Jerusalem has much more to offer visitors than holy sites and religious pilgrimages. If you know where to look, there are several areas worth exploring, each with their own atmosphere and idiosyncrasies, which will broaden your understanding of Israel’s capital city and enable you to experience it from different perspectives. This guide should point you in the right direction.
Downtown West Jerusalem
It is easy to spend most of your trip to Jerusalem in this area. Full of coffee shops, bars and restaurants that cater to all tastes, not to mention Machane Yehuda shuk – probably the best market in Israel – exploring downtown West Jerusalem is a great way to immerse yourself in the city’s unique atmosphere and get a taste of its food scene and nightlife.
Machane Yehuda is a bustling market home to an eclectic mix of delicious foods. At night it transforms into one of the liveliest nightspots in the city, full of bars, awesome graffiti art and live music. The dark, unassuming streets tucked away behind the market must also be explored, with many great restaurants and watering holes. Ishtabach, an unpretentious, quintessentially Jerusalem establishment serving up deliciously authentic Kurdish food, is an absolute must.
Once an enclave of religious Jews, Nachlaot gradually became home to artists, musicians, and young hipster-religious Jews from the States. Now very much gentrified, Nachlaot, which comprises of a cluster of individual neighborhoods, is nonetheless a very interesting place to explore, located next to Machane Yehuda market.
Grab some street food from the market and meander through Nachlaot’s narrow alleyways and quaint streets, before chilling out with a coffee among locals at Nocturno, one of the many cafes in the area.
Nocturno Cafe, Betsal’el Street 7, Jerusalem, Israel, +972 77 700 8510
A fascinating neighborhood with a tumultuous history, Musrara was originally built for affluent Arabs in the latter stages of the 1800s. Now, it is a trendy, picturesque neighborhood with a strong presence of artists and galleries in addition to cultural events. Of note is Muslala, a collective of artists from the neighborhood that run art exhibitions, urban art guided tours, and workshops, and Musrara Mix, an annual international interdisciplinary art festival created by the neighborhood’s Naggar School of Art.
Musrara is also home to a couple museums well worth checking out: the Museum of Underground Prisoners, where you can learn about the travails of Jewish resistance (and terror) groups that helped bring about the establishment of the Israeli state; and The Museum on the Seam, “a socio-political contemporary art museum” that uses art “to raise controversial social issues for public discussion.”
The Old City
In addition to the must-see religious and historical sites, the Old City of Jerusalem is full of hidden gems and cool things to explore in its four quarters. Soak up the Middle Eastern atmosphere in the Arab shuk and grab a shawarma from Al Nasser while you’re there, and indulge yourself with some mutabak, a heavenly Arab dessert, from Zalatimo’s café, a tiny, roughly 200-year-old establishment around the corner from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Or if you need some respite from Middle Eastern culture, grab a coffee in the incongruous Viennese coffee house in the Austrian Hospice, built in 1857 in the Muslim Quarter.
Al Nasser, 55 Beit Habad Street, Jerusalem, Israel, +972 2 626 2650
Austrian Hospice, Via Dolorosa 37, Jerusalem, Israel, +972 2 626 5800
The German Colony and Baka
The name of this area derives from a group of rebellious Lutherans, called Templars, who settled here in the 1860s and 1870s hoping to speed up the Second Coming. Today, the German Colony is an affluent neighborhood abundant with restaurants, high-end boutiques, and hipster hangouts (such as Lev Smader, a charming cafe and cinema popular with the LGBTQ crowd).
The neighborhood is home to an eclectic mix of architecture, with Ottoman, Bauhaus and Templar-style mansions. In the heart of this neighborhood is Emek Refaim Street, a lovely place to stroll through and people-watch in one of its numerous charming cafes.
Lev Smadar, Lloyd George St 4, Jerusalem, Israel, +972 2 566 0954