It’s no secret that we love Israel. I just wrote a post about Tel Aviv and why it’s on the top of our list. The city is full of energy, delicious food, and countless things to do. Take a day trip to float in the Dead Sea or marvel at the grandiosity of Masada.
But there is one place you should not miss. Jerusalem is considered one of the oldest cities in the world and deemed holy by three major religions- Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The Old City has significant religious sites around the Temple Mount compound, including the Western Wall (sacred to Judaism), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (a Christian site) and the Dome of the Rock (a 7th-century Islamic shrine with a gold dome).
The sheer amount of history alone is reason enough to visit and as outsiders it was important for us to take time to understand the local culture. The situation in Jerusalem is slightly complicated politicly but the people were more than kind to us and eager to show us around.
We HIGHLY RECOMMEND taking a guided tour. We hired a local guide for a day tour and I’m so glad we did. It’s possible to see Jerusalem without a guide but the information provided during a tour is invaluable. Plus he took us to the best hole in the wall hummus joint. If you can find it, be sure to eat at Abu Shukri. It’s in the old city opposite the 5th station of the cross. I’ve never eaten that much pita/hummus/falafel in my life but it was more than good. It was divine.
We chatted the entire tour about each site, it’s religious significance, and the history held within the city walls. It was eye opening to speak with a local about the current political situation and his insight into religion. Our personal favorite stop was at The Garden of Gethsemane. Our tour guide shared that some of the trees date back to the time of Christ and therefore hold a special name. They call the trees the “Silent Witnesses” because they stood when Christ prayed and bled for the sins of the world.
The Garden Tomb is one of the two possible burial sites of Jesus Christ. The other is believed to be where the Church of The Holy Sepulchre stands. Personally, we enjoyed the quiet nature of the garden tomb and growing up LDS that location is where we consider his tomb was. Our tour guide did point out a very important message. Regardless of where you believe he was buried, the important thing to remember is he is risen.
Jerusalem has more to offer than the Old City but the New City is definitely new. There are a few more hipster places to eat and we ended up staying in that area in an Airbnb. Public transit is super easy and pretty cheap!
What To See in Jerusalem
“The Shuk” Market located in the new city. Over 250 vendors and popular with locals and tourists alike!
Old City: We suggest a tour for this as described above, but it can be done without one. Here is a list of what you should see if you decide to travel without the guide. Keep in mind some of these sites are not open to you all the time depending on your religion. A quick google search can help you find the right visiting hours!
- Temple Mount
- Garden of Gethsemane
- Western Wall
- Dome of the Rock
- Church of The Holy Sepulchre
- Garden Tomb
Where to Eat
Located in the New City:
- Crave Gourmet Street Food: Hipster bar and restaurant that is ALWAYS packed. A twist on “street food” and a good break from middle eastern food. Prices are a bit higher but it’s a good time!
- Machneyuda: Listed as one of the best restaurants in Jerusalem, you will definitely need a reservation! Incredible food with a lively atmosphere of music and great service.
- Tmol Shilshom: Restaurant is cozy and staked with bookshelves lined with books. Popular among students and local artists. Creative take on arabic food with three different types of Shakshuka.
Located in the Old City
- Abu Shukri: Hole in the wall local joint with the best hummus and falafel in the city. CASH ONLY
Helpful James Gang Travel Tips
Be respectful. After all Jerusalem is the Holy City and should be treated as such. Many of these sites have large religious significance so please keep that in mind while talking, shooting photos, and touring the city.
Be mindful in what you choose to wear. You may or may not be religious but tiny shorts and a tank top may not be respectful in these Holy places.
Chat with the locals. One of our favorite parts of travel, there is so much to be learned from hearing about their culture first hand.
Be a smart shopper. Unfortunately most tourists stand out as such and you will likely be taken advantage of. Don’t touch anything if you don’t intend to buy it and don’t take the first price given.
Have cash on hand. Many of the local vendors and restaurants will not accept card.
We hope you love Israel as much as we do and would love to hear from you! If you have any tips to add or a question, comment below!