What To Do In Jerusalem – Top 10 Attractions You Must See
If you are looking for what to do in Jerusalem, we've got some tips on what to see for every budget, including some free things to do. There are some very obvious things to see in Jerusalem along with some top attractions that may not be that well known. Needless to say, the deep and layered history of this Holy City in Israel provides a plethora of perspectives and an overwhelming amount of things to see for visitors.
I know what you're thinking. Is it safe? This is the number one thing that our friends and family were curious about when we first told them that we were traveling to Israel, aside from the awkward silence and skeptical looks on their faces, of course. The short answer: yes. We'll get to that in a bit.
What could there be to see in Jerusalem that would compel us to take a 24 hour travel day, including three flights, just to get there? Curiosity. The need to see if for ourselves and make up our own opinions, rather than just take what others regurgitate to us.
A lot of what we think we know about the world is what has been dictated to us. I'm sure, those who actually get over the mental block of fear, probably think of the incredible history that infused into the Holy Land. Yes, there is much to be learned and understood here about all of humanities past, regardless of your personal belief and background. It's an absolutely fascinating place!
There's certainly more than ancient ruins and sacred historical places and things to see and do in Jerusalem. The city has been described as "vibrant" by many who have visited, and I would certainly agree. There is a youthful energy there, one that can be felt most in the nightlife of Jerusalem. The mix of modern and contemporary adds a perspective that is pleasantly unexpected.
We hope that this article will help visitors know exactly what to see in Jerusalem and make the most of their visit.
1. Old City Jerusalem - What To See
Honestly, no one can really say they have visited Jerusalem until they have taken a tour of the Old City. This is an area just under one square kilometer surrounded by walls dating back 4K+ years from the present. The rich history of this walled city is, literally, layered within its construction. The intertwined religious and cultural make-up of this famous place are evident in its construction as much as its known past.
We are not history buffs, nor are we religious. However, walking through the different sections of the Old City of Jerusalem, we felt the energy from ancient times still seeping through the ancient walls. You don't have to be very knowledgeable on all of the specifics of each religion to know and feel the significance this location holds for the believers.
The Old City consists of four Quarters: Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Armenian. Each of these Quarters presents its own ambiance. Though they may look similar on the exterior, with subtle differences, they hold their unique sacredness.
You will see children playing, schools in session, events taking place, and markets full of good for purchase. It's almost as if the whole world is packed into this little space. It might be fair to say that maybe at one time the people here felt that this was their entire world.
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2. Church Of The Holy Sepulchre - Tomb of Jesus Christ
Not only is the Old City full of different cultures and religions, but within the Old City Walls is the Church Of The Holy Sepulchre with its own mix of patrons. Followers of varying denominations of Christianity make the pilgrimage here for its sacred offering.
One of the holiest places for Christianity believed to house the tomb of Jesus Christ; it lends a unique experience to visitors regardless of their faith.
Pro-Traveler Tip: Visit very early in the morning to avoid crowds. If you prefer a more spiritual visit, try to go at sunrise as the church can get packed with people.
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3. The Western Wall
The only remaining portion of limestone wall that formerly surrounded the Second Jewish Temple built by Herod The Great, the Western Wall is a holy and sacred place for people of Jewish Faith. This small section of wall that remains also has a significant hill behind it known as the Temple Mount. (See below for more on this.)
It is a place for Jews to pray due to the holy status in their religion. Though it may be referred to as the "Wailing Wall" by some, this is only in reference to Jews weeping for the destruction of the holy temple here that was previously destroyed.
4. Dome Of The Rock - Jerusalem Top Attraction
Perhaps it could be called one of Jerusalem most iconic or recognizable landmarks, especially for anyone who has ever done an online search. You just can't miss the photo of the golden dome sitting on the Temple Mount, just beyond the Western Wall.
The shrine on the Temple Mount is on the site of the Roman Temple that had been constructed on top of Herod's Temple after it's destruction. This platform, like many other parts of the Old City, has been built on and expanded over several centuries and bears evidence of the diversity of occupants of this historic area.
