Jerusalem is one of the most fascinating cities I have ever been to. The mix of history and religion combined with a cool nightlife scene and some great foodie spots made it fun to explore. I spent about 4 days in Jerusalem, both exploring the city itself as well as the nearby attractions. It made a great base to explore and learn about Israel and, being a history nerd, I definitely preferred it to Tel Aviv. So, for those looking for some inspiration here is my guide to Jerusalem including transportation, day trips, accommodation, and my top picks for the best things to do in Jerusalem.
*disclaimer: I visited Israel on a press trip with Abraham Tours. All opinions are, as always, my own.
How to Get to Jerusalem
Getting to Jerusalem is easy. From the Airport there are several options for getting to Jerusalem.
The easiest option is to take a taxi. This will be the quickest option, but also the most expensive.
Another option that will take you directly to your accommodation is the shared shuttle service. Upon exiting the airport, you will see yellow shuttle vans. Tell the driver where you are going and he will direct you to the van headed in that direction. While this is an easy option and cheaper than a taxi (64 ILS per person at the time I visited) you may end up waiting a while because they only leave when they are full. I chose this option as I was super jetlagged and not too keen on navigating right then, but waited an hour before the van was full enough to leave.
You can also take public transit. Bus number 485 will take you from the airport to the central bus station in Jerusalem. From here you can hop on the tram to the stop closest to your accommodation option. This is by far the cheapest option (at the time I visited, it was 16 ILS for the bus ticket) but isn’t ideal for anyone travelling with a lot of luggage.
Alternatively, you can also rent a car from the airport.
Getting Around Jerusalem
As mentioned above, Jerusalem is a very large city and while you will be able to walk to some places, it’s not realistic to think that you can walk everywhere.
Jerusalem does have a handy tram system that is easy enough to use. Tickets need to be bought from the machines at whatever station you start at, and then need to be tapped when you enter the bus. The tram costs 5.90 ILS per ticket.
If you plan on going further outside the more touristic areas, you may need to use the bus instead of the tram. It is important to note that you cannot buy your bus ticket from the bus, you need to purchase a ‘Rav Kav’smart card that is pre-loaded. You can get daily or weekly passes, or, load it with a cash amount of your choice. Rides on the bus are 5.90 ILS per trip.
It is important to know that all public transit in Jerusalem shuts down during Shabbat. This means from sundown (or a couple hours before) on Friday to sundown on Saturday, you will have to use your feet if you plan on going anywhere.
Where to Stay in Jerusalem
Jerusalem is a massive city, so when you are figuring out where to stay in Jerusalem you will definitely want to keep location in mind. I suggest finding somewhere within walking distance from Old Jerusalem as this is where many of the attractions and sites are.
The next thing to consider is your budget. Israel, as I found out, is not exactly a cheap destination. That being said, there are a number of accommodation options varying in cost so you can find somewhere that fits your budget.
If you are on a tighter budget, I recommend Abraham Hostel Jerusalem. This is where I stayed and it had a lot to offer in terms of location and amenities. I stayed in a private room with a private bathroom. It was clean, comfortable, and spacious. But there are also dorm options for those trying to save as much money as possible. With a big common area and a free breakfast spread, Abraham Hostel Jerusalem is a great option for solo travellers as well. Learn more here.
If you aren’t quite a hostel person and willing to spend a little more on accommodation in Jerusalem, then consider the following mid-range hotels.
Or, if you want to splurge, there are plenty of gorgeous luxury hotels in Jerusalem as well. Take a look at these options:
The Best Things to do in Jerusalem
Whether you are interested in history, religion, architecture, food, or culture there is plenty to keep you busy in Jerusalem. Here are my recommendations for the best things to do in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem Old Town
Jerusalem Old Town was, for me, the highlight of Jerusalem. Home to many of the important sites and attractions, I really enjoyed wandering through the busy winding streets of this historic part of the city.
It’s easy to explore Jerusalem’s Old Town on your own, however, I also recommend that you take a tour as well so you can learn more about what you are seeing as well as about the local culture and different religions. Sandman’s offers a free walking tour every day, or you can take their Holy City tour which takes you inside some of the most important monuments and places in Old Town Jerusalem. This is a 4-hour walking tour, but I highly recommend it for those who are looking for a more in-depth experience and has the added advantage of being a smaller group. Visiting Old Town is a must, but I also think that doing a guided tour here is one of the best things to do in Jerusalem.
