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Things to Do in Jerusalem

The spiritual capital of roughly two-thirds of the world’s population, as well the capital city of the State of Israel, Jerusalem draws 3.5 million visitors every year to sites sacred to Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike, such as the golden Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount, the Western Wall and Tomb of King David, the Mount of Olives, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Hall of the Last Supper. Get lost searching for these attractions in the walled portion of Jerusalem known as the Old City—or get a guide to help navigate the labyrinth of medieval alleyways connecting the Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Armenian quarters, each with its own set of sacred sites, residential districts, and bazaars. Although most of Jerusalem’s visitors seek the sacred and spiritual within the bounds of the Old City, most of Jerusalem’s residents live in the New City, which has the amenities to serve them. Visit the Machane Yehuda Market (“The Shuk”) to see the spices, teas, sweets, and foods that maintain Israel’s status as the land of milk and honey, or complete the museum circuit of the Rockefeller Museum, Yad Vasham Holocaust Remembrance Museum, and the Bible Lands Museum. Thanks to the small size of Israel and the Palestinian territories and Jerusalem’s central location, day-trip options abound to Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea, Masada, Bethlehem, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, the West Bank, Petra in Jordan, and more.
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Old City of Jerusalem
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The ancient winding streets of Jerusalem’s Old City house some of the world’s most sacred religious sites for Jews, Muslims, and Christians, including the Temple Mount, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Via Dolorosa, Dome of the Rock, and the Western Wall. Plus, each of the district’s four quarters has a unique character well worth experiencing.

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Western Wall (Wailing Wall)
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An open-air synagogue where worshippers recite prayers, Israel’s historic Western Wall (Wailing Wall) is where travelers come to kiss pale gold stones the color of the Negev desert and to stuff paper prayers between the stones. The beating heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, this is a must-see sacred site in the Jewish Quarter.

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Dead Sea
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The Dead Sea, home to the lowest point in the world at 1,269 feet (383 meters) below sea level, also ranks as one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water. This hyper-salinity that is so unique to the Dead Sea attracts visitors from all over the world who come to experience the unusual buoyancy, as well as access the nutrient-rich mud on its banks.

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Kidron Valley
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The Kidron Valley is known for its stunning views, as well as its historic and religious significance. It’s a destination for travelers seeking a Biblical touchstone, thanks to its starring role in the story of David in the Books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, in Orthodox, Jewish, Protestant and Catholic traditions.

The valley is also home to hundreds of ancient tombs located near the village of Silwan. It is widely recognized as the main burial ground in the city during historic times. The most significant tombs in the Kidron Valley include the Pillar of Absalom, the Tomb of Benei Hezir and the Tomb of Zechariah. Travelers who explore these tombs on a visit to the valley will gain a deeper understanding of Jerusalem’s culture, history and religious traditions while taking in some truly incredible views.

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Way of the Cross (Via Dolorosa)
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The Way of the Cross (Via Dolorosa) is an ancient path in Jerusalem’s Old City, where it’s believed Jesus carried the cross to his crucifixion. Also known in Catholicism as the Stations of the Cross, it’s a pilgrimage that’s been followed going back to the fourth century. The route has changed over the years, and today there are 14 stations along the path, each marked with a plaque detailing what took place at that location.

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Church of the Holy Sepulchre
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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City sits on what is thought to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Christianity’s holiest site, the church stands at the end of the Via Dolorosa—the route Jesus is believed to have taken on the way to his crucifixion.

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Masada
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The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Masada, an ancient fortress built by King Herod the Great, dates back to 37 BC. It’s location on a cliff overlooking the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea is a spectacular spot from which to watch the sunrise.

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Garden of Gethsemane
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According to the Christian faith, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his arrest. Today, the Church of All Nations guards this sacred site at the foot of the Mount of Olives, where Franciscan friars stroll past gnarled olive trees alongside pilgrims from around the world.

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Jerusalem Jewish Quarter
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This religious and spiritual destination is one of four historic quarters that make up the famed city of Jerusalem. Travelers seeking a touchstone to the past will find just what they’re after on a visit to this place that dates back to the Roman Empire.

