Panorama of the city of Jerusalem, Israel

Jerusalem — a traveller’s guide to one of the oldest cities in the world

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The city’s long history is rooted in religion. Having survived wars and with its deep holy links, Jerusalem is a city full of culture.

Jerusalem sits in the Judean mountains, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea. Its religious roots are due to the country being considered holy by three religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital but neither claim is recognised internationally.

Despite the political and religious turbulence that has rocked the city, it has plenty to offer tourists. Here are some of the best things to do during your stay in Jerusalem.

View of the Western Wall, Jerusalem and the hills beyond.
Western Wall, Jerusalem. © Toa Heftiba.
Walk along the Western Wall

Located in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Western Wall has been a sacred pilgrimage site and place of prayer for Jewish people for more than two millennia. Today’s wall is what remains of the Second Temple of Jerusalem after its sacking by Rome in 70BC, standing 60ft tall and 160ft long. Its importance comes from its proximity to the Holy of Holies, the central focus of Temple Mount.

Visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Built over Calvary, where Jesus was nailed to the cross, this is one of Christianity’s most sacred sites. For more than 1,600 years, pilgrims have come to worship in the church and at the last steps of Christ’s Via Dolorosa, the five final Stations of the Cross, from the chapel where he was disrobed to his tomb, the Tomb of the Holy Sepulchre. The faithful can pour oil on the Stone of Unction, where Christ’s body was prepared for burial, and wipe it off with a cloth to take home as a relic. Impressive arches and Crusader crosses help make this church’s appeal architectural, too.

Souvenir market in old city Jerusalem, Israel
The market in Old city, Jerusalem © Dan Freeman.
Explore Jerusalem’s famous markets

The markets of Jerusalem are popular with tourists and residents alike. All manner of local produce is available, from sweet halva and pastries to olives and vegetables. Some of the best markets include Mahane Yehuda Market — or ‘The Shuk’ — a paradise for foodies, it has over 250 stalls and by night transforms into a plethora of restaurants and bars. The open-air Mamilla Mall provides upscale shopping and art installations, while Bezalel Arts Fair Market sells unique handmade jewellery and pottery. You can barter for souvenirs from hookahs to religious items in the Old City Market, which is situated between the Jewish Quarter and the Muslim Quarter. Here you’ll find jewellery, pottery, clothing and textiles, and endless souvenirs.

Markets selling souvenirs in the Old City of Jerusalem
Shop in the Old City of Jerusalem. © Christian Burri.
Learn at Jerusalem’s museums

Examine 5,000 years of cultural treasures in the Israel Museum; highlights include the Rhythm of Life Room and the Archaeological Wing. Of particular fascination are the venerated 21-century-old biblical manuscripts, the Dead Sea Scrolls. The heart-breaking Yad Vashem Memorial has been the centre for research, documentation and education of the Holocaust since 1953, serving as a memorial to its victims through displays and the unforgettable Hall of Names. The Tower of David Museum presents Jerusalem’s history from its Canaanite origins, boasting 2,700-year-old ruins and stunning city views. The Bible Lands Museum showcases biblical artifacts and explores the culture of those mentioned in the Bible, such as the ancient Egyptians, Canaanites, Philistines, Phoenicians and Persians.

Pretzel sellers in Jerusalem sitting in the shade.
Children selling pretzels in Jerusalem. © Radu Marcusu.
Taste traditional food

There are numerous restaurants of all types; market stalls by day or night, and casual diners to nibble from. Local delights include hummus with pitta and garlic-chilli paste, shakshuka, kebabs, tahini and falafel. Modern and international cuisine is also popular, showcased in dishes such as Israeli tapas, moussaka, Italian ravioli and Spanish calamari.

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