The Tower of David, one of the top sites in Jerusalem

Top Things To Do In Jerusalem

The Old City of Jerusalem is one of the holiest places in the world, revered by Christians, Muslims, and Jews. A destination for sacred pilgrimage journeys for millions around the world as well as you and me. The space contained by the walls surrounding Jerusalem Old City is very small, only .35 square miles (.9 km²), yet it’s so densely packed with history and important religious sites, it’s actually a bit overwhelming. Whatever faith or religion you follow, you will be amazed by the staggering history here and the impact it’s had on our collective civilization. There is something for everyone here. This post covers the top things to do in Old City of Jerusalem and surrounding areas, how to get there, and the best time to visit.

Jaffa Gate is one of the sites in Jerusalem
Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem

About the Old City Of Jerusalem

Evidence of life has been found in Jerusalem from 7,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. And for much of its existence, those years have been very volatile. In the last 4,000 years, Jerusalem has reportedly been attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44, besieged 23, and destroyed twice. In fact, it’s considered to be one of the most besieged cities in the world.

The Old City walls surrounding it, built in the 16th century by Ottoman Suleiman the Magnificent, currently have 8 gates: Jaffa Gate, Zion Gate, Damascus Gate, Golden Gate, Lions’ Gate, Herod’s Gate, Silwan Gate, and Dung Gate (formerly Muhghrabi Gate).

The gate used most often by tourists is the Jaffa Gate (above), mainly because it’s the closest gate to most tourist accommodation. After entering Jaffa Gate you’ll see a small tourist information center and the entrances to the Armenian and Christian Quarters. The Jewish and Muslim Quarters are on the east side of the city, a short walk away. The Jerusalem Citadel, or Tower of David, will be on your right.

Many of the top sites of Jerusalem are within the Old City walls, while some sit outside them. They are all, however, within walking distance for most people.

I’ve divided this post into three sections. First covering the top three Holy sites in Jerusalem Old City. These are the main attractions, and the history around just these three sites is staggering. After this, I cover the other top things to do within the walls of Jerusalem Old City, and finally, I cover the top sites nearby, outside the walls.

Top 3 Holy Sites In Jerusalem Old City

The three most important holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem include the the Western Wall, which is the remains of the holiest site in the world for Jews, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is one of the holiest sites for Christians, and the Temple Mount (with the Dome of the Rock and Al Asqa Mosque), which is one of the holiest sites in the world for Muslims.

The Western Wall

The Western Wall, or Kotel, located in the Jewish Quarter, is the largest remnant of the Second Temple and the western support wall for the Temple Mount. It was built by Herod the Great during an expansion on the Second Temple. This is the holiest site in the world for Jews as it’s the closest place to Temple Mount where Jews can pray. This is why you see people lined up praying along the wall.

The area behind this wall is considered the Holy of Holies, or the most sacred site, where the Ark of the Covenant was located in the First Temple. It disappeared when the First Temple was destroyed. There are many theories as to its location, but no one knows for sure.

The Western Wall is one of the top holy sites in Jerusalem
Western Wall

Before the Second Temple was built here, there was the First Temple, built in 10 BCE by King Solomon. It was destroyed by the Babylonians in 6 BCE. The Second Temple, built in 6 BCE, was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE in the seige of Jerusalem.

There is also an underground area below the wall, known as the Western Wall Tunnels (more on this below).

Church of The Holy Sepulcher

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, also called the Church of the Resurrection, is located in the Christian Quarter. This site contains the two holiest sites for Christians. First, this is considered the site where Jesus was crucified, and second, this is considered the location of his tomb, where he was buried and resurrected.

The site honoring his crucifixion, the Calvary, or Golgotha, is up a stairway located just inside the entrance. Also near the entrance is the place his body is said to have been prepared for burial, the Stone of Anointing.

Jesus’ tomb, enclosed in a shrine called Aedicula, is located in the building of the larger dome. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built in the 4th century by Constantine I, has been destroyed, and or damaged, and rebuilt several times. Each time it was constructed, however, many of the stones from the previous church were re-used.

The Temple Mount, or Haram Al-Sharif

The Temple Mount, built in 957 BC, is a site in Jerusalem sacred to both Muslims and Jews. It’s an elevated plaza above the Western Wall that includes the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque.

Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount | Godot13

This is the third holiest site for Muslims (after Mecca and Medina). It’s considered the site where the prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven in the 7th century. The Dome of the Rock is a shrine that protects this revered space.

The name of the Mosque, Al Aqsa, that sits to the east of the Dome on Temple Mount, means “Farthest Journey”, for Mohammed’s ascension and final hours on earth.

