Jerusalem is one of the holiest cities in the world. This is where Jews built their sacred Temple, Mohammed rose to heaven, and Jesus was crucified. Laden with history, a joy to wander through, Jerusalem is one of the world’s greatest cities. There is a lot to do here. When I came up with our list, I was surprised to count 30 amazing things to do. 30!
Jerusalem… historic, religious, fascinating, photogenic, and never boring.
Here is our list of 30 sites to visit and the historical and cultural significance that makes them so important. Read, learn, and be inspired to get the most out of your visit to Jerusalem.
30 Things To Do in Jerusalem
The Old City of Jerusalem
Compact but filled with historical and religious sites, this is the main section of Jerusalem to visit, especially for first time visitors. The old city of Jerusalem, an area only 0.9 square kilometers, is bordered by an ancient wall built by Suleiman of the Ottoman Empire. Inside of these walls are many of Jerusalem’s most important and popular places to visit, such as Temple Mount, the Western Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Yes, it may be small and compact, but it can keep you busy for days.
The Western Wall is considered to be the most important religious site in the world for Jewish people. Structurally speaking, the Western Wall is the retaining wall for Temple Mount. It was built 2000 years ago. In 70 A.D., the Temple was destroyed and the Jews were exiled from Jerusalem. Later, when the Jewish people were able to return, they had lost the location of the Temple, so they began praying at this exposed, outer wall. The Western Wall became a place of pilgrimage and now serves as an open air synagogue.
The best time to visit the Western Wall is on a Friday night, the beginning of Shabbat. Many Jewish people come here to pray, and with that comes many curious onlookers.
Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock
Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, the third holiest site in Islam, and a revered site for Christians. At one time, the Jewish second Temple was built here but was later destroyed by the conquering Romans. As Islam began to spread, the Al Aqsa Mosque was built here in 705 AD. The Dome of the Rock, the blue building with the golden dome, was constructed in 692 AD at the site where Mohammed ascended into heaven.
The visiting hours are very limited and lines can be long to enter Temple Mount but it is worth it to experience this sacred site.
Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives sits outside of the old city of Jerusalem. This hillside overlooks the old city, giving visitors an awesome view of Jerusalem. The Mount of Olives also has a religious significance in that it is the site of a very large Jewish cemetery. Many Jews want to be buried here because at the end of the world, when the Messiah comes, the Jews here will be the first to be resurrected.
Dominus Flevit Church
Located down the hill from the Mount of Olives, this unique looking, Roman Catholic Church is worth a quick visit if you are walking from the Mount of Olives back into the old city.
Garden of Gethsemane
Located at the foot of the Mount of Olives, it is in this garden that Jesus prayed the night before his crucifixion. The olive trees are the oldest in the world, some over 800 years old. It is believed that these trees are descendants of the original olive trees in the garden which may have “witnessed” Jesus’ prayers here the night before his crucifixion.
Church of All Nations
Also known as the Basilica of the Agony, this church sits immediately next to the Garden of Gethsemane. It is a Roman Catholic church which enshrines the piece of bedrock where Jesus prayed the night before his arrest.
Tomb of the Virgin Mary
Located just across the street from the Church of All Nations is the Tomb of the Virgin Mary. It is an unassuming building behind a stone wall. Enter the building and descend a wide staircase down into the cave-like church. This is believed to be the burial site of the Virgin Mary.
The Via Dolorosa (“way of sorrows”) is a street in the old city of Jerusalem believed to be the path that Jesus walked during his crucifixion. The route starts at the Lion’s Gate and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There are fourteen stations to visit on the Via Dolorosa, all of them marked by signs along the way. For Christians, this is a very important site to visit in Jerusalem, culminating at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre contains the two holiest sites of Christianity: the site where Jesus was crucified and the empty tomb of Jesus. The final four stations of Via Dolorosa are found inside of this church.
