Things to Do in Jerusalem
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.
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 to experience the unusual buoyancy, as well as access the nutrient-rich mud on its banks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More Things to Do in Jerusalem
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bursting at the seams with produce, nuts, seeds, spices, wines, meats and cheeses, baked goods, fish, housewares and clothing, Mahane Yehuda Market, informally called The Shuk, teems with locals and tourists who come for a bargain or simply to take in the frenetic atmosphere.
The history of the market dates back to the Ottoman Period, when locals began selling produce there in the early 20th century. It soon expanded into an organized market thanks to its convenient, centralized location. The local government attempted to add much-needed infrastructure — proper sewage, running water and garbage disposal to start — to the market during the British Mandate period, but it wasn’t until the 1930s that conditions began to improve.
Hungry travelers will find plenty of street food stands in and around the Mahane Yehuda Market, including some of Jerusalem’s best burekas. The market also offers a Shuk Bites card, which includes a self-guided tour map of the market and vouchers for a variety of market products. Some write the name as Machane Yehuda Market.
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.
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.
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.
The term “yad vashem” comes from the Book of Isaiah and can be translated as “a place to memorialize.” Yad Vashem (World Holocaust Remembrance Center) in Jerusalem is the world’s most important Holocaust museum — a memorial to the 6 million Jewish lives lost.
The complex comprises two museums, the Holocaust History Museum and an Art Museum, as well as an exhibition pavilion, learning center and a synagogue. The centerpiece is the history museum, housed within a triangular prism-shaped structure running through the center of campus. Nine underground galleries recount the story of the Holocaust from a Jewish perspective through artifacts, survivor testimonies, personal possessions and audio-visual presentations. A visit to the museum ends in the Hall of Names, a place where the names and stories of millions of victims are recorded.
The Art Museum houses the largest and most diverse collection of Holocaust art in the world — some 10,000 works — mostly produced during the Holocaust period.
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.
Founded in 1965, the Israel Museum, Jerusalem ranks as the largest cultural institution in Israel and one of the world’s top archaeology and art museums. The extensive collection of nearly half a million objects, which contains works spanning from prehistory to today, is divided into Fine Arts, Archaeology, Jewish Art and Life collections and includes the world’s most extensive collection of biblical and Holy Land archaeological pieces.
Within the galleries and exhibits of the recently upgraded 20-acre museum campus, visitors will find find the Shrine of the Book where the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept, as well as the Billy Rose Art Garden, considered among the best outdoor sculpture gardens of the twentieth century. Sculptures by masters like Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin and Henry Moore are scattered throughout.
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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