This space, also sacred to Jews, is considered the location of Mount Moriah, where Abraham was called by God to sacrifice his son Isaac.

The First Temple, and the Second Temple noted above, once stood on this spot in antiquity, as well as the Holy of Holies, so the area is revered by Jews. Non-Muslims are able visit Temple Mount, but they cannot pray here. They are not able enter the Dome of the Rock or Al Aqsa Mosque. If you visit Temple Mount, make sure that you do not have any religious symbols on you on in your bags, as you can be turned away for this.

Other Top Things To Do In Jerusalem Old City

Western Wall Tunnels

Located below the Western Wall are tunnels that run about 1,600’ (488 meters) of the wall. Walking here, you can see and touch parts of the original Wall, as well as streets from the Second Temple era, ancient stone arches, an aqueduct, and more.

The tunnels are only available via guided tour. This is a very popular tour, so if you plan to see these tunnels, make sure to book it in advance.

Tours are available Sunday to Thursday from 7:20 AM until late and Friday from 7:20 AM until noon. Tours are also available Saturday based on reservations. The cost is 38 NIS for adults (as of April 2023). See thekotel.org for costs for children and seniors, purchasing tickets, and more details. It’s always best to verify hours of operation in advance as they can change from time to time.

The entrance to the tunnels is located in the northern part of the Western Wall plaza.

Via Dolorosa

The road leading to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is believed to be the path Jesus walked to his crucifixion. It begins where he was tried and condemned, follows the path he walked to his crucifixion, and ultimately to his tomb. The street name Via Dolorosa, means “way of sorrows”.

There are 14 stations along this road noting key events along this path. The last 5 are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It’s best to have a guide when walking this path. You can also Google maps and details to self-walk it.

The Cardo

Another famous street in the Old City, Cardo Street, is in the Jewish Quarter. It dates back to the 6th century. This was the main thoroughfare in Byzantine Jerusalem.

This colonnaded street was once covered by a wooden roof. Today only 650’ (200 m) of it has been excavated. It sits about 20’ (6 m) below street level, due to the constant destruction and rebuilding of Jerusalem. It ran from Damascus Gate to Zion Gate, lined with houses, shops, and other public buildings.

The Ethnic Quarters of Old City Jerusalem

The Old City is divided into four ethnic qurters: the Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Quarters.

Each contain a labyrinth of shop-lined streets full of markets, religious buildings, cafes, and, of course, homes. The shops closer to the main gates, especially Jaffa, sell mostly tourist souvenirs, so it’s better to wander deeper into these alleys for a better perspective on daily life and the culture here.

Christian Quarter

Jerusalem Citadel

This impressive Citadel is a medieval fortress. Located by Jaffa Gate, it’s one of the top non-religious sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. Also known as the Tower of David, it’s, ironically, not related to King David at all. The name, which was mistakenly given during the Byzantine period, stuck.

The citadel is one of the top sites in Jerusalem
The Citadel

This site, like many in Jerusalem, is an amalgamation of multiple cultures building, destroying, and then rebuilding it.

King Hezekiah of Judah, built the first wall here in the 8th century BC. The Hasmoneans expanded on it and added towers in the 1st century BCE. King Herod The Great expanded more and added more towers. In the 14th and 16th centuries, the Mamluk’s and Ottoman’s built most of what you see today, with many other iterations in between.

If you have time, walk up to the ramparts for fabulous panoramic views of the Citadel and city. There is also a sound at light show here at night.

The Tower of David, one of the top sites in Jerusalem
Citadel

Tower Of David Museum

The Tower of David Museum, located in the Citadel, explains the history of Jerusalem and the fortress in detail. There is also a courtyard with archaeological remains dating back 2,700 years.

Ramparts Walk

For a different perspective on the Old City and a birds-eye view of many noteworthy sites in Jerusalem, walk atop the city walls, or ramparts. There are two sections you can walk. If you walk them both, it will take around two hours.

The north section is the longest, running from Jaffa Gate (by the tourist center) to Lions’ Gate, near the Dome of the Rock. It passes over the Christian Quarter with views of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It also crosses over the Muslim Quarter, the New Gate, Damascus Gate, Herod’s gate, and Lions Gate.

The south side rampart walk is shorter, starting near and passing by the Tower of David. It crosses over the Armenian Quarter with views of Dormition Abbey and the Church of St Peter. It ends near the Jewish Quarter at Dung Gate. From here it is a short walk to the Western Wall.

Purchase tickets at the tourist center inside Jaffa Gate. There are several places along these walls that you can descend, but only two places to ascend (both by Jaffa Gate).

