Jerusalem is a remarkable, one-of-a-kind city and home to some incredible remains and religious sites sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Consequently, it’s also one of the most prominent destinations in Israel – and perhaps, in the world – and a very volatile one, too. Here are things you should know before visiting to make the best out of your trip to the holy city.
Jerusalem is a city of coexistence
Despite how it may be portrayed in international headlines, Jews and Arabs have coexisted side by side for many years in Jerusalem and today is no different. Yes, these are very unusual circumstances and there are hostilities, especially in light of the US’s recent declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel but it’s important to remember that Arabic is Israel’s second language, after Hebrew and before English, and that Jerusalem is holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, making it a multi-cultural world of its own.
Many things are closed on Shabbat
Shabbat is a time of rest in Israel, starting on Friday afternoon up until Saturday evening. During that day, religious Jews avoid performing any kind of physical work like cooking, driving or operating any kind of electrical appliances. Therefore, your hotel restaurants will serve pre-cooked breakfast, all markets, shops and most restaurants will be closed, public transportation will not operate and it will be much harder to get by, in general. Despite the charm of this tranquil day of rest, for those who don’t plan to partake in Shabbat, there are some non-kosher restaurants that will be open on Shabbat, so prepare in advance and you should be fine.
Try to avoid Damascus Gate and some neighbourhoods in eastern Jerusalem
Considered one of the most beautiful parts of Jerusalem’s Ottoman walls, Damascus Gate is the link between eastern Jerusalem and the heart of Jerusalem’s old town. The gate is accessible by foot only and it is used by Palestinians on Fridays, on the way to Al-Aqsa Mosque, and by Jews on Saturdays, to access the Western Wall. In recent years, the area has become quite volatile after several terrorist attacks that took place in the vicinity and it has become a popular spot for Palestinian demonstrations. In light of President Trump’s recent announcement on Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, it is advised against visiting this area during demonstrations.
The Jewish Orthodox community is very strict in terms of its attire. Women of the community aren’t supposed to expose their limbs at any time, or their hair, if they are married. The same goes for cleavage and see-through fabrics, on the grounds of immodesty. While visitors are not expected to dress like Orthodox women, they are expected to show a certain amount of respect and avoid wearing overly-baring clothes, like shorts and tank tops. This is especially true when visiting ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods, like Mea Shearim or religious sites like the Western Wall, where you will be asked to cover up before entering.
Sneaky pic taken at Mea Shearim, the most ultraorthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem, where they look at your legs in disgust (women are not supposed to wear trousers), men act like you're not even there, and a kid even covered his face so as not to see us 😨 You won't see this place in my IG Stories because I didn't want to die there. The sign reads as follows: "Groups passing through our neighborhoods severely offend the residents. PLEASE. STOP THIS. To women & girls who pass through our neighborhood, we beg you with all our hearts. PLEASE DO NOT PASS THROUGH OUR NEIGHBORHOOD IN IMMODEST CLOTHES. Modest clothes include: Closed blouse, with long sleeves. Long skirt. No tight-fitting clothes. Please do not distress us by disturbing the sanctity of our neighborhood and our way of life as Jews committed to G-D and his Torah". ❤️Needless to say, I'm in love with the place❤️ #MeaShearim #Jerusalem #🕎
Be aware of your surroundings
This is true anywhere in the world, but especially in tense areas, which you may find in Jerusalem. While you shouldn’t be scared to walk down the street, it’s better to always keep an eye open for suspicious behaviour and avoid walking alone in dark in areas you aren’t familiar with.
Don’t hitchhike and only board registered taxis
Hitchhiking is not common in Israel – the same goes for unregistered taxis, and yes, that includes Uber, which hasn’t been legalized in Israel. While the Uber app will work and show you options, they will all be standard taxis operating with Uber. If you are looking for a ride, the most convenient option would be to use GetTaxi, an app which allows you to book and pay for your taxi. The app is so easy to use, so stay on the safe side and don’t take risks. Avoid boarding unregistered taxies in Jerusalem and in Israel, in general.
Opt for secured public transportation
Israel’s national rail services are well protected with security screening at the entrance to every station. The same goes for the Light Rail in Jerusalem. Even though the Light Rail has suffered several attacks and rock throwing in the past – mostly in suburban Arab neighbourhoods – it is considered quite safe in central Jerusalem. Buses tend to be a less favourable option since they don’t all have security guards on board.