Jerusalem Travel Guide

Jerusalem Travel Guide

Much of what is written about Jerusalem talks of division: political, ethnic, and religious. However, in many ways it’s better to speak, if not of unity, then of integration. Thousands of years of history are intertwined within the modern cityscape; religions have been brought together by the city’s sanctity to Jew, Christian, and Muslim adherents, and east and west not so much collide as envelop each other, with democracy and civil rights as important as the souqs and coffee houses. Conservative and orthodox it may be, but it’s also vibrant and liberal, as our Jerusalem travel guide will show. Jerusalem Pride has grown and grown since it was first staged in 2002, leading to an increase in gay-safe spaces, while homosexual relationships (if not gay marriage) have been legal since 1988.

The best hotels in Jerusalem

With an enviable position a short distance from both the new and old sections of the city, the five-star Inbal Jerusalem blends effortlessly into its surrounds through the use of traditional Jerusalem stone, while providing exquisitely modern facilities. In addition to an indoor and outdoor pool, there’s an impressive fitness centre and spa, while the spacious interiors and large windows douse the entire building with natural light throughout the day. As one of the city’s best-known hotels, the King David has sumptuous gardens with views to many of the most important Jerusalem points of interest, along with equally impressive interiors. It has an old-world charm – ornate ceilings, fine wood furniture, and gently-ageing oriental carpets – that matches the city perfectly. Contrasting the King David is the contemporary Mamilla Hotel, designed by Italian architectural maestro Piero Lissoni. Ten minutes from Jaffa Gate, one of the main entrances into the Old City, it has a rooftop terrace boasting unmatched views over the area, and an airy and contemporary vibe throughout.

To the north of the Old City, just over a mile from Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock, Sergei Palace Hotel certainly lives up to its palatial name, and although some of the interior decoration may not be to everyone’s taste (ask to check out the kitsch religious iconography of the meeting room to see what we mean), the modern take on the traditional, and the spacious enclosed garden more than makeup for it. As modern as they come, Hotel Yehuda on the hills west of the historic centre is a great option for those seeking a little more tranquillity, while this family-friendly establishment also boasts a supervised children’s play area among its many facilities. The well-finished rooms pack in a lot, though the pièce de résistance has got to be the 25-metre outdoor pool.

Photo: Cole Keister

Photo: Cole Keister

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Recommended hotels in Jerusalem
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National museum and national gallery all in one, the Israel Museum is encyclopaedic in scope, with artefacts that span the globe and artworks by the likes of Rembrandt and Rubens

The Israel Museum | Photo: Timothy Hursley

The Israel Museum | Photo: Timothy Hursley

Things to do in Jerusalem

One of the largest museums in the Middle East, the Israel Museum is a must for anyone wondering what to do in Jerusalem. National museum and national gallery all in one, it is encyclopaedic in scope, with artefacts that span the globe and artworks by the likes of Rembrandt and Rubens. However, the archaeological wing and Shrine of the Book building – housing the Dead Sea Scrolls – are without a doubt the stand-out attractions in the collection. The 4,000 objects in the permanent collection of The Museum for Islamic Art, ranging from every day to the ceremonial, are just as remarkable and help demonstrate the importance of Arab culture and heritage to both Israel and the Jewish people. If there’s one thing that has an even longer presence in the region, however, it’s wine, which has been grown in the mountains on the outskirts of Jerusalem for millennia. (If further evidence was needed, the first thing Noah did after stepping back out of the Ark was planted a vine, and then get drunk.) The region still hosts many vineyards, including Domaine Du Castel, a family-run estate producing highly-respected whites, reds, and rosés, which can be tasted as part of a reservation-only winery tour.

Almost unbelievably preserved given the timeframe involved, a significant number of Old Testament-era ruins and hidden passageways are scattered across (and beneath) the modern city, as you’ll discover on a City of David tour. Climb through ancient tunnels between walls and into fortresses, then visit the Royal Acropolis and spring where ancient kings like David and Solomon were anointed. Finally, walk through Hezekiah’s tunnel by lantern light, a narrow water channel dating back centuries. For a more contemporary encounter with the city’s culture, head to Jerusalem Theatre, a venue not just for theatre performances, but also live dance routines, arthouse and Hollywood cinema screenings, and art exhibitions.

Old City Jerusalem

Old City Jerusalem

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Recommended experiences in Jerusalem
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What to see in Jerusalem

When it comes to things to do in Jerusalem, there’s nowhere better to start than Jaffa (or Yafo) Street, an ancient thoroughfare extending east-west from the walls of the Old City to downtown Jerusalem. Car-free and one of the longest streets in the city, it’s served by the red line of Jerusalem’s light rail system, but the best way to explore its kaleidoscope of stores, restaurants, and squares is definitely on foot. The narrow alley-like Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows) within the walls of the Old City marks the traditional route believed to have been taken by Christ on route to his crucifixion. But even if you’re not religiously-minded, the 600-metre path takes in some of Jerusalem’s most important sights, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, consecrated in 335 AD, making it another Jerusalem sightseeing must.

