modern-day functions you would expect of any capital city. Although not as liberal as its younger, more relaxed sister, Tel Aviv (just 45 minutes by road), Jerusalem has become a distinguished cultural center. The wave of great cuisine which has swept across Israel has not missed the city, and there are some great restaurants in Jerusalem especially in the German Colony and along Emek Refaim Street, which is a bit of an oasis of modernity and liberalism among this conservative city. Likewise, modern Jerusalem contains the shops and institutions you would expect anywhere else. All this, however, with a slight twist as all buildings in the city must, by law, be fronted with the magical golden Jerusalem stone the city is famous for.
Old and new Jerusalem by Brian Negin, on Flickr
The modern-day center of Jerusalem is the pedestrianized area around Ben-Yehuda Street which features a large selection of restaurants, cafes, and stores. Just in the last couple of years, however, this has come under competition from Mamilla a pedestrianized mall leading right up to the Jaffa Gate of the Old City containing very upmarket shops, restaurants, and hotels. Often overlooked, Jerusalem’s nightlife scene is actually vibrant and something that offers a totally different experience to Tel Aviv.
There is a fascinating array of museums in Jerusalem, some of which complete a visit to the city. Of these, perhaps the most important is Yad Vashem, situated on beautiful Mount Herzl, this is Israel’s memorial and place of commemoration for the millions who perished in the Holocaust. The incredible museum tells the story of the Holocaust not only in words, but also via its chilling architecture, and moving multimedia displays. Yad Vashem isn’t fun, but it is somewhere everybody should visit. Just down the road, from Yad Vashem the newly renovated Israel Museum houses a huge selection of artistic, archaeological, historical and cultural displays including the world-famous Dead Sea Scrolls. And for kids in Jerusalem is the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, technically Israel’s most popular visitor attraction with a great selection of animals (including a Biblical theme this being Jerusalem) as well as some more common-day favorites!
Ultimately, Jerusalem is like nowhere else, a city where old and new jostle for space, along with the three religions who call this city holy. Incredibly intense, Jerusalem, the ‘City of Gold’ is somewhere beyond explanation, and no visit to Israel is complete without a visit here, no matter how long.