What are the best things to see and do in Jerusalem?

Dan Heching

Jerusalem offers a mixture of history, religion and gorgeous views like no other city in the world. Here are Forbes Travel Guide editors’ tips for the five best things to see and do in Jerusalem:

1. Wander in the Old City. Just as Jerusalem makes Israel unique, the Old City is the heart of what makes this city so special. Divided into four quarters — Muslim, Armenian, Christian and Jewish — this bustling walled city is the birthplace of so many religious movements and historical traditions, it’s almost impossible to keep track. Notable sites are the Wailing Wall (or ‘Kotel’), the spiritual center for Jews; the Temple Mount with its emblematic Dome of the Rock, which is a Muslim holy site;  and the Via Dolorosa.
 
2. Swim in the Dead Sea.  Jerusalem is in a prime location not far from the Dead Sea. The lowest point in the world, this body of hyper-saline saltwater is a bizarre and breathtaking natural experience worth the 50-minute drive from Jerusalem (accessible by bus as well). As you float on the water, you’ll see the sweeping Jordanian mountains to one side and the desert on the other. The Dead Sea is famous for its mineral riches and therefore has several fantastic spas in the area, like the one at Ein Gedi.
 
3. Tour Yad Vashem. The world-renowned Holocaust remembrance museum is filled with excellent multimedia and high-tech displays, and is also in a class by itself architecturally: the space becomes increasingly claustrophobic as the war years rage on, soon opening up to a glorious view of Jerusalem and the surrounding Judean Hills. The tours are well run, but this can also be a museum to experience solo.
 
4. Follow Hezekiah’s Tunnel. For a truly archeological experience, explore the network of tunnels under the City of David, which once supplied water to the denizens above. The tour through the Biblical tunnels is an exciting one and meant especially for the more able-bodied. Bring shoes that you don’t mind getting wet!
 
5. Mount of Olives.  For the quintessential view overlooking the Jerusalem skyline, head up to this holy site which is held sacred in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions. Notably, Jesus famously spoke on the Mount of Olives and the famous 3,000-year-old Jewish cemetery lies here.

  • On September 17, 2012
    Dan Heching answered the question: Dan Heching

    What is the best way to get a sense of the history in Jerusalem?

    Understandably, the preference most of the time is to forge your own path while traveling. But the enormous wealth of history and information lurking behind practically every stone in Jerusalem makes the need for a knowledgeable tour guide of utmost importance. Finding the right guide, who can mix passion, academia and fun into a great day out and about in the city, can be the key to a wonderful trip here. Ideally, choose a tour that will take you through all the different quarters of the Old City, as well as neighboring areas, thereby getting a sense of the multi-faceted cultures that have existed side-by-side here for countless years.
     
    Specifically, tours conducted by guides from Emek Shaveh — an organization of archeologists and community activists — available within the City of David reveal new areas that are being excavated, with many artifacts and clues to the ancient way of life, all in the context of the modern day Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • On September 17, 2012
    Dan Heching answered the question: Dan Heching

    What is the best thing to bring home from Jerusalem?

    There is a wealth of beautiful things to bring home from Jerusalem, from pottery to jewelry to any number of religious-themed gifts: Crosses, menorahs, rosary beads, artwork and more. A particular favorite is the hand-painted ceramic work at the Sandrouni Armenian Ceramic Center in the Christian quarter of the Old City, just inside the New Gate. The bowls, ceramic pomegranates, plates and more are all meticulously patterned and a beauty to behold.
     
    A favorite ornament, held sacred as a good luck charm in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions, is a hamsa (the Arabic word for five). It depicts the palm and five fingers of a hand, but also resembles the profile of a dove. The symbol meant to evoke peace, completeness, and protection is available on sale everywhere, in a variety of materials from silver to wood to tile.
  • On September 17, 2012
    Dan Heching answered the question: Dan Heching

    What are the best Jerusalem food experiences?