If you want to take the free Jerusalem Old Town tour, you just need to show up on time. If you want to take the Holy City Tour, you can book your tickets through Abraham Tours here.
Temple Mount is a holy site for Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike but it’s also an area of disagreement. As such, there are restrictive views about visiting Temple Mount. It’s only open from Monday to Thursday for a couple hours in the morning, and then again for 1 hour in the early afternoon. These hours change based on the season so be sure to check ahead of time and be sure to dress appropriately. This means covered knees and shoulders for both men and women and, ladies, no cleavage.
There is a lot of history behind Temple Mount so, again, I recommend that you visit with a tour. A visit to Temple Mount is included in the Holy City tour as mentioned earlier.
Dome of the Rock
Dome if the Rock is the iconic gold-domed structure that is seen in so many photographs of Jerusalem. It is located on Temple Mount and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Dome of the Rock is an Islamic Shrine that was built on top of the site of the Second Jewish Temple. The architecture and mosaic patterns are modelled after Byzantine churches and Palaces and the bright colours really make it stand out and shine, especially in the sun. It’s absolutely beautiful and a visit here is one of the top things to do in Jerusalem.
The Western Wall
The Western Wall, sometimes also referred to as the Wailing Wall, is the most religious site in the world for the Jewish people. The Wall is located in the Old City and is the western support wall of Temple Mount. The wall is divided into 2 sections; one for men, one for women as they need to pray separately (though there is also a smaller section of the wall in the Muslim quarter where both men and women can go). Visitors can either pray out loud or write their prayers on a small piece of paper to leave in the cracks of the wall. It is free to visit, but make sure you dress appropriately.
The Arabic Market
If you are looking to do some souvenir shopping, then head to the Arabic market. From rugs to scarves, ceramics to jewellery, you can find just about everything here. In my experience, not only was shopping here one of my favourite things to do in Jerusalem but it was the best souvenir shopping in Israel. Make sure you haggle though! Especially when items don’t have a sticker price attached to them. Even if they do, it might be worth asking if they can go lower. Keep in mind, you can really only haggle in this market- not in other shops around Jerusalem.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
One of the major pilgrimage sites for Christians, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered to be the place where Jesus was crucified and his tomb. Today, this church built into the rock is quite extravagantly decorated. It’s free to visit but can be quite crowded, so keep that in mind. Despite the crowds, visiting the Church of Holy Sepulchre is one of the best things to do in Jerusalem.
Via Dolorosa translates to the Way of Sorrows. It is said that this is the path which Jesus walked, carrying the cross, between his condemnation and his crucifixion. There are 14 stations along the way. It is a traditional route more than an archaeological one, but this path is an important site for Christian pilgrims.
Tower of David Museum
Located just inside the Jaffa gate of Old Town Jerusalem, the Tower of David Museum is one of the best things to do in Jerusalem for two reasons. Firstly, it’s an interesting museum about the history of Jerusalem. Secondly, the Tower of David Museum offers some of the best views of Jerusalem making it a must for those looking for the best things to do in Jerusalem.
King David’s Tomb
King David was the king of Israel who ruled from 1010 to 970 CE and his tomb is one of the holiest places to the Jewish people. It can be visited, however, like with the Western Wall, there are separate viewing areas for men and women.
Mount of Olives
Mount of Olives is located across from the Old Town and is named for the olive trees that used to grow there. These hills are named often in both the Old Testament and the New Testament and today is home to beautiful views and several pilgrimage sites. These include The Church of All Nations, the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, the Church of Dominus Flevi, the Church of Pater Noster, the Dome of the Ascension, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Tomb of Mary. There is also a Jewish cemetery here that contains as many as 300,000 tombs.
You can visit the Mount of Olives on your own, or, if you are interested in the history of the area you may want to take a guided tour like this one.
The Israel Museum
The Israel Museum is known to be one of the best museums in the world. So, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to explore it. Highlights here include the Dead Sea Scroll and the Shrine of the Book among other treasures.
Yad Vashem: The Holocaust Remembrance Centre
Yad Vashem is the Holocaust remembrance centre in Jerusalem. It’s a sombre experience to be sure, however, a visit here is also one of the best things to do in Israel. It’s a large museum so make sure to give yourself a couple of hours to make your way through. Entrance here is free.
