Jerusalem is a city brimming with spiritual significance, history, and culture. It is a destination that holds a unique allure for travelers from around the world. As a first-time visitor to this remarkable city, you’re in for a journey that will both enlighten and captivate your senses.
Jerusalem’s character stems from its timeless designation as the spiritual center of three major religions – Judaism and Christianity. The city encapsulates a living history of unity and division, blending ancient heritage with modern political and social intricacies, making it an extraordinary mosaic of humanity’s spiritual, historical, and geopolitical tapestry.
When to Visit Jerusalem
The best time to visit Jerusalem for good weather and fewer crowds is April-May and October-November. That said, you must check the Israeli calendar of public and religious holidays so that you don’t arrive when everything is closed. Consider the fact that there are special events during the holidays of Hanukkah (December), Passover (April), and Sukkot (September/October). But take into consideration the hordes of tourists and locals during school holidays (during the religious holidays and summer holidays of July-August). Also remember that it is scorching hot in July-August, and cold, with a chance of snow and lots of rain in winter (December-February). One of the most fun times to visit if you are traveling with kids is during the Purim holiday when there are fancy dress parties and parades. Another consideration is being in Jerusalem during Shabbat. From sundown on Friday night until sundown on Saturday most (if not all) businesses shut down and there is limited public transport.
How to Get to Jerusalem
You can reach Jerusalem from Tel Aviv by car, bus, train, “sherut” or taxi.
Bus: If you can take an hour-long bus (the cheapest option) from Tel Aviv. There are several places where you can connect to the Jerusalem bus, and several bus numbers including 480.
Train: Catch the train to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv Savidor Center (or even straight from Ben Gurion). This is a comfortable option and also takes about an hour.
Sherut: These shared minibus/taxis leave from outside Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. There is a fixed fare and the sherut leaves when it is full. It runs on a set route (there are also sherut buses from the airport to Jerusalem) but if there is room in the minibus they will stop for passengers who flag them down along the way. Let the driver know where you are going and he might stop where it is convenient for you instead of taking you to the Jerusalem Central Bus Station. Pay the driver cash onboard.
Taxi: This is perhaps the most expensive way to reach Jerusalem but also the fastest and most convenient.
Driving: The main entrance road to Jerusalem is often considered to be Highway 1, also known as Begin Highway. It connects Jerusalem with Tel Aviv and other parts of Israel. Highway 1 is a major route that allows travelers to access the city from the west, particularly from Tel Aviv and the coastal area.
Understanding the Layout of Jerusalem
As you explore Jerusalem, keep its layout in mind for a well-rounded experience. Divided into east and west, the city’s eastern side holds the Old City with its religious sites and residential neighborhoods like Silwan. The western side boasts bustling downtown areas along Jaffa Road and King George Street, plus residential zones such as Baka and Rehavia. Don’t miss the Old City’s quarters—Christian, Jewish and Armenian—each brimming with cultural and religious gems. In West Jerusalem is the Central Business District. The city’s strategic geography connects historical trade routes, making it a gateway to Israel and an integral part of its past and present.
How to Get Around Jerusalem
If you’re nervous about navigating the streets of Jerusalem and finding all the attractions then don’t hesitate to take a Jerusalem tour package for first timers. You can use all of the types of transport mentioned above for moving around in Jerusalem. There are excellent bus routes that will get you to every corner of the city. Online transportation websites will help you plan your bus journeys. In addition, Jerusalem has a light rail train which is very convenient. It reaches many of the top attractions including the Old City and Machane Yehuda Market. Tickets are purchased from machines at each station, and you can pay with cash, or credit card, or use the local reloadable electronic ticket – Rav Kav.
Like other places in the world, Israel has moved to a reloadable public transport card called a Rav Kav. You can still pay for trains and the Jerusalem light rail at the train/light rail stations with a credit card or cash but for buses in particular you will probably not be allowed to get onboard if you don’t have a Rav Kav. Locals use a personalized Rav Kav with their photos. But tourists can buy a Rav Kav electronic ticket at most major train and bus stations as well as the arrivals hall in Ben Gurion. The card itself costs 5 ILS, and then you can load it with credit at the same place you buy it. If you don’t have a Rav Kav and you want to use the bus you can use one of the supported mobile ticketing apps (for example Moovit and Pango).
Where to Stay in Jerusalem
The location of your hotel in Jerusalem is not critical, so long as it is near to a bus or light rail station. If you are looking for a full immersive experience then stay in the Old City. Alternatively, there are many generic big-brand hotels in the city. Many of the luxury hotels including the Waldorf Astoria, King David, and Mamilla Hotel are close (if not walking distance from the Old City. Another great option for a historic hotel is the American Colony Hotel. Consider the fact that you’ll spend most of your time at the Old City, the Machine Market, and in the area around King George and Jaffa Streets. If your hotel is not walking distance from one of these places then it should have public transport on its doorstep. For a cool trendy location stay in Nachlaot, or the quality and beautiful Germany Colony.
It goes without saying that on any trip to Jerusalem, you’ll be visiting religious sites – synagogues and churches. So in respect of local culture and norms dress modestly, or carry a shawl or cover-up to put on when entering places of worship.
Where to Eat
You won’t have to put too much thought into where to eat, because there are ample opportunities to stop for a bite at one of the many food stalls and restaurants. Some of the best restaurants can be found around Machane Yehuda Market. Check out Jerusalem’s local specialties such as hummus, falafel, and shawarma, and a few of the less obvious delights including knafeh, malabi, sambusak, makluba, and kubbeh. Try Jerusalem mixed meats or meorav Yerusalmi, a mix of skewered grilled meats including liver, heart, and chicken. Remember that most of Jerusalem’s restaurants are kosher and are either meaty or milky. There are also plenty of halal restaurants, particularly in East Jerusalem. Vegetarians and vegans will be spoiled for choice.
Must See and Do List for First-Time Visitors to Jerusalem
The Western Wall (Kotel)
As the last remnant of the Second Temple, the Western Wall is a deeply spiritual site for Jewish worship and reflection. Visitors can place notes in the crevices of the ancient stones, a tradition believed to carry prayers to the divine. The wall’s towering presence and the palpable sense of history make it a powerful and moving experience. Find the Western Wall just inside the Old City Dung Gate.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
This revered Christian site within the Old City is believed to encompass both the crucifixion and resurrection sites of Jesus. The 4th-century church’s intricate architecture and religious artifacts draw pilgrims from around the world, creating an atmosphere of reverence and contemplation. Follow the Via Dolorosa through the Old City to reach the church.
Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial
This poignant museum pays tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, offering a comprehensive educational experience that honors their memory and educates about the atrocities of that time. The Children’s Memorial and the Hall of Names are particularly moving sections that provide insight into the lives lost.
Mahane Yehuda Market
Bursting with colors and aromas, this lively market is a sensory delight. Exploring the stalls, sampling local foods, and engaging with vendors creates an authentic taste of Jerusalem’s vibrant daily life. If you want to try local street food this is the place.
Mount of Olives
Offering stunning panoramic views of the city, this hill is also dotted with religious sites like the Church of All Nations, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Chapel of the Ascension. It is also the site of a 3000-year-old Jewish cemetery. The mount looks down on the Kidron Valley where there are ancient burial tombs. The location holds spiritual significance for multiple faiths and provides a tranquil escape from the city’s bustle.
Home to an extensive collection of artifacts, including the Dead Sea Scrolls and an impressive outdoor sculpture garden, this museum offers a comprehensive journey through Israel’s history and culture. It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the region’s heritage.
Copyright © 2023 California Business Journal. All Rights Reserved.