The Old City Walls are one of the top sites in Jerusalem
Tower of David Above the Ramparts

Jerusalem Archeological Park

The Jerusalem Archeological Park, located by the Western Wall, contains historical artifacts dating back to the First and Second Temple periods.

Top Things To Do Outside Old City Jerusalem

Mount of Olives

The Mount of Olives, named for the olive groves that once dotted this slope is sacred to Christians and Jews for religious festivals and historic events.

For more detail, see the Church of All Nations, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Chapel of The Ascension, Domnius Flevit, and the Tomb Of The Virgin Mary below (all located here).

Church of All Nations

The Church of All Nations, also known as the Church of the Agony, is a Roman Catholic Church on the Mount of Olives. It’s built over a rock which Jesus is thought to have prayed on before his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion.

Garden of Gethsemane

Located on Mount of Olives, this garden of olive trees, was reportedly a site often visited by Jesus and his disciples. It is also considered a place where Jesus prayed before his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion.

Chapel of The Ascension

This church, located by Mount of Olives, is the site originally considered to be the location of Jesus’s ascension into heaven after his resurrection. There is a slab of stone here, that some say contains his final footprint.

Domnius Flevit Church

In the Bible, Jesus, when out riding in this area, became overwhelmed by the beauty of the Second Temple and the foresight of its destruction, and wept.

The name of his Roman Catholic church, Domnius Flevit, means “the Lord wept”. Designed in the shape of a tear, there is a beautiful view of the Old City through the widow in the apse of the church.

This church is located near Gethsemane Garden, also on the Mount of Olives.

Tomb of The Virgin Mary

The Tomb of the Virgin Mary, also known as the Sepulchre of Saint Mary, is located by Gethsemane Garden and the Church of All Nations.

The empty tomb here is thought to be her burial place before her ascension into heaven. Others think her tomb is in Ephesus.

Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb, unearthed in the 1860’s, is considered by many Protestants to be the site of Jesus’ tomb and resurrection. This site is located northwest of Harold’s Gate.

The Cenacle: Site Of The Last Supper

This is considered the location of the Last Supper Jesus had with the apostles before his crucifixion. The name Cenacle, comes from Latin caenaculum, or Dining Room. This site is located just outside the Old City walls by Zion Gate, on Mount Zion. King David’s tomb (below) is also located here.

King David’s Tomb

This site, sacred to Jews, is considered by some to be the site of King David’s Tomb (although many also contest this). It’s located on the ground floor in the building of the Cenacle (above).

Dormition Abbey

Dormition Abbey, located just south of the Cenacle, is considered the location of the Virgin Mary’s death. It is a Catholic abbey belonging to the Benedictine order of Jerusalem. Several religious buildings preceded it on this site.

The term dormition expresses that she died without suffering.

Church of St. Peter In Gallicantu

Located just east of Dormition Abbey, the beautiful Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu commemorates the triple denial of Jesus by his apostle Peter, his repentance, and reconciliation after his resurrection.

Top Museums To See In Jerusalem

The Israel Museum

This art and archeology museum holds the most comprehensive collection of archeology and artifacts of the Holy Land and much more. You can see a model of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, Visit the Shrine of the Book, which features information on the Dead Sea scrolls, Israel’s only mummy, necklaces from women in Yemen, and so much more.

This Israel Museum is about a 10-minute drive west of the Old City and well-worth the visit.

Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum honors the memory of Holocaust victims in 9 chilling galleries. One, the Hall of Names, contains the names of over three million Holocaust victims. It’s located about a 20-minute drive west of the Old City.

The Best Time To Visit Jerusalem

The best time of year to visit temperature wise is spring, April through May, and fall, October through November. Summer is scorching hot, but also when the city gets most of its tourists, so prices will also be high. Winter has the best prices, but there is also a chance of rain.

Make sure to look up major holidays before booking your trip. Jewish celebrations like Sukot, Passover, and the High Holy Days will be very crowded and very expensive. These actual dates of these holidays change every year, so it’s best to look them up.

All of the sites here attract large crowds, so when you do visit, try to visit early or late in the day. This is also when the temperatures will be cooler.

Also, when traveling around Israel, remember that many buses and trains do not run on Shabbat. Shabbat starts every Friday at sunset and lasts until after dark in Saturday. See more details in How To Get To Jerusalem below.

How Dress For A Visit To Jerusalem

As this is a Holy City, remember to dress modestly with loose fitting. Even if it is even very hot out, which it often is. This means covering knees and shoulders for men and women. Women should even cover elbows.

Dress in Israel is generally casual, so it does not need to be fancy, just modest and not too form fitting. Be aware that you may be turned away from sites if your attire is not considered appropriate.

