Explore Jerusalem

Jerusalem Travel Guide

Israel's capital city occupies an important place in the hearts and minds of Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. The walled section comprising the Old City of Jerusalem is an area rich in the historical traditions of these three religions. It is home to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock, and the Al Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount. The Western Wall provides the focal point for Jewish worship and stands as an enduring symbol of the Jewish homeland.<br /><br /> The Old City can be accessed through seven of the eight gates punctuating the ancient walls enveloping it. Within these walls are the separate quarters of the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian communities. A dazzling array of merchandise can be purchased from the lively Arab <em>souk</em>(open-air market), and meandering through the narrow corridors and cobbled pavements of the ancient centre inevitably provides a feast of sensations. For an orientation of the Old City it is best to set off along the Ramparts Walk, originally designed for watchmen, or to climb the Citadel of David for a panoramic vista of the eternally fascinating city of Jerusalem.<br /><br /> Although famous for its many remarkable historical and religious sites, Jerusalem does have more modern attractions too; the city has all you would expect in the way of amenities, shopping, restaurants and nightlife, although if you are visiting Israel primarily for these sorts of activities Tel Aviv may be more to your liking.<br /><br />

Masada

Address: Jerusalem

The mountaintop fortress of Masada (sometimes spelled Massada) is one of Israel's most popular and remarkable tourist attractions, situated in the Judean Desert and overlooking the Dead Sea. This enduring symbol of Jewish history is the site of an heroic defence by 967 Jewish Zealots, who rose against the Roman Empire in 66 AD and took their own lives when defeat seemed inevitable. The ancient fortress which the rebels defended against Roman siege was built by King Herod on top of the plateau.<br /><br /> You can still explore the ruins of the ancient palaces and structures at the site and see the remains of the most complete Roman siege system in the world; the Roman camps, siege wall and ramp are still clearly visible. Masada is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a place of profound interest for military history buffs as well as those touched by the bravery of the men, women and children who stood their ground against the Roman Empire.<br /><br /> A cable car ride or hike up the Snake Path takes one to the top, where breathtaking views can be enjoyed over the Dead Sea and the surrounding desert. The Masada Sound and Light Show recounts this dramatic history with special pyrotechnic effects, and takes place in a natural amphitheatre on the west side of the mountain reachable only from Arad. The Yigal Yadin Masada Museum is also fascinating.<br /><br />

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Address: Via Dolorosa, Old City. Jerusalem

Admission: Free Daily from 5am to 9pm (April to September), and 5am to 7pm (October to March).

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the holiest Christian site in Jerusalem: the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection. It was first constructed in 335 by Emperor Constantine, and frequent damage has been inflicted on the structure over the centuries. Repairs have been undertaken by the religious communities that administer it.<br /><br /> The Church contains the Chapel of Golgotha, the three Stations of the Cross where Jesus was crucified, and the Sepulchre itself marks the place of his burial and resurrection. This incredible church is filled with treasures and should be of great historical and architectural interest regardless of one's religious beliefs, but it is an absolute must for Christians. The church is home to several different Christian denominations which all have their own styles of worship - some areas are common to all and some of the chapels are particular to certain denominations.<br /><br /> It is important to either join a good tour or to do some research beforehand to understand the significance of what you are seeing because this is a church, not a museum, and there is not much information available at the site. The church can get very crowded and you may have to queue for a long while to get in so it is a good idea to arrive early in the morning. Those visiting in the hope of a tranquil environment in which to pray and worship may be disappointed if they visit at a busy time. The tomb can only be entered by five people at a time so there is usually a long queue for this privilege as well.<br /><br />

Temple Mount (Al-Haram al-Sharif)

Address: Temple Mount, Old City Jerusalem

Admission: Admission to Temple Mount is free, but admission is charged for access to the Dome of the Rock, Al Aqsa Mosque and Islamic Museum. While the complex is open to all people, non-Muslim visitors will NOT be allowed entry into the building of the Dome of the Rock. Visitors should also note that Temple Mount may be closed to visitors during times of turmoil or religious conflict in Jerusalem. Generally, it is open Saturday to Thursday from 7.30am-11am and 1.30pm-3pm in summer; and 8am-10:30am and 12:20pm-2pm in winter. Closed on Fridays and during prayer times.

