Jerusalem is a city like no other: richly historical and staggeringly beautiful, it is a place made up of numerous layers that often contrast and contradict. From its four ancient quarters littered with some of the world’s holiest sites, to its eclectic culinary scene and defiant, dynamic nightlife, here are 12 reasons why you should make visiting Jerusalem a priority.
Upon entering Machane Yehuda market, you will instantly experience a sensory overload. Loud and bustling, this large and mazey market is lined with eclectic foods, from Iraqi to Kurdish to Italian; stands selling the most colourful spices and freshest produce you’ll find; mouth-watering desserts such as halva and baklava on enormous trays; and an array of bars. As the evening approaches, Machane Yehuda morphs into one of the city’s most buzzing nightspots, full of cool graffiti, live music, shots of arak, and young people enjoying the unique atmosphere.
Amidst Jerusalem’s holy sites, religious conservatism and ancient cobbled streets exists a defiant and vibrant nightlife. With its array of intimate live music venues such as HaMazkeka and Yellow Submarine, and its dance clubs playing electronic music until the early hours (Bass Club is arguably the best in town), in addition to its lively, bar-filled Machane Yehuda market and outdoor hipster spots like 4:20, Jerusalem has a nightlife to match Tel Aviv’s.
Jerusalem’s culinary scene is as unpretentious as it is delicious, as authentic as it is diverse; from street food inside Machane Yehuda market (the malawach at Jachnun Bar is not to be missed), to mouth-watering traditional Kurdish dishes at Ishtabach and fine dining at the award-winning Machneyuda restaurant, this city is a foodie’s paradise.
Every week, as the sun sets on Friday evening, Jews around the world pause and take a day off from the chaos of life. Nowhere is better to experience this beautiful tradition than in Jerusalem, where it is observed to the fullest: almost every shop closes, the roads are all but empty, and the air feels noticeably calmer.
Mea She’arim is akin to an alternate universe. Home exclusively to Israel’s ultra-religious haredim, entering this neighborhood – one of Jerusalem’s oldest – is like stepping back in time. Wandering its streets is a unique, if not jarring experience, and a must for those curious to see how Israel’s most religious Jews live.
The annual summer Jerusalem Film Festival is the most prestigious in the country, spanning 11 days and showing over 200 films. In addition to presenting the best of Israeli cinema, it also showcases the finest contemporary international works. Escape the overwhelming July heat of by immersing yourself in this film extravaganza!
…and best wine festival
In addition to its renowned film festival, Jerusalem also hosts the country’s best wine festival every August. Offering the finest products from 60 wineries across Israel in a magnificent outdoor setting, along with tasty food from local eateries and live music, this event should be enough motivation on its own to visit Jerusalem.
To see why it’s the holiest city in the world
Jerusalem is holy to Christians, Jews, and Muslims. For anyone curious about, or connected to, these three monotheistic faiths, then a trip to Jerusalem is obligatory. Visit the Temple Mount complex, home to two monumental Islamic sites, The Dome of The Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque, in addition to the Western Wall which is holy to Judaism. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, underneath which lies the tomb of Jesus, is one of the many sites holy to Christians in Jerusalem.
View of the Western Wall and The Golden Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem | Public domain
To explore its fascinating Old City
Wandering through the ancient cobbled streets and narrow alleyways of Jerusalem’s Old City is a must for any trip to Israel; you will leave feeling awestruck by its rich and intriguing history. The Old City is divided into four quarters: the Jewish Quarter, Armenian Quarter, Christian Quarter, and Muslim Quarter. Each has its own unique atmosphere and surroundings, so make sure you explore all four.
Don’t forget to weave your way through the ancient underground tunnels that lie beneath the Jewish Quarter, called the Western Wall Tunnels. From ancient cisterns to second-temple era homes, you will be amazed by what you find in these fascinating tunnels!
It has some of the world’s most important museums
Jerusalem is home to several world-class museums. Perhaps its finest is The Israel Museum, world renowned for its eclectic art and archaeological collections. Highlights include the Shrine of the Book Complex, a unique white dome that houses part of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Second Temple Jerusalem Model, a spectacular, 1,000 square metre recreation of the city at its peak in 66 CE.
Jerusalem is also home to Yad Vashem, Israel’s largest Holocaust museum. Built on the hills of Mount Remembrance, its architecture is heavy with symbolism. The museum includes nine galleries showing the Holocaust through photographs, films, documents, letters, works of art, and personal items found in the camps and ghettos. Visiting Yad Vashem is an incredibly important and moving experience.
Other notable museums include The Tower of David Museum, which showcases the history of Jerusalem from its second millennium BCE origins to the present day, and The Davidson Center in Jerusalem’s Archaeological Park, which is located within an Umayyad-period palace and uses visual technology to showcase Jerusalem’s ancient history.
If you’re in Tel Aviv over the summer, the relentless and at times unbearable heat and humidity can drive you crazy. Jerusalem, by contrast, is blessed with ideal weather conditions: hot during the day, but cooler and dryer at night – you might even need a sweater.
To use it as a base for incredible day trips
Jerusalem is a great base for exploring Israel’s southern regions. For those seeking an incredible day trip, it is possible to climb the majestic Masada, cool off in the tranquil natural pools of the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, and float in the magical waters of the Dead Sea before returning to Jerusalem for dinner.
For those with more time, you can drive from Jerusalem to Israel’s southernmost city, Eilat, stopping off en route at Israel’s most breathtaking natural sites in the Negev Desert: Makhtesh Ramon (Ramon Crater) and Timna Park. The total road time for this journey is around 4.5 hours.