Mahane Yehuda Market
If you are a foodie, then you will fall in love with Mahane Yehuda Market. About 20 minutes from Old Town, the Mahane Yehuda Market is the best place to grab some fresh food. Baked pita bread from the oven, gooey baklava, fresh vegetables and creamy hummus. Not to mention all the juices, shakes, and spices, and teas. A visit here is one of my absolute favourite things to do in Jerusalem and, if you are anything like me, you’ll go back daily.
Jerusalem Pub Crawl
Jerusalem is an ancient and historical city, but it’s also got a pretty cool night scene as well and the best way to explore it is to take a pub crawl. Abraham Hostels offers a pub crawl (check it out here) or you can hop around the bars on your own. If you choose to explore the nightlife on your own, make sure to head to the Mahane Yehuda market which has some great craft beer spots.
The Best Day Trips from Jerusalem
There are plenty of awesome things to do in Jerusalem, but it also makes a great base from which to explore more of Israel and Palestine. Not only does this make things easier in terms of not having to constantly move around with your luggage, but taking day trips from Jerusalem is also ideal because if you take guided day trips (which I definitely recommend) then you don’t have to worry about sorting out transportation- which can be a bit tricky.
The Dead Sea
A visit to the Dead see is one of the best things to do in Israel and can be done in a day trip on its own (check this tour) or in combination with Masada (see below). The Dead Sea is the lowest place on Earth and also one of the saltiest bodies of water on the planet. The waters here are fun to relax and play in but also can be good and rejuvenating for your skin. Make sure to put some of the mud on as well for super soft skin!
Tip: Do not shave before going to the Dead Sea. Also, don’t enter the water if you have any cuts or open wounds.
Masada is a historical site on the edge of the Judean Desert. Once a fortress, today it is a popular tourist attraction often visited in combination with the Dead Sea. You can visit Masada either by hiking up the mountain, which many people do at sunrise. Or, visit later (after 8am) and you can go up by the cable car. The main hiking path is called the Snake Trail and it is a steep, winding trail up the mountain. It’s best climbed early before the sun rises and you are hit by the heat of the day. Word of warning, it’s a tough climb but if you are an avid hiker then this is definitely one of the top day trips from Jerusalem.
Hebron is a divided city in the Palestinian Territories that has plenty of historical and religious significance to both the Jews and the Muslims. At first, it seems like an odd place to want to visit. However, Abraham Tours offers an amazing dual-narrative tour of Hebron where you spend half a day on the Israeli side with an Israeli guide and the other half on the Palestinian side with a Palestinian guide. This was my favourite experience in Israel and I think one of the best day trips from Jerusalem. You can learn more here.
Bethlehem and the West Bank
The West Bank, also called Palestinian Territories is comprised of a few major cities including Jericho, Ramallah, and Bethlehem. All three have something interesting to offer in terms of history, religion, and the Conflict. Abraham Tours offer a full day Best of the West Bank Tour which allows you to experience a little bit of each place, to learn about the refugee camps, and to see the famous place in which Jesus was born.
Nazareth, Tiberias, & The Sea of Galilee
If you are short on time in Israel, you can take a day trip from Jerusalem up north to Nazareth, Tiberias, and the Sea of Galilee. It’s a busy 12-hour day trip, but you’ll manage to see and learn quite a bit during your visit. Highlights include the Church of Annunciation, the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fish, and of course the Beautiful Sea of Galilee. Learn more here.
Caesarea, Haifa, & Akko
Another great option for day trips from Jerusalem is a full day trip to Israel’s Mediterranean coast to see Caesarea, Haifa, and Akko. Again, it’s a busy full-day tour, but ideal if you are limited on time in Israel. Highlights here include the Baha’i Gardens, limestone grottoes, and the port of Acre. Learn more here.
Jerusalem is a fascinating city to explore on its own and use as a base to see more of Israel and Palestine. There are plenty of things to do in Jerusalem, so make sure to give yourself enough time to do and see as much as possible!
A Note on Travel Insurance in Israel
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine twice before (once for damaged luggage, once because I developed a lung infection while traveling). While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance. With prices starting at $37 for 4 weeks, they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.