With its gorgeous stone streets and complex religious history, Jerusalem is one of the best reasons to visit Israel. Though it’s is an interesting and vibrant city with more to do than you would expect, it is theoretically possible to see its main highlights in one day. If you’re not spending the night, here is how you can see Jerusalem in one day.
Browse the offerings at Mahane Yehuda Market
There’s more to Jerusalem than the Old City, and there’s no place more evident than the Mahane Yehuda Market. The large shuk sits in the center of Jerusalem and its winding alleys are all lined with beautiful and delicious fruits, bread, pastries, and places to eat or drink. This is a good way to pick up breakfast or an early lunch on the go. Some of the tiny restaurants have stools or small tables where you can pull up a chair and enjoy a sweet treat and coffee or a full kosher meal. You can book tours of the market on the official website. These include tasting tours, nightlife and graffiti tours, and even cooking workshops.
Stroll down Jaffa Road
Jaffa Road (technically Jaffa Street) is one of the longest streets in Jerusalem, joining downtown Jerusalem with the Old City. It’s full of sidewalk restaurants and cafes if you want a more relaxing sit-down meal than at the market. On your way to the Old City, you’ll pass by several major squares and plazas, like Davidka Square, Zion Square, and Safra Square, where you’ll find the City Hall Building. Zion Square is a major pedestrian city hub intersecting with Ben Yeshuda Street where there are a lot of shops and restaurants.
Tour the Old City
The Old City of Jerusalem is, in fact, a living breathing city within modern-day Jerusalem. Though its walled off perimeter is less than 1 square kilometer, it’s home to almost 1 million people. So visiting this important part of Jerusalem will take you some time, particularly because there will be lines for all the good stuff to see there. If you can spare a second day in Jerusalem, you could easily dedicate an entire day to exploring the Old City.
The Old City gates
Since the entire premise is walled off, there are several entry points into the city. From Jaffa Road, you’ll be closest to the Jaffa Gate or the New Gate. The New Gate (from 1889, so “new” is relative) gives you direct access to the Christian Quarter. The Jaffa Gate straddles the Christian and Armenian Quarter with the Muslim Quarter directly ahead of you. The Damascus Gate is the gate to the Muslim Quarter, and the Zion Gate is the gate to the Jewish Quarter. The Lion’s Gate also has particular significance because it was the beginning of Jesus’s walk to crucifixion.
Though you probably won’t see all the gates as there are eight of them, you might want to see a few of the main ones, particularly because they lead to different areas of the Old City worth visiting. For instance, Damascus Gate is located right in the Arab bazaar.
Tower of David
The Tower of David is Jerusalem’s old citadel, now a museum dedicated to the history of Jerusalem. It’s one of the first things you’ll come across if you enter through the Jaffa Gate and it’s a good way to learn about the significance of different parts of the Old City before walking through it. The observation tower gives you a bird’s eye view of the Old City and modern-day Jerusalem.
The Tower of David is also a great stop at night, as different Night Experiences light up the citadel courtyard with lights and music to tell the story of Jerusalem and King David. Tickets for the museum, the light show, or combined tickets can be booked online in advance.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Though there are several Christian churches in the Old City, you’ll probably want to visit the most important one, which contains the tomb where Jesus was buried. (Though I guess it’s probably empty now after his resurrection? I don’t know, I’m not a theologist.) The church is free to enter, but it is a zoo. The line to enter the chapel which houses the tomb begins outside and wraps around the inside of the church. If you’re not interested in waiting several hours to briefly see the empty tomb, you can skip the line and walk around the rest of the church, which is beautiful.
The Western Wall, part of the exterior of the Temple Mount, is the most important religious site in the world for Jewish people, because they cannot enter the Temple Mount to pray. People of other faiths are welcome to pray at the Western Wall as well – as even several popes have done. Jewish people come here to celebrate different occasions like bar mitzvahs, which is a fun sight to see when you’re visiting. The caravans of people playing music and cheering gives the place a lively atmosphere.
The wall itself is far more somber. Tourists and the faithful alike come to the wall to recite prayers and place written prayers into cracks of the limestone wall. Many people can be seen crying and reading from holy books. The wall is divided into a male and female section, and you should be dressed modestly if you plan to visit.
Gaining entrance to this part of the Old City requires that you go through a security screening, including metal detectors, which may take some time if there’s a line.
Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock
The Temple Mount is the trickiest part of the Old City to visit because it has very strict opening times. Home to several important mosques and other religious structures, this is one of the holiest sites in the world for Muslims. This is where you’ll find the gold-topped Islamic shrine, the Dome of the Rock. Admission to the hilltop complex is free, but it’s only open Monday through Thursday from 8:30 am – 11:30 am and 1:30 pm – 2:30 pm in the summer, and from 7:30 am – 10:30 am and 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm in the winter. For a few days at the end of Ramadan, the Temple Mount is closed entirely to visitors. Additionally, if you’re not Muslim, you won’t be allowed in the Dome of the Rock at all.
So important Jerusalem travel tip: If you really want to see the Temple Mount, you should plan your day in Jerusalem around its opening hours. If you visit on a weekend, you won’t be able to enter.
If you can’t get into the Temple Mount, you can still see it from above. Right across the street from the Western Wall, outside the secured area, you can find a rooftop observatory at the Aish HaTorah World Center. For a small fee, you can get a fantastic view of the Western Wall with the Dome of the Rock towering above it.
The Souk isn’t a specific destination in Jerusalem – rather it sprawls out among the important religious sites of the Old City. It’s clean, safe, and beautiful. The traditional outdoor market features textiles, spices, and a ton of knick knacks for you to peruse. Even if you’re not looking to buy anything, you might find it hard to leave the Jerusalem Old City without getting yourself a scarf or a fresh pastry from the food markets. Haggling is common, but I found vendors here weren’t as pushy as I expected. It’s probably one of the only markets of its kind where you’ll find an Arab merchant selling spices next to a Jewish one selling designer yarmulkes. It’s wild.