The holy city of Jerusalem is bursting with culture and fun things for visitors to do as they explore three millennia of history, as well as some iconic modern sites. At the crossroads between Jewish, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic civilisations, this key place of pilgrimage is packed with architectural and cultural treasures. Most of its diverse sights can be visited on foot, as the best places to visit in Jerusalem aren't far from one another. There are so many things to do in Jerusalem, so come soak up the city’s ambiance and explore its countless wonders. Are you ready for a trip like no other?
Things to do in Jerusalem: from the Mount of Olives to the Temple Mount
The Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane
East Jerusalem has plenty of local bus connections and it’s an ideal place to start familiarising yourself with the city and its amazing sights. Stop at Ras al-Amud Square to get to the Mount of Olives. With its many tombs built in classical Jewish architectural style, its churches and its famous Chapel of the Ascension (a mosque that welcomes Christians), the Mount reflects Jerusalem’s rich and varied religious life. It overlooks part of Jerusalem and offers outstanding and popular views of the Old City - in fact, the latter is situated just opposite Temple Mount, the centre of the monotheistic world. Visitors who want to head there next should follow a steep path down the Kidron Valley out onto the Garden of Gethsemane and the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, which is now an orthodox church.
The Temple Mount and the Terra Sancta Museum
To see the Temple Mount in all its splendour, you have to step inside the walls of the Old City. Go via the Muslim quarter, which is home to the Via Dolorosa where Jesus endured several stages in his Passion, each one of which is marked with a monument. Before you reach the Sacred Esplanade and Wailing Wall, take a detour to the Church of the Flagellation and explore the various stations on the famous Way of the Cross. And to get a real taste of times gone by, be sure to call in at the Terra Sancta Museum. This cultural site lets you discover Jerusalem’s archaeological ruins and immerse yourself in the ancient city via a particularly well-designed multimedia tour.
The Wailing Wall and Western Wall Tunnel
The narrow streets of the Old City are home to all kinds of shops, but also some must-visit restaurants offering exquisite Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. Ultimately, they come out at the Wailing Wall. According to Jewish history, the Wall is the only remaining part of Solomon's Temple, a site destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 CE. Nowadays, Jerusalem’s most famous place is visited by believers and non-believers alike. Tradition dictates that they can make a wish on a small piece of paper and slip it between the Wall's stones. The Western Wall Tunnel is another of the top things to do in Jerusalem. The world-famous gallery beneath the Wall takes visitors on a fabulous journey through what remains of the city’s ancient engineering system, including long-unused aqueducts and cisterns.
The Sacred Esplanade
Above ground, non-believers can access the Sacred Esplanade via a wooden bridge to the right of the Wailing Wall. There they will find the Dome of the Rock, a sanctuary built on the spot where Abraham was said to have offered his son Ishmael as a sacrifice. This superb edifice dating back to the early days of Islam looks out over the medieval Al-Asqa Mosque, where thousands of Muslims from around the world come to pray. Squeezed in between the Old City’s densely packed streets, the Esplanade has an unspoilt airy, leafy feel which only enhances its spiritual ambiance!
More Things to do in Jerusalem: the Old City
The Holy Sepulchre and the Stone of Anointing
There are eight gateways into the Holy City, but the Damascus Gate hosts a tram station. This is the only line in Jerusalem connecting to the modern quarters to the north and south, making it an ideal place to start exploring the areas to the west inside the city's walls. The Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre is just a few yards away. This Basilica – sometimes called the Church of the Resurrection – stands over the place where Jesus died and holds the Stone of Anointing, used as part of the rituals to embalm Jesus’ body. The Stone of Anointing is next to the stairs that go up to Calvary, or Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified.
The Souk and the Cardo
When you come out of the Basilica, you will notice a stone minaret. This is the Mosque of Omar, which is just outside the Holy Sepulchre and another example of medieval Islamic architecture. These two sacred places are ringed by the souk, a small Middle Eastern market where the street sellers and the scent of spices all make for a highly picturesque ambiance. People go there to breathe in the joyous atmosphere, haggle over clothes and other potential buys and try dishes from different local cultures, from falafel to Middle Eastern pastries. Just to the south, the Old City’s ancient shopping street, the Cardo, is perfect for anyone who likes to window-shop in historic surroundings. Its Byzantine look and traditional little stalls make it an essential stop-off for anyone visiting Jerusalem.
The Tower of David
The Tower of David, or the Citadel of Jerusalem as it is known, is a must-see site to the west of the Old City. This ancient construction initially had a military purpose, but it now stands as an example of the city's classical architecture. When you visit, make sure you don't miss the site’s archaeological section, with its ruins dating back nearly 3,000 years. There is also plenty of entertainment on offer, including numerous exhibitions, concerts and stage productions in the inner courtyard, where the plantlife and ancient stones set a beautiful scene.
To the south of the Old City, not far from the Zion Gate, you will find David’s Tomb. The King of Israel's resting place is a former convent which now serves as a multi-confessional space. When you visit, don't miss the archaeological ruins or the Cenacle, where Jesus is said to have eaten his last supper alongside his apostles.
Others things to do in Jerusalem: Museums and Night Life in the West of the City
Jerusalem’s Best Museums
The Bible Lands Museum
There are several exciting cultural spots not far from the Knesset (Israel's parliament) on Givat Rat hill, so it’s worth devoting half a day to the area. You can walk through the history of Canaan at the Bible Lands Museum. You will learn about the different peoples who have lived alongside or clashed with the Israelites, from the Egyptians to the Persians, Babylonians and Philistines.
Museums of Art and Archaeology
If you would like to get a taste of Israel's more recent past, head to the Israel Museum. It has an extremely well-researched collection of European art covering both the masters of surrealism and impressionism, as well as a space reconstructing Jewish religious rites and places of worship. You will be impressed by the huge model of Jerusalem during the Roman era. The site is also home to the Rockefeller Archeological Museum, which presents not just ancient objects from the city, but the techniques required to use them too.
The World Holocaust Remembrance Center
A little further still to the west, on the Mount of Remembrance, is the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. As its name suggests, the museum memorialises the Holocaust, dedicating its various wings to the children who died in the camps and the Righteous who helped Jewish people escape the Nazis.
The Museum for Islamic Art
Next, head into the city centre to check out another highly symbolic location, the Museum for Islamic Art. The museum is filled with jewellery, clocks, rugs, musical instruments and various other items linked to this key movement in Middle Eastern art.
Machane Yehuda Market and Things to Do in Jerusalem at Night
The Machane Yehuda souk in the western part of the Old City is a historic market and one of the top things to do in Jerusalem. When the shops close their shutters at night, the area transforms into a buzzing night-time scene, with lots of locals coming here to sip an artisanal beer followed by a delicious dinner. You will also want to try the street food offered by the specialist makers lining the market's streets. Anyone who would like to get a taste of Jerusalem’s night life and party scene shouldn’t miss it. The quarter's gastronomy is as cosmopolitan as its population.