A wealth of religious significance aside, Jerusalem did not exactly rise for me to the level of visually striking. Dome of the Rock is a definite eye-catcher, Mount Zion might be another, and there are rich details here or there, but the overall palette is muted and short on visual impact. Inside the Old City, recent additions are part of the deal (especially in the Jewish Quarter, which was destroyed during Jordanian occupation in the 1950-60s). The city has a lot of sacred places to offer to a religious person, but a secular visitor might not see it as exceedingly special.


Three main hills are worth visiting around the edges of the Old City. Mount Olive ♥♥♥ offers great perspectives over the town, as well as several impressive churches and other sights, such as Dominus Flevit Church ♥ (Catholic), Mary Magdalene Church ♥♥ (Russian Orthodox), Church of All Nations ♥ (Catholic), Garden of Gethsemane ♥, Tomb of the Virgin ♥.

Mount Zion ♥♥♥ is a complex of several components: the tomb of King David ♥, the Room of the Last Supper, and the church and crypt of Dormition Abbey ♥♥.

Temple Mount ♥♥♥ requires an extra effort to get in but is well worth the wait in line because the Dome of the Rock ♥♥♥ is even more impressive close by than from a distance. Spending at least half an hour waiting in line is unavoidable since the area is open to non-Muslim visitors on a very limited schedule. You, unfortunately, cannot go inside any of the buildings on the mount.

The four quarters of the Old City ♥♥ do not have noticeable boundaries, but you will certainly notice more Orthodox Jews in the Jewish quarter and more people of Arabic persuasion in the Muslim quarter. I walked through all four quarters and cannot say that one or the other impressed me more (technically, I only skirted the boundaries of the Armenian quarter, as its inside narrow lanes are not freely accessible to a visitor).

One of the main sights in the Old City is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre ♥♥♥; even a non-believer would be impressed by the agglomeration of parts of the huge complex where six different denominations share the premises. Hurve Synagogue ♥ is also interesting – and its upper platform is one of the good elevated points in the center of town. Cardo ♥ offers a walk-through archaeological experience. Four Sephardic Synagogues ♥♥ is another interesting place to visit, an amalgamation of different styles in a connected space with a curious history.

And then, there is the Western Wall ♥♥♥, which offers as much a spiritual moment to a non-believer Jew as anything could. Conversely, Via Dolorosa requires a level of Christian indoctrination – for a non-believer, walking along it and seeing its “stations” related to the Passion of Christ is rather meaningless.

You can separately go on a guided tour of Western Wall Tunnels ♥, which I found only mildly interesting. There was a lot of information from the guide, most of it just the basic history of the heart of Jerusalem that I already heard elsewhere; there is not much evidently eye-catching in the tunnels themselves, although the overall structure has to be considered impressive.

There are a few museums in the Old City that can be considered worth visiting, as well as a few more major ones outside the Old City walls. The majority of them remain on the future-targets list for me; among the most frequently mentioned by other travelers and local guides are: the Israel Museum, Temple Heritage Foundation, Tower of David Museum, Hebrew Music Museum, and Herodian Quarter Museum. Other potential attractions are: walking the Old City Ramparts (not advisable on hotter days); stopping by Montefiore Mill for views over the city.

You will undoubtedly enter or exit the Old City at least once through Jaffa Gate and walk along David Street, which is the heart of the Old City market. It is very much a tourist-oriented business. Not far from where David Street intersects Cardo, you can find side stairs that would take you to the roofs of the market, which is mildly interesting for those who are after different visual perspectives.

Going beyond the Old City walls – and it is a 15-20 minute walk – Mahane Yehuda Market ♥♥♥ is as close to a must-visit as any market could come, simply delightful. And if you do walk between the Old City and Mahane Yehuda, chances are you will walk through the very lively area of Ben Yehuda Street ♥, one of the going-out centers of town.


I heard horror stories about finding parking in Jerusalem, but as long as you are willing to pay for convenience, parking is easy. On each day that I drove to the city, I found plenty of spots at the underground Karta Parking practically next to Jaffa Gate; it fills up only in the late afternoons, as the Mamila Mall above it gets busier.

The tram network serves locations away from the city center rather efficiently.


