If you are planning a trip to Jerusalem and wonder what to do there, where to stay, or what places to visit this guide is perfect for you. Jerusalem is one of the most interesting and inspiring places in the world, but at the same time one the most contested ones.
The city is sacred to three major faiths, but constantly entangled in political and religious disputes. For believers, a visit to Jerusalem is a spiritual journey to the holiest city on earth. But whether you are religious or not, you’ll find so many amazing places to visit in Jerusalem!
- 1 What to Do in Jerusalem on a Self-Guided Trip
- 2 What to Do Outside the City Walls of Jerusalem
- 2.1 Mount of Olives
- 2.2 The Jewish Cemetery
- 2.3 The Chapel of the Ascension
- 2.4 The Tombs of the Prophets
- 2.5 Dominus Flevit Church
- 2.6 The Church of Mary Magdalene
- 2.7 The Tomb of Mary
- 2.8 The Garden of Gethsemane
- 2.9 The Church of All Nations
- 2.10 The Tomb of Absalom & the Tomb of Zechariah
- 2.11 The City of David
- 2.12 Hezekiah’s Tunnel
- 2.13 Mahane Yehuda Market
- 3 How Many Days to Spend in Jerusalem?
- 4 Where to Stay in Jerusalem
What to Do in Jerusalem on a Self-Guided Trip
Discover the 8 Gates of Jerusalem
The Old City has eight gates, each from a different historical era of Jerusalem. You can enter the city through seven of them: Damascus Gate, Herod’s Gate, Lions’ Gate, Dung Gate, Zion Gate, Jaffa Gate and the New Gate.
The eight gate – the Gate of Mercy (or the Golden Gate) – is located in the eastern wall of the Temple Mount. The gate has been blocked for centuries, but according to Jewish tradition, it will be opened when the Messiah comes and resurrects the dead.
The gates are all very beautiful, therefore I would recommend visiting each one of them if you have time.
Wander the Streets of the Old City
The Old City of Jerusalem is one of the most astonishing places you will ever visit. Tiny cobbled stone streets dating back centuries, vendors selling their goods, school children running around, and souvenirs everywhere. So much to see and do in Jerusalem!
This is a great place to observe people and feel the pulse of Jerusalem. Chances are you’ll be spending a lot of time in the Old City, since most of the historical sites are in this area.
The core of the Old City of Jerusalem has a history of over 4000 years, but the walls that surround it were built in the 16th century by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.
The Old City is divided into four quarters: Jewish Quarter, Armenian Quarter, Muslim Quarter, and Christian Quarter. Each district has its own character and unique atmosphere. The best way to explore them is to get lost in this lively and colorful labyrinth of meandering streets and alleys.
The area enclosed within the Old City walls is not very big (just about one square kilometer). It is however loaded with important sites to see and things to do. You can wander around for hours and not pass by the same places twice.
Western Wall (or Wailing Wall)
One of the must-see places in Jerusalem is the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall. The wall is actually a small segment of a far longer ancient retaining wall of the Temple Mount. For the Jews the Western Wall is the most significant prayer site in the world. But why?
When the Romans destroyed the temple, in the year 70 AD, this was the only wall that survived. As a result, the Jews were left with no place to worship and they have also been banned from this site for centuries.
Today, although Jews are allowed to visit the Temple Mount, they can’t pray there. Therefore, the Western Wall became the holiest site where Jews can pray, as it’s the closest to where their temple once stood.
Temple Mount & Dome of the Rock
No trip to Jerusalem would be complete without a visit to the Temple Mount and the famous Dome of the Rock. This is one of the most contested and controversial places in the world!
The Temple Mount is the elevated plaza above the Western Wall in Jerusalem where the two ancient Jewish temples were located.
Today however, the Temple Mount plaza is dominated by three monumental structures: the al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock and the Dome of the Chain.
For Jews, Temple Mount is the location of their Holy of Holies. Similarly, for Muslims Temple Mount is the the spot where their prophet, Mohamed, ascended into heaven. So as you can see, Temple Mount is one of the most contested religious sites in the world.
Of all the places to visit in Jerusalem, Via Dolorosa is undoubtedly the most important to the Christian world, as it commemorates Christ’s sacrifice to save the humankind. Also known as the Way of the Cross, Via Dolorosa follows Jesus’s route on the way to his crucifixion.
The route begins at the Church of Flagellation, where the trial of Jesus took place, and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where he was crucified. Via Dolorosa consists of 14 stations commemorating particular events that took place in the last hours of Jesus’s life.
