It’s impossible not to feel a powerful stirring inside of you as you walk through the tiny streets of the Old City, or pray at a 2,000-year-old wall, or stand on soil that means so much to millions of people.
Whether you’re looking for spiritual growth, an impassioned political discourse, a tasty meal, or a fun party, here are the top 25 must-have experiences in Jerusalem.
Pilgrimage to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is one of the holiest sights in the world for Christians, as it contains both the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and his empty tomb, where Christians believe he was buried and then resurrected. You’ll also find the Chapel of Mary Magdalene, the Greek Chapel of St. Longinus, and even the place believed to be where the True Cross was found. Note that wait times to get into the church and Edicule can be nuts, so plan accordingly.
Leave a Prayer at the Western Wall
Located on the Temple Mount, the Western Wall is what remains of the ancient Jewish temple built over 2,000 years ago. The temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE when the Jews were exiled from Jerusalem, and today, the wall remnant is considered the holiest and most important religious site in the world for Jews. At this open air synagogue, you’ll find people praying, crying, and reading scripture and on Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath),and you’ll see hundreds of Jews gathering to sing and dance. It’s also customary to write a note or prayer and leave it in crevices of the wall. Note: It’s open 24/7, and be sure to dress appropriately (shoulders and knees covered for women and heads covered for men).
Vendor Hop at the Mahane Yehuda Market
The Mahane Yehuda Market (also known as the Shuk) is in the heart of Jerusalem. By day, you can elbow your way through various shops selling pastries, breads, teas, spices, meats, vegetables, and more. Stop into any number of market restaurants (they feel somewhat like feeding “stations”) to feast on delectable treats like shakshuka, burgers, juices, and pastas. By night, you’ll find this food market transformed into a full-fledged bar crawl. Bars, pubs, loud music, mini-clubs—it’s total chaos and incredibly electric.
See the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel Museum
Ranked one of the world’s leading art and archaeology museums, this museum houses the most extensive collection of biblical archaeology in the world. You’ll find exhibitions, art galleries, and special events, as well as have the opportunity to see the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest biblical manuscripts in existence that represents almost the entire Hebrew Bible. Upwards of 2,000 years old, these texts were originally discovered by Bedouins in the caves of Qumran (what is now the West Bank) in 1947. They even include a guide to hidden treasure around Israel.
Peruse the Art at Ticho House
After your tour of the Israel Museum, be sure to head to Ticho House, a serene oasis that’s known as a cultural hub of Jerusalem The ground floor of the house acts as an art gallery featuring the works of Anna Ticho, a beloved Israeli painter, as well as exhibiting other artists’ works. Upstairs is the delicious Anna Italian Cafe decorated with gorgeous ceiling paintings and a beautiful view.
Tisch Family Zoological Gardens
Located in the neighborhood of Malha in Southwest Jerusalem, this impressive and expansive non-profit zoo attracts over 750,000 visitors every year to its scenic location. While they host many creatures from all over the world, the zoo does emphasize animals mentioned in the Bible (this is Jerusalem, after all). The zoo is also dedicated to conservation, partnering with many local initiatives to better preserve nature and wildlife in Israel. There’s often exhibits, events, and workshops to attend, so plan your trip accordingly.
Practice Your Haggling in the Old City
Although the shops of the Old City are pricier and more touristy than other shopping districts, wandering around, exploring, and souvenir shopping in the Old City is a hectic and amusing experience worth the slightly higher prices. As you make your way through the tiny, narrow streets, admire the many beautiful scarves, clothes, artifacts, trinkets, and jewelry, and practice the art of bargaining. Some great shops in particular are George and Dorin Sandrouni Armenian Ceramics, opposite the cathedral in the Christian Quarter and the Shorashim Biblical Gift Shop in the Jewish Quarter on Tiferet Israel street.
