More than a place of pilgrimage, Jerusalem in Israel is one of the most beautiful Middle Eastern cities, infused with ancient stories of prophets, kings and crusaders along with some of the best Israeli cuisine. A quick walk can easily transport you back to B.C., before the sights and smells of the vibrant Old City markets bring you back to the present.
Incomparable to any city, Jerusalem is a must-visit destination. These are the top things to do in Jerusalem while you’re there.
1. Put pen to paper
Letter writing is said to be a dying art, but at Jerusalem’s Western Wall it’s very much still alive. Travellers come from all corners of the globe to pray at the 2000 year-old remains of Herod’s Temple. Given a pen and paper, you write your own prayer, wish or thought down and fold it into the crevices of the wall.
A holy hub for many, all knobbly knees and bare shoulders need to be covered, so expect to be handed a complimentary shawl if you come unprepared. Be aware that men and women make their wishes separately and that silence and solitude are expected.
2. Eat hummus ’til it hurts
Jerusalem offers up much of the same cuisine as the rest of Israel, so expect huge amounts of hummus, falafel and shawarma, but the city arguably serves up some of the best.
For the city’s best hummus, head to Abu Shukri in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, and for falafel head to Shalom Falafel, which has been serving up the good stuff on Bezalel Street since 1945. For a shawarma fix, stop by Halo Teiman, Hamarush or Arkadesh for pitta goodness.
3. Walk the rooftops
One of the best ways to really take in Jerusalem is to go up top to the city’s rooftops. The Old City is not especially tall, so climbing up one of the many sets of iron steps to a flat roof lets you see the famous monuments from another perspective.
Climbing up on Rehov Chabad right where it meets St Mark’s Street is one way to get high, or you could join a rooftop tour. From above you can see where the four quarters – Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian – meet, and scour the view for Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives.
If you prefer your views with a beverage, head to the Rooftop Wine and Cheese Restaurant or the Mamilla Hotel Rooftop Café for the same cityscape in a little more comfort.
4. See a Masada sunset
A little outside of Jerusalem, about an hour away, lies Masada, an ancient desert fortress on top of a massive mountain plateau. Originally a palace for King Herod, it’s now a set of ruins that tells the story of a mass suicide that took place thousands of years ago, when the town’s people chose death as opposed to life under Roman rule during the first Jewish-Roman war.
Take the bus from Jerusalem early in the morning and you’ll forget the gruesome story and see a stunning sunrise over the Judean desert instead.
5. Try a shot of Tubi 60
Ginger? Citrus? A little cinnamon? No one is quite sure what’s in Tubi 60, but despite the beverage’s mystery ingredients, the shot is all the rage in Jerusalem. As an Israeli product made with herbs and spices and known to be vegan – that’s as much info as the two brothers who invented it are willing to give – it’s loved by locals.
Knock one of these back somewhere like HaTipa or Toy Bar at the start of the night and rumour has it you’ll not only have a good time but be hangover-free come morning.
6. Make some market moves
Once you’ve had a taste of Tubi 60 you’re ready for a night on the Jerusalem cobbles, and that begins in Mahane Yehuda market.
Forget bars or lounges – in amongst the fruit, falafel and folk tonic you can enjoy your first few drinks of the evening in the sprawling undercover market. Try fighting your way through the throng into spots like Topolino or Que Passer, and if you need a little refuelling, spill over into one of the nearby falafel huts before boogying in the walkways.
7. Get tatted up
Mini elephant in Thailand, stars in Greece, compass in Oz — it’s common to mark an epic trip with a tattoo, and over the years pilgrims have felt no different.
As the holy grail of body inscriptions, Razzouk Ink is a family run business that’s been doodling, detailing and doling out the pain to Jerusalem pilgrims for over 700 years. Located by the Jaffa Gate, you’ll soon see that it’s more than just a tattoo parlour. This store is now a museum and monument to the ancient art of inking. Learn how it was done before the arrival of technology, read personal accounts dating way, way back and take a seat in the chair to remember your time in Jerusalem – if you dare.