Israel has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember, and last November I finally got to tick it off. Unfortunately, it was just a brief week-long stint in Jerusalem thanks to the wonderful iTravelJerusalem and the #TBEXJLM press trip. What a week though! I met an inspiring group of travel bloggers, and got to explore Jerusalem. A blend of old and new, and a city where three ancient religions collide and continue to live alongside one another, it’s somewhere quite unlike anywhere else I’ve ever traveled to.
Because it’s incredibly complex and I was only there a week, I won’t be addressing the political situation in Israel for now. Instead I’ll just be focussing on the rich history of Jerusalem, and soon also the incredible and amazing vegan food I ate in my time there. For now, I just wanted to list what I think are Jerusalem’s top 10 tourist attractions not to miss!
1. The Old City
Intense and magical in equal parts, the old city of Jerusalem is unlike anywhere else in the world. Built by King David in 1004 B.C, it was long considered to be the centre of the world. Jerusalem has been protected, stormed and glorified by ancient kings and rulers, and worshiped by the ordinary people who placed it at the centre of their faith and made pilgrimages to stand on its cobblestones.
Walking the streets of the old city, it’s incredible that it’s here Jesus was crucified and Mohammed rose to Heaven. You’re walking in the footsteps of scholars, pilgrims, merchants, warriors, slaves, and deities. As one of the oldest cities in the world, you can’t help but feel like you’re walking next to the ghosts of history.
2. Ein Kerem
Ein Kerem looks like it’s come straight out of a postcard. Situated between mountains and hills in a peaceful valley, Ein Kerem is like a green oasis in the SouthWest of Jerusalem. In Christian tradition, Ein Kerem is where John the Baptist was conceived, born and raised. While pregnant, his mother, Elizabeth, was visited by another pregnant woman, Mary, and she drank from a well which is now called Mary’s Well.
Mary’s Well has now become a meeting point for the neighbourhood, and it’s the spot where tours begin from. If you’re religious, you can visit the well and some of the many churches built over the past 1,500 years. Even if not, it’s worth visiting to soak up the peaceful atmosphere that’s a refuge of calm away from the bustling city.
3. Ramparts Tour of the Old City
Not for people who suffer from vertigo, the ramparts tour of the old city will give you a bird’s eye view, and allow you to see the city from a new perspective. If you love spectacular views and you’re up to a walk, then this isn’t something to miss. Some parts of the city, like the Armenian compound, can only be seen into from the ramparts.
4. Mahane Yehuda in the day
Make sure you bring cash and an empty stomach to Mahane Yehuda market, known locally as “The Shuk”. More than 250 vendors line the streets, their stalls piled high with fruit and vegetables, spices, nuts, baked goods, as well as bric-a-brac and general houseware, clothes and shoes. You can buy falafel, schwarma, kibbe, kebab, baklava, or any other traditional food and drink you fancy from the street vendors. Lots of vegan treats to be found here, but beware halva is unfortunately not vegan 🙁
5. Mahane Yehuda at night
At night, the stalls are cleared away and The Shuk has emerged as a centre of nightlife, with bars, cafes and live music until late. Make sure to experience Mahane Yehuda both by day and night, to appreciate how the atmosphere changes. The warm climate means that it’s the perfect place to sit outside in the evening and watch the world go by.
6. Israeli Museum
Founded in 1965, the Israeli Museum is one of the world’s leading art and archaeology museums. One of the highlights is the Shrine of the Book, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest biblical manuscripts in the world. Pretty impressive, even if you’re not into that kind of stuff. Be sure to allow several hours to visit the huge collection of archaeological finds, sculpture garden and vast collections of primitive, European and modern art.
7. Western Wall
The Western Wall became a part of the wall used by Jews to lament the destruction of the temple, when they were banned from the city. The Western Wall historically has been a place of conflict, and indeed still is. Ownership of the Wall is still in question, with Orthodox Jewish attempting to claim or purchase it over the years and being continuously refused.
8. Arab Souk
The Souk is another market that has long been part of Jerusalem’s history, and it’s been around since the Ottoman empire, or maybe even longer. Make sure you have your haggling-hat on, and if a merchant is being too tough, just walk next door. They’re probably selling exactly the same thing there.
9. Dome of the Rock
The Dome of the Rock is an Islamic Shrine that’s over 1000 years old, located on Temple Mount in the Old City. It’s an area of religious tension, and make sure you dress modestly or you won’t be allowed to enter. It’s worth it, though, as the art inside is unmissable, and the olive groves give it an atmosphere of peaceful calm.
10. Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Building on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre started in 326AD – which makes it pretty damn old, by anyone’s standards. It’s where Jesus was both crucified and where his tomb is now located, so it’s a major pilgrimage destination for Christians from around the world. It’s changed denomination and useage multiple times in its lifetime, originally beginning as a temple for Aphrodite, and currently Christian. In order to fully understand and appreciate the immense history of this Church, you really need a guide.
Where to stay in Jeruz
BUDGET — THE POST HOSTEL
This hostel is in an actual post office building, and the location is amazing, right round the corner from the Old Town. It’s cozy, clean, and friendly. It felt like being welcomed into a family more than being welcomed into a hostel. There’s a strong wifi connection, large rooms, and a lovely common area. It’s a friendly and sociable hostel, but not so noisy that you can’t get some work done. I loved my stay here and would happily go back to relax on the roof or at the bar.
SPLURGE — INBAL HOTEL
If you feel like treating yourself, the Inbal Hotel has one of the most delicious breakfast buffets I’ve ever eaten, with a great vegan selection. There’s also a really nice gym and spa which I made use of while I was staying there to try and burn off all the deep fried falafel I was feasting on. It’s close to the Old Town and all the major attractions, so you don’t have far to walk to check out the sights.
I’ll be back with my vegan food guide of Jerusalem soon, so stay tuned!
Have you been to Israel? Is Jerusalem also on your bucket list? I could easily have stayed longer than a week, and there was so much to see and do. Anything you think I missed if I ever make it back there, or to a different city?