I Love Jerusalem

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Where To Stay In Jerusalem

I have not stayed in any of the places I recommend below, but have scoured some of the highest rated hotels for you at a variety of price points. 

Where did I stay? I liked it, but I was ravaged by bedbugs there. Not fun at all! In fact, make sure you sort reviews by negative comments before you book as there are several places in Jerusalem that have had bed bugs noted in the reviews.

Budget/Moderate

Saladin Boutique Hotel is located inside the walls of Old Town Jerusalem, so it’s a great location, within walking distance of the main sites. In addition to getting high reviews for location it’s also gets noted for cleanliness as it’s brand new. And although it also gets criticized by some as expensive, there’s not much in Jerusalem for less money that does not have a lot of critical reviews. I list this one as both budget and moderate as pricing can vary quite a bit by time of year…

Moderate

Old City Boutique Hostel rating is located just a 6-minute walk of the Western Wall, this rennovated the 11th century 5-star inn is conveniently located, gets high reviews for cleanliness and the staff, and looks very fresh and modern. 

Splurge

Mamilla Hotel is a highly rated hotel offering stunning views of Old Town from its rooftop restaurant and is only a 5-minute walk from Jaffa Gate. The positive reviews consistently note its excellent location and great breakfast. Note that Mamilla appears to have a two night minimum stay.

How To Get To Jerusalem

The closest airport is Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, which is about 34 miles (55 km) northwest of Jerusalem. The best way to get to Jerusalem is by train, bus, or sherut. A taxi is another option, but can cost $80 or more each way.

Train

There are frequent trains from Tel Aviv HaHagana and Ben Gurion airport to Yitzhak Navon Station in Jerusalem. The ride takes about 30 or so minutes. For more details and prices, see Israel Railways. The website, www.rail.co.il, is down as of this update. If it is still down when you read this, try the Israel Railway App.

Yitzhak Navon Station, named after Israel’s 5th President, is located near the Jerusalem Central Bus Station and Light Rail. See the Light Rail Map for details on transportation upon arrival (or use a taxi). Note that this train does not operate on Shabbat.

Bus

Bus #485 runs from Ben Gurion airport to the Jerusalem Central Bus Station (and a few other stops). The ride takes about 1 hour. From the bus station you can take the light rail or a taxi to your destination. For more details, see the Light Rail Map. This bus does not run on Shabbat.

If you are coming from the Tel Aviv Bus Station, use bus #405. If coming from Tel Aviv’s Arlozorov Bus Terminal (next to the Tel Aviv Central Train Station), use bus #480.

Sheruts

Sheruts are shared taxis, or minuvans with 8-10 seats. They are less expensive than taxis (as they’re shared). They run along routes, like bus routes, although run when full, not according to a set schedule. You can begin at the starting location, or flag one down if you know the route (and if they have space).

From Ben Gurion you can take a sherut to Jerusalem. Find them on the ground floor arrivals area (near the taxi rank). They, conveniently, run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which is great when other public transport is not avialable. This means you can take a sherut on Shabbat.

Final Thoughts On Things To Do In Jerusalem

Jerusalem really is a spectacular place with so many staggeringly important things to see and do. Try not to see it all, as it can be quite overwhelming. At the very least, visit the top 3 holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem: the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

After this, add in a few of the other sites above that jump out to you. My suggestion is to explore the markets in an ethnic Quarter that appeals to you, visit the site of the Last Supper, explore the Citadel, walk the ramparts, and visit the Israel Museum. If you have a passion for something different, swap it out.

Want To See More Of Israel?

Israel is really an amazing country. One that everyone should visit at some pint in their life. It’s small, but mighty, packed with a ton of amazing history and much more.

Ancient Jaffa, or Tel Aviv-Yafo, one of the world’s oldest port cities, is also full of vibrant ancient history. The cobblestoned alleyways of the Old City, full of galleries, hip cafes, and bars, is a fun place to spend a few days, plus, it’s hip flea market scene is something you just can’t miss. And it’s location on Mediterranean beaches just add to its allure.

I also recommend visiting Palestine while you’re here. I took the bus from Jerusalem to Palestine to visit Bethlehem and the Art of the West Bank Wall. A very enlightening trip that I’m glad I took.

If you still want to learn more about Israel, see my post on 5 Impressive Facts on Israel. It’s pretty amazing what this small country has accomplished.

For an overview of all the top spots in Israel, how to get around, logistics, money matters, and more, see my Ultimate Israel Travel Guide.

As with many countries I’ve visited, Israel is one I definitely want to return to. I feel like a barely scratched the surface and definitely want to see more.

If you have visited Jerusalem, I’d love to hear which sites were your favorite. Please add a comment below.

Safe Travels!

Julie

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

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