    You’ll find the cuisine in Jerusalem shares many similarities with that of other major cities in this Mediterranean region. Though there’s no shortage of good food here in Jerusalem, but these are five food experiences that Forbes Travel Guide editors think you shouldn’t miss: 
     
    1. Falafel. The single most iconic delicacy in Israel, falafel in pita is truly a taste of Israel. Most often served with tahini (sesame sauce), hummus and Israeli salad (diced cucumbers and tomatoes), these mashed and fried chickpea balls are on virtually every menu, and are even good at the stands and stalls on the streets or in restaurants like Moshiko.  If you like a little extra kick, try the spicy harif sauce; the red sauce is mild hot and the green is hot hot!
     
    2. Prickly Pears. Perhaps the most characteristic fruit of Israel is the prickly pear (or ‘sabra’ in Hebrew), which metaphorically refers to the thick and often prickly outer layer of this country’s people, but always leading to a warm and flavor-filled heart. These fruits are bountiful at markets like Mahane Yehuda.
     
    3. Schnitzel. Grilled, breaded cutlets, known as schnitzel, were originally a European delicacy made with pork or veal. Here they’ve perfected a kosher version with chicken in Israel. In a sandwich at Pinati, with hummus or just on its own, this is a light but still absolutely delicious choice for lunch or dinner.
     
    4. Shawarma. Served in pita bread like falafel, shawarma is the Arab-Israeli answer to the doner kabob of Turkey. The spiced roasted meat  — often lamb — is cut off a vertical skewer and wrapped in a pita along with sauce, tomatoes and onions.  At an institution like Manah vaChetzi, it’s a mouthwatering sandwich treat for any meat lover. 
     
    5. Halva. A dessert delicacy traditionally made of sesame, halva is perfected at Halva Kingdom on Ets Hayim Street within the Mahane Yehuda market. You’ll find 20 flavors of halva or more, from pistachio and hazelnut to chocolate and raspberry. Forbes Travel Guide editors suggest you sample a few before making a choice.
  • On September 17, 2012
    Dan Heching answered the question: Dan Heching

    Where is the best nightlife in Jerusalem?

    The best nightlife in Jerusalem takes place on Ben Yehuda Street, the epicenter of social life for the countless students who come to Jerusalem. Here you’ll find establishments like Zolly’s for the younger crowd and Mike’s Place, an American sports bar. Wandering the plazas and side-streets off Ben Yehuda will turn up various activities, the most culturally enriching of which might be to smoke at a hookah bar. Although there are some nightclubs located in the neighborhood of Talpiot, take note: Jerusalem is not the place for an all-night-out bender. For that, Forbes Travel Guide editors suggest you head up north to Tel Aviv.
  • On September 17, 2012
    Dan Heching answered the question: Dan Heching

    What is the best way to see Jerusalem in one day?

    Without a doubt, the best way to get an overview of both the antique and modern components of Jerusalem is to take the Ramparts Walk along the walls of the Old City. This pathway is best explored in the early morning, and you’ll see the Muslim Quarter and the rest of the city waking up within the walls. The entrances to the ramparts are located near most of the Old City gates.
     
    Next head into the Old City and get a glimpse of the Wailing Wall, as well as the neighboring Temple Mount. After that, check out the cantilevered cable bridge near the central bus station, as a modern counterpoint to all the ancient history. For a midday feast, make sure to take in Mahane Yehuda, the biggest and busiest fresh food market in Jerusalem and an absolutely delightful assault on the senses. Spices, dried fruits, nuts, meats and more extend as far as the eye can see and nose can smell, with bakeries, cafés and restaurants interspersed throughout the crowded market streets. Fridays are especially busy and dizzying here, with the city-wide preparation for the Sabbath.
     
    For an afternoon break from the city, head to Ein Kerem, the picturesque village thought to be birthplace of St. John the Baptist. If you have time, hike through the wadis or dried riverbeds in the surrounding forest.
     
    To complete your day, dine at Turkish Bourekas restaurant on Jaffa Street, with decadent bourekas served with hardboiled egg, tahini and pickles in an establishment open 24 hours daily except on the Sabbath.
  • On September 17, 2012
    Dan Heching answered the question: Dan Heching

    Where is the best shopping in Jerusalem?

    The premier shopping destination in Jerusalem is the modern Mamilla pedestrian corridor, a beautifully appointed open promenade connecting King David Street with the Jaffa Gate into the Old City. Here you will find luxury chains both familiar and exotic, along with an interior shopping center with some of the best jewelry in Jerusalem.
     
