Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world and a holy place in three major religions: Jewish, Christian and Islam. It has a long history and a complicated present. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority are currently claiming Jerusalem as their capital city. The Old City of Jerusalem and its walls are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is my tour of the most important things to do in Jerusalem. I intended the tour for a day trip. The truth is it is not enough and you probably should spend at least one night in the city.
Things to do in Jerusalem
There are many things to discover in Old Jerusalem so I’m listing some of them here, in no particular order. I aim to make this post a free tour of Old Jerusalem, not a top 10 things to see.
So here is my Jerusalem tour guide, starting at Jaffa Gate. Just inside the gate, take a free map of the Old City from the tourist info center.
1 The Ramparts Walk
This walk on the old city’s walls is a unique way to get your bearings. Also, you can take some great photos from above Old Jerusalem. One of the entry points for the Ramparts Walk is inside the Jaffa Gate.
There are actually two parts to this walk. The north side starts from Jaffa Gate to the Lion’s Gate, and the south walk starting at the Tower of David towards Zion Gate. You can descend the ramparts at several points close to any of Jerusalem’s seven gates. Keep in mind though that the entry points are those close to Jaffa Gate.
A ticket valid for both walks is 16 NIS (about 4€) and is valid for 2 days. The Ramparts are open every day, from 9:00 to 16:00, except for Fridays when they close early for Shabbat, at 14:00. One more thing, on Saturdays, the walk is open but you can’t buy a ticket. You’ll have to purchase a ticket a day before or plan your trip for another day.
2 The Gates of Old Jerusalem
Jerusalem was a fortified city since ancient times. Its walls were build and destroyed a few times over the millennia. The Old Jerusalem walls we see now were built in the 16th century by the city’s Ottoman Rulers. There were seven gates to the city. One of them, Golden Gate is has been blocked for centuries and it is said it will be open again when the Messiah will arrive.
3 Tower of David
Tower of David was actually built by King Herod and is now a museum of the city. It is worth a visit which will take you through Jerusalem’s 4000 years history, as well as for a great panorama of the Old Jerusalem as well as the new city.
The museum is located very close to Jaffa Gate. A ticket is 40 NIS (about 10€) and there is a discount if you buy your tickets online.
4 The Armenian Quarter
This is the smallest of the four quarters inside Jerusalem’s walls. Armenians have been a constant presence in the city since the 4th century AD when they adopted Christianity. Also, some thousands refugees escaped to Jerusalem from the Ottoman genocide a hundred years ago.
It’s a quiet district where you can visit the beautiful St. James cathedral and browse through the traditional ceramics shops.
5 The ‘Upper Room’
The scene of the Last Supper of Jesus and the Apostles is traditionally placed to this ‘upper room’ in David’s Tomb Compound on Mount Sion. Of course, the place was rebuilt many times to present day and you will only visit an empty room which you can fill with your faith or imagination.
The Upper Room is free to visit every day from 8:00 to 17:00 except on Fridays when it closes at 13:00.
6 The Western Wall
This is the most sacred place in Judaic tradition. The Western Wall is all that remained when the Romans destroyed the Temple Mount in 70 AD.
The site is free to enter and open at any time. You will have to go through an airport like security check and be dressed appropriately for a prayer site. Men and women pray in two separate sections of the wall and leave their written prayers in cracks of the Western Wall.
7 Al-Aqsa Mosque and The Dome of the Rock
These are two of the most important sites in Islamic faith and they are both in the same area of Jerusalem, on Temple Mount. The Mount is also where the ancient Jewish Temple was, until Romans completely destroyed it the 1st century AD.
Do you see that golden dome in the photo above? That is the Dome of the Rock, the place where Mohammad ascended from in Islamic faith. The Dome is an Islamic shrine, not a mosque. It also shelters the Foundation Stone, where the creation of the world began in Jewish faith.
Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third most important Islamic site, after Mecca and Medina. It literally means ‘the farthest mosque’, but the true name of the Mosque is Quibli Masjid.
Unfortunately, only Muslims are allowed to enter the two sites. You can, however, visit Temple Mount as a non-Muslim. The only acces way to the Temple Mount is through the wooden passage by the Western Wall, that you can see in the picture above. There are several gates to enter the Mount in Jerusalem, but the rest of them are only for Muslims.