Church of the Holy Sepulcher
If for Jews the Wailing Wall is the most sacred place on earth, for Christians the most venerated one is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The church was built over the two of the holiest sites for Christianity: the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and his tomb.
Church of the Holy Sepulcher is made of over 30 chapels and worship spaces. Three of the important sites to visit in the church are: the Rock of Calvary, the place where the cross stood; the Stone of Anointing, a slab of reddish stone commemorating the place where the body of Jesus was prepared for burial; the Holy Sepulcher (Christ’s tomb) which is inside of a shrine.
Expect hours-long lines at all these stations, especially at the empty tomb of Jesus. We tried to be there earlier to beat the crowds, but at 6:00 a.m. we still found a line of at least 2-3 hours!
Tower of David Museum
The Tower of David – also known as the Jerusalem Citadel – houses the Museum of the History of Jerusalem. The entrance to the beautifully restored ancient citadel is near the Jaffa Gate, in the Christian Quarter.
The Tower of David is one of the biggest attractions in Jerusalem. The museum houses a great collection of Jerusalem artifacts from the Canaanite period up to today. Visiting the citadel is also very rewarding for the spectacular views that you get from the ramparts.
Despite being called the Tower of David, the citadel was actually the palace of King Herod’s the Great, a Roman king that ruled Judea around 74 BC. The original palace had three enormous towers, one of which was modeled on the Lighthouse of Alexandria.
In summer, they stage a a 45-minute sound-and-light show in the Citadel’s courtyard. Visiting the
The Ramparts Walk
Walking the Ramparts of the Old City if one of the most rewarding things to do in Jerusalem. This is the best way to see the Old City as a living city, not just as a historical attraction. However, be advised that this walk is rather strenuous and requires ascending and descending very steep stairs.
There are practically two separate walks included in the same admission ticket. The north side walk goes from the Jaffa Gate to the Lions Gate and is the longer of the two. The south side walk is shorter starts at the Tower of David and ends at at the Western Wall.
The Garden Tomb
Located outside the the Old City walls, just a short walk from Damascus Gate, is the GardenTomb. Many consider this site to be the real burial site on which Jesus’ tomb lies. One of the points in support of this idea is the location of the Tomb. In the Bible (Hebrews 13:12) it is written that Jesus was buried outside the city walls, and the Garden Tomb fits this description.
Another interesting observation in support of the Garden Tomb is the hillside next to it, that resembles a skull. The Gospel of John mentions that Jesus was crucified “at the place of the skull.” Therefore, most experts believe the Garden Tomb is the real place where Jesus was buried.
But whether you consider this to be the actual burial site or not, the Garden Tomb is a really peaceful and nice place to visit.
What to Do Outside the City Walls of Jerusalem
Mount of Olives
Although associated with Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives actually sites outside the walls of the Old City walls. This is one of the holiest places in Jerusalem – sacred both to Jews and Christians. It’s the place where Jesus spent much of His time on Earth teaching his disciples and where he wept for Jerusalem.
To reach the top of the Mount of Olives you can either take a cab, or climb the hill through a narrow alley that starts from the Garden of Gethsemane. The hike is not very long, but it’s pretty steep. Most people take a cab up the mountain and then walk back down.
The Jewish Cemetery
The Mount of Olives is also believed to be the place where God will return on the Earth to judge humanity. Therefore, thousands of Jews made their graves on the adjacent slopes, in the Jewish Cemetery. Standing above this immense graveyard and looking at the Old City of Jerusalem feels almost unreal. A breathtaking view!
The Chapel of the Ascension
Also atop the Mount of Olives is another place of great biblical significance: the Chapel of the Ascension. This small, simple structure marks the spot from where – according to Christian tradition – Jesus ascended to Heaven.
Inside the structure there is nothing but a rock that supposedly has a footprint left by Jesus prior to His ascension to Heaven.
The Tombs of the Prophets
Right before you start your descent from the mountain, there is a big cave that contains the Tombs of the Prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. The cave is not visible from the road, so you’ll have to climb down a few steps and look for the sign.
Dominus Flevit Church
As you continue walking down from the Mount of Olives you’ll encounter a number of sites that commemorate the key events in the ministry of Jesus. One of them is Dominus Flevit, which was built on the site where, according to tradition, Jesus wept over Jerusalem. The lovely chapel is shaped as inverted teardrop and sits in a beautiful garden overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem.
The Church of Mary Magdalene
This Russian Orthodox Church (Church of Mary Magdalene) with seven gilded domes is one of the most picturesque sights in Jerusalem. The church contains the relics of Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ followers and was a witness to his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.