Important things to see are the stone of unction (where the body of Jesus was washed after being crucified), the ornate altar built over the Rock of Calvary (the place where the cross stood), and the aedicule (the tomb of Christ). Expect long lines to get into the aedicule and the Rock of Calvary.
This is another site where it is believed that Jesus was buried and resurrected. It was unearthed in 1867 and is considered by some Christians to be the real site where Jesus was buried and resurrected. The Garden Tomb sits outside of the walls of the old city of Jerusalem but it is not far away. You can get there with a short walk or by hiring a taxi. This is a much more peaceful place to visit than the crowded Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
This is the site of The Last Supper. It is located in Mt Zion, just south of the old city of Jerusalem. Again, expect large crowds of people and tour groups.
King David’s Tomb
Also located in Mt. Zion is King David’s tomb. David was the King of Israel, ruling from 1010 to 970 CE. For Jewish people, this is a very important site to visit. There are separate viewing areas for men and women.
City of David National Park
For history buffs and seekers of ancient places, this is a must. This is the birthplace of Jerusalem and the place where King David established his kingdom. It was here that King David united the people of Israel and the first Jewish Temple was built.
The City of David sits just south of the walls of the old city of Jerusalem. Now it is an active archaeological site. At the bare minimum, it takes an hour to visit but a half a day is advisable. Expect to climb and descend a lot of steps!
There are two tunnels to explore, for those who dare. There is the dry Warren Tunnel, a short walk through narrow, claustrophobic stone tunnels. For those looking for an adventure (and who are dressed appropriately) there are the wet tunnels, Hezekiah’s Tunnel.
Hezekiah’s Tunnel is a tunnel that connects the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam. It is an aquifer constructed by the people of the City of David to keep their water source within their walls and away from enemy forces. Now, those daring enough can walk through this tunnel.
Similar to the Warren Tunnel, this narrow, claustrophobic tunnel is filled with rushing water that can come up as high as your knees. Bring a flashlight, aqua shoes, and clothes that can get wet. On a hot summer day, this is the place to come to cool off!
Tower of David Museum
The Tower of David Museum is worth visiting for two reasons: for some of the best views over Jerusalem and a concise, informative history of the city of Jerusalem. Located just inside Jaffa Gate, put this on your must-see list. We loved the views over Jerusalem from here.
Yad Vashem is the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem. It is a very moving experience and many say it is a must-do on a visit to Jerusalem. Make sure you have at least several hours to get the most out of this visit.
This is a museum that some call one of the great museums in the world. The Dead Sea Scrolls and Shrine of the Book are just two of the sights to see here. Give yourself several hours to visit the highlights of the museum.
Mahane Yehuda Market
This is the best market to visit in Jerusalem. Go here on a culinary adventure, sampling candy, pastries, spices, tea, olives and so much more. This place is a feast for the senses!
This is your chance to walk on top of the wall that encompasses the old city. Enjoy unique views over both the old city and the modern city of Jerusalem, look down on Damascus Gate, and climb up and down steep, stone steps. If you are traveling with kids, this is something that they will probably love.
Western Wall Tunnels
This tour through the underbelly of Jerusalem is another activity perfect for history buffs. Descend below the streets of Jerusalem for a walk back into history. Jerusalem has been ransacked and rebuilt numerous times. Each time the city was rebuilt, it rose just a little bit. After centuries of rebuilding, Jerusalem now sits meters and meters above its original starting point. This tour takes you below centuries of rubble and rebuilding. Walk along the base of the Western Wall and learn about the importance of the Western Wall to Jewish people. Get yet another important history lesson about this amazing city and get up close to the Western Wall.
For those who are claustrophobic, please note that this entire tour (lasting 1.25 hours) is underground and sometimes takes visitors through tight spaces.
Wander the streets of the old city
It is easy to get lost here. The streets of the old city are like a maze. A maze lined with shops catering to tourists, with juice stands, souvenir shops, and small restaurants. Enjoy it. This was our favorite thing to do in Jerusalem…just wander and enjoy the sights.
