My Jerusalem: Places I Love In This Timeless City
I have been to Israel 3 times in a year (and 4 times to Jerusalem overall), and I intend to go back again and again. I went pretty much anywhere: from North to South; from cities to nature. I got lost in the narrow alleys and in the nature when I hiked the Jesus Trail.
My love for this country must be somewhat contagious: so enthusiastically I talk about it that a few friends have approached me to announce they have finally booked their flights, and will be going there soon. I have even put together a proper guide for a trip to Israel for them.
A city I love visiting every time I am in Israel is Jerusalem. Mind you, it wasn’t love at first sight. At first it left me interested: I could see its beauty, but we didn’t click; I wasn’t completely charmed by it. It took me a second and third visit to get to appreciate it first, and then fall in love with it.
Discovering Jerusalem a bit at a time
Jerusalem is the kind of city that I am never quite done exploring. I guess my friend Yana, the lovely guide behind Authentic Jerusalem Tours, was right when she said that.
What I love about it is that there is always so much to discover – famous and less famous attractions; historical landmarks and hidden that are completely off the tourist radar. Different cultures meet and mix in Jerusalem – at times painfully, but typically peacefully. It is this mix of cultures that keeps it so interesting to me, I suppose.
The things to do in Jerusalem are endless. And while I have my favorite places that I always go back to, each time I go I end up in some new, pretty place: a coffee shop I didn’t know existed; a small, quirky square.
In January, I visited Jerusalem again. I spent little more than 48 hours in Jerusalem this time, but since i know the city well already, I went to all my favorite places – attractions, restaurants and coffee shops, and even my favorite hotel in town. I finally visited some of the most iconic attractions in the city – it was about time I did so. And I took the time to wander around, and ended up in some really cute squares away from all the chaos and crowds.
Exploring the historical landmarks
A city like Jerusalem is packed with attractions, and it would be impossible to visit them all (and actually enjoy them) in just one go. Picking what to see isn’t easy, in a city that has so much history and culture. That’s why I am always a bit surprised when I hear people say that they intend to go there on just a day trip from Tel Aviv.
To each their own, I guess. But if anybody asks for my opinion, I will say not to do it that way. Jerusalem is simply too special to be dismissed in just a day. It took me four visits to explore the most famous attractions, and even then I yearn to go back and see more.
Here are some of the places I visited on my fourth trip to Jerusalem. Some I had never seen before, and one I had, but I felt compelled to return to.
Temple Mount may well be the most iconic place to visit in Jerusalem. It’s the classic image one thinks of whenever hearing the word Jerusalem; the one shown by the media whenever they speak of the city. Yet, I only made it there on the very last day of my fourth visit.
Mind you – I had seen Temple Mount from a distance, and from all possible angles, many times. I first caught a glimpse of it as I walked down from Dung Gate. I then realized it was right behind me when I walked the narrow alleys of the Old City. And I admired the most amazing sunset over the Dome of the Rock from Mount of Olives.
This time I actually made the effort to go and stand in line to finally get in and properly explore it.
Though there are 11 gates scattered across the Old City that all lead to Temple Mount, tourists and non-Muslims can only enter through the Moroccan gate (Mughrabi Gate) located close to Dung Gate and near the Western Wall Plaza.
Tourists can access Temple Mount between 7:30 and 10:30 am, and between 12:30 and 1:30 pm. The line can be a bit overwhelming, but it actually moves quite fast. Needless to say, it is worth the wait. I recommend planning an early morning visit, simply because there’s more time to explore inside – the complex is actually huge.
Needless to say, Temple Mount is an impressive sight. The atmosphere inside, despite the presence of tourists (which I never perceived as overwhelming) is peaceful and silent. I could see a few people praying; others quietly chatting. The views of the Old City from it are splendid.
The City of David
I had visited the City of David on my first trip to Jerusalem, when I also walked Hezekiah’s tunnels, built by King Hezekiah in the 8th century to protect the city’s main water source from the Assyrian invasion.
The City of David is thought to be the original urban core of Jerusalem. The site is constantly being excavated, as new finds are regularly brought to the surface, bringing testimony of the way of life, the religious beliefs and the culture of the people that lived in the area.
