A TRIP TO JERUSALEM, ISRAEL: 10 THINGS TO DO IN THE SPIRITUAL CENTER OF THE WORLD
A city full of history and tradition, Jerusalem is a place like no other. No matter what religion you are, this holy city will offer a spiritual experience you won't forget...
Welcome to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, the holy land. A place that will take you back in time to thousands of years ago. Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world, a place you have to experience and see with your own eyes.
Jerusalem is one of the world's most fascinating places.
A holy city with thousands of years of history, tradition
and 3 major religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
Tourists and pilgrims from each corner of the world are visiting Jerusalem because this place is rich in history, religion and
architecture. I saw so many people in touch with their deeper spiritual side, whether they were Jews, Muslims or Christians. No matter what your faith
is, Jerusalem will touch your soul.
It's really hard to describe Jerusalem in a few sentences, although I'm trying to do my best. Let me explain you how I've experienced Jerusalem and why you shouldn't miss the following 10 places...
01 | WALK THROUGH THE OLD CITY OF JERUSALEM
... because you simply can't leave Jerusalem without seeing the Old City!
The Old City of Jerusalem should be your first stop. There is so much to see, hear, taste and smell. It's the heart of the city, a maze of narrow streets, alleyways and markets. It's easy to get lost there. But don't worry too much about it, the Old City is only 1 square kilometer and surrounded by impressive Ottoman walls from the 16th century.
Jerusalem's Old City is divided into four quarters: Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian.
I experienced each district in a different way. Every quarter has its own ambiance, culture and history.
The Old City is simply fascinating, you'll discover some of the most significant religious sites in the world within those walls. So go, get lost there and feel the vibe and the magic of the place.
[ Click on the images to enlarge ]
You can discover the Old City easily by yourself, but in order to understand the history and its secrets, I'd recommend you to go on a guided tour. I did the Holy City Tour and I wasn't disappointed. Our guide was great. Plus, he knew where to eat the best Falafel Pitas.
There are many places to see within the Old City, just go on with the list...
02 | STICK YOUR PRAYER ONTO THE WESTERN WALL
... or just watch others doing that ...
Let's start with the Jewish Quarter. The most visited landmark inside the Jewish Quarter is the Western Wall (a.k.a. the "Wailing Wall"), built by Herod the Great more than 2000 years ago. The Western Wall is the holiest site in Judaism.
The place is divided by a fence into two areas: A large section for men on the left side and a smaller section for the ladies on the right side. No matter what or if you believe, anyone can enter as long as you're dressed in an appropriate way.
It's a belief that if you write a prayer down on a piece of paper and insert
it into the cracks of the wall, it has a higher chance of being read by God.
Hm. OK. So let me get this straight: I'm an Atheist, so in the first minutes I kinda felt a bit out of place. I checked my pockets for a piece of paper, found a receipt of Starbucks and immediately remembered that there is no Starbucks in whole Israel. There was my idea for a prayer, but a second later I realized how silly I was and eventually gave up.
So I just watched the people. I looked at the wall and all those cracks. It seemed the cracks were all filled. Obviously the people here have a massive need for prayers. Everyone around me was praying or meditating.
I looked at the wall and noticed the different styles of stonework. It was like each stone wanted to tell me a story. I just stood there, looked around in awe and wonder.
After 10 minutes I left. No matter if you're a spiritual person or not, you will feel the magic. The place is very powerful.
The Western Wall is open 24 hours, every day of the year.
03 | EXPLORE THE MAGNIFICENT DOME OF THE ROCK
... most probably only from the outside. Unless you're a Muslim.
This place is one of the most controversial landmarks in Jerusalem. There is one thing you should probably know: If you're not a Muslim, you're not allowed to enter the Dome of the Rock and the neighboring Al-Aqsa Mosque. And yes, they want to see a proof. Just saying you're Muslim won't satisfy them.
