Dive deep into this ancient city, home to holy sites, including the Western Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock. Our guide will help you navigate the hotels, restaurants and major attractions inside the Old City of Jerusalem.
Time seems suspended while exploring the narrow, incense-scented streets of the Old City – which you can now do with Culture Trip on our seven day small-group Israel trip, led by our Local Insider.
This Unesco World Heritage site is home to the most sacred landmarks of the three Abrahamic faiths. These include the Temple Mount and Western Wall for Jews, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians, and the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque for Muslims. Follow the footsteps of Crusader Knights and Ottoman merchants as you discover the highlights of this labyrinthine city.
The Old City is compact, and can only really be experienced on foot. The best way to get your bearings is on a guided tour. Afterwards, you can explore each of the four quarters (Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian) on your own.
Start at Jaffa Gate, one of the easiest access points through the Old City walls. From here, it’s a 2.4km (1.5mi) walk to the Lion’s Gate with excellent views of the Dome of the Rock. This is an excellent introduction to the Muslim Quarter, which has stunning Islamic architecture, dominated by the Via Dolorosa, the route Christians believe Jesus followed to his crucifixion.
The chief attraction in the Jewish Quarter is the Western Wall, the only extant remains of the Second Temple, today the holiest site in Judaism. It’s free to visit, but men are asked to cover their heads and women should cover their legs and shoulders.
The unquestionable highlight of the Christian Quarter is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, constructed over the site of Jesus’s crucifixion. It’s thought to house the tomb of Jesus and remains an important pilgrimage site.
Finally, the Armenian Quarter, near the Mount of Olives and City of David, is home to King David’s Tomb and the perfect place to shop for colourful Armenian pottery.
There’s an abundance of hotels in the Old City, so which one should you pick?
From upscale restaurants and hip pop-ups to hole-in-the-wall Middle Eastern joints, the Old City is a mishmash of excellent cuisine. It’s worth noting that kosher laws prohibit serving meat and dairy products together, so restaurants are often designated one or the other.
Enjoy a morning coffee at Bassem’s Gallery & Cafe, a perfect pitstop for weary sightseers, close to the Via Dolorosa. This storied cafe is filled with authentic antique Palestinian furniture and artefacts. Browse the book collection while you sip.
Head to Nafoura for lunch, near Jaffa Gate. Armenian and Israeli specialties make up the menu in this charming restaurant. The meat draws the crowds in here; try the mixed grill, with a side of salad and big dollops of hummus. Alternatively, for a more upscale meal, book The Eucalyptus, also near Jaffa Gate. Biblical food inspired the menu here, which uses wild plants foraged from the nearby hillsides. It’s great for vegetarians and often regarded as one of the best restaurants in Jerusalem.
Come nightfall, head just beyond the walls to Machane Yehuda Market, packed with more than 250 vendors. Gastropub BeerBazaar is a real treat for craft beer lovers. Try a flight of beers (small samples of local brews) alongside a pastrami sandwich, served warm and topped with pickled cabbage. The vibe really gets going after 9pm when the live music kicks off.
For a full appreciation of the Old City, you need to step back and get a bird’s-eye view. The best place for that is the Mount of Olives, named after the olive groves that once graced the slopes. Once a prayer and burial site, it now offers spectacular views of the Dome of the Rock and the Old City at 800m (2,624ft) above sea level.
Alternatively, climb the 152m (499ft) high bell tower at the Three Arches Hotel. This neo-byzantine construction was built by Arthur Loomis Harmon, architect of the Empire State Building in New York City. Look out for religious symbolism, such as the 12 cypress trees in the garden, signifying the 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 disciples of Jesus and the 12 followers of Mohammed.
If you want a prime sunrise or sunset lookout point, then head to the Tayelet Haas Promenade. Admire the stone buildings of the city as they shimmer in the golden light below. Stroll through the landscaped pathways and see if you can pick out the key landmarks you’ve visited so far.