The Temple Mount closes on Fridays and Saturday, as well as during the month of Ramadan and during some Jewish Festivals. Every other day, you can visit Temple Mount early in the morning. Expect airport security checks and make sure to dress appropriately.
8 Via Dolorosa
Christians believe the Way of the Cross in Jerusalem is the path Jesus walked with the cross. It extends from his torture and judgement site to his burial site. The name of the path is ‘Via Dolorosa’ and it is an important pilgrimage place for Christians from all over the world.
The path has 14 stations marked with numbered plates and symbols. First station is at the site of the ancient Praetorium of Pilate, now the courtyard of a Muslim college. Further, the path will take you to places where Jesus met his mother, was helped or fell on the way to his crucifixion site.
The last 5 stations (10 to 14) are located inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is where Jesus was crucified, died and was buried.
9 The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Helen, mother of Emperor Constantine came to Jerusalem in the fourth century AD to identify these holy sites. She had the church built to enclose these places which became the most important pilgrimage destination in the Christian religion. It also encloses the empty tomb of Christ.
The church suffered extensive damage through the ages and was rebuilt as many times. It is now a very busy attraction so if you want to get close to the tomb, you should plan your trips so that you get here early in the morning.
In addition to its significance, the church is also host to some beautiful mosaics.
10 The Muslim Quarter and Market
The Muslim Quarter is the largest of the four neighbourhoods of Old Jerusalem. The area is almost entirely a souk (an Arab market). You will find here everything you can think of: spices, fresh pastry, traditional decorations, clothes, as well as snacks and fresh fruit and vegetables.
One word of advice. Most items in these shops don’t have their prices shown. You have to ask about everything and some bargaining is expected. The vendors can be a little aggresive. Also, they accept USD in this area, besides NIS.
11 The Garden Tomb
This is a garden outside the Old City walls, a short walk from Damascus Gate. The widely accepted site for the tomb where Jesus was placed is the one inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. However, the Garden Tomb is an alternative site where some believe the actual tomb is.
Anyway, this is a beautiful and peaceful garden where you can relax for a little while, no matter what your personal beliefs are. There is an ancient tomb in the rock on one side of the garden.
The entrance to the garden is free but they accept donations and there is also a souvenir shop where you can buy something to help mantaining this place. More details on their website.
12 Mount of Olives
Mount of Olives has a major significance in all the three religions that meet in Jerusalem. For instance, in Jewish tradition, when Messiah will come from the Mount of Olives and all the dead will resurrect.
Mount of Olives has been used as a burial site since the First Temple period (as early as 10 century BC).
At its highest point, Mount of Olives is 80 meters higher than the Temple Mount. That makes for some great views over Old Jerusalem.
The Garden of Gethsemane is located just at the foot of Mount of Olives. It is a beautiful garden with ancient olive trees that will transport you back in time. The garden is free to visit every day from 8:00 to 17:00 and its well worth the walk from Dung Gate of Old Jerusalem.
13 The Western Wall Tunnels
Another attraction that you shouldn’t miss if you’re interested in Jerusalem’s History is the Western Wall Tunnels Tour. I didn’t book ahead so we couldn’t visit but it is definitely on my things to do list for next time.
The tunnels are open Sunday to Thursday from 7 AM to the evening and on Fridays only untill 12:00. A ticket costs 30 NIS (almost 8€) and you must book in advance here.
The tunnels will allow you to see parts of ancient Jerusalem, as it was 2000 years ago in the Second Temple era. You will see the foundation of the Western Wall, an underground pool, an aqueduct and a hidden passageway, a whole underground city really.
14 Mahane Yehuda Market
This market is outside the Old City walls, a few minutes away from Jaffa Gate. You will find fresh vegetables, fruit, spices, nuts, traditional sweets as well as a lot of things to eat on the spot.
The market is open Sunday to Thursday from 9:00 to 17:00 and some of the food stalls are open later in the evenings. If you would prefer a guided introduction to the market and middle eastern food, you can choose this food tour of the market.
This was a virtual tour of Jerusalem, I hope it will help you plan a perfect trip to Jerusalem. Speaking of which, make sure to read my quick guide on planning your trip to Israel.