Complicated histories, converging cultures – the Jerusalem of today is vibrant and dynamic. Where the footsteps of pilgrims echo alongside the calls of market sellers. Hot, busy, but bursting with the traditions, flavours and colours of a global diaspora, here’s everything you need to navigate this unforgettable melting pot.
The Western Wall: Over 4,000 years of history come together at this spot – the gaps between ancient stones now filled with tiny scrolls carrying the prayers of millions of Jewish pilgrims.
The Dome of the Rock: A golden beacon rising from the limestone walls of Temple Mount, this iconic Islamic Shrine is as intricate inside as out.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre: The final stop on the Via Dolorosa that winds its way through tragedy, to redemption.
Yad Vashem: Peaceful, moving, urgent. Israel’s Holocaust museum, where a single candle of remembrance is reflected for eternity.
The Israel Museum: Ancient treasures and modern marvels meet in a fascinating cultural complex.
Mount of Olives: A historical panorama. Take in the multi-faith views of this 3,000-year-old biblical landmark.
Beneath the streets (and away from the fierce midday sun) lies another city – an ancient Atlantis, where kings once walked. Visit the Siloam Tunnel to see the remains of a biblical water system, believed to be the work of King Hezekiah as he prepared for an impending siege. Or return to the cornerstone of the Jewish faith, entering the subterranean space beneath the Old City on a tour of the Western Wall Tunnels.
For a true taste of the city, Machane Yehuda Market (or the shuk to locals) is the place to start. As extensive as it is eclectic, you’ll find everything from fresh-cut flowers to fragrant herbs, street art to street beats. Come for the sights and sounds – but stay for the food. Think patchwork pyramids of spices, golden plaited breads and pistachio-dusted baklava. There’s even an Israeli interpretation of fish and chips – where the fish comes from nearby market stalls and is served with a shot of anise-infused Arak.
Dive into another landscape entirely with a trip to Ein Lavan – a clear-water spring just a short bus (or bike) ride from the bustle of downtown Jerusalem. In the shade of the olive groves, this still pool is the perfect place to pause and reflect.
Look for the modest hole-in-the-wall vendors, where Turkish coffee comes black, strong and laced with cardamom.
It has to be shakshuka. Although its origins are hotly contested, perfectly poached eggs in a richly spiced sauce have become a weekend staple here.
Head to the hills and the Arab-Israeli village of Abu Ghosh, where hummus ful is served with an earthy broad bean topping and piles of fresh-from-the-oven pitta.
Switch up your regular falafel order for sabich – pitta bread stuffed with tahini-drizzled aubergine, hard-boiled egg and salad.
A stone’s throw from the shuk, Machneyuda is a restaurant that embodies the market-to-table philosophy. Energetic and dynamic, the always-changing menu is reliably delicious.
Refresh and reset with a limonana – a frozen blend of lemon and mint that’s become Israel’s national drink.
It’s all about the new city, where the winding avenues around Zion Square are home to nostalgic bars, emerging music and free-flowing Arak.
With a history as varied as the city it calls home, The American Colony Hotel is the perfect Jerusalem base. Expect Ottoman-inspired architecture and secluded gardens at the gateway to the Old City.
Or – for something completely different – swap Jerusalem’s terraces for the rooftop terrace of The Norman Tel Aviv. Just an hour’s drive away, spend the weekend among the Bauhaus curves of the White City for another side to this country’s colourful history.