I wanted to visit the City of David again as I had heard of the launch of the new light show, and since I was there I took the opportunity to go on another guided tour, which offered a completely new perspective – if anything because I visited during sunset (the view of East Jerusalem from the City of David is simply stunning) and then in the dark.
My night time tour also went through the water channels, of which I had a rather realistic “view.” Indeed, after the first few minutes of the visit the lights that normally illuminate the tunnels went off, and my guide and I were completely left in the dark – we could not find any torch though we rummaged through our bags. It made the experience all the more interesting, and I have to say I was truly impressed with the guide skills – she truly proved to know the place as the palm of her hand, guiding me in the dark in each and every step!
The City of David Light Show started immediately after my tour. It is a fantastic, interactive way to learn about the history of Jerusalem, with a movie actually projected on the site – right in the places where the history unfolded.
The film, which is projected on two different parts of the City of David (first on the walls, then on the actual ruins), tells the story of how Jerusalem was destroyed more than 2500 years ago, and then rebuilt thanks to the efforts of Nehemiah, son of Hachaliah, who won the support of the king of Persia.
The show lasts around one hour and 15 minutes, and currently runs in Hebrew, with headphones in various other languages. As it is in the open, it can get quite cold – so being dressed appropriately is a must. It costs 65 Israeli Shekels (which is around $19 USD, or €15) to view the show.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
I had actually seen the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from the outside, before. This time, I made the effort of going inside. I was raised Catholic, and though I am now a professed atheist I still find the history and the culture behind religions to be very interesting. So I decided to finally go inside.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located in the place where it is said Jesus had been crucified and later on buried – though he resurrected and his tomb is empty. As it is easy to imagine, the church is crowded with tourists but it still makes for an interesting visit.
It’s also the place where the last four stations of the Via Dolorosa, which representes the final episodes of Jesus’ Passion, are located.
Staying in my comfort zone
It happens in every place I visit multiple times: I have my own favorite spot in Tulum, Yucatan; I always eat in the same place in Leon, Nicaragua. Just as well, I have my own favorite places in Jerusalem. They are the ones I head to the minute I arrive; the ones where I feel comfortable exploring and the ones that I find photographically stimulating.
The Old City Bazar
I love markets. The Old City Bazar of Jerusalem remains one of my favorite places in the city, one I visit each time I am there. I love the narrow alleys, that offer some incredible photo opportunities. There are some beautiful sights, and the market is like a window to a great part of the Jerusalemite culture.
The Suq is a maze of small shops that sell anything from leather goods (though triple check the quality of the products); ceramics; spices and all sorts of other souvenirs. They also have some of the best hummus places in town, and a few good traditional coffee places.
Abu Shukri Hummus
Speaking of hummus in the Old City, an absolute must that I always make a point to visit is Abu Shukri. This is a really tiny, plain hummus place, with no more than 4 tables and just a few things on the menu – hummus, foul, falafel and traditional salads, all served with warm pita bread. Prices are more than fair (a novelty in Israel!) and needless to say the hummus is delicious.
Outside the Old City, Mahane Yehuda is a market I love going to, especially on a Friday morning when it buzzes with life and it is packed with people doing some last minute shopping before Shabbat starts. I love the noise, the colors and the flavours of Mahane Yehuda.
There’s plenty of fruits and vegetable stands, as well as places that sell all the delicious baked goods – baklava, rugelach, and much more. I also love the dried fruits stands, the tea stands, and typically make a stop at the Beer Bazar, to have a taste of a good Israeli craft beer. It’s just a place I like going for a bit of comfort food, especially on a chilly day.
Speaking of comfort, this time I decided to sleep at Inbal Hotel, the hotel I stayed at during my first trip to Jerusalem. It was a great decision, and I was glad to have a bit more time to fully enjoy all its amenties, including the amazing on site restaurants and the wine cellar.
Now that I have mentioned food, I have just remembered the breakfast spread at Inbal is almost ridiculous: there is an incredible choice of quality food – from fruits and salads, to breads and other baked goods; cheese, fish and freshly squeezed juice, as well as a variety of coffees.