As far as eating out is concerned, whether you reserve a table in advance based on online ratings or just pick a restaurant at random, it is hard to have a truly disappointing meal in Jerusalem. For a good full-service dining experience, more likely than not you need to look for places outside of the Old City walls. One place deserving of recommendation is Menza (a short walk from Mahane Yehuda), with great food and a relatively quiet setting on a pedestrian enclave.

Further afield

There are a few points of interest that are away from central Jerusalem and can only be reached by either car or an organized tour.

To a certain degree, Yad Vashem ♥♥♥ is an unmissable museum for any visitor to Jerusalem. It might be the most comprehensive museum of the Holocaust anywhere in the world; looking at every document and interpreted fact in its main museum can easily take a couple of weeks. The campus is a lot more than just the main museum; the grounds are beautifully done, with several evocative memorials. The place is undeniably somber, and in my opinion, slightly academic in presenting cold facts rather than focusing on the emotional impact. Nonetheless, staying on the grounds for over a couple of hours has a chilling effect.

Close by Yad Vashem is the village of Ein Karem, the birthplace of St John the Baptist. Its small central area surrounds the tiled church of St John Baharim ♥, which has its own Nativity grotto. The walls of the courtyard of the church carry transcription of a single prayer in several dozen different languages, which is an unusual feature. The village itself is not overly special in terms of visual impact. A couple of other religious points of interest (e.g., Gorny Monastery) are within a short drive or long walk.

Also, within a short drive – but not reachable on foot – is the University Hospital (Hadassa Ein Karem) which houses a synagogue with windows painted by Chagall ♥. Getting to see them requires a non-trivial effort even once you are parked on site: you have to ask Information Desk at the main building for help, they will direct you to the Heritage Center, where you’ll pay the entrance fee, and then they will show you into the synagogue. The 12 windows in a relatively small temple are not among the most evocative of Chagall’s works but a true connoisseur might think differently. An audioguide with narration that is about 25 minutes long is included in the price, or you can make do with a brochure.


One of the most important Christian sites in the world sits in close vicinity to Jerusalem and enjoys a relative level of safety that comes with being a major pilgrimage hotspot on itineraries around the Holy Land. Crossing into Palestine is not for everyone, and yet it comes with its own rewards.

My guided tour consisted of three stops in different parts of the Bethlehem district. The most important one was, of course, the Old City ♥, where I perused the local market and sat down at a local eatery for shawarma. The overriding attraction factor for anyone visiting the town of Bethlehem is the Church of Nativity ♥♥, which is shared by three different denominations (Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian). The church is interesting enough and I was given an opportunity to visit the Milk Grotto as well.

Prior to that, we stopped by Shepherds’ Field ♥ national park in the Beit Sahour neighborhood. A person of Christian persuasion will certainly find a visit here more rewarding, but the caves, the church, and the excavations are not without interest to others.

Yet prior to that, we went to an elevated viewpoint near Herodion National Park, which is some distance from the town of Bethlehem. We did not go to the park itself but rather used the stop to discuss the topography of the land. The drive also allowed me to take a look at the parts of Palestinian territories that are away from the tourist centers, including driving through Zone A areas.

I certainly do not recommend going into Bethlehem solo – if, like me, you do not like the group tour options, hiring a private guide is highly recommended. Non-Palestinian guides can escort you across the border checkpoints, while Palestinian ones can meet you with the car right outside Checkpoint 300. I have only the best recommendations for Ramzi Sadi ♥♥♥ whom I found on ToursByLocals; in 4 hours or so he will not only show you the main Christian sights in Bethlehem but give you an overview of the entire district.

Crossing the checkpoint on your own can be a bit unnerving, especially if you do that in the early morning since practically nobody is going to Bethlehem at that time. There are no checks of any kind to enter Palestinian territory; you go through the turn-style door and start walking down a long empty hallway, getting increasingly disturbed until you emerge on the other side and are surrounded by a bunch of taxi drivers offering rides. The reverse crossing is less nervy, since there will likely always be other people moving in the same direction, and you do have to interact with Israeli border guards (do not forget your passport and the tourist card insert that you should get at your point of entry to Israel).

Beyond Jerusalem

Israel is a small country, so practically all destinations aside from Eilat can be visited on a day trip from Jerusalem, and that includes Tel Aviv. For other points of interest, check this article.

Other guides for Israel