Eat Hummus at Abu Shukri
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention at least one incredible hummus experience during your stay in Jerusalem. One of the best places to try hummus is Abu Shukri, a family-owned, cramped, and chaotic restaurant in the Muslim quarter of the Old City. There’s no menus here, but the standard plate includes a bowl of creamy hummus topped with either fava beans (fuul), chickpeas, or pine nuts with a side of pita and vegetables. Ask them to bring you some falafel to go with your hummus, which are deliciously crispy and spiced to perfection. Tip: they don’t take cards, so bring cash.
Get Artsy at Bezalel Street Fair
Similar to the Nachalat Binyamin fair in Tel Aviv, you'll find over 150 stalls of authentic crafts, art, toys, clothing, jewelry, ceramics, live music, and more every Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the pedestrian area of Bezalel Street. The fair is colorful, vibrant, and diverse, reflective of the Jerusalem culture and mix of Israel as a whole. It’s free to attend and the perfect spot to find unique and original souvenirs.
Take in Sweeping Views at Mount of Olives
For those who chase an impressive view, the Mount of Olives is for you. In the old days, it separated the city from the Judean desert, representing the eastern border of Ancient Jerusalem. Here, you’ll overlook the Old City of Jerusalem as well as a large Jewish cemetery that makes this site a place of pilgrimage for Jews. This cemetery is significant as it’s believed that when the Messiah comes, the Jews in this location will be the first to be resurrected, so you can imagine those are some pretty coveted slots.
See Some of the Oldest Olive Trees in the World at Garden of Gethsemane
Located at the foot of Mount of Olives sits the Garden of Gethsemane, the sight Jesus prayed in when he was betrayed by Judas and was subsequently arrested the night before his crucifixion. With some as old as around 800 years, the eight ancient olive trees here are some of the oldest in the world and have spiritual significance as the descendants of the very olive trees that stood during this important Biblical moment.
Visit the Tomb of the Virgin Mary
Luckily for Christian tourists, many of Christianity’s most sacred pilgrimage sites are conveniently clustered together. Also located at the foot of Mount of Olives is the tomb of the Virgin Mary, which rests in a church inside a cave fortress. The way to access it? Down a 12th-century carved out staircase, chipped from the rock. The cavern is dimly lit with candles that visitors can light to pray and worship the holy site.
Visit King David’s Tomb
Located just past the Zion Gate in Mount Zion (west of the Mount of Olives) and just past the Room of the Last Supper lays the tomb of King David, erected by Crusaders 2,000 years after his death. Though the Old Testament states he was buried someplace else, this holy site is still special for Muslims, Christians, and Jews as he was a celebrated warrior king of the Old Testament responsible for composing many biblical psalms. Note: You’ll find the prayer hall separated for men and women, and there is a strict no cell phone policy.
Get Your Pride on at Video
It’s all smiles and positive vibes at Video! A hidden gem, this friendly gay bar is the go-to spot for LGBTQ tourists and locals to turn up to the likes of Britney, Madonna, Rihanna, and Beyonce. This spot is great for groups, but don’t fret if you’re flying solo—you’re sure to meet interesting, warm, and welcoming people at this good-feels bar. Be sure to check their website for cool upcoming events and theme nights.
Go Full Hipster at Cassette Bar
You’ll feel like you’re in an entirely different city as you enter through a door covered in cassette tapes and into a tiny, hipster-chic bar. With somewhat of a lower east side Manhattan feel, the crowd has a too-cool-for-school vibe, but the offbeat playlist and flowing drinks makes this a worthwhile alternative experience for your stay in the holy city.
Party with Locals at Cactus 9
If you’re looking to party with the locals, Cactus 9 is a great electronic music bar with yummy drinks and cool vibes. It’s a nice change of pace from the slower, more historical and religious atmospheres of Jerusalem. On the weekends, this place turns into a full-fledged hot spot, so wear comfy shoes and get ready to get your groove on.