Temple Mount, known by some as Mount Moriah, is a site of tremendous religious importance to Muslims, Jews and Christians alike. It is one of Jerusalem's most famous landmarks and can be found within the walled section of the Old City. The glinting golden dome of the Dome of the Rock rises impressively from Jerusalem's skyline and has become the city's most distinguishable feature.<br /><br /> Temple Mount is of Jewish and Christian historical importance on two counts: the large rock is believed to be the place where Abraham offered his son Isaac up for sacrifice, and the First Temple is the place where the Ark of the Covenant is said to have been housed. Even though off limits to Jews today, it is still a focal-point of Jewish life, and Jews worldwide face the Temple Mount during prayer. For Muslims the same rock is the place from which Muhammad, in a dream, ascended to heaven. In commemoration of this apotheosis, the Dome of the Rock was built over the site in the 7th century. It is known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary or Al-Haram al-Sharif, and is one of the three most important sites in Islamic culture. Also located on the Temple Mount are the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Islamic Museum, which houses a collection of Korans and other Islamic relics.<br /><br /> Tragically, due to the site's great importance to three religions, Temple Mount is frequently a focal point for religious tension in Jerusalem. Travellers should investigate the current situation before visiting the site.<br /><br />

Western Wall (HaKotel HaMaaravi)

Address: Temple Mount, Old City Jerusalem

The Western Wall, known to non-Jews as the Wailing Wall, is the most sacred Jewish prayer-site in the world. Thousands of worshippers gather year-round to pray here, and to place folded written prayers into the crevices of the wall. The 1,916-foot (584m) wall is all that remains of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, built in 30 BC by King Herod. It is made up of enormous stone blocks, and endures as a tribute to the scale of workmanship in past eras.<br /><br /> Following Orthodox Jewish practice, the praying sections have been separated for men and women. Men are required to wear a skullcap (kippah) and women must be modestly dressed. On Fridays, the Jewish Shabbat or Sabbath, the men's section particularly pulsates with the songs and prayers of the faithful; in principle, the whole area is an Orthodox synagogue. The wall is also sacred to Muslims, who believe that it is where the prophet Muhammad tied up his winged horse, al-Buraq, before ascending into heaven.<br /><br /> For those interested in the architectural and historical aspects of the Western Wall there is an interesting tunnel tour that takes visitors through excavations along the Wall, which is much more extensive than is visible from the famous square.<br /><br /> Be prepared to go through security and have your bags checked at the site and be aware that at some times, like when there are holy events underway, photography is not allowed.<br /><br />

Via Dolorosa

Address: Via Dolorosa, Old City Jerusalem

The Via Dolorosa (Road of Sorrow), also known as the Way of the Cross, is the route Jesus is said to have followed as he carried the cross to his crucifixion. There are 14 stations along the way commemorating different events, starting at Lion's Gate in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, where Jesus was convicted by Pontius Pilate, and ending at his tomb, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre within the Christian Quarter.<br /><br /> Every Friday at 3pm priests lead a procession and prayers are said at each station. A steady stream of pilgrims remember and honour Jesus' sacrifice by walking the Way of the Cross each year. Each station is clearly marked by a semi-circle of pavement stones with the Roman numeral of the station on the wall and some stations have additional inscriptions. There are many churches along the way, belonging to different Christian denominations, and it is fascinating to enter as many as possible and compare the different interpretations of the Via Dolorosa and of Jesus.<br /><br /> There are also many other, more secular, attractions along the way, with shops, cafes, restaurants and other sights and distractions for those who want a less solemn religious experience. The pathway is historically unlikely to be the exact route walked by Jesus but it is a profound walk of faith for many Christians nonetheless, and an interesting cultural experience.<br /><br />

Yad VaShem

Address: Har Hazikaron Jerusalem

This vital memorial to the Holocaust provides a multifaceted tribute to the millions of Jews who died during World War II. The focus of the museum is to commemorate and document the events of the Holocaust and provide ongoing research and education. The Museum's archive collection is the world's largest and most comprehensive collection of Holocaust material, containing documents, photographs, films and videotaped testimonies of survivors. These can be read and viewed in the allocated rooms, and doing so is an emotional, sobering experience.<br /><br /> An inspiring tribute to the victims is The Hall of Names, where the names of the six million Holocaust victims are displayed. Symbolic gravestones are created from the 'Pages of Testimony', records of the biographical details of the millions deceased. Yad Vashem's library contains an impressive collection of material in many languages. The Historical Museum chronicles the history of the Holocaust, from the implementation of the Nazi's anti-Jewish policies to the mass murder of the concentration camps. The display includes photographs, artefacts, documents and audio-visual material. An important collection of Holocaust art is also displayed in Yad Vashem's Art Museum.<br /><br /> The International School for Holocaust Studies and Holocaust Research provides education and ongoing research on the Holocaust at both national and international levels. Other facets of the Yad Vashem experience include the Righteous Among the Nations exhibition, honouring the non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews; and the Encyclopedia of Communities, which records the historical-geographical communities of Jews destroyed or damaged during the Nazi regime.<br /><br /> Children under 10 are not permitted, and visitors should be aware that some may find the experience distressing.<br /><br />