Even if you can't enter the dome, it's still worth to come. You can enter the courtyard, take pictures of the Dome and visit the surroundings. The place is magnificent! Take your time to absorb the atmosphere. Wander trough the lovely gardens where families get together to pray or chat while their kids run around. I was amazed by the golden dome and the beautiful mosaic tiles.
Come early as there is always a long waiting line and security is tight. Dress appropriate, no shorts, cover your shoulders and avoid any physical affection.
Open in Summer from 07:30 AM - 11:00 AM and 01:30 PM – 02:30 PM.
Open in Winter from 07:30 AM - 10:00 AM and 12:30 PM – 01:30 PM.
Closed on Friday and Saturday and also during Muslim holidays.
04 | VISIT THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE
Absorb the energy of the place where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.
Last, but not least, let's enter the Christian Quarter. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre (also called the Church of Resurrection) is the holiest site of Christianity. People believe this is the place where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.
Like I mentioned earlier, I'm not religious myself but wandering through the ancient church was truly magical.
There is an incredible spiritual energy in this place
that will send shivers down your spine.
There are many ways inside the church, take your time to explore the architecture, the artifacts and the marvelous mosaics. Smell the incense and light a candle.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is always overcrowded, thousands of Christian pilgrims from all over the world are
coming here every day. Come as early as possible to avoid long waiting times.
Same rules here, dress in a modest way. Ladies, cover your shoulders and knees! Guys, no shorts please. Open every day, in Summer from 05:00 AM - 09:00 PM, in Winter from 04:00 AM - 07:00 PM.
05 | GET UP TO THE ROOF OF THE AUSTRIAN HOSPICE
... and enjoy the terrific view. Or an apple strudel. Or both.
If you're tired from walking around in the Old City, you should take a break at the Austrian Hospice. This place is probably my favorite spot to relax after a long walk or sightseeing tour. The Austrian Hospice is located at Via Dolorosa 37 (Corner El Wad Ha Gai) in the Muslim Quarter, not far away from the Dome of the Rock.
There is a beautiful garden, where you can relax and enjoy good coffee and an apple strudel underneath tall olive-trees. Don't miss the rooftop with a spectacular view of the Old City. Great place for the sunset! Get a beer, enjoy the view and listen to the sounds from the surrounding mosques.
06 | WATCH PEOPLE
... but don't stare at the Orthodox Jews!
One of the most interesting things of discovering Jerusalem is watching the people. Due to the mix of religions you will see all these different kind of people. Jerusalem is probably the only place in the world I have visited where the three major religions all live so close together. Be aware that tensions can sometimes be high.
On a personal note, try to avoid any contact with the Orthodox Jews (the ones with the black coats and the hats). They're not dangerous, they're just... different...!? If you're a women, these guys will look immediately away when they see you. Don't ask them for directions or even worse, ask them if they want to pose with you for a photo. I heard stories that they spit on people. So well, just keep a distance and avoid walking within their neighborhood.
07 | TAKE PHOTOS OF CUTE STREET CATS
... but don't try to pick them up. Some of them are grumpy. Or full of fleas.
Jerusalem has a massive population of street cats. There are thousands of them. And they’re everywhere. In every color and size, from cuddly to shy, any kind of cat lives in Jerusalem. I saw them all the time. Personally, I think cats are beautiful creatures with an interesting personality, but well, that's just me. If you don't agree, just skip this... I took a lot of photos to capture them. This one is my favorite.
08 | CHECK OUT (OR IN) ABRAHAM HOSTEL
... because this is certainly the place to be.
There are many places to stay in Jerusalem. And then there is Abraham Hostel, which was an absolutely highlight in my trip to Jerusalem. Honestly, I'm not a big fan of hostels, but this place blew my mind. Abraham Hostel won several awards on TripAdvisor, Hostelworld and Hostelbookers. Believe the hype, this place is one of the best hostels in the world! You can book it here.