    For more historic crafts, the Old City itself has some truly whimsical and very exotic shopping streets, like the ancient Jewish crafts market known as The Cardo, with its arcaded interior, and the Arab souk (market) just across from the Jaffa Gate. This is a classic Middle Eastern market, with vendor upon vendor selling decorative religious paraphernalia, scarves, clothing, jewelry and even footwear.
  • On September 17, 2012
    Dan Heching answered the question: Dan Heching

    What are the best things to do with kids in Jerusalem?

    As an ancient city, Jerusalem has many winding streets and old neighborhoods just waiting to be explored. Your kids will enjoy the adventure, especially if you take them on these five activities recommended by Forbes Travel Guide editors:
     
    1. Visit  Jerusalem Tayelet. The Haas Promenade on the Jerusalem Tayelet is a wonderful place to take the kids, snap some family pictures, and enjoy the outstanding views of both the Old City and modern-day Jerusalem below.
     
    2. Go to the Biblical Zoo. The Tisch Family Zoological Gardens, or Biblical Zoo organizes its diverse and fascinating tenants into two categories: animals mentioned in the Bible (on Noah’s ark and beyond) and endangered species from near and far. The zoo is a perfect diversion for the younger set, and a nice break from all the history.
     
    3. Enjoy the City’s Parks and Gardens. Take your pick of either a leisurely afternoon in The Garden of Gethsemane, a holy spot just outside the Old City walls, or go a bit further afield to Bet Guvrin-Maresha National Park, where you can choose to hike, drive and picnic depending on the ages and activity-level appropriate for your group.
     
    4. Tour Mini Israel. A truly different attraction, Mini Israel contains almost 400 meticulously crafted replicas of Israel's most prominent historical, religious, archeological and modern sites, all laid out amongst small bonsai trees and thousands of miniature figurines. The entirely walkable park offers a 3D movie of Israel’s sites and landscapes (plus a new aerial edition), a restaurant and cafeteria, and a multimedia jamboree for the younger kids.
     
    5. Explore City Of David. This historic city is an entertaining and educational site in its own right, where exciting archeological discoveries are being made every day. The site of King David’s illustrious palace grounds and Solomon’s Temple is presented in a brief 3D movie, and the highly recommended walking tours are well priced at only 60 shekels (approximately $15) per person. Recommended for young explorers aged 10 and up.
  • On September 17, 2012
    Dan Heching answered the question: Dan Heching

    What are the best things to see and do in Jerusalem?

    Jerusalem offers a mixture of history, religion and gorgeous views like no other city in the world. Here are Forbes Travel Guide editors’ tips for the five best things to see and do in Jerusalem:

    1. Wander in the Old City. Just as Jerusalem makes Israel unique, the Old City is the heart of what makes this city so special. Divided into four quarters — Muslim, Armenian, Christian and Jewish — this bustling walled city is the birthplace of so many religious movements and historical traditions, it’s almost impossible to keep track. Notable sites are the Wailing Wall (or ‘Kotel’), the spiritual center for Jews; the Temple Mount with its emblematic Dome of the Rock, which is a Muslim holy site;  and the Via Dolorosa.
     
    2. Swim in the Dead Sea.  Jerusalem is in a prime location not far from the Dead Sea. The lowest point in the world, this body of hyper-saline saltwater is a bizarre and breathtaking natural experience worth the 50-minute drive from Jerusalem (accessible by bus as well). As you float on the water, you’ll see the sweeping Jordanian mountains to one side and the desert on the other. The Dead Sea is famous for its mineral riches and therefore has several fantastic spas in the area, like the one at Ein Gedi.
     
    3. Tour Yad Vashem. The world-renowned Holocaust remembrance museum is filled with excellent multimedia and high-tech displays, and is also in a class by itself architecturally: the space becomes increasingly claustrophobic as the war years rage on, soon opening up to a glorious view of Jerusalem and the surrounding Judean Hills. The tours are well run, but this can also be a museum to experience solo.
     
    4. Follow Hezekiah’s Tunnel. For a truly archeological experience, explore the network of tunnels under the City of David, which once supplied water to the denizens above. The tour through the Biblical tunnels is an exciting one and meant especially for the more able-bodied. Bring shoes that you don’t mind getting wet!
     
