Jerusalem Travel tips

Jerusalem is an extraordinary city and easily one of the most engaging cities I’ve ever visited. Thousands of years of tribal turbulence and religious fervour have shaped the city physically and psychologically, and continue to have relevance to the present day.

Western Wall and Haram Al Sharif complex

Jersualem: The Western Wall and the Al-Haram ash-Sharif/Temple Mount complex immediately behind it which contains the Dome of the Rock

A trip to Jerusalem is an absolute must for anyone interested in history, religion, and politics. But everyone will appreciate the other aspects of Jerusalem, whether it be the architecture, the food or the people. Here I will outline some Jerusalem travel tips so you can get the most out of your visit.

SECURITY 

Is Jerusalem safe to visit? As a solo female traveller I found Jerusalem to be exceptionally safe in terms of petty crime. I didn’t even see anti-social behaviour. There is a heavily-armed high security presence, particularly in the Old City and especially near Damascus Gate.

As I come from a country with a predominantly unarmed police force it took me a day or two to adjust to the vista of ubiquitous weapons. Israel is the only country in the world which has compulsory military service for both men and women and these young cadets also carry weapons when in military uniform.

As for the bigger picture, Jerusalem is a political tinderbox so ultimately you would be best advised to follow the travel advice of your own government.

Damascus Gate Jerusalem

Damascus Gate. To the right of the entrance you will see armed personnel in a raised platform, one of several at this gate.

CULTURAL 

History: Researching the history of Jerusalem is a must. Have some idea what made Jerusalem the city it is. Simon Sebag Montefiore’s BBC documentary is excellent for understanding the city’s ancient history.

This page on History.com gives a brief outline of Jerusalem’s modern history. For 20th Century history, get familiar with events such as the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Balfour Declaration in 1917, the 1949 Armistice and the Green Line, the 1967 Six-Day War and the Oslo Accords of the 1990s.

Sights: Research the sights in advance. As there is so much to see in Jerusalem prioritise the sights you really want to visit. Check out my posts on the Holy Sites of Jerusalem and other Jerusalem must-see sites.

Dome of the Rock Jerusalem

The Dome of the Rock. One of the most iconic buildings in the world.

Do a walking tour: If you’ve done no research on Jerusalem then a walking tour will be the perfect crash course in several thousand years of history. If you are an expert on the subject then it will be interesting to hear how Jerusalem’s story is presented.

Language: Most signs are in Hebrew, Arabic and English. As millions of pilgrims descend on Jerusalem every year, the city is well used to catering for international travellers. Every local I met could speak some English.

Jerusalem Zion Gate multi-lingual sign

Multi-lingual sign at the Zion Gate entrance into Jerusalem’s Old City

Shabbat: All public buildings, services and the majority of private run establishments close for the Jewish holy day of rest which starts at sundown on Friday evening and runs until approximately sundown on Saturday evening. However, it’s business as usual for the non-kosher establishments in the Christian and Muslim Quarters of the Old City. Private taxis are the only transport option on Shabbat.

Western Wall Jerusalem

Western Wall. The wooden platform to the right of the picture is the only entrance into Al-Haram ash-Sharif/Temple Mount complex for non-muslims.

Chat to the locals: As I mentioned in my Jerusalem must-see sights post, the willingness of people to share their story was a memorable part of the trip. Despite the high-security presence, Jerusalem was one of the chattiest cities I’ve travelled to. International media focuses on Jerusalem’s political and religious divide but rarely do we hear the personal stories. For me, that was a precious memory.

TRAVEL ESSENTIALS 

Budget: I found Jerusalem and Israel in general to be expensive for accommodation, eating out, shopping and particularly for cosmetics and sunscreen. Public transport was good value, though.

Prepare for the altitude and cold nights. Jerusalem sits at an altitude of over 2,000 feet. This elevated altitude meant cold nights during my visit in November although the daylight temperature hovered in the low twenties of the Celsius scale.

GETTING TO JERUSALEM 

Jerusalem is a transport hub for buses but, as the Central Bus Station can be a little confusing, research the number of the relevant bus in advance. Like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station in the west of the city is a multi-story structure with a shopping centre attached.

The Arab Bus Station near Damascus Gate serves destinations in the West Bank. The etiquette here is just say the name of your destination to someone and they’ll point you in the right direction!

Bus 485 is a direct bus from Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport to Jerusalem Central Bus Station.

When I visited Ramallah in the West Bank by public bus, I had to pass through Qalandiya checkpoint. This checkpoint is discussed in detail in this Times of Israel article.

Many organised tour companies are based in Jerusalem. I visited Bethlehem with Green Olive Tours although they do pick-ups from Tel Aviv as well.

GETTING AROUND JERUSALEM 

Jerusalem has an excellent light rail system (JLR) very similar to Dublin’s Luas. One of the most important Jerusalem travel tips I can give you is to choose accommodation near a JLR station.

Jerusalem Light Rail

Jerusalem Light Rail

Traffic in Jerusalem is heavy especially at rush hours.

Jerusalem is built on a series of hills so is suited to cyclists who want to give their thighs a good work out.

West Jerusalem hills

West Jerusalem hills

Check out this Lonely Planet guide to getting around Jerusalem.

Jerusalem travel tips

3 thoughts on “Jerusalem Travel tips

  1. Travelling Tam says:

    thank you for your perspective as a solo female traveller. It’s so useful to hear about first hand experiences about countries that may have a unsavoury name, be it by government warnings or other. It looks like a fantastic place and I would love to go some day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • ArrivalsHall says:

      Thanks for the feedback. If there’s anything I learned from this trip it was to experience a destination with my own eyes. I think this is the advantage of unsponsored blog posts as well in that the blogger isn’t contractually obliged to paint a rosy picture.

      Like

    • ArrivalsHall says:

      Thanks for the feedback. If there’s anything I learned from this trip it was to experience a destination with my own eyes. I think this is the advantage of unsponsored blog posts as well in that the blogger isn’t contractually obliged to paint a rosy picture. Plus I can talk to locals.

      Like

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