9 Best Sights in Center City, Jerusalem

Machaneh Yehuda

Fodor's choice

For a unique local experience, head to this two-block-long covered lane and its adjacent alleys, filled with the brilliant colors of the city's best produce, cheeses, and baked goods. It's fun to elbow your way through this decidedly unslick market anytime, but it's riotously busy on Friday, when Jewish Jerusalem does its last-minute shopping for the Sabbath. Its traditional Mediterranean--Middle Eastern character, going back generations, still dominates; but a liberal sprinkling of stall-size Western eateries, wine shops, bars, and a few arts-and-crafts or souvenir shops have given Machaneh Yehuda a more cosmopolitan feel. By night, the market is a nightlife hot spot, with converted stalls serving as bars and lounge areas. The market links Jaffa Street and Agrippas Street, parallel to and just a five-minute walk up from King George Street. Many of the Downtown bus lines stop on King George, and several on Agrippas itself, while the light-rail runs the length of Jaffa Street (which is otherwise closed to traffic). There is some paid parking close to the market, but it is most easily approached on foot.

Nahalat Shiva

Fodor's choice

This small neighborhood has a funky feel, with worn flagstones, wrought-iron banisters, and defunct water cisterns. Its name translates roughly as "the Estate of the Seven," for the seven Jewish families that founded the quarter in 1869. The alleys and courtyards have been refashioned as a pedestrian district, offering equal opportunities for photographers, shoppers, and gastronomes. An eclectic variety of eateries, from Israeli and Arabic to Italian and Asian, tempt you to take a break from the jewelry and ceramics.

Ben-Yehuda Street

Most of the street is an open-air pedestrian mall in the heart of Downtown, forming a triangle with King George Street and Jaffa Street. It is known locally as the Midrachov, a term concocted from two Hebrew words: midracha (sidewalk) and rechov (street). The street is named after the brilliant linguist Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who in the late 19th century almost single-handedly revived Hebrew as a modern spoken language; he would have liked the clever