Jerusalem is an extremely old city; there has probably been a settlement there for at least 5000 years. As Israel's capital and a holy place for three of the world's major religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – it is of huge political, spiritual and cultural significance and interest. Jerusalem's history has been consistently troubled. Even today, its status is disputed, as many people believe Israel's actions in capturing East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967 were illegal. In recent years, the city's population has grown enormously, and it is home to both large Jewish and Arab communities.

This mixture of religious, cultural and historical influences makes for an unforgettable experience. Security in Jerusalem is understandably very strict and, as a result, the city is surprisingly safe. Every year millions of pilgrims and travellers visit without incident. The walled Old City is divided into four quarters: the Arab, Jewish, >Armenian and Christian. The New City refers to everything outside the walls.


It is impossible to do justice to every site of interest in Jerusalem in such a short article; on almost every street there is something new to find. However, there are several must-see attractions that no visit to Jerusalem could be complete without.

In the New City, The Israel Museum (on Ruppin Boulevard, near the Knesset; 42 NIS for adults, 30 for students) is certainly worth a visit. Its extensive campus includes a number of different wings, dealing with archaeology, Judaica, and fine art. The Shrine of the Book houses the famous Dead Sea Scrolls – copies of biblical and other texts hidden from the Roman army in caves on the shore of the Dead Sea, 2000 years ago – as well as other rare Hebrew manuscripts. To the east of the walled city stands The Mount of Olives, on the lower slopes of which can be found The Garden of Gethsemane. It was on this site that Jesus supposedly passed his last night before Judas betrayed him. Today, the carefully tended garden still exists, with gnarled, ancient olive trees that are claimed to date from that time. On the other side of the city, the beautiful Garden Tomb (on Nablus Road) is a likely contender for the site in which he was later buried. Although it overlooks the bus station, this is a wonderful haven of peace in an otherwise bustling and noisy city. Higher up the slopes of The Mount of Olives is an enormous cemetery. Jewish tradition holds that the resurrection of the dead will begin here, and for millennia the cemetery has been a highly desirable location for burial.

Within the Old City, The Wailing Wall is an un-missable sight. Even in Jerusalem, the atmosphere here is unique. It is the last remaining part of the Jewish Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. Every day, thousands of Jews go to the wall to pray. On the other side of it lies the Temple Mount, where the Temple used to stand. Now, the expansive plaza is dominated by the stunning Islamic shrine The Dome of the Rock, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Security is particularly tight in these areas – expect metal detectors and frequent bag searches.The Church of Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter is the traditional site for the crucifixion (and, for some, burial) of Jesus. In stark contrast to the calm of the Garden Tomb or the Dome's simplicity, this overwhelming building is a jumble of chapels, artefacts and competing denominations.


The New City, like any capital, has its fair share of shops. For a different experience, head into the suqs (bazaars) of the Old City – particularly in the Armenian Quarter – where a staggering range of local and traditional goods are for sale. Shop around, and be prepared to bargain hard (most shopkeepers speak some English). You will often be able to make a purchase for a fraction of the asking price.

For fresh fruit, bread, spices and other food, try the Damascus Gate to the northwest of the city. The Cardo, in the Jewish Quarter, has some beautiful if expensive art.

Nightlife and Eating Out

Again, the New City holds its fair share of upmarket restaurants, but for authentic Middle Eastern food head to the Old City. Falafel (crushed, dried chick peas, fried and served in pitta with humous and salad) is Israel and Palestine’s snack of choice, and you will be able to pick up this and a myriad of other delicious street food on virtually every corner. As before, be willing to shop around. Restaurants in the Jewish Quarter cater largely for rich Western tourists, and a stone’s throw away in the Arab section you may be able to pick up the same fare for a tenth of the price (roughly the equivalent of $1 US). The thick, black Turkish coffee, heavily sweetened and flavoured with cardamom, is also very popular, though not recommended for the caffeine-sensitive.

Tourist Information

Information CentreTel: 1-888-77-ISRAELFax:

United KingdomIsrael Government Tourist OfficeUK House180 Oxford StreetLondonW1D 1NNTel: +44 (0)20 7299 1111Fax: +44 (0)20 7299


Jerusalem does have its own small domestic airport, but this has been closed for some years now due to security concerns. Israel's international airport is Ben Gurion Airport, just south of Tel Aviv. On arrival at Ben Gurion, you will need to take a shuttle bus to the Airport City commercial centre. From there, you will be able to catch an Egged bus (usually no. 947) to Jerusalem Central bus station. These leave at least every half hour, and cost 20 NIS. Alternatively, you can take a sherut (shared service taxi) for approximately the same price – a necessity from Friday to Saturday evenings, when no buses run.