Ancient ruins uncovered by archaeologists from Hebrew University are in a handful of museums and parks in the Jewish Quarter, including a 2,200-year-old image of a Temple menorah and portions of the Israelite Tower. A stunning pool built by the Romans was discovered in 2010. Travelers will find this homage to another lifetime filled with terracotta roof tiles, mosaic floors and regal steps.

In addition to archaeological ruins, visitors can tour several of the other historic and religious sites that are scattered across the Jewish Quarter. The famous Western Wall, several synagogues, a handful of Yeshivas and an abandoned mosque offer insight into the culture and traditions of this diverse city. The eclectic stalls and contagious energy of Cado market and Hurva Square offer travelers a taste of local life, too.

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Christian Quarter
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The walled Old City of Jerusalem is divided into four major quarters: the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, and the Christian Quarter. The city’s Christian Quarter contains around 40 religious sites holy to Christianity, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at its heart. The church is venerated as the site where Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected and remains a place of pilgrimage for Christians from all over the world. For many it is regarded as the religion’s holiest site.

Pilgrims often follow the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus walked to his crucifixion, stopping at shrines and small sites along the way. Many churches, monasteries, schools, and museums are dotted throughout. You’ll also find residences, souvenir shops, cafes, and other pieces of daily life from those presently residing in the area. There is also an iconic, colorful market patched between the stone walls and narrow streets.

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More Things to Do in Jerusalem

Church of the Nativity (Basilica of the Nativity)

Church of the Nativity (Basilica of the Nativity)

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The Church of the Nativity encompasses a grotto where, according to Christain scripture, Jesus was born. Situated in Manger Square in Bethlehem, on the West Bank of the Palestinian territories, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed church is one of Christianity’s holiest places.

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Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony)

Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony)

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The Church of All Nations is a prominent Roman Catholic church perched on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It is also known as the Basilica of Agony, with its walls' golden mosaics depicting the suffering of the world as assumed by Jesus. Tradition has it that Jesus kneeled on a rock here in the Garden on Gethsemane prior to his arrest by the Romans. The slab of rock is now encompassed by a circle of iron thorns.

Historically the site of a Byzantine church, it was converted to a basilica in the 4th century by Crusaders. The present stone structure has domes, walls, and pillars built in Byzantine style although built from 1919 to 1924. Its construction was fueled by donations of Catholic communities from all over the world. Symbols of each nation that donated were built into the glass of the church’s ceiling.

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Bethlehem

Bethlehem

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An ancient city in the West Bank in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Bethlehem is home to many significant religious sites, including the Church of The Nativity in Manger Square, believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus.

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Al-Aqsa Mosque

Al-Aqsa Mosque

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Within Old Jerusalem’s al-Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, lies the third holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina. The al-Aqsa Mosque, which translates to “the farthest mosque,” sits beside the Dome of the Rock, and it is believed that Muhammed ascended to heaven from this spot after being transported from Sacred Mosque in Mecca.

Over the centuries the silver-domed mosque has been destroyed in several different earthquakes and subsequently rebuilt. With four minarets, the present day structure is characteristic of early Islamic architecture. The interior contains 121 stained glass windows, its massive dome painted with 14th-century designs. The dome was recovered in lead in 1985 to replace the aluminum cover with its original cover. Though Israel maintains control of the space, it is overseen by the Waqf, a Jordanian and Palestinian authority of the Muslim holy sites in Israel.

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Mount of Olives

Mount of Olives

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Just east of the Old City, the Mount of Olives is one of Jerusalem’s top scriptural sites—a major pilgrimage spot for Christians that was used as a Jewish cemetery for more than 3,000 years. The Acts of the Apostles describe the Mount of Olives as the place from where Jesus ascended to heaven.

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Cardo

Cardo

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During Byzantine Jerusalem a sunken north-south thoroughfare was built across the city, from what is now the Damascus Gate southward toward the Zion Gate. The general term for such a main street in Ancient Roman cities was cardo maximus, and today, the street is simply called the Cardo.

Today the Cardo begins just south of David St. and is only half its original width — it was once as wide as a six-lane highway — and passes into the modern-day Jewish Quarter. A walk along the Cardo will reveal a strip of high-end shops selling souvenirs, Judaica, jewelry and artwork. A southern portion of the Cardo has been restored with colonnaded walkways, much like it had during the sixth century.