The Israel Museum

Address: 11 Ruppin Boulevard, Hakyria, near the Knesset (Israeli Parliament). Jerusalem

Admission: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday: 10am–5pm Tuesday: 4pm-9pm Fridays and Holiday Eves: 10am–2pm Saturdays and Holidays: 10am-5pm

Telephone: +972 2 670 8811

The Israel Museum has achieved world-class status with its remarkable collections, spanning from prehistoric archaeology to contemporary art. These include displays of archaeology from the Holy Land, a comprehensive compilation of Judaica and the ethnology of Jewish people, and a fine art collection encompassing Old Masters and renowned contemporary works. Perhaps the most exciting artefacts in the museum are the Dead Sea Scrolls, which date from between the 3rd century BC to the 1st century AD, and were famously discovered in a cave by a shepherd in 1947.<br /><br /> Numerous temporary exhibitions, publications, lectures and educational activities form part of the museum's cultural programme, and over 950,000 visitors are drawn to this vast complex each year. Another great attraction of the Museum is its Art Garden, which was designed by the Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. It is a fusion of Zen landscaping, incorporating the natural vegetation of the area such as rosemary bushes and olive and fig trees. Displayed within this picturesque setting are the famous sculptures of Rodin, Bourdelle, Maillol, David Smith, Henry Moore, Richard Serra, Sol LeWitt and James Turrell. The Israel museum is impressive and has an extensive collection; you will probably require a few hours to explore it properly.<br /><br />

Citadel or Tower of David

Address: Jaffa Gate Jerusalem

Admission: NIS 40 for adults, concessions available. Saturdays to Thursdays: 9am-4pm Fridays: 9am-2pm

The Tower of David was constructed in the 1st century BC as a fortress for King Herod, and has since served as a strategic defence position of the Old City. The tallest tower of The Citadel, the Phasael, is the best place to appreciate the magnificent panoramic view of Jerusalem. The Citadel contains the excellent Museum of the History of Jerusalem, featuring fascinating displays of 4,000 years of the city's past in the courtyards and rooms of the fortress. Free tours of The Citadel and museum are conducted in Hebrew on Tuesdays at 10:30am, and in English every day except Friday and Saturday at 11am. The light and sound show held almost nightly is also a delightful way to learn about the history of Jerusalem.<br /><br /> The Citadel of David is a great first stop for visitors to Jerusalem as it covers the history of the city from biblical times to the present in a very accessible and interesting way. There are captions in English and Hebrew and audio guides available so you can easily explore without taking one of the tours. The citadel itself is thrilling with some fascinating architectural elements. Those who struggle with steps should note that there are a lot of them at this site and seeing the place properly requires a fair amount of climbing.<br /><br />

Bethlehem

Address: Jerusalem

Bethlehem is just six miles (10km) south of Jerusalem, and is a major tourist attraction for pilgrims and visitors alike. This town is reputed to be the birthplace of Jesus, and it's charming despite its tourist-centred commercialism. The Church of the Nativity is the focal point for a visit to the town, erected over the site of Jesus' birthplace.<br /><br /> Bethlehem is also a wonderful place to experience the variety of Christian monasteries that represent every permutation of Christianity. Christmas is celebrated on three separate dates in accordance with the Catholic church calendar, the Eastern calendar followed by the Armenians, and the Julian calendar followed by the Greek Orthodox and Eastern churches. For further exploration of the town's cultural diversity and to learn something about its secular history visit the Bethlehem Museum, established by the Arab Women's Union to celebrate the area's Palestinian cultural heritage. The exhibits include displays from traditional household items to clothing, jewellery and old photographs and allow insight into the domestic history of the town.<br /><br /> Travellers should note that Bethlehem is in the West Bank and due to regular outbreaks of violence between Palestinian and Jewish factions the security situation should be checked before contemplating a visit.<br /><br />

