A Pocket Guide to the Old City of Jerusalem

The magnificent Dome of the Rock is one of the key attractions on Temple Mount
The magnificent Dome of the Rock is one of the key attractions on Temple Mount | Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash
Photo of Jennifer Eremeeva
14 October 2021

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.

What to do and see in the Old City of Jerusalem

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.

Start your Old City tour at the Jaffa Gate | © Eddie Gerald / Alamy

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.

Then visit the Western Wall, the main attraction in the Jewish Quarter | Photo by Anton Mislawsky on Unsplash

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.

The Cathedral of St James is a popular stop in the Armenian Quarter | © MB_Photo / Alamy

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.

Where to stay in the Old City of Jerusalem

There’s an abundance of hotels in the Old City, so which one should you pick?

Sephardic House

Hotel
4.1/5 (271 Reviews)
Sephardic House_4a9e30a6
Courtesy of Sephardic House / Expedia
Price Drop
Now from $123 per night
For a central location, book the Sephardic House, which occupies an unbeatable spot near the Zion Gate in the Jewish Quarter. Budget travellers will appreciate the economy rooms (sleeping up to four), while couples can splash out on the deluxe room with views over the city.
More info

Harmony Hotel

Hotel
4.5/5 (646 Reviews)
Harmony Hotel_8d2b2d8c
Courtesy of Harmony Hotel / Expedia
Price Drop
Now from $165 per night
Just outside the Old City, the Harmony Hotel is perfect for those who want a spacious room within walking distance of the tourist bustle. Expect comfortable suites, decorated in soothing neutral tones, alongside a lavish buffet breakfast and complimentary happy hour.
More info

David Citadel Hotel

Hotel
4.3/5 (315 Reviews)
The David Citadel Hotel
Courtesy of The David Citadel Hotel / Expedia
Alternatively, book the five-star David Citadel Hotel, just minutes from Jaffa Gate. The draw here is the year-round heated rooftop pool overlooking the city walls, plus there’s a state-of-the-art wellness centre inside for gym buffs. Rooms feature luxurious perks including Frette bed linen and Bvlgari toiletries.
More info

Where to eat in the Old City of Jerusalem

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.

Book a table at The Eucalyptus for a fine-dining meal | © Nir Alon / Alamy

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.

The Machane Yehuda Market is a great place for craft drinks and street food | © Boaz Rottem / Alamy

Best view of the Old City of Jerusalem

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.

Summit the Mount of Olives for a view of the golden Dome of the Rock | © Fadi Al-barghouthy / Alamy

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.

Climb the bell tower at the Three Arches Hotel | Courtesy of YMCA Three Arches Hotel / Expedia

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.

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