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Jerusalem is quite simply one of the most incredible cities in the world. Thousands of years of turmoil, religion and culture have shaped the city like no other I’ve experienced.
Given the fact that Jerusalem is the juncture of the three major monotheistic religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism), the major sites in Jerusalem concern those faiths: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Al-Haram ash-Sharif/Temple Mount complex, the Mount of Olives and the Western Wall. These sites are outlined in my Holy Sites of Jerusalem post.
The city’s extensive history means a plethora of options for travellers, so in this blog post I’ll try to distil the other Jerusalem must-see sites into a quick travel guide.
Practical travel information on the city and the region can be found in my Jerusalem Travel Tips post and in my Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territory Travel Guide post respectively.
Note: The East and West Jerusalem I refer to here are the parts of Jerusalem on either side of the 1949 Armistice Green Line which resulted in Jerusalem’s division between Jordan and the new State of Israel.
Jerusalem’s Old City is home to the main religious sites listed above but is also an ancient warren of cobbled and marbled streets and an absolute delight to get lost in. Several thousand years of history converge resulting in the most architecturally-diverse square kilometre you’ll ever meander around.
The Old City is located on Jerusalem’s east side, is encased by fortress-like walls, and is divided into four quarters: Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim. Seven gates lead into the Old City: Jaffa, New, Damascus, Herod’s, Lions (St. Stephen’s), Dung and Zion. From what I could see, Jaffa and Damascus Gates appeared to be the busiest. Damascus Gate had, by-far, the heaviest security presence.
Street food vendors are dotted around the Old City but sit-down restaurants are plentiful, particularly near Jaffa Gate. During Shabbat, restaurants in the Muslim and Christian Quarters remain open.
As for shopping, the Muslim Quarter appeared to have the highest concentration of outlets. Anything you could possibly need for your trip and anything you could possibly give as a present can be bought here. Even if you refrain from purchasing, the walk through the streets is an experience and a treat for the senses, encouraging you to make a purchase anyway!
Jaffa Road: Also known as Jaffa Street, this is the main artery route of West Jerusalem and is an excellent thoroughfare for shopping and dining. The efficient Jerusalem Light Rail (JLR) system runs along Jaffa Road so there is no excuse not to visit. In fact, the convenience of the JLR was the reason I chose the stay at the western end of Jaffa Road.
Mahane Yehuda market: Along Jaffa Road one can find Mahane Yehuda market, a place which appears on most lists of Jerusalem must-see sites. This bustling and fascinating market sells all sorts of foods and consists of two streets (one covered, one uncovered) with each vendor specialising in a food type.
Mahane Yehuda market closes at sundown with pop-up cafes and bars taking the place of the stalls at night. Mahane Yehuda market closes on Friday evening for Shabbat.
YMCA: Jerusalem’s YMCA Three Arches Hotel has been described as an oasis of calm and co-existence by guests on some reviews. I discovered the site when it was listed as my Bethlehem tour meeting point and decided to return to dine. The internal and external architecture of the hotel is stunning and the core value of respect is very evident. This hotel is a microcosm of everything that is great about Jerusalem and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
King David Hotel: Up the road from the YMCA lies the 5-star King David Hotel, a landmark hotel with historical significance. Construction on the hotel began in 1929 during the British Mandate of Palestine with the hotel becoming the accommodation of choice for visiting dignitaries. The British authorities were based in the hotel when the Irgun paramilitary group detonated a bomb killing 91 people in 1946. The hotel continues to host dignitaries and celebrity guests.
Oskar Schindler’s grave: Exiting the Old City via Zion Gate I made my way to the Christian Cemetery on Mount Zion. The cemetery is composed of tiers to accommodate the slope of the hill. Oskar Schindler’s grave is located towards the centre of the lower tier with an enviable view of West Jerusalem. A modest grave, placed on it were a number of small stones which is a Jewish custom of respect.
Was it the grave’s peaceful location which made me stay unexpectedly longer than anticipated, or was it an unconscious decision to spend time paying respect to someone who made a conscious decision to defy the pervasive brutality of his time?
Jerusalem is a city which left me in utter awe for all the right reasons. The sense of history is immense and the architecture is truly impressive. And never have I visited a place where people were so willing to tell their story regardless of their gender, race or religion. And I was privileged to hear those stories.
Jerusalem is best known as a centre of religious pilgrimage but even the most secular of visitors will be enthralled with what the city has to offer. There are thousands of years of history and stories in the city and I’m confident everyone will find a place or a story there which will resonate with them regardless of their beliefs.