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Jerusalem Travel Guide

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  • Photo: ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock

Plan Your Jerusalem Vacation

Jerusalem is a city suspended between heaven and earth, East and West, past and present—parallel universes of flowing caftans and trendy coffee shops. For some people, Jerusalem is a condition, like being in love; for others, it is a state of mind, a constant tension between rival flags and faiths, or members of the same faith. You may feel moved, energized, or swept into the maelstrom of contemporary

issues—but the city will not leave you unaffected.

The word unique is easy to throw around, but Jerusalem has a real claim on it. The 5,000-year-old city is sacred to half the human race, and its iconic Old City walls embrace primary sites of the three great monotheistic religions. For Jews, Jerusalem has always been their spiritual focus and historical national center; the imposing Western Wall is the last remnant of the ancient Temple Period complex. For almost 2,000 years, Christians have venerated Jerusalem as the place where their faith was shaped—through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth—and the candlelit Church of the Holy Sepulcher is where the greater part of Christendom recognizes those events. Islamic tradition identifies Jerusalem as the masjid al-aqsa, the "farthermost place," from which Muhammad ascended to Heaven for his portentous meeting with God: the dazzling, gold-top Dome of the Rock marks the spot.

The Old City is far more than shrines, however. Its arches, hidden courtyards, and narrow cobblestone alleyways beckon you back in time. The streets are crowded with travelers, pilgrims, and vendors of everything from tourist trinkets and leather sandals to fresh produce, embroidered fabrics, and dubious DVDs. Your senses are assaulted by intense colors and by the aromas of turmeric, fresh mint, wild sage, and cardamom-spiced coffee. The blare of Arabic music and the burble of languages fill the air.

Step outside the Old City and you'll be transported into the 21st century—well, at least the 20th: quaint neighborhoods, some restored, embody an earlier simplicity. West Jerusalem forms the bulk of a modern metropolis of 800,000, Israel's largest city. It’s not as cosmopolitan as Tel Aviv, but it does have good restaurants, fine hotels, vibrant markets, and upscale neighborhoods. The Downtown triangle of Jaffa Street, King George Street, and Ben-Yehuda Street, and the elegant Mamilla Mall outside Jaffa Gate, are natural gathering places.

The city prides itself on its historical continuity. A municipal bylaw dating back to 1918 makes it mandatory to face even high-rise commercial buildings with the honey-colored "Jerusalem stone," the local limestone that has served Jerusalem's builders since, well, forever. Watch the stone walls glow at sunset—the source of the by-now clichéd but still compelling phrase "Jerusalem of Gold"—and understand the mystical hold Jerusalem has had on so many minds and hearts for so many thousands of years.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. The Old City For an astonishing montage of religions and cultures, the heart of Jerusalem—with the Holy Sepulcher, Arab bazaar, and Western Wall—has few equals anywhere in the world.
  2. Mt. of Olives This classic panorama puts the entire Old City, with the golden Dome of the Rock, squarely within your lens. The view is best with the morning sun behind you.
  3. Machaneh Yehuda You can munch a falafel as you watch shoppers swirl and eddy through West Jerusalem's outstanding produce market.
  4. Israel Museum The museum, fresh from an enormous renewal, is a winner, with its Dead Sea Scrolls, outdoor model, and a stunning collection of fine art, archaeology, and Judaica.
  5. City of David Plunge underground to explore Jerusalem's most ancient remains, and wade the 2,700-year-old water tunnel that once saved the besieged city.

When To Go

When to Go to Jerusalem

Jerusalem, like Israel in general, is a year-round destination, but the very best months are late March through April, and October through November...

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