Jerusalem may most often be associated with ancient cobblestone streets, bustling markets and religious sites, but there’s also lots of room for calm and tranquillity. A visit to nearby forests, national parks and botanical gardens is always a perfect complement to the busyness of the Holy City.
Sacher Park, Jerusalem
Gan Sacher is the largest public park in Jerusalem, occupying 170 acres (69ha) in the city centre. East of it are the Nachlaot and Rehavia neighbourhoods, with the government buildings and museums in Givat Ram to the west. That easy-to-find location isn’t the only reason why it’s a great place for a picnic, either; the park is a mere stone’s throw away from the food stalls of Machane Yehuda Market. Plus, it’s fringed by tall trees that provide some much-needed shade during the day. The vast, grassy fields are great for sports as well: facilities include football fields, tennis and basketball courts, and a bike path. We’d strongly recommend the Bird Observatory too.
The Garden of Gethsemane
Located at the foot of the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane is filled with ancient olive trees, discovered by scientists to be up to 2,000 years old: the oldest olive trees in the world. They grow amid lush green grass, divided by a walking trail. This oasis of calm is not to be missed, but it isn’t just beautiful; it’s a significant site for Christians. It’s believed to be the place where Jesus prayed before his arrest and subsequent crucifixion.
This mountainous forest is a central part of the fabric and history of the Holy City. The stones of the Holy Temple and Western Wall were quarried from this forest, and numerous ancient artefacts have been found within the confines. Planted in 1948, shortly after the establishment of Israel, the forest is situated between Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl, the national military cemetery of Israel. An amazing variety of trees, flowers and wildlife (roaming gazelles are a common sight), as well as excellent hiking and cycling trails, make this one of the best outdoor experiences around.
Jerusalem Botanical Gardens
On the southern edge of the Givat Ram campus at Hebrew University, this 30-acre garden is home to some 10,000 species of plant from all over the world. That makes it the biggest collection of flora in Israel; it also has the largest amount of bonsai trees worldwide. Tours are available, and the garden has a café overlooking its lake.
Wohl Rose Garden
This beautiful spot is close to the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) and the world-renowned Israel Museum. It’s home to 400 varieties of rose, not to mention 15,000 bushes and a pond teeming with aquatic plants, so make sure you visit in April or May when the flowers are in full bloom. Plus, around then the weather will be perfect for a picnic and unwinding with a book.
Ein Hemed National Park, Jerusalem
Nestled just 10 minutes outside of Jerusalem, Ein Hemed is a national park and nature reserve. The most popular attractions there include the streams and dams, as well as the shaded picnic areas. It’s the perfect place for a morning stroll before heading to the nearby village of Abu Ghosh, home to the best hummus in Israel. An entrance fee is required to enter the park.
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