To begin with: We really loved Jerusalem. There’s a lot to see here and you can spend quite some time here. You will burn a lot of calories if you visit all the sites by just walking from one to another place.
Jerusalem is a chaotic city, therefore a very normal city in the Middle East. There’s huge bustle at any time of the day. Even when the shops closed, there are still many people on the run no matter if inside or outside the Old Town. The smell wasn’t always a pleasure, but that’s probably what it is if too many people live in one small place. It’s not any different in Europe. Just like in Amman, driving in Jerusalem is a mess. Avoid it if you can!
Jerusalem is a city shaped by faith, to put it mildly. The three great monotheistic religions are very well represented here. People from all over the world make a pilgrimage to the city. Either because of cultural, historical or religious interest.
In the following, you’ll find a list of all the stuff to see in Jerusalem. To be honest, we recommend you to not miss any of these. We spare you the details, as you can better look them up in any history book or online.
The Old Town of Jerusalem
Most sites are in the Old Town of Jerusalem. As mentioned in the beginning, people from all over the world come to Jerusalem and therefore, some sites might be a little bit overcrowded.
When planning your trip, think about the different religious holidays. Muslims on Friday, Jewish on Saturday, Christians on Sunday! As the country pushes the pause button on Shabbat, we decided to make a trip to Bethlehem then. There will be an extra post about it!
Damascus Gate and the different quarters of the Old Town
The Old Town of Jerusalem is surrounded by a wall with 8 gates. The largest ist he Damascus Gate which leads to the Muslim Quarter. The other quarters are the Christian, Armenian and Jewish Quarter.
There are not really obvious signs to tell you in which quarter you are right now. You will understand it mostly from the stuff they sell in the shops.
The narrow alleys, the many different smells, and the partly huge crowds can be quite overwhelming. But most people love it because it’s full of life, you can shop everywhere and it’s not going to be anything close to boring. The term ‚Arabian Nights‘ fits really well here.
You will recognize the Muslim Quarter by the presence of soldiers. As they hold back, they didn’t seem threating to us and also didn’t disturb the city streetscape. If you know about the younger past, you will even feel safer with them.
Church of the Holy Family / Austrian Hospice
The Austrian Hospice was probably our favorite place in the Old Town of Jerusalem. The view from the rooftop over the Old Town is fantastic (10 Schekel per person).
It also has a nice inner court with an Austrian café. The best thing was the incredible peace at this place. We couldn’t believe the contrast to the noise dominating the city.
The Temple Mount
Many moons ago there was a Jewish temple standing here. Today it’s the famous Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa-Mosque, which is the third most important mosque in Islam.
As beautiful as it was at the Temple Mount, we thought it was odd to not allow non-Muslims to see the inside of the buildings (it didn’t matter if you covered up as a woman or not). The rule was, if you can recite three different Koran Sura, the doorman might believe you being a Muslim. An Italian couple managed to do so. Nevertheless, it wasn’t inviting to us at all. There’s no place else in Jerusalem where ‚Non-Believers‘ are excluded. A bad aftertaste remains.
The Dome of the Rock is really beautiful and it’s worth visiting it despite the weird visiting times. Inform yourselves in advance about the exact time (mostly before noon and definitely not on Fridays and Saturdays). You should be there early because of the safety controls. On Fridays, only Muslims are allowed to enter the Temple Mount.
The Jewish Quarter is by far the best maintained Quarter of the Old Town. The community’s financial support comes mostly from rich American or European Jews. We think, the money is well invested and we felt really comfortable here. The pastrami bagels are delicious and you can observe all the many orthodox Jews with their sideburns and their probably ten children. The cliché Jew is alive here.
The Hurva Synagogue
You want to take a break and enjoy your Pastrami Bagel? Best place for this is right next to the Hurva Synagogue. It’s huge, built in the Byzantine style and with a nice forecourt. There’s actually just one place that’s more idyllic and that’s the Austrian Hospice (see above).
The Western Wall/Wailing Wall
Don’t miss the Western Wall in Jerusalem (if that’s even possible). The atmosphere is unique. Everyone is allowed to come. It was nice to see how people found strength through their believe and let take people of other religious groups to be part of it. Of course, we joined them too and inexplicably, it felt good. We passed by two or three times and loved taking part in the prayers.
If you’re not dressed appropriately, it’s no problem as they kindly offer you a sheet to cover up your shoulders. In total, it’s a place with very nice and pleasant people.
Adjoining to the Jewish Quarter but outside the city walls, you’ll find
David’s Tomb and the Cenacle
No one actually knows for sure, if this is really the place where King David’s tomb was put and to be honest, we doubt it. Nevertheless, it’s a holy place in Judaism and you can hear many orthodox Jews praying loudly. Whereby it partly sounded like some weird crying. We didn’t know what was going on. Period.
On the upper floor, there’s the Cenacle where Jesus and his Apostles held the Last Supper. Today it doesn’t look extraordinary but the history of the room is enormous if it is true.
You’ll recognize the Christian Quarter by the many devotional objects in the shops. The smell of incense is everywhere and people bought a lot of it. The Christian Quarter is so much calmer than the Muslim or Jewish Quarter. Regarding this, it’s only topped by the Armenian Quarter.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is THE pilgrimage destination for Christians all over the world and one of the most important places of Christianity. It marks the end of Via Dolorosa, the end of Jesus’ way which leads across the Old Town. Some people came out of the Church crying which was really interesting for us to observe. In general, it was the humility of the people coming from all over the world to their religious sites that maybe interested us the most – the most interesting observations we ever made on any of our travels. Spirituality was everywhere!
And as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was so important, it was very crowded. So crowded, we couldn’t make it in there. Of course, it’s still not safe to say this is really the place, Jesus was buried. Some people decided to a long time ago. Questioning this stuff would probably take away the magic of this place.
The Armenian Quarter is the most peaceful of them all with beautiful, well-maintained alleys. You can even find cute cafés. We didn’t see anything in particular. It’s more a living quarter and nice to walk through.
Unfortunately, we won’t have so good memories of the Armenian Quarter. Not because of the Armenians or the quarter itself: When walking around here a group of Muslims from Turkey passed by, which at first didn’t catch our attention. One latecomer of the group called our attention to the torn and smeared posters, close to the Armenian Monastery ‚Ortivoxa’ and said, they were a provocation. At first, we didn’t get what he was talking about or what he wanted, so he fled the scene quickly. Shortly afterwards, we saw what they or people before did with those posters. On these posters, you could see the once Armenian Empire and the process of the Genocide of the Armenians. Moreover, the posters showed the former Kurdish areas. Turkish Nationalists, however (for whatever reason they come to Israel) smeared those posters with racist and mocking comments and torn out the Armenian or Kurdish areas. Well, a not so pleasant behavior. Good, he disappeared so quickly. Discussing with that kind of people is usually pointless.
Stupid, ignorant and disgusting people can be found everywhere. We knew that before. What surprised us, was the fact that some people can be in the most spiritual place on earth and still be left by the Holy Spirit. We’ll pray for their souls. Maybe it’ll help.