Shopping in the Old City
While you are wandering around Jerusalem, there will be many, many people trying to lure you into their shops. For sale are religious artifacts, spices, postcards, silk scarves, decorative plates…all of the typical things you would expect to find in an area filled with tourists. Still, it can be fun to browse and maybe even buy something.
Take a Bite of Israel
There are a few foods you must try while in Israel. There’s hummus of course, but also make sure you try the falafel (mashed chickpeas formed into balls that are deep fried and eaten alone or in pita bread), shawarma (meat cooked on a spit and served in a sandwich or wrap), and halva (sweet tahini served as a dessert). And while you’re wandering the old streets of Jerusalem, say “yes!” to the fresh pomegranate juice…it is delicious!
This is the section of the old city that sits just inside of Jaffa Gate. For most visitors, including us, this is the first view of the old city. It was built around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is the heart of the Christian Quarter. During Shabbat, when the Jewish areas of Jerusalem close, this is a good place to get a bite to eat as most restaurants remain open here.
The Jewish Quarter
Cleaner and quieter than other areas in the old city, this is an area not to be missed. This part of the old city was bombed and partly destroyed during the war in 1948. Much of the Jewish Quarter was rebuilt after this, giving it its cleaner, “scrubbed” appearance. Home to the Western Wall, the Cardo, and the Hurva Synagogue, this area of Jerusalem is worth at least a stroll through.
This synagogue is the centerpiece of the Jewish Quarter. The synagogue has been built, destroyed, and rebuilt several times. Most recently, it was rebuilt and dedicated in 2010. This is a beautiful place to visit and make sure you allow at least an hour to take the audio tour which is provided in your entrance fee. By the way, from the top of the Hurva Synagogue you will get more amazing views of the old city of Jerusalem.
Originally, this was a street built by the Romans after they ransacked Jerusalem. Now, it is a shopping street in the Jewish Quarter.
Shabbat of a Lifetime
Shabbat of a Lifetime is a program that allows tourists to experience Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, with a Jewish family in Jerusalem. On Friday night, visit the home of a Jewish family, have a five course meal, and have the best cultural experience during your visit to Jerusalem.
To learn more, visit the Shabbat of a Lifetime website.
Located just outside Jaffa Gate, this is an upscale shopping area in the modern area of Jerusalem.
About Our Experience
Tim and I spent two and a half days in Jerusalem. We managed to see 25 things on this list. The other five gives us a reason to return to Jerusalem someday.
Curious about the four we missed? We stood at the start of Hezekiah’s Tunnel but did not have appropriate clothing. We were very disappointed to miss this experience. It did look like an adventure and probably would have been one of our highlights of visiting Jerusalem.
We never made it to the Israel Museum, Yad Vashem, or the Garden Tomb, unfortunately. We just ran out of time. But these will be high on our list on a return visit to Jerusalem, especially Yad Vashem.
We knew about the Shabbat of a Lifetime experience but our timing did not work out. This will be first on our list when we return to Jerusalem…we love cultural experiences like these.
How Much Time Is Needed To Visit Jerusalem?
At least three days but four is preferable. We did most of the list in 2.5 days but we were very busy and we saw some things very quickly, almost too quickly.
Narrow Down the List
If you only have a little bit of time, here are the things (in our opinion) that are the must-see sites: wander the old city of Jerusalem, go to the Western Wall, walk through the Christian and Jewish Quarters, visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, get a view of Jerusalem from either Hurva Synagogue or the Tower of David. Eat hummus, drink the pomegranate juice, and enjoy the city. It truly is an incredible place.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at Harmony Hotel, located a short distance from the old city. The Harmony Hotel is a mid-range hotel that is quiet, comfortable, and has a daily happy hour. A 15 minute walk is all it took to get us to the old city.
More Information for Your Trip to Israel:
- 10 Day Israel and Jordan Itinerary
- How to Visit Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock
- Day Trip to Masada and the Dead Sea
- Off-the-Beaten-Path in Israel: The Negev Desert
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