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Jericho

Jericho

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2010
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Jericho is an ancient biblical town, with early settlements traced back 10,000 years, possibly making it the earliest site of human civilization. Located in the occupied Palestinian Territories, and reached by traveling through the Judean Desert, Jericho is filled with archaeological ruins, monasteries, mosques, and other religious and historical sights.

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Armenian Quarter

Armenian Quarter

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Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter dates back to the fourth century and remains the oldest Armenian diaspora on earth. Centered around the St. James Monastery, the quarter is ripe with religious, cultural and historical monuments that make it worthy of a visit.

Travelers can explore the Cathedral of St. James and the halls of St. Toros Church—two of the oldest structures in the quarter, or wander the grounds of Alex and Marie Manoogian Seminary—a modern school for those studying holy traditions. The Helen and Edward Mardigian Museum of Armenian Art and Culture highlights the artistic contributions of Armenians and the St. Toros Manuscript Library is home to the second-largest collection of Armenian manuscripts in the world.

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Dominus Flevit Church

Dominus Flevit Church

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Sitting halfway up the Mount of Olives, the Dominus Flevit Church is a prominent Franciscan church in Jerusalem. The name translates from Latin to “The Lord Wept,” with the structure shaped like a teardrop to symbolize the tears of Jesus. It is said to mark the spot where Jesus looked out onto Jerusalem and wept, knowing the city was bound to be destroyed.

The site went unmarked until the Crusader era, when a small chapel was built that eventually fell into ruin. The present day structure was built in 1955 by Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi, standing upon centuries of history and ruins — including the Byzantine era monastery and an ancient necropolis. Today the church has a panoramic, often-photographed view of Jerusalem. The window at the altar provides an overlook of the city focused on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

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Jaffa Gate (Bab al-Khalil)

Jaffa Gate (Bab al-Khalil)

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During the sixteenth century the Ottoman Turkish sultan Suleiman rebuilt the Old City walls of Jerusalem and included six different gates into the Old City. Jaffa Gate (Bab al-Khalil) is one of the originals, named after its orientation, pointing toward the harbor of Jaffa in Tel Aviv.

This gate on the western wall comprises the original dog-legged pedestrian tunnel leading into the Old City, as well as a car-friendly passage constructed in 1898 to allow German Kaiser Wilhelm II to ride into the city.

As the main entrance into the Old City, the gate makes a perfect starting point for modern-day explorations. Just inside the gate sits a lively souk which leads into the Christian and Jewish quarters.

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King David's Tomb

King David's Tomb

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Some consider King David’s Tomb, on the holy site of Jerusalem’s Mount Zion, to be the burial place of King David of Israel, but whether he was actually buried there is debated. Regardless of the tomb’s existence, the place has deep significance for Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and many pilgrims journey to pay their respects each year.

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Temple Mount (al-Haram al-Sharif)

Temple Mount (al-Haram al-Sharif)

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The Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City is a raised stone plateau that’s home to some of the most significant religious structures in the world, including the Dome of the Rock, the Al Aqsa Mosque, and the Western Wall. The Temple Mount covers a 35-acre area known as al-Haram al-Sharif, and is considered to be a sacred place in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

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Dome of the Rock

Dome of the Rock

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Built in the seventh century, the Dome of the Rock is one of the most famous Muslim shrines in the world. The iconic gilded wooden dome and ornate octagonal base marks the location where the Prophet Muhammad was believed to have ascended to heaven. Located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, the shrine is also home to the Foundation Stone and is an important holy site.

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Church of St. Anne

Church of St. Anne

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The stunning white and gray façade of the Church of St. Anne is one of the best-preserved Crusader churches in Jerusalem. It’s also recognized as the site of the birthplace of the Virgin Mary, and the original home of Jesus’s maternal grandparents.

This fortress-like structure was built around 450. Religious pilgrims journey to this destination, which provides quiet respite from the energy of the Muslim Quarter, for prayer and contemplation. The uniquely asymmetrical building offers up incredible acoustics, and visitors who are lucky enough to catch the small local choir performing will find their voices sound like a massive crowd inside the halls of the Church of St. Anne.

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