What I love about Inbal is that it is right between the Old City and the more modern side of Jerusalem, near the Parliament and the German Colony and in an area that is safe, trendy, quiet and well connected.
Inbal, which opened 35 years ago, is an institution among Jerusalem hotels. It is currently going through some major works, to renovate the lobby and public areas, and to add two new floors, with the idea of having more luxury rooms, all offering lovely views of the city and with a larger and newer design. All works will be done by summer 2018.
I had the pleasure of meeting with Sharon, the marketing manager of Inbal, and to ask him the reason for all the renovation works. He explained that demand for rooms in Jerusalem keeps increasing (it’s easy to see why), with more and more people visiting each year. There’s always some conference, some event – even the Giro d’Italia biking competition is going to start in Jerusalem in summer 2018!
The hotel intends to position itself in the “warm luxury” market, and I can see that happening. Each and every detail is taken care here: the look of the hotel in the furnishing and colors; the background music that sofly plays in the common areas; and even the fresh fragrance that can be smelled throughout the establishment.
Rooms are incredibly cozy. Each have a large, comfortable; an espresso machine – and I do like my coffee first thing in the morning! The toiletries are top notch quality, made by a local brand called Sabon. I love the idea of keeping even the small things local.
As a sports junkie, I finally got the chance to take advantage of the fitness centre. I have traveled the world, but I typically stay out of hotel pools because they are frustratingly small for avid swimmers like me. Anything smaller than 20 meters is not worth me getting my feet wet. Inbal has an incredible 25 meters pool, attached to a state of the art fitness centre. I was extremely pleased to be able to train there!
Discovering new (old) places
The beauty of going back to a place I already know quite well is that I know my way around quite well, and I am thus comfortable taking a little side street as opposed to walking on the main one. This always leads me to discover hidden gems, quiet corners that are really just steps away from all the chaos and life. I love that.
The following are some of the hidden corners I discovered during my last trip to Jerusalem.
Yo’El Moshe Salomon Street
This actually is a less than hidden street. In fact, it is an open mall not far from Mamilla and on the way to the busy Yaffo street. I had just never been there – or perhaps I had, but never paid real attention to how pretty it is, and how quiet it is compared to the busy Yaffo street.
Yo’El Moshe Salomon Street is lined with lovely small shops, selling all kind of stuff. They are all small local businesses, where the owner also makes the stuff s/he is selling. It’s a quite artistry part of Jerusalem, in a neighborhood called Nachalat Shiva and which is one of the first that grew outside the Old City of Jerusalem. There’s also a couple of interesting bars and coffee shop.
Speaking of interesting coffee shops, right on Yo’El Moshe Salomon Street there Tmol Shilshom. To be fair, this isn’t so much of an hidden gem – it is mentioned even on the Lonely Planet. I just didn’t know of it, until my friend Ben, who lives in Jerusalem, took me there to have tea.
Tmol Shilshom is a lovely place, and a real institution in Jerusalem. It is the kind of place where one immediately feels the cozy, welcoming, and literary atmosphere – there’s bookshelves filled with books, vintage furniture, and regular exhibitions and book presentations.
The coffee shop is located on the second floor of a really old building, and while the windows face the main street, the entrance is actually at the back, in a tiny alley.
Haim Alboher Alley
I was on my way to Mahane Yehuda when I noticed a tiny alley and I decided that, since I had enough time to wander around, I could walk there and see where it took me. That’s how I ended up in a lovely small square, literally steps away from all the shops, traffic and noise of Yaffo, called Haim Alboher Alley.
There were just a few people in the square – some young guys who looked like students; a girl that was intently reading a book; an elderly man. And, as in any proper square in Jerusalem, there were cats – at door steps, on the trees, and just playing around.
I’d dare say, this was a quintessential Jerusalemite scene, one that however only those who linger a little longer in the city are able to enjoy.
Have you ever been to Jerusalem? What are your favorite places in the city?
For more things to do in Jerusalem, head over to my post “Traditional and Alternative Things To Do In Jerusalem.”