    5. Mount of Olives.  For the quintessential view overlooking the Jerusalem skyline, head up to this holy site which is held sacred in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions. Notably, Jesus famously spoke on the Mount of Olives and the famous 3,000-year-old Jewish cemetery lies here.
  • On August 29, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    Where are the best places to eat in Jerusalem?

    Eating seems like a national pastime in Israel, and Jerusalem delights gourmets with a diverse array of restaurants. Chefs who have worked in the best kitchens around the world helm a growing number of restaurants. Forbes Travel Guide editors suggest you dine at these five places in Jerusalem:
     
    1. Machneyuda. Don’t be surprised if you see Israeli celebrities or politicians dining at this popular new spot that specializes in dishes made with fresh produce from the namesake Mahane Yehuda market. Expect dishes like shrimp in garlic and olive oil, squid ink taglietelle with mussels or semolina cake with tahini ice cream. You’ll need some persistence, or help from a well-connected concierge to secure a reservation.
     
    2. Canela.  This sleek and elegant restaurant serves an international cuisine that draws inspiration from the Europe and the Far East (chestnut gnocchi in coconut milk) as easily as the Middle East (a slow-cooked ragout of lamb, eggplant and chickpeas.)
     
    3. Luciana. An exceptional Italian eatery on the bustling Eimek Rephaim Boulevard, Luciana is known for its copious fresh salads and pastas, not to mention their hand-tossed pizzas and breads that smell like they’re fresh out of a Tuscan oven. The beautiful space includes a spacious yard sheltered by tall eucalyptus trees.
     
    4. La Guta. This venerable top table in Jerusalem has a whole new attitude thanks to young chef Guy Ben-Simhon, who trained in the New York at Lespinasse and with Daniel Boulud. Expect dishes like drum fish sashimi with citrus and thyme salad, foie gras with cherry tomato jam and goose thigh in forest berries.
     
    5. Sushi Rehavia. This upscale sushi spot on Azza Street brings delightful Japanese and Asian cuisine to Jerusalem, providing a welcome alternative to the hummus and shawarma. The menu is full of meat, fish and tofu options, prepared raw or grilled, always with absolutely fresh ingredients.
  • On August 29, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best places to stay in Jerusalem?

    You’ll find plenty of lovely modern hotels throughout the historic city of Jerusalem. From classic hotels to the upcoming Waldorf-Astoria Jerusalem near Mamilla, the holy city’s lodging options are becoming increasingly upscale. Here are Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for the five best places to stay in Jerusalem.
     
    1. Mamilla Hotel. This hotel has set a new standard in Jerusalem hotels, as has the new and beautiful open-air Alrov Mamilla promenade for which it is named. With a skylit reception area and two top-tier restaurants on site, the Mamilla is steps away from the Jaffa Gate and mixes modern with old world charm – the visually stunning design features Jerusalem stone interiors that remind you, in an understated and beautiful way, of where you are
     
    2. The David Citadel Hotel. A modern treat of a hotel tucked into the classic context of Jerusalem, the David Citadel (located across from the Mamilla Promenade) offers magnificent views of the Old City, chic and very spacious guestrooms and a grand pool complex in the center of the hotel. Try for a balcony room facing the Jaffa Gate for a truly perfect Jerusalem view.
     
    3. The Inbal. This deluxe hotel features a prime location just steps from the Old City and Botanical Gardens, views overlooking Liberty Bell Park, an amazing breakfast buffet and a phenomenal spa. It’s also a haven for kids, with a fabulous pool, gaming area, and large workout room. 
     
    4. King David Hotel. Built in the 1931, the historic and luxurious King David has long been the go-to option for celebrities, heads of state and families traveling to Israel. A landmark in its own right, the King David is perched over Old and New Jerusalem, boasting unparalleled views. Special amenities include private grounds and gardens, a tennis court, separate supervised children’s pool and a playground.
     
    5. American Colony Hotel Jerusalem.  Another iconic Jerusalem hotel, the American Colony was built around an Ottoman pasha’s mansion. Despite the stone archways and vaulted ceilings, it has an intimate feeling. The Cellar Bar is a popular watering hole for both foreign correspondents and spies.