Of significance to both Islam and Judaism, the octagonal structure and beautifully mosaic-ed exterior make it a must see in Jerusalem. The oldest architectural structure of Islam, the Islamic shrine that sits atop the Temple Mount contains at its center the Foundation Stone, believed to be the location of the Holy of Holies for Jews.
5. Ramparts Walk - See Jerusalem Old and New
We would highly recommend doing Rampart's Walk for a different perspective on the Old City. I know you're probably thinking "why would I want to do more walking if I've already walked through all the different sections of the Old City?" Well, Rampart's Walk gives you something totally different.
After our day touring the different sections of the Old City, we unexpectedly found out about this self-guided tour as we headed out of Jaffa Gate.
The entrance is not very noticeable so it can be easy to miss. It is located just on the right-hand side before you exit out of Jaffa Gate.
Initially serving as military fortifications which allowed snipers to have viewpoints to the exterior, now the walkway above the Old City Walls can be strolled by visitors.
While you cannot go around the entire area of the Old City due to closed off areas and streets that bisect, it's still a great thing to do in Jerusalem to get an overview of the Old City.
Being able to walk on top of the wall allows you to see the historic Old City on one side with all of the top attractions in it and the modern Jerusalem of today on the other side.
We started the Rampart's Walk at Jaffa Gate and went for about an hour before turning back. It was particularly enjoyable because there were not that many people on the path. We also loved the bird's eye view!
Tickets to enter Rampart's Walk are 18 NIS (about $5 USD). It requires a good amount of energy and lots of going up and down stairs.
Pro-Traveler Tip: Don't make the mistake of doing this after a full day of being out and about in the Old City. Also, keep in mind that there are no bathrooms or food along the way. The only way to get off the wall is to either turn back or continue until the next opening (which can be an hour or more depending on the section).
6. Tower Of David Museum & Night Spectacular
Another great attraction and must see in Jerusalem is the Tower Of David. Located just inside Jaffa Gate, on the right-hand side, they put on a very delightful nighttime show that should not be missed.
I would highly recommend the Night Spectacular at the Tower Of David for families with children, though it is also great entertainment for adults.
The show takes place at night and is an artistic interpretation of the history of Jerusalem. All of the walls inside get used for the show. They project animation onto the walls accompanied my music and sound effects that will have you watching in wonder!
7. Church Of The Redeemer - See Jerusalem From Above
This Romanesque Revival style church dates back to 1898 and offers visitors some hidden gems. Though it's neighbor, the Church Of The Holy Sepulchre tends to get most of the attention; one should not overlook this attraction when in Jerusalem.
The most notable feature of The Church Of The Redeemer is the bell tower. You can climb its 177 steps and get the highest viewpoint in the area. The magnificent views from the top are breathtaking. You'll be able to see as far as Mount Of Olives and Mount Zion!
Tickets are 15 NIS per person and gives you access to the excavation site underneath the church as well as the bell tower. To see the inside of the church is free.
Pro-Traveler Tip: Visit the Church Of The Redeemer during peak times when Church Of The Holy Sepulchre gets packed with people. You will have the whole place pretty much to yourself.
8. City of David Tour - See The Birthplace Of Jerusalem
The City Of David entrance is near the Dung Gate, which is a short distance from the Western Wall. It took us about 20 minutes to walk there from Jaffa Gate and through the Old City.(You can even get there on the Old City Train).
Being the lazy travelers that we are, we always appreciate having a tour guide explain the sites to us. Taking the Biblical Tour Of The City Of David was an eye-opening experience and took the "work" out of learning about this very significant historic city and all those who inhabited in the last 4000 years.
Now, when I say that you can be "lazy," I don't mean physically. I mean you don't have to go home and Google all the historic facts. This tour requires a lot of walking and stair climbing.
You start with a panoramic view of the City Of David and end with walking up the ancient underground drainage system. Midway through the tour you also get to go on a short trek through the tunnels that were created to channel water into the city from outside of its walls. I guess you can say that the tour shows you the place "from top to bottom."
The City Of David is known as the most excavated site in all of Israel. With 150 years of excavations under its belt and findings from more than ten different ancient civilizations, it's no wonder that they say the City Of David is "Where it all began." Furthermore, they still keep excavating and finding things!
