Jerusalem, the heart of the Holy Land, focal point for three of the worlds largest and most dominant religions and one of the most fought over and disputed lands in recorded history. That description alone doesn’t even begin to cover how much Jerusalem has to offer the inquisitive traveller. There is so much to see and do in Jerusalem it is almost impossible to narrow it down, but here are 10 of the absolute highlights you can’t miss on your visit to this enigmatic city.
This selection really is only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many amazing things to see and do in Jerusalem that you could fill half a dozen top 10 lists with sites of historical or biblical significance alone, so I urge you once you have seen these sites, stay a bit longer and explore the rest of the city. Go and do some shopping, take in Jerusalem’s nightlife and ever changing culture. Indulge in Israels surprisingly diverse cuisine. Take your time and discover just how deep the veins of history, culture, religion and humanity run through the very pores of Jerusalem.
Take a walk on the walls of the old city.
There are few sites in the world that are of greater importance to history and archaeology than the old city of Jerusalem. Exploring the ramparts and walls at your own leisure is a great way to not only get a good view of some of the worlds most important religious sites such as the dome of the rock, the mount of olives and many more, all of which are located within walking distance of the old city walls, but also to get an idea of how small this patch of land that so many have fought over actually is. So much history, conflict and tension, all within a few square kilometers.
See the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock.
Even if you aren’t religious, a visit to two of the holiest sites in both the Jewish and the Muslim faiths is an absolute must for their sheer historical significance alone. It would be like visiting Egypt and not seeing the pyramids.
Check out Mahane Yahuda market.
This working market is the lifeblood of Jerusalem during the day, selling everything from spices and fresh fruit to everyday groceries and bread, but what makes this market even more interesting is that once night falls the whole place turns into a hipster bar and foodie heaven, and is a great place to relax with friends, eat some good food and have a few drinks.
Eat, drink and shop at the First Station.
The First Station is a refurbished train station – hence the name – that has become a focus of entertainment and culture as well as a foodie heaven. The newly gentrified area is right in the heart of Jerusalem itself and has a good selection of shops, lively entertainment and amazing restaurants. If you are in Jerusalem for any length of time you have to come here at least once, even if it just to have one meal.
Explore the City Of David.
This open museum is part tourist attraction, part ongoing archaeological excavation, and is one of the highlights of any trip to Jerusalem. Imagine walking the same streets where Templar Knights fought in the Crusades, where the historical figures of Jesus and Muhammed preached their new religions, where King David himself started an entire dynasty in biblical times, this is where you can get a taste of just how much history has passed through these streets.
Church of the holy Sepulcher.
The church of the holy sepulcher is considered to be one of the worlds holiest sites to the Christian religion, and is said to be built on the tomb of Jesus Christ himself and contain the slab of rock where his body was laid to rest. Whether you are religious or not that’s a pretty hard to top claim to fame.
Put a written prayer in the Western Wall.
The Western Wall is another iconic must see on any trip to Jerusalem. This wall is all that is left of the Temple Mount built by King Herod, and is considered one of the holiest sites in the Jewish faith.
Every single day faithful from around the world (some who can’t make the trip post or email prayers to be put in on their behalf) fold pieces of paper inside the cracks of the wall.
It doesn’t really mater if you are or aren’t religious, I’m not at all, but the chance to do what is for millions of faithful all around the world a deep religious experience is an amazing thing, and gives a deeper connection and understanding to the wall and the people who get a profound sense of spiritual satisfaction from it.
Visit the Israel Museum.
I know I always recommend visiting the museum in any major city, it is genuinely because as a huge history geek I love them, and there are a couple in Jerusalem itself, but the Israel Museum is really something special. The museum is first class in its own right, with a wealth of historical exhibits from the holy land and its connections to ancient Egypt and other great civilisations, but what the Israel museum has which no other museum in the world does is the infamous Dead Sea Scrolls.
These biblical treasures are on par with the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum, or the treasures of Tutankhamun in Cairo, but without the fanfare or wide public knowledge.
The scrolls are housed in the dedicated Shrine of the Book, a unique and awe inspiring building, and chances are that whenever you go, you can actually see the exhibit without many crowds.
A sombre reminder of the atrocities mankind can inflict on each other, this memorial to the lives lost in the holocaust is an important place to visit just to give yourself a little perspective on history if nothing else.
Okay, so Israel isn’t exactly known for being a shopping mecca as much as it is a pilgrimage centre for historians and religious types, I grant you. But one thing Israel in general will do is surprise you, and the sheer number of contemporary and avent garde spaces in the city that are filled with top end and boutique places to splash your cash will do just that. Just be prepared to give your wallet a real pounding!
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This article was written in partnership with iTravelJerusalem and TBEX. The views and opinions expressed are entirely the authors own based on personal experiences when travelling and are honest and factual without any bias.