Nature in and around Jerusalem serves as a sanctuary of calm and tranquillity in a city most often associated with ancient cobblestone streets, bustling markets and religious sites. A visit to its forests, national parks and botanical gardens is a perfect complement to any trip to the Holy City.
Gan Sacher is Jerusalem’s largest public park, stretching from the Valley of the Cross to the Central Bus Station. It is sandwiched between the Nachlaot and Rehavia neighbourhoods, and the government buildings and museums in Givat Ram. Fringed by tall trees that provide some much-needed shade during the day, this is a great place for a picnic. Its vast, grassy fields are great for sports. The park’s facilities include football fields, tennis and basketball courts, a bike path and the Bird Observatory. Grab some delicious food from the nearby Machane Yehuda Market and spend the afternoon picnicking in this urban oasis.
Independence Park, or Gan Ha’atzmaut in Hebrew, is nestled in the heart of the city and just a short walk from the ancient streets and religious sites of the Old City. Often used as a venue for events, rallies and concerts, it is otherwise a green haven of tranquillity amid the hustle and bustle of downtown Jerusalem.
Located at the foot of the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane is not only a beautiful garden but also a significant site for Christians. It’s believed to be the place where Jesus prayed before his arrest and subsequent crucifixion. This garden is also filled with ancient olive trees, discovered by scientists to be the oldest in the world at up to 2,000 years old. The trees grow amid lush green grass, divided by a walking trail. This oasis of calm is not to be missed.
This sprawling, mountainous forest is an inextricable part of the Holy City’s fabric and history. The stones of the Holy Temple and Western Wall were quarried from this forest and numerous ancient artefacts have been found within its confines. Planted in 1948, shortly after Israel’s establishment, the forest is situated between Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum, and Mount Herzl, Israel’s military cemetery. 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 city’s best outdoor experiences.
On the southern edge of the Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus, this 30-acre garden is home to some 10,000 species of plants from all over the world (the largest collection in Israel), including the world’s largest collection of bonsai trees. Tours are available, and the garden has a café overlooking its lake.
This is a beautiful spot close to the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) and the world-renowned Israel Museum. With about 400 varieties of roses and 15,000 rose bushes, and a pond with aquatic plants, this is one of the most picturesque gardens in the city. The best time to visit is between April and May when the roses are in full bloom and the weather is perfect for a picnic and for unwinding with a book.
Nestled just 10 minutes outside of Jerusalem, Ein Hemed is a national park and nature reserve. Its most popular attractions include its streams and dams, an original structure from the Crusades and shaded picnic areas. It’s the perfect place for a morning stroll before heading to the nearby village of Abu Ghosh, home of some of the best hummus in Israel. An entrance fee is required to enter the park.