Take a Free Tour of the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament)
Jerusalem is not only the religious center of Israel, it’s also the political capital. And with a country that evokes such fierce political debate in the media, you might be interested to see where many of these tough conversations are held. Take a free guided tour on Sundays and Thursdays to learn about how policy is made and see some incredible art, tapestries, and sculptures by renowned artists such as Marc Chagall. Tours are available in English, Hebrew, Arabic, Amharic, French, Russian, Spanish, and German.
Try Kurdish Food at Ishtabach
For foodies, this little Kosher Kurdish hot spot is an absolute must. Just outside the Shuk, this renowned restaurant is most known for Shamburak, a savory, crunchy pastry served with meats, potatoes, caramelized onions, peppers, and chimichurri. (The best one is the cheek meat Shamburak, in my humble yet totally right opinion). The meat pastry usually comes with three side salads, based on whatever’s the freshest ingredients of the week.
Have Shabbat Dinner with Shabbat of a Lifetime
Shabbat is the Jewish Sabbath, or day of rest. From Friday night to Saturday night, you’ll find much of Jerusalem is shut down (public transportation stops running, shops are closed, and the streets feel pretty bare). Shabbat dinner is a very special time to come together, unplug from technology, and share a meal with loved ones. The organization Shabbat of a Lifetime allows tourists to partake in this ritual, pairing you with a Jewish family in Jerusalem who will treat you to a traditional five course Shabbat meal.
Admire the Dome of the Rock
If you’ve ever seen a little gold ball in the background of Jerusalem photos, you were looking at one of the oldest and most revered examples of Islamic architecture. Located in the Old City on the Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock is believed to be where Mohammed ascended to heaven, which makes it the third holiest site for Muslims. Non-Muslim visitors can admire the Dome of the Rock from the outside so long as they are dressed modestly (only Muslims are allowed inside the Dome), and no sacred Jewish objects may be brought in.
Try Jerusalem Mixed Grill at Sima’s
You can’t leave Jerusalem without sampling their most infamous dish: me’orav Yerushalmi, or Jerusalem mixed grill. It’s comprised of lamb, chicken, and organ meats, and it’s to die for. You’ll find one of the best examples of this dish at Sima’s, a blue collar, down to earth restaurant that’s been around since 1969. A haven for hardcore carnivores, you’ll also find kebabs, meat dumplings, entrecôte, and more.
Drink Beers at BeerBazaar Jerusalem
Located inside of the Shuk, you’ll find this hip, kosher, and super local craft beer haven with over 100 Israeli beers to choose from. Snack on their selection of seasonal salads, sandwiches, and cheap eats while you sip your way through their hearty and tasty beers. The ambiance is cool and relaxed, a nice retreat from the chaos of the market. Don’t miss Thursday nights (the Israeli Saturday night) where you can see this bazaar in full swing and even catch a live show put on by the staff.
Check out the Music at Freddy Lemmon
Another gem of the Shuk is this artsy bar that’s all about the good vibes. Freddy Lemon hosts small concerts, poetry slams, and other musical performances once the fruit and vegetable vendors close shop for the day. You’ll love sitting around the outdoor patio, sipping a beer on tap, and soaking in the live music among your fellow music-loving crowd.
Drink Hot Wine at Hashchena
If you’re looking for a slower pace and an intimate setting, check out Haschena Wine Bar (Hebrew for neighborhood) located inside the Shuk. Sit outside or in, people watch, and choose from an extensive list of beers, cocktails, and hot wines to match the warm atmosphere. Be sure to peep the live music shows on Friday afternoons before Shabbat.
Pay Homage to Holocaust Victims at Yad Vashem
This 45-acre campus of indoor and outdoor museums, sculptures, gardens, exhibitions, and research centers was created to honor the victims of the Holocaust. An absolutely raw and intense experience, be sure to especially brace yourself for the children’s memorial, a hallowed out cavern lit only with memorial candles “creating the impression of millions of stars shining in the firmament” while the names of the deceased children are heard in the background. It is heartbreaking, yes, but it is a highly moving experience you’ll carry with you for years to come.