The city center is the heart of modern Jerusalem. While the district is fairly small in size, it’s jam-packed with things to do. If you don’t have the time to explore it all, though, these are the things you simply must experience while you’re here.
One of the first things about Jerusalem that visitors can’t help noticing is that the cafés are full from dawn ’til dusk, especially when the weather is warm enough to sit outside.
The most popular spot for a combination of delectable baked goods and people-watching is definitely the french-inspired Kadosh on Shlomtsiyon Hamalka, one of the best gourmet bakeries in Jerusalem. You’ve got to get a little lucky to get a table outside on sunny days, but you’ll be happy to hang around for hours drinking coffee and eating pastries if you get one. The inside isn’t too shabby either, with a cozy European café atmosphere.
But you also can’t go wrong with any of the cafe’s on Shats or Ben Yehuda Street. For a real treat, check out Muffin Boutique on Ben Yehuda, where you can sit in the middle of the pedestrian mall, talk and watch the people walk by while you drink your coffee or fruit shake and chow down on one of their delicious (and healthy) muffins or a Montreal bagel.
Jerusalem is known for its great views, but a lot of people don’t realize that you can get some of the best from the city center. The Notre Dame Center of Jerusalem’s Rooftop Cheese & Wine Restaurant boasts one of the most iconic views of the Old City and Dome of the Rock, and you can pair it with a glass of wine and a delicious plate of local and imported cheeses, if you’re so inclined.
Down the street, the uber-chic Mamilla hotel has its own rooftop restaurant, simply yet aptly named Rooftop, which offers a similarly gorgeous view of the Tower of David and the hills of the Judean Desert in the background. So while Jerusalem’s rooftops don’t get any points for creativity with their names, they score full marks on the views.
You’re not going to get the clubbing experience that Tel Aviv offers, but Jerusalem has a surprisingly lively nightlife scene with everything from cocktail bars and pubs to dance bars and live music venues.
If the pub is your thing, then you’ll definitely want to head over to the legendary HaTaklit (The Record), where you can warm up with 2-for-1 Happy Hour until 9pm and stick around for the inevitable party that comes later.
Likewise, you can get some of the best cocktails in the country at Gatsby, a lively, authentic speakeasy in a hidden corner of Hillel Street, or the more laid-back, lounge-style Zuta in the back of 1868 restaurant on King David Street.
If you want to dance the night away to the early morning hours, you can either go mainstream with dance bars like Hamakom, Toy Bar or Oliver Twist (great for students) or go grimy and native at Sira Pub’s drum n’ bass, techno and hip hop nights.
You can catch live music in Jerusalem almost all day, every day. Aside from all the street musicians playing nonstop on Ben Yehuda, Piccolino in the Nahalat Shiva neighborhood has live music every weekday from 12-2 pm and 8-10 pm, usually featuring bands and artists playing Jewish roots music like Klezmer and Andalusi.
When nighttime rolls around, there’s a whole host of options for live music, and most of them are free. Birman Musical Bistro has some seriously lively Jazz sessions every night except Friday.
Blues, rock and funk bands play every night of the week at either Mike’s Place, Blaze Bar or Even Juke (Le Blues & Booz Tuesdays). And Hamazkeka on Shushan Street (aka Hipster Central) is probably the most eclectic of the bunch, hosting everything from live local hip hop and experimental to psychedelic, rock, funk, blues and more. If you’re looking for something to do on a Saturday afternoon, you can often times also find live jazz and Balkan music shows at Barood in Feingold Courtyard.
If one thing is for certain, it’s that you definitely won’t go hungry in downtown Jerusalem. There’s something for every taste from the home-style cooking at Ta’ami or Rachmo and shawarma and falafel stands on every corner to fine dining and creative cuisine at places like Mona (by the world-famous Machneyuda Group) and Menza.