Jerusalem is one of those places that I dreamed about visiting long before I had a concept of its history, ever since I saw the mother-of-pearl inlaid Bible my grandparents brought back from their trip to the Holy Land. But after an enjoyable few days spent in cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, somewhere I could actually see myself living, I was unsure of what to expect from traditional Jerusalem, especially given all the conflict surrounding it. What was this 4,000-year-old tiny strip of land worth fighting for? I took a bus there for a conference and spent the few hours I wasn’t attending panels exploring the city.
What I Saw
I signed up for a free walking tour with Sandeman’s, a company I’ve used in my travels in Europe and beyond. The two-hour walking tour visited all four of the Old City’s quarters, including Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian. The company also runs tours to the Mount of Olives, Masada, Golgotha, and has a Shabbat experience.
Afterwards, I revisited a few of the places on my own for more time. The holiest place in Judaism is the Western Wall, the remains of the Second Jewish Temple. Worshipers come here to pray, separated by gender. Expect to go through security to get inside and again to see the Temple Mount, one of the Islam’s holiest sites. I didn’t make it that far and wished I had now that deadly clashes between groups have led to closures. One morning, I woke up early to see the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, home to the tomb of Jesus, before the tour groups arrived. I loved hearing about the family that holds the key in order to keep the peace between the denominations.
I caught the evening light show at David’s Tower, which, despite the name, wasn’t built under the reign of King David. The archaeological site details thousands of years of the city’s history. Another important place to visit was Yad VaShem, a Holocaust museum where I spent three hours. I could have easily spent another hour there wandering the sprawling hillside grounds. I’ve been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and Dachau Concentration Camp in Munich, but this was powerful in a way I’ve never experienced.
I didn’t get to go to the Mt of Olives or the Israel Museum, but certainly would if I had the chance to return. So what did I think about Jerusalem overall? I’ll admit that I found the people to be less friendly, but that has a lot to do with the conservative faiths. Fewer young people offered me directions but it took me a few days to find the beating heart of the city.
Where I Ate
Mahane Yehuda Market was my favorite part of modern Jerusalem, a bustling food market by day and hopping bar scene by night. Rolling doors have been painted with colorful murals and young people spill out from the establishments with drinks in hand. We also saw live music here on one of the two nights I visited.
Where I Stayed
The Post Hostel Jerusalem was my base for my time in Jerusalem, a trendy hostel near the City Hall tram stop. It included daily breakfast of shakshuka, free WiFi, and access to tours. The Old City is accessible from Jaffa Gate, a short walk away. I enjoyed my stay at Abraham Hostel‘s Tel Aviv location and many of my friends stayed at the Jerusalem location, which had nightly events, tours to Masada, and a pub crawl.