If you think hostels are only for backpackers (like I thought) and picture them as a place with messy dorms then you're wrong. The Abraham Hostel offers much more than dormitories, this is a place for any age. Young people, families, senior couples, I've seen them all hanging out in the lounge of Abraham Hostel. The place has a very warm and welcoming atmosphere.
They put a lot of effort to entertain the guests with daily bar events, day trips, weekly Shabbat dinner, movie nights, happy hours, Hebrew lessons, cooking classes, free city tours and so much more. Nobody will get bored there, that's for sure. And if you just want to do nothing, you can always hang out in the big lounge in one of the hammocks, play pool or get up to the rooftop and enjoy a beer in the sun.
About the room: I stayed in a private room with attached bathroom .The room was comfortable, spotless clean and had a nice view over Yafo Street . I even had a fridge in the room to store my drinks and a desk to get some work done.
I spent 5 nights at the Abraham Hostel and it wasn't enough, I wish I've stayed longer. The staff is incredibly friendly and helpful (I added half of them on Facebook because we became friends). The location is great, 15 min walk to the Old City and a 5 min walk to the Mahane Yehuda Market (see next point). There is a bakery below the Abraham Hostel (at the metro stop) that sells good coffee (and Chai Latte hmmm) and delicious baked goods.
As a former graphic designer I also have to say they did a fantastic job in terms of corporate design. Everything from the website to the interior design, the brochures, wall paintings, really everything is very stylish. Well done.
09 | EAT AT THE MAHANE YEHUDA MARKET
... or even better: Do a Market Cooking Tour!
Are you ready for culinary highlights? Open up your senses! There is no better place than the Mahane Yehuda Market (also called The Shuk), an authentic Middle Eastern market.
This is the perfect place to see the locals, to smell the spices and to try new delicious foods. Stroll around and get lost in a maze of vendors that are selling every product you can imagine: fruits, vegetables, cheese, wine, fish, oils, nuts, olives, spices, coffee, tea, baked goods and everything between.
I discovered huge (really huge!) eggplants at the market. And yes, they were absolutely delicious. The climate in Israel is perfect for most fruits and vegetables, everything I tried was a delight.
The Mahane Yehuda Market is a fantastic sensual experience and shouldn't be missed. See, smell and taste Jerusalem! I recommend to do a walking tour, followed by a cooking class, offered by Abraham Tours.
More info here: Mahane Yehuda Market Cooking Tour
The Mahane Yehuda Market is located between Agripas Street and Jaffa Street, open market is open every weekday except during the Shabbat.
10 | LOSE YOURSELF (AND FIND YOURSELF)
... because Jerusalem is the spiritual center of the world.
Jerusalem is certainly one of the most fascinating places I have ever visited. It's most probably not on everyone's travel itinerary, if you think like this I hope this article makes you reconsider. There is so much to see, if you're into history and architecture, this place will capture you.
No matter what religion you are, a trip to Israel will be an
unforgettable travel experience. Jerusalem is a spiritual center,
be prepared for overwhelming emotions, visiting the holy city is a
religious and intense experience that you'll never forget.
Dress yourself appropriate,
bring loads of water,
paper and a pen to write your prayers,
but most important:
Come with an open heart and an open mind.
Thank you for reading.
PS: Honestly, there are too many fascinating things to do in Jerusalem, and this list just included the places I enjoyed the most. You can probably spend a lifetime in Jerusalem without seeing all of it. I still hope this article will help you with your travel plans. For a detailed list of things to do and top sights in Jerusalem, head over to Tripadvisor!
If you're looking for budget B&B or great hotels in Jerusalem, check out Agoda!
This trip was made possible by TouristIsrael.com. Thanks for organizing an unforgettable trip to Israel.
My stay at the Abraham Hostel was complimentary, all opinions are my own.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sabrina Iovino is the founder of JustOneWayTicket.com. She's half German, half Italian and has traveled to more than 50 countries around the globe. She feels weird to write about herself in the third person, so she'll switch now. Phew...much better! Let's restart:
Hi, I'm Sab! This is my blog and I write about the things I love. Mostly.
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