Jerusalem Opera Festival
Despite being Israel’s official capital city, Jerusalem sometimes gets a bad rap as Israel’s second city to the always bustling cultural capital of Tel Aviv, but that’s a bit of a misnomer, as Jerusalem has its own cultural identity that it celebrates regularly with a diverse array of cultural happenings.
For instance, in June 2015, Jerusalem hosted the first ever Jerusalem Opera Festival, which featured a massive production of Donizetti’s L’esilir d’amore set in 1940’s Israel performed by numerous acclaimed Israeli and international performers.
The city also puts on several more, shall we say, down to earth cultural events throughout the year, such as Feburary’s Shaon Horef (Winter Noise) Festival, when local bars, clubs, art galleries and other businesses host hundreds of free cultural events every Monday throughout the month. There is also a similar city-sponsored event every weekend in December called Hamshushaliyim that features free tours, concerts and other special events hosted by local businesses.
And you definitely don’t want to miss exciting events like the Jerusalem Wine Festival, the Musrara Mix Festival, the Jerusalem Beer Festival and the many ethnic music festivals that celebrate the various styles that prevail in Israel.
The Old City of Jerusalem
There’s literally nothing to write about the Old City that hasn’t already made its way to the pages of travel publications and books the world over, but simply put, the place is out of this world and teeming with interesting sites, stories, shops and restaurants.
Naturally, there’s the big tickets like the Dome of the Rock, Western Wall and Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but it’s see the big names and then cut out because there’s nothing stopping you from exploring further and getting a more meaningful experience.
It’s worth it to join one of the free tours that leave throughout the day from Jaffa Gate to really explore the city and hear some of the stories behind it, as it will help you understand that there each and every stone in the Old City bears its own significance.
Even if you don’t like organized tours, don’t just head to the sites and go home. Get to know the city on your own by wandering through the alleys, stopping in some of the shops and restaurants and observing all the small details that make the Old City unique.
Tel Aviv’s vast restaurant landscape gets most of the attention in Israel, but Jerusalem easily holds its own thanks to a burgeoning creative restaurant scene with the acclaimed Machneyuda at the forefront.
Machneyuda makes it into almost any discussion about the best restaurant in Israel thanks to its unique, lively atmosphere and dedication to the details that make a restaurant truly great – a menu that changes twice daily to ensure that all the ingredients are as fresh as possible, locally sourced, first-rate, fresh ingredients, creative dishes drawing inspiration from all over the world and a downright cool staff that is always there to make your dining experience better.
Once you’ve ticked Machneyuda off your to-do-list, you can keep exploring the fine dining scene at places like Mona in the Jerusalem Artist’s House or Eucalyptus for dishes inspired by stories from the Bible.
Alternatively, you can start testing the local working class market with gems like Ta’ami or Pinati in the city center or Rachmo and Azura in the Mahane Yehuda Market. Alternatively, go a little more exotic and try some of Jerusalem’s Ethiopian restaurants, like Dire on HaHavatselet St. in the city center, or try something more familiar like authentic, yet affordable, Italian fare at Pips.
The Israel Museum
When CNN made a list of Israel’s top museums, 4 of them were museums in Jerusalem, including the Israel Musuem, which also regularly ranks among the top 10 museums worldwide. Once you’re there, it’s easy to see why, as it boasts collections of art, archaeological findings and Judaica that are equally stunning in both quality and quantity. The crown jewel of the Israel Museum is the Shrine of the book where patrons can view parts of the famous Dead Sea scrolls. In addition to all the history, the Israel Museum also contains an impressive collection of modern art.
Jerusalem is also famously the site of the Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial and museum. The experience of visiting Yad Vashem is chilling and moving as you explore one of the world’s greatest tragedies through first-hand testimonies, photographs, videos, genuine artifacts and emotional memorials.
Elsewhere, the Museum on the Seam has been called the most provocative museum in Israel and features works of art that raise questions about controversial social issues. The L.A. Meyer Museum for Islamic Art has one of the foremost collections of Islamic art and antique time pieces. And the Bloomfield Science Museum is one of the most fun museums for people of all ages thanks to its wealth of interactive experiences.