The Tomb of Mary
At the foot of the Mount of Olives, right next to the Garden of Gethsemane, you find the Tomb of the Virgin the mother of Jesus.
The New Testament doesn’t actually say anything about the death or burial place of Mary. However, Christian tradition considers this below-the-ground crypt to be the place where Mary was buried.
The Garden of Gethsemane
This beautiful grove of olive trees at the foot of the Mount of Olives is believed to be the place where Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer and contemplation.
Unfortunately, the Garden of Gethsemane you see today is not the quiet, peaceful oasis described in the Bible. Loads of tourists visit the place every day and at all times, so don’t expect to find much peace here!
The Church of All Nations
Of all the holy sites on the Mount of Olives, the most beautiful one is the Church of All Nations. The church was built over the rock on which Jesus has prayed before his crucifixion, therefore it is also known as the Basilica of the Agony.
The church has a very beautiful location, adjacent to the Garden of Gethsemane. The interior of the church is particularly beautiful with beautiful mosaics depicting scenes from the night Jesus was betrayed. Visiting the church is a very moving experience for all Christian believers.
The Tomb of Absalom & the Tomb of Zechariah
Right across from the Church of All Nations/Gethsemane, in the Kidron valley (Yehoshafat valley), you’ll find a series of old tombs/monuments dating from the time of King David (10th Century BC). Two of the most impressive ones are the Tomb of Absalom, the rebellious son of King David, and the Tomb of Zechariah, the prophet.
The monumental Tomb of Absalom rises 20 meters high and features a square base with ionic columns and a conical roof. The tomb is now closed, so you can only see it from the outside.
The Tomb of Zechariah does not contain a burial chamber, so it’s rather a monument. The upper part is shaped like an Egyptian pyramid that sits upon a cornice. It is believed that Zechariah was buried in the Tombs of the Prophets, on the Mount of Olives.
The City of David
The City of David is an archeological site that contains the oldest part of Jerusalem. This is one of the most fascinating places to visit in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, many visitors to Jerusalem overlook this important site, but I strongly encourage you to visit it during your trip.
The story of the City of David began over 3,000 years ago, when King David establishing it as the first capital of Judea. This is where Kind Solomon, David’s son, built the First Temple on top of Mount Moriah, the site of the actual Dome of the Rock. As a result, this hilltop became one of the most important sites in the world.
The excavation work still continues today, unveiling more amazing finds confirming the authenticity of data mentioned in the Bible. The tour starts at the Davidson Center and goes along the eastern wall. You can see the old foundations of what may have been the royal palace, a house from the first temple period and some ritual baths (Mikveh)
The tour then continues underground, through the Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This was the major water source of Jerusalem for over 1000 years. The tunnel is narrow and low in parts, so it’s definitely not for claustrophobic people.
The tour ends at the Pool of Siloam where, according to the Bible, Jesus healed of the blind man (John 9).
Mahane Yehuda Market
Often referred to as “The Shuk”, Mahane Yehuda Market is perhaps the most popular marketplace in Jerusalem. The market is huge, with over 250 different stands, shops, and restaurants. If you want to try some of the local specialties at a reasonable price, this is the place to come.
How Many Days to Spend in Jerusalem?
Most of the guides I’ve read recommend spending at the most 2-3 days on a trip to Jerusalem. In my opinion that’s way too little, considering how many amazing places to visit are in Jerusalem.
We’ve spent 6 full days in Jerusalem and still didn’t get to visit everything we would have liked to. That being said, I think it is possible to see many of the sites I listed here in less than 6 days, but you’ll have to rush through them. My recommendation to stay at least 5-6 days in Jerusalem if you want to fully enjoy and comprehend its culture.
Where to Stay in Jerusalem
The Old City of Jerusalem is the best place to stay if you want to be minutes away from the most popular sites in the city. However, accommodations within the city walls area are limited (HaShimi Hotel). A better option is to stay just a little outside the Old City where you’ll find more accommodations. The closest lodging is Mamilla Hotel, which is a five-star accommodation connected to the Old City via a short pathway.
We stayed at the St. George’s Pilgrim Guesthouse, a beautiful accommodation set in the guesthouse of St. George’s Cathedral. The guesthouse has simple but very comfortable rooms, a beautiful courtyard, a garden, and a charming cloister decorated with antique furniture. The hotel has an excellent location – just outside the Old City walls, within 5 minutes walk from Damascus Gate.
Planning a trip to Israel? Read this comprehensive Israel Itinerary for some inspiration.
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