The great writer, Elie Wiesel said quite succinctly, “One doesn’t go to Jerusalem, one returns to it. That’s one of its mysteries.” I remember his quote each time I approach this incredible city!
Jerusalem Israeli beautiful at night!
While summer in Jerusalem brings with it long warm days and mild evenings, winter in Jerusalem is simply unique. As the nights draw in and the weather turns cooler, thousands of pilgrims make their way to the city to celebrate Christmas in nearby Bethlehem. At less than nine kilometres (about 5.5 miles), Bethlehem is a nice walk through Jerusalem at any time of year but during the winter months local neighbourhoods become adorned with decorations and the city lights up and glistens late into the night. The Old City’s Armenian and Christian quarters are interesting and fun to visit at this time of year as many places of worship hold carol concerts and services to celebrate the birth of Christ.
Here’s a Pro Tip: The currency used is the Israeli Shekel. About five Israeli Shekel is equal to one British Pound. However, almost any major currency is accepted in local shops.
Jerusalem’s nearest international airport is Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. From Ben Gurion, the journey to Jerusalem takes just under an hour by taxi or bus, and just over an hour by train. Taxi’s from Ben Gurion depart outside most terminals and a one-way trip costs about £50. The bus is a more affordable mode of transport. The airport shuttle bus, #485, departs from the Terminal 3 on the second floor every hour, 24 hours a day, six days a week (excluding Shabbat – the period between sunset on Fridays and sunset on Saturdays). The bus stops at several stations in Jerusalem including the Central Bus Station where most passengers alight.
Here’s Another Pro Tip: Weekends in Israel fall on Friday and Saturday, and most restaurants, shops, and businesses close late on Friday afternoon and won’t reopen until sunset on Saturday afternoon. During this period, public transport is limited.
Walk in the footsteps of Jesus on the Via Dolorosa
I hope you’ve dedicated at least a week to Jerusalem as you’re going to need to strap on your walking shoes and get a move on if you want to visit most of the city’s exciting sites! However, if you’re only in town for a weekend, here are my absolute must-see attractions:
This is the oldest place of continuous Christian worship!
- Church of the Holy Sepulchre – This 4th-century Christian holy site is said to mark the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and is home to Jesus’s empty tomb making it the holiest pilgrimage site of all of Christianity. Control of the Church is split between several denominations including the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, Coptic Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox churches.
- Mount of Olives – To the east of Jerusalem’s Old City sits a mountain ridge that is a Christian pilgrimage site. The site was named after the abundance of olive trees that sprung from the arid land and is purported to be where Jesus viewed the city and wept. Today the view from the Mount of Olives is impressive and panoramic.
- Church of Nativity – Home to the birthplace of Jesus, the Church of Nativity is the most sacred site in Bethlehem. I recommend exploring the grotto with a knowledgeable local guide. This is the oldest place of continuous worship in Christianity.
- The Israel Museum – This incredible museum follows the long history of Jerusalem and the broader surrounding area. A highlight for me is the Shrine of the Book – a modern facility that houses the Dead Sea Scrolls!
- Dome of the Rock – Known is Arabic as Qubbat al-Sakhrah, it is the oldest extant Islamic monument in the world! The Prophet Muhammad (MPBUH) is believed to have ascended into heaven form this site. It sits on the famous Temple Mount with its renowned Western Wall that is sacred to Judaism.
- Via Dolorosa – Walk in the footsteps of Jesus as you follow this processional route through the Old City of Jerusalem. The route winds its way from the Antonia Fortress to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and is believed to be the route taken by Jesus from his trial to his crucifixion. Millions of worshippers have taken exactly this route!
- Hamshushalayim Winter Festival – Every December Jerusalem comes alive for a weekend of arts, crafts, concerts, and live music. If you enjoy festivals, there’s plenty going on in Bethlehem throughout December including celebrations of life and guided Christmas tours.
Hummus try the food in Jerusalem!
The Holy City is home to a mix of family-run taverns and fine-dining restaurants, each serving a blend of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Israeli cuisine. Check out my three favourite restaurants in Jerusalem below:
- Eucalyptus – This kosher restaurant takes Israeli cuisine and adds a contemporary twist. Tuck into Chef Moshe Basson’s tasting menu or opt for the a la carte and enjoy the likes of Chickpea and Braised Lamb Couscous or Red Lentil Stew.
- Machneyuda – Enjoy modern Mediterranean and Israel cuisine at this colourful restaurant which takes its name from Jerusalem’s biggest and best market (Mahane Yehuda Market). I recommend reserving a table in advance as this little restaurant is always busy!
- Anna – If you have a hankering for homemade Italian cuisine, head to Anna. This little restaurant is tucked away in the Ticho House Museum and serves delicious pizzas and pasta. What I like most about Anna is that the employees are disadvantaged students who have been given a chance to kick-start their culinary career!
Jerusalem’s most popular bars offer the perfect way to unwind after a day exploring the Holy City. Check out my favourite watering holes below:
- Sira – Popular with the students, this lively little bar in Jerusalem’s Downtown Triangle has live music most nights of the week. Happy hour runs between 5pm and 9pm and up-and-coming Israeli artists take to the stage thereafter.
- Wine Bar – For a sophisticated evening of tapas and wine, head to Wine Bar in the Rehavia neighbourhood. The bar, which is owned and operated by the head chef of Machneyuda, has strong Italian influences.
The Mount of Olives offers a fabulous panorama of Jerusalem!
- Hataklit – Found just off Jaffa Street, this little bar is one of the city’s most talked-about hangouts. Its bohemian vibes have drawn artists, lecturers, writers and all manner of creative minds. Visit between 4:30pm and 9pm on a weekday, and you’ll enjoy happy hour.
Boutique hotels housed inside ancient Ottoman villas and 5-star accommodation good enough for Barak Obama, here are my three favourite hotels in the city:
- King David – If you’re seeking to stay at one of Jerusalem’s most luxurious hotels, look no further than King David. This 5-star hotel overlooks Jerusalem’s Old City and perfectly blends the charm of a bygone era with the luxuries of modern design.
- Villa Brown Jerusalem – This boutique hotel sits inside a 19th-century Ottoman villa and showcases a blend of Arabian and British architecture and design. Guests can enjoy the rooftop terrace and hot tub or lounge in the flora filled gardens.
- The American Colony Hotel – This luxurious hotel boats private spa rooms, four-poster beds, and beautiful sprawling gardens. Guests can also enjoy the onsite restaurants and complimentary buffet breakfast.
Despite being a living museum of religious history, Jerusalem is a vibrant and engaging city which caters to all of your interests and needs. Return to Jerusalem and be inspired by this wonderful city!