JerusalemDestination of pilgrimages, subject of psalms, and a tormented battlefield, Jerusalem has been the scene of crucial events in the history of Western civilisation. The city contains some of the most sacred sites in the entire world. Today it is a fascinating kaleidoscope of cultures where daily life streams next to millennia-old landmarks. Visitors can find a rich music and dining scene, atmospheric cafes, crowded markets, and a number of cultural events. Jerusalem's spiritual aura and ancient, intricate beauty will be difficult to forget.
The CityWhether one tries to grasp its history, contemplate its spirituality, or understand its different cultures, experiencing Jerusalem is a fascinating undertaking. The Old City is Jerusalem's most touristic sight, with an array of religious and historical buildings. However, the newer districts, which started spreading in the 1860s, should not be missed - start with the quarters of Mishkenot Sha'ananim and Nahalat Shiva. For fashion, novelties, and nightlife, head to the Downtown triangle, between Jaffa Road, King George Street and Ben Yehuda Street, but explore further: you will find a bustling cultural scene and lively entertainment throughout the city. A wild, dusty natural landscape surrounds the urban area. The history of Jerusalem is restless, and runs through thousands of years. The Canaanite population settled in the area 6,000+ years ago, near the Gihon Spring. After biblical king David conquered the city, his successor Solomon built a legendary Temple: the shrine was the most sacred place for Jewish people, who developed a strong and tormented bound with the land. Jerusalem then became part of the Roman empire. The Temple was definitively destroyed in 70 AD during a dramatic repression by the emperor Titus. The site of Jesus Christ's death and alleged resurrection, Jerusalem saw the birth of a new religion; it was also the site of an important spiritual journey for Muhammad, the founder of Islam. The country was shaken by the Crusades during the Middle Ages, and important orders such as the Templar Knights were founded there. It became part of Christian, Arab, then Ottoman Kingdoms. Since the State of Israel was proclaimed in 1947, a tortuous conflict between the state and the previous inhabitants has divided its people.
Old CityOne of the most ancient parts of Jerusalem, the Old City, teems with Jewish, Christian and Muslim believers, and it's a must-see for everyone. It was built in the 2nd century AD by the roman emperor Hadrian, who called it Aelia Capitolina. The emperor intended it to be a pagan city, with a forum and a temple to Jupiter. However, its shape changed continuously throughout the years, while religious shrines where established inside. In 1538, the Ottomans built a wall around it. Listed below is a selection of the unmissable sights within the Old City limits, and a short guide to the four quarters it is divided into, which are all worth exploring. At local markets you will find a wide range of typical objects and exciting rarities - check the Shopping section for our suggestions. Come early in the morning to avoid, or at least precede, the perennial crowds of tourists. Opening times for Temple Mount sights are very specific, so it's better to arrive on time. A popular place to enter is the Jaffa Gate, on the eastern part of the Walls, made from imposing hewn stones.
Do & See
With spiritual milestones and millennia-old landmarks around every corner, Jerusalem is a labyrinth of things to do for sightseeing enthusiasts – exciting, but easily overwhelming. Below is a selection museums, places of worship, archaeological sites, and excursion ideas.
Jerusalem has been a melting pot of cultures for millennia, which is reflected in its cuisine that boasts an exciting variety of specialities – your culinary experience here will be one to remember. In the city, local, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes mix with Jewish tradition brought back from around the world: Israeli Jewish Fusion Cuisine has been a thing since the 1970s. "Mizrahi", Middle-Eastern Jewish cuisine, is similar to the Arab one, focusing on rice, roasted meat, salads and stuffed vegetables. Along with the obvious falafel, hummus, pita and couscous, try Middle-Eastern dishes like mujaddara (a typical Israeli rice dish), shakshuka (poached eggs, fried onion and peppers), local variations of shawarma (the Arab name of kebab), and spicy sauces (skhug, amba and pilpelchuma). When Ashkenazi Jews came back from central Europe, they brought schnitzel, Russian salad and cholent, a beef stew for Shabbat; Sephardi jews from the Balkans introduced yogurt and Turkish dishes. Most distinctively, Jews prepare food according to the religious rules of the Kosher tradition. Jerusalem is also an ideal spot for vegans and vegetarians: many traditional dishes are plant-based, and 13% of Israelis were vegetarian or vegan in 2015 according to a poll by Globe. With such a variety of options, you just can't go wrong.
Coffee culture in Jerusalem is well established: European expats have imported the cosy, relaxed Viennese-style coffee houses, and you'll find plenty of atmospheric places to take a break, have a chat, and possibly mingle with locals. Along with espressos and iced coffees, cafes often serve Turkish coffee: it is prepared by pouring boiling water over fine-ground coffee beans, and often flavoured with cardamom. Tea is another favourite that comes in a variety of flavours and brews. Other typical drinks are lemonana, made from fresh lemons and mint, and sahlab, prepared with cornstarch, topped with cinnamon or pistachio, and commonly drunk in winter. Make sure to try some typical pastries as well: kugel pudding, Ashkenazi babka (a sweet yeast pie), and bourekas (filled pastries from Eastern Europe).
Bars & Nightlife
Jerusalem's nightlife is not as big and loud as the one of Tel Aviv, but there are many hidden gems. The atmosphere is informal and relaxed: you'll find lively student bars with pop and alternative music choices, and traditional, European-style pubs and bars. Many social hubs are located in Ben Yehuda Street and King David Street, as well as in the Mahane Yehuda Market and at First Station. Nightlife starts quite late - people usually start gathering after midnight. Jerusalem's music scene is well-renowned and brilliant, and can be found almost everywhere, from street performances to concert halls. There are also good options for cinema enthusiasts. The Israel Museum and the Bible Lands Museum often organise cultural happenings, and the Jerusalem Season of Culture, held every summer, has a wide range of proposals. A monthly Calendar of Events is available at the Tourist Information Office.
Typical art, craftwork and souvenirs can be found in the touristic areas of the Old City and the Mahane Yehuda Market, as well as the Downtown triangle – especially Ben Yehuda Street. Look for clothing, jewellery, local pottery (the Armenian tradition is particularly beautiful), Palestinian embroidery, and so on. Of course, there's plenty of religious craft work from different faiths: along with crucifixes and nativities, you'll find menorahs (typical six-branche Hebrew lamps), mezuzahs (parchments with verses from the Torah), and Judaica (Jewish ceremonial art). Nearby King David Street hosts a plethora of art galleries exhibiting works by local talents, many of which graduated from Jerusalem's Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. The Hutzot Hayotzer Artists Colony is another good spot for visual artwork. Those into fashion should head to Bezalel Street and Shatz Street, where they will find the best of Israeli design and international galleries. The Mamilla Avenue, between the Old City and the Downtown area, is a well-furnished shopping centre. Prices can vary from shop to shop and, since most sellers don't accept returns, it's better to compare prices before buying an item. Bargaining – in a polite way – is a common practice at most tourist shops.