Dating back even further is Temple Mount, site of the now-destroyed Temple of Solomon, and the still extant Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine honouring a natural rock formation from which the prophet Mohammed is said to have ascended into heaven. To make the most of your visit, it’s worth considering a Sandemans Walking tour. Lasting two hours, these free guided tours take in many of the Old City’s points of interest, including the Dome of the Rock and Western (or Wailing) Wall, and are led by licenced expert guides. Further away, the acclaimed Yad Vashem World Holocaust Memorial Centre is Israel’s official Holocaust memorial and encompasses a number of museums and research centres focussing on the darkest days of the last century. Although harrowing in places, the complex stands as a reminder of what can happen when a minority is not protected by the majority. Also in Jerusalem’s hills, you’ll find Sataf, a former Palestinian village that has become a regional trekking centre. Trails lead around the pine forests for almost endless views of Jerusalem, taking in Abu Ghosh (the self-proclaimed hummus capital of Israel) and Ein Kerem, the Biblical village of Elizabeth, mother to John the Baptist.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre | Photo: David Rodrigo

Church of the Holy Sepulchre | Photo: David Rodrigo

Dome of the Rock | Photo: Sander Crombach

Dome of the Rock | Photo: Sander Crombach

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Meals at Atalya alter by the season, with many of the ingredients picked from the rooftop garden or foraged for in the neighbouring pine forests

Where to eat in Jerusalem

The Michelin-starred Chakra may derive its name from the Indian subcontinent (meaning ‘energy’ in Sanskrit), but its menu lies much closer to home, celebrating the very best of what the Mediterranean has to offer. Beside the kebab with grilled vegetables and tahini and grilled sea bream with green salsa, you’ll also, therefore, find a plethora of pasta dishes, such as beef tortellini with Roquefort butter and asparagus. Owned and run by one of the founding chefs of Chakra, Satya may not (yet, anyway) have the kudos that comes with a Michelin star, and distances itself from the aforementioned with an emphasis on using the freshest of seasonal ingredients. On the upper floor of the Ticho House Museum, Italian ‘café’ Anna makes its mark not only through a long list of peninsula favourites, including homemade pizzas and pasta dishes but also because of its commitment to employing and supporting disadvantaged city youth.

The strict kosher restaurant Nagila has some of the most varied and flavorful vegan dishes around. With a menu that looks more like the itinerary of world trip – herb latkes, vegetable stir fry, moussaka, and chickpea curry among them – there’s something for every taste, and live shows from eight until midnight every Saturday night too. Atalya, meanwhile, sits within the orchards and cypress trees close to Ein Kerem, while its ethos manages to successfully straddle the divide between the true restaurant and private chef service. Meals alter by the season, with many of the ingredients picked from the rooftop garden or foraged for in the neighbouring pine forests, and can be enjoyed as either a private meal or as part of the stunning Friday brunch set-up.

For a quick snack in the Downtown Triangle, drop by Humus Eliyahu, where you can pick up the freshest of tahini and hummus, as well as halva should you need a mid-morning sugar hit. A wider choice can be had at Machneyuda Market, lining the side roads between Jaffa and Agripas Streets. If anywhere displays the sights, sounds, and smells of what modern Jerusalem cuisine is all about, it’s here, where small-scale producers peddle everything from fish and chips to Mars Bars.

Atalya

Atalya

Anna

Anna

Shopping in Jerusalem

No Jerusalem gay city guide is complete without a mention of the city’s shopping. Whatever your style – three-piece-suit smart or polo casual – Bagir is a great starting point. Traditional yet innovative (you’ll find bamboo fibre shirts on its rails), and classic yet hip, this menswear store has clothing and accessories that will add to the personal look of any man. Kikar Hamusica has a similar philosophy for the art and music lover. This concept store, art gallery, and gift store in downtown Jerusalem act as an outlet for many local artists, from sculptors to those who use a spray can rather than a palette knife. But not even Kikar Hamusica can compete with the impressive scenes of the weekly Friday Bezalel Arts and Crafts Fair. Bringing together artists from across the city in a market of more than 150 stalls, it winds down the pedestrianised stretch of Bezalel Street. The rest of the week you’ll find many of the fair’s artists in the studios and galleries of Hutzot Hayotzer, the artists’ quarter, an area of the city that was a derelict no man’s land from 1948 until 1967. The artistic year comes to a head in August, with the 12-day International Arts Fair. If books are more your bag, be warned that the floor-to-ceiling shelving of The Book Gallery is a bibliophile’s dream, and are stuffed to overflowing with rare and second-hand tomes spanning an almost endless list of categories in English and Hebrew in particular.

Jerusalem Market | Photo: Toa Heftiba

Jerusalem Market | Photo: Toa Heftiba

Photo: Cole Keister

Photo: Cole Keister

Jerusalem nightlife

As Jerusalem’s only official gay bar, 80s-themed Video in the Russian Compound district of the city has a small dance floor and a clientele as eclectic as they come: Israeli and Palestinian, local and tourist, student and city worker. Part of this comes from the fact that Video is actually comprised of three different bars: Hataklit (Record) for indie lovers, HaKaseta (Cassette) which is the most popular with students, and Raash-Hour (Radio) the café and internet radio station. Jazz fans might instead prefer the sounds emanating from Birman, the host of almost nightly live jams. Alternatively, there’s also Gatsby Cocktail Room, a slightly slicker establishment that has a penchant for inventing new cocktails amid 20s-style glitz so popular that it’s best to book a table in advance.

Located within the Mamilla Hotel, the Mirror Bar is one of the chicest places for a drink in the city. Its ambience is enhanced by the stylish glass décor, atmospheric lighting, and playlists of background music created for the space by the inhouse DJs. This makes it a wonderful bar in which to absorb some of the city’s vibrancy before a night out or relax with a nightcap before turning in afterwards. Gay-friendly Pergamon is well regarded for its regular gigs by local bands and is a good spot to experience the city’s DJs. However, the award for the biggest dance floor in the city goes to a new kid on the block Elysium, which spans two floors and claims to have one of the best lighting and sound systems in the region, making it a superb end to an evening, and a gay Jerusalem guide.

Gatsby

Gatsby

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Gatsby Cocktail Room is a slightly slicker establishment that has a penchant for inventing new cocktails amid a 20s-style glitz

Gatsby

Gatsby

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