Even if you’re staying in the city, a refreshing escape from the hustle and bustle of the city to the serenity of nature is only a hop, skip and a jump away when you’re in Jerusalem.
Just outside the Old City, you can walk the quiet trail through the Kidron Valley and see the tombs of the ancient kings. And in between the West Jerusalem neighborhoods of Rehavia and Katamon, you can find the pastoral Valley of the cross, an island of peace and quiet that is perfect for a tranquil stroll and picnic.
Farther on the edges of the city, just a 20 minute bus ride away, the charming neighborhood of Ein Kerem lies at the foot of the Judean Mountains and is surrounded by various sections of the Jerusalem Forest. Jeruselamites in search of nature often take the bust to Ein Kerem Hospital and hike to the village and spring of Ein Kerem, the Hindak Spring or just around the mountains and back.
Ein Kerem is also a popular site for tourists who want to experience its picturesque beauty and visit the various Christian historical sites there. You can also book tours of Ein Kerem if you want to get to know more about the stories behind the area.
The Abraham Hostel
Jerusalem’s accommodation has something perfect for every type of traveler. Luxury hotels like Mamilla, The King David, The Waldorf Astoria and David Citadel are among the best in the country and can stand up to luxury hotels anywhere in the world.
Meanwhile, you don’t have to look far for value, as the Abraham Hostel is considered the best in Israel and is reminiscent of the top hostels in Europe. The owners and staff put their hearts and soul into making it welcome for all types of travelers, and when you stay there, you feel like you are part of a community. The hostel also arranges tours, activities and parties every day of the week so that no traveler is ever at a loss for what to do.
Jerusalem certainly has some amazing museums, but the truth is that you don’t need a museum to get a taste of history in Jerusalem because the past is alive all over the city. Just walking around the Old City in itself is a blast from the past, as most of the buildings in the Muslim, Christian and Armenian Quarters have been around for over a hundred years, and the inhabitants’ families have lived there for generations.
Or take the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim, for instance. The people that live there practice a form of Judaism that was prevalent throughout Europe in the Middle Ages until the late 19th century. Their practices not only apply to their religion, but also extend to daily life where they dress in the same fashion as their ancestors did in 18th century Europe and refrain from many modern conveniences.
View from the Austrian Hospice
Every traveler loves a good view, and that of the Dome of the Rock is one of the most iconic in the world. When you’re in Jerusalem, you get to see it first hand from any angle you want, each more stunning than the next.
For an up-close look, head to the roof of the AustrianHospice in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. On a clear day, you can see the Dome of the Rock at eye-level set against the backdrop of the Judean Desert and all the way to Jordan.
The view from the Haas Promenade overlooking the Old City is so famous, that in Jerusalem it is simply known as “Ha-Tayelet” (The Promenade). From there you can see the Dome of the Rock glistening in the distance as well as the Old City walls in their entirety. It is particularly stunning at night.
If you want to take in dinner or a drink and have a view, the place to go is the rooftop restaurant of the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, where you can enjoy the view of the Dome of the Rock set against the backdrop of the Mount of Olives from the comfort of your table.
There’s so much more to Jerusalem than just the big draws, whether it’s a lesser known museum, unique cafés hidden in the small alleys that snake through the city center or nature spots just outside the city.
No trip to Jerusalem is complete without a trip to Tmol Shilshom, tucked away in the Nahalat Shiva neighborhood of the city center that boasts a truly unique ambiance as well as some of the most famous shakshuka in the city.
If you want to venture even farther off the beaten path, meander around the Mishkenot Shaananim neighborhood and check out some of the beautiful views, cultural centers and the Hutzot Hayotzer artists colony.
A view of Jerusalem
There are thousands of cities in the world worth visiting, but any traveler will tell you that as nice as they may be, after a while, some cities just bleed into the next. There is just something that some cities have that all you have to do is walk into them and you know that you are in that city.
Jerusalem is one of those because even if you manage to see all the sites and eat at all the restaurants, there is another layer of enchanting energy that makes it a special place, that gives you the feeling that if you just keep wandering around you’ll find something special that you won’t any place else.