The Dead Sea

Address: Jerusalem

The Dead Sea and its immediate environment is a landscape abundant with natural wonders. Most notable of these is the high salt and mineral concentration found in the sea's waters, that enables visitors to float effortlessly on the surface. The therapeutic properties of the black mud found in the region is the result of a mixture of sea minerals and organic elements. For a completely rejuvenating experience, several Dead Sea spa resorts offer a range of health and beauty treatments. If you want a do-it-yourself treatment though, all you need to do is cover yourself in Dead Sea mud after your swim and allow it to dry on your body in the sun before washing it off again - your skin will feel amazing afterwards.<br /><br /> The water is also wonderfully warm, making swimming possible all year, even in winter. Some people complain of a stinging feeling in the Dead Sea, especially in eyes and mouths, which is simply due to the high salt content. If you have cuts and bruises they may well sting but the water is actually very good for skin ailments. Some visitors take goggles to protect their eyes but most just enjoy the floating sensation without submerging their faces.<br /><br /> The Dead Sea region also boasts some fascinating archaeological sites, with traces remaining of Persian, Greek, Roman and other civilizations. Notable historical locations include the notorious biblical city of Sodom that was destroyed along with Gomorra. Salt pillars emerge from this eight-mile (13km) geological ridge, located in the southern part of the Dead Sea area.<br /><br />

Hezekiahs Tunnel

Address: Hashiloah Road. Jerusalem

Hezekiah's Tunnel is an absolute must-see for those who like to combine their sightseeing with a real sense of discovery and adventure. The tunnel, which is about 2,700 years old, was built by Hezekiah in preparation for an attack by the invading Assyrians. He thought by shutting down the springs outside the city and redirecting the water under the city walls through a tunnel, he could protect Jerusalem's precious water supply and so outlast the invaders.<br /><br /> The incredible feat - the tunnel is 1,640 feet (500m) long, and carved out of solid rock - is made all the more remarkable when one learns that its middle section, which zig-zags wildly, was constructed in this way because the two teams of diggers (each operating from a different end of the tunnel) were trying to locate each other by the sound of the other's picks working against the rock. It's one of very few 8th-century BC tourist attractions you can actually explore,and it's a wonderful place to pass a couple of hours. It is a particularly popular activity for kids, although it may not be suitable for the highly claustrophobic.<br /><br />

Makhtesh Ramon (Ramon Crater)

Address: Jerusalem

The Makhtesh Ramon (Ramon Crater) is an extremely interesting geological site located in Israel's Negev Desert, about 53 miles (85km) south of the city of Be'er Sheva. The crater was not formed from the impact of a meteor, but is rather a geological formation unique to the Negev desert, caused by millions of years of erosion and weathering following the retreat of the ocean. These days the vast crater is housed within Ramon National Park, one of Israel's most popular ecotourism destinations.<br /><br /> The crater, which is shaped like an elongated heart, is a magnificent sight and a potent reminder of the incredible age of the region. The crater is also home to a variety of indigenous plants and animals, including the Nubian ibex, striped hyena, Arabian leopard and Dorcas gazelle. There are numerous hiking trails leading down to the bottom of the crater, where you can see the ruins of prehistoric Khan Saharonim (a stop used by Nabatean traders travelling the Incense Route more than 2,000 years ago). An ideal destination for those who like their experiences of nature to be silent and expansive, there are also wonderful star-gazing opportunities (and cheap accommodation options) available at the nearby town of Mitzpe Ramon.<br /><br />

Christmas in Bethlehem

Where: ,Jerusalem

When: December and January annually

Christmas in Bethlehem is a major celebration, as one would expect from the purported place of Jesus Christ's birth. The event devout pilgrims from across the globe as well as curious tourists who happen to be in the area. Not only are there a series of processions and services held by a variety of Christian denominations (including Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Ethiopian and more), but the streets of Bethlehem are festooned with Christmas lights and decorations, a Christmas market is set up, and nativity plays take place all around the city.<br /><br /> Christmas celebrations last for three weeks in Bethlehem, as different sects celebrate the occasion on different days, but the highlight of the festive period in Bethlehem is still Christmas Eve, when a procession of Arabian horses wends through Manger Square, a plaza outside the Basilica of the Nativity (a building which is said to be built on the actual site of Jesus' birth). Behind the first wave of horseman comes one rider on a coal-black steed carrying a cross, followed by government officials and clergymen. These dignitaries place an effigy of the holy child inside the church, before visitors are led down a deep and winding stairwell to discover a silver star that marks the birthplace of Jesus Christ.<br /><br />

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