Jerusalem is the religious and historical epicenter of the world. A surreal and vibrant city, Jerusalem is holy to Jews, Muslims, and Christians – over one-third of all the people on the earth. The ancient place 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. The intricacies and beautiful contradictions – ancient and developed, religious and secular – that make up Jerusalem have to be seen to be believed. Exploring Jerusalem solo is fantastic, and if it’s your first time visiting this glorious place, a tour of Jerusalem is a must.
The Old City
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 is the last remaining wall of the Jewish Temple compound, and is the holiest site in Judaism. Jesus died, was buried and resurrected in Jerusalem. The Church of the Sepulchre in the Old City is shared between many denominations, with hundreds of thousands of Christian pilgrims coming to see the incredible site. In Islam, Jerusalem is said to be from where Muhammad rose into the heavens. The Dome of the Rock makes this city the third holiest for Muslims.
There are four quarters in the Old City: Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian. Each contrasts 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. As one of the most sought after places in the world, the Old City of Jerusalem is a must see for anyone visiting Israel and the Middle East. Our Half-Day Old City Tour or our Jerusalem All Day Walking Tour are great ways to see this amazing place, with starting points both within Jerusalem and in nearby Tel Aviv. If you’re staying down south in Eilat, this Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Dead Sea Day Tour from Eilat is a good option, too.
The Contemporary Side of Jerusalem
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. There are some great restaurants in Jerusalem. Our favorite spots are the German Colony and along Emek Refaim Street. It’s 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 buildings in the city must, by law, be fronted with the magical golden stone the city is famous for.
Ben Yehuda and Machane Yehuda
The modern-day center of Jerusalem is the pedestrianized area around Ben Yehuda Street. It features a large selection of restaurants, cafes, and stores. Just in the last couple of years, however, this has come under competition from Mamilla. It’s 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.
Here you can also find the Machne Yehuda Market, Israel’s largest market with over 250 vendors. The Machne Yehuda Market is one of the most vibrant parts of the city. You can buy groceries and household items in the many stalls. Or enjoy the delicious hole-in-the-wall style restaurants and great bars for nightlife enthusiasts.
There is a fascinating array of museums in Jerusalem. Of these, perhaps the most important is Yad Vashem. On beautiful Mount Herzl, this is Israel’s memorial for the millions who perished in the Holocaust. The incredible museum tells the story of the Holocaust. It uses words, 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 is the Israel Museum. It houses a huge selection of artistic, archaeological, historical, and cultural displays. This includes the world-famous Dead Sea Scrolls. Our favorite for kids is the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, technically Israel’s most popular visitor attraction with a great selection of animals. It also has some more common-day favorites!
Ultimately, Jerusalem is like nowhere else, a city where old and new jostle for space: the ‘City of Gold’ resides somewhere beyond explanation. No visit to Israel is complete without a visit to Jerusalem.