Pro-Traveler Tip: You may want to take this tour on a day when you are not doing any other walking. You will need your energy for this so we would not recommend doing it after walking around the Old City all day!
9. Mamilla Art Studios
It May be little known to most visitors, an area that started as horse stables for those visiting the Old City has now turned into an artist's neighborhood. You will find that the old stables are now studios in which individual artists work and sell their pieces.
If you are looking for something unique and free to do in Jerusalem, take a five-minute walk down the valley South of Jaffa Gate (outside the Old City and near the Mamilla Cemetery) and enjoy some art away from the crowds and tourists.
We went as part of an organized tour, but anyone can do this activity of their own. Not only will you see some fascinating art, but you'll also be able to have some one on one time with the artist and get a chance to see how they do what they do.
We really enjoyed strolling around in this area after popping into shops and speaking with some local artists about their work. Mamilla is a very modern area that even has a high-end shopping mall attached! Don't miss this on your list of Jerusalem things to do.
10. Machane Yehuda Market
We had no idea about this famous market and only ran into it because we were staying in an apartment around the corner. Lucky for us, too! After a very long travel day, we arrived in Jerusalem and checked into our Bed & Breakfast only to find out that our "room" was an apartment about 15 minutes walking distance away.
It turned out to be a great thing since it allowed us to walk right over to Mahane Yehuda and grab some delicious food and snacks to get us going.
We frequented this market pretty much every day of our stay in Jerusalem. The delicious snacks and fresh baked bread and pastries had us drooling as we walked around, deciding which restaurant to have our first dinner. It was really hard not to stop at every single stall to try the tasty treats they offer!
We found a great restaurant called Manou Bashouk which we dined in on, at least, two other occasions in the course of our five days of seeing the attractions in Jerusalem. There are several places to enjoy a great meal, but this place had the most welcoming and warm employees, in addition to the amazing food on their menu.
Every time we walked to Machane Yehuda, we made sure to stock up on treats and snacks for our other tours around Jerusalem. Some of the goodies we purchased here include halva, dates, almonds, and bagh lava (all were the best we've ever had!).
The market also has some shops with clothing and other knickknacks. We both found a couple of warm jackets for a great price. Traveling to Jerusalem from Thailand meant we lacked any winter clothes to pack (although we were in there in Spring, it was still a bit cold). This market was great in providing us with everything necessary to feel welcomed in Jerusalem!
Pro-Traveler Tip: By the way, there's a great night scene once all the shops close down. You can hang out at one of the hip bars or go on a Pub Crawl with Abraham Hostel.
The above list of what to see in Jerusalem is just a scratch on the surface of everything this city in Israel has to offer. Being the "heart" of some major world religions, the history, archaeology, and sacredness of this tiny part of the world make it hugely significant. As far as being safe, well, I will say that at no time did I ever feel unsafe in Israel. I feel that it was similar to traveling in a big city anywhere else in the world.
On our visit to this part of the world, we also took a tour to Jordan for a few days. Again, there we felt totally safe and well cared for by our guide. There were several visitors there that were visiting on their own and commented to us how great the experience was.
There's no shortage of things to see in Jerusalem and more and more are added as time goes by. We highly recommend a visit, so but this on your bucket list of must-see places!
Disclosure: Some of the tours describe above were arranged for us free of charge in order to give us experience visiting different aspects of Jerusalem. We attended TBEX in Jerusalem and these tours were included with our conference ticket so that we would share our travel experiences on our blog and help promote Jerusalem as a destination. All of the opinions above are our own.
About the Author
Hi! I'm just a California girl addicted to travel and adventure with a passion for art and dance on the side. Born in Iran, but I consider myself a citizen of Earth, adhering to the belief that "The world is but one country and mankind its citizen." I strive to make a positive impact on everyone I meet and learn as much as possible from them. My degree out of college is in Marketing. However, I entered the hospitality business at an early age and worked my way up to hotel management. After about 13 years in that industry (5 of which I was a hotel assistant manager), I made the decision to move to Thailand and leave the 9 to 5 grind behind. My husband and I set off for a life of living abroad and hopes to continue traveling the world, just 3 months after our wedding. It all started with the two of us, along with our cat, together in Thailand. Can't wait to see where life takes us next!