One of the most fiercely contested places on Earth, Jerusalem is home to many of Christianity’s, Islam’s and Judaism’s most important holy sites; the wealth of historic, religious and cultural landmarks is astonishing. Now part of Israel, Jerusalem has been fought over for millennia. At one time or another, the Mamluks, Ottomans, Christians, and Muslims have all ruled, with each of them leaving their mark.
Despite its diminutive size, the Old City probably contains more incredible tourist attractions than many countries do. The Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall are just three of the astonishing sites you can expect to delight in.
Walking through its ancient streets is a mesmerizing experience and the pilgrims of all faiths clogging the passages only add to the intoxicating atmosphere. A special place like no other, Jerusalem needs to be seen to be believed, such is the wealth of history on show.
Located on the Mount of Olives that looks out over Jerusalem, the Church of all Nations is an important historical site. It contains a bedrock upon which Jesus is said to have prayed prior to being arrested.
While the current church was consecrated in 1652, it actually lies on the foundations of two older churches, with the earliest dating to the 4th century AD.
The church is named for the many different countries that donated various mosaics and apses to it; each of their coat-of-arms can now be found amidst the designs and religious motifs on show.
This delightful stone portal is set in Jerusalem’s imposing walls and is one of the main entrances to the Old City.
Its distinctive L shape helped defenders protect the gate and the sand-colored blocks certainly do look impenetrable.
Dating to 1538, Jaffa Gate opens out onto the Christian Quarter on one side and the Armenian Quarter on the other, and you’ll find a constant stream of pedestrians pouring beneath its ancient arch.
Although part of the Jewish Quarter was bombed and destroyed during the 1948 Arab – Israeli War, much of it has been rebuilt, giving it a newer feel than many other parts of the city.
That’s not to say that there aren’t lots of historic and religious sites – the Western Wall and Hurva Synagogue are located here, among other important sights.
Wandering around the Jewish Quarter is a lovely way to spend some time and visitors should definitely make sure to head to the atmospheric Cardo shopping street that was built back in Roman times.
Located in the northwest walls of the city, Damascus Gate is one of the main entrances to Jerusalem’s Old City. It certainly is impressive to behold with its wonderful crenulations and the two towers that flank it.
Built in 1537, the current gate has weathered numerous wars and invasions. Excavations indicate that a gate stood here as early as 130 CE.
Passing through it is an amazing experience as you follow in the footsteps of so many people who came before you, and walking along the ramparts offers a great view from above.
Lying just outside the Old City, the Mount of Olives looks out over Jerusalem. From its hillside, there are incredible views of Temple Mount and the glimmering Dome of the Rock.
As well as a scenic spot, it is also a historic and religious site; it is home to a large Jewish cemetery and numerous churches can also be seen here and there, such as the beautiful Russian Orthodox Church.
The oldest continually used cemetery in the world, the Mount of Olives is definitely worth checking out if you have time.
Known by some as the Jerusalem Citadel, the Tower of David offers up some of the best views of the Old City and is a fascinating place to visit. Some of the archaeological finds date back more than 2000 years.
Remarkably well preserved, the current citadel dates to Mamluk and Ottoman times and was built upon much older fortifications.
Located on site is the Tower of David Museum, offering an interesting look at over 4000 years of Jerusalem’s history through interactive exhibitions, holograms, and maps.
Believed to have been the street along which Jesus walked during his crucifixion, the aptly named ‘Way of Sorrow’ is a historic street which runs through Jerusalem’s Old City.
Starting off from the Lion’s Gate, pilgrims and tourists alike can retrace Christ’s steps, ending up at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus is believed to have been crucified.
Via Dolorosa is marked with nine stations depicting various parts of his journey; there are five more in the church itself. Every Friday, there is a procession along the route. Taking part in it will really make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
Lying atop of Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock sparkles in the sun and is recognized around the world. It is one of Jerusalem’s most famous landmarks.
Built between 688 and 691, the temple is home to a slab of stone from which Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
While only Muslims are allowed inside, the Dome’s outside is spectacular to behold. Bright blue mosaics coat the walls and the iconic gold plated dome sits atop, looking out over Jerusalem.
Jerusalem’s long, tumultuous history has seen the city destroyed and rebuilt numerous times, which means that much of it is built on and out of the rubble and ruins of buildings that came before them.
As such, numerous tunnels snake their way beneath the Old City. A guided tour of the Western Wall tunnels offer visitors the chance to go back to the time of the second temple and explore a stretch of this fascinating underground world.
Running adjacent to the Western Wall, the tunnels are narrow and a bit claustrophobic but well worth checking out for the wealth of history on display.
This bustling market that has been around since Ottoman times is loads of fun to visit. The myriad colorful stalls are laden with everything from fruit and vegetables to pastries and fresh juice.
Offering an authentic look at life in the Holy City, Mahane Yehuda Market has numerous sections to it; some alleys are home to butchers while others host clothes and coffee sellers.
At night, the market transforms and many people come here for its great restaurants and bars.
Another attraction that is mired in controversy because it is now in an illegal Israeli settlement, the City of David is one of Jerusalem’s most important archaeological sites.
Located just outside of the Old City, it is here that King David first built the city of Jerusalem. Amidst the rubble and rocks, there are two ancient stone tunnels for you to walk along.
Adventurous travelers will love Hezekial’s Tunnel, which was once an aquifer. Water sometimes comes up to your knees as you wade along in the dark with a torch in hand.
This marvelous rock-cut tomb dates back to the 8th-7th centuries BC and some Christians believe that it is where Jesus was buried and later rose from the dead.
Consequently, many pilgrims and tourists come to visit the peaceful gardens in which it is located, although it still remains a nice quiet spot away from the crowds that clog the Old City’s ancient streets.
Located next to the ominously named Skull Hill, there is much debate as to whether Jesus really was buried here, but is worth visiting in any case.
Venerated throughout the centuries by all three of the Abrahamic religions, Temple Mount lies at the heart of the Old City and is one of the most fiercely contested pieces of land in the world.
Containing the Al Aqsa Mosque, it is the third most important site in Island and the holiest site in Judaism. It is here that the First and Second Temples were erected.
Wandering across the ancient limestone pavings of the huge cypress tree-fringed complex is a peaceful affair, despite the millennia of conflict that have plagued it. The highlight is seeing the Dome of the Rock with its iconic golden dome glistening in the sun.
A moving and emotional place, visiting Yad Vashem is a must when in Jerusalem. It is Israel’s official memorial to those who were brutally murdered during the Holocaust.
Lying on the slopes of Mount Herzl, the commemorative site contains the Holocaust Memorial Museum, which takes you through the horrific atrocities that the Nazis committed. Seeing all the photos of those who died in ‘the Hall of Names’ is something you’ll never forget.
While many of the audio, video, and items on display are shocking, just as many symbolize rebirth and ‘The Eternal Flame’ exhibit is a perfect example of this.
Believed to be the site where Jesus was crucified and later rose from the dead, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre contains two of Christendom’s most sacred sites. Its gloomy, atmospheric interior definitely warrants a visit when in Jerusalem.
Packed with pilgrims and tourists, the church is run by several Christian denominations, who reluctantly share responsibility amongst themselves. Consecrated in 335 AD, the church has been damaged, destroyed and rebuilt numerous times over the centuries
Entering the church after having wandered through the ancient stone courtyard is a memorable experience. Despite the crowds, it is a strangely peaceful place to visit. Seeing the Edicule shrine in which Jesus’s empty tomb lies will surely send shivers down your spine.
Opened in 1965, the Israel Museum’s fantastic collection covers over 5000 years of history and its main focus is on art and archaeology.
Wandering through the archaeological galleries, you’ll find a wealth of artifacts discovered in the region, and items from the Islamic world, Near East, Italy, and Greece are all represented. The renowned Dead Sea Scrolls are just one of the highlights; gazing at the ancient biblical manuscripts is an awe-inspiring experience.
The Jewish Art and Life Wing of the museum is just as interesting to visit. Here, you can learn a lot about Jewish culture and traditions such as bridal and funerary practices.
The holiest site in Judaism is fascinating to visit and there is an electric atmosphere, as Orthodox Jews rock back and forth, praying at the Western Wall.
Supporting one side of Temple Mount, the area now acts as a de-facto synagogue. It is often known as the Wailing Wall, as Jews throughout the ages have come here to mourn the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE.
A must-see when in Jerusalem, visitors can stop by the segregated worship areas and experience the intoxicating ambiance themselves. You can even write a prayer and slip it into the cracks between the stones of the huge, white, rock wall.