Day 1: The Old City & East Jerusalem
9am: Temple Mount
Grab breakfast on the go from the multitude of street food stalls piled up with kaak bel simsim – a sesame ring of bread – and nawa’im – a sweet saffron-yellow coloured bread filled with dates – and head through the Old City to the Mughrabi Gate by the Western Wall. This is the entrance to Temple Mount for non-Muslims, and opening times are strict and subject to frequent closure. Get there early and expect to queue, however the dazzling 7th-century Dome of the Rock will make your wait worth it. Check opening times here.
11am: Via Dolorosa & Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Drink a quick Arabic coffee in the souq and wander down the Via Dolorosa, the supposed route where Jesus walked with his cross to his crucifixion. Jerusalem Audio Walking Tours is a handy app that provides an audio tour of the route along with navigation to avoid getting lost. Wind up at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, and explore at your own pace, making sure to visit the Tomb of the Sepulchre where it is believed that Jesus was buried before his resurrection. A brief history of the Church is available here.
Afternoon: Museum on the Seam & East Jerusalem
Wander through the Arab souq perusing the eclectic selection of wares on sale, and exit through Damascus Gate. Head to the Museum on the Seam to catch a thought-provoking, contemporary art exhibition focusing on the socio-political situation of the city. If you still have the energy, head to The Garden Tomb, which claims to house Jesus’ very own tomb. Whether you believe the legend or not, the garden is a peaceful place to gather your thoughts. Afterwards, make your way to the American Colony Hotel and enjoy coffee or aperitif in the courtyard café or garden bar.
Check the events on at Yabous Cultural Centre or Dar Issaf Nashashibi, or search gojerusalem.com for other cultural goings-on. If you are visiting during the summer, the Sacred Music Festival is not to be missed. Enjoy dinner at the Notre Dame Hotel, whose gorgeous terrace looks out over the Old City.
Day 2: Mount of Olives and Museums
9am: Mount of Olives
Either walk (20–30mins uphill from Gethsemane), or take a taxi to the top of the Mount of Olives and walk down, exploring the sights in ascending order. Start with the Mosque & Chapel of the Ascension, where Jesus is believed to have ascended into heaven, then make your way down to the Church of the Pater Noster which houses beautiful courtyards decorated with the Lord’s Prayer in over 160 languages. Head down another level to the Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene and admire its gleaming golden domes and take in the view of the Old City and the Jewish cemetery below. Many Jews believe that on the Messiah’s return, God will begin to redeem the dead here at the Mount of Olives, and therefore over 150,000 Jews have chosen to be buried here for the best chances of salvation. Continue past the Tombs of the Prophets and down to the Church of All Nations located next to the Garden of Gethsemane, and admire the stunning golden mosaic work on its façade.
Walk or take a taxi to the bustling Machane Yehuda market in West Jerusalem and enjoy a street food-style lunch from the vast variety of stalls, such as a huge flaky boureka stuffed with cheese, or grab an Iraqi sabich from Aricha Sabich, a famous Yemeni malawach sandwich from Jachnun Bar, or enjoy some Kurdish home cooking from Istabach and people-watch as the crowds rush by.
Head out further west and either spend a long afternoon at the fascinating and informative Israel Museum, or the moving Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. Be warned: both museums are vast and will take up the best part of the day. If you are more inclined to learn about Palestinian culture, head back east and spend the afternoon at the Palestinian Heritage Museum and, if you still have time, the nearby Rockefeller Archaeological Museum has beautifully tranquil exhibitions and gardens.
Evening: Western Wall
Head back before sunset to the Old City to say (or scribble and post) a prayer at the Western Wall while taking in the powerful atmosphere, then enjoy the unbeatable sunset view of the Old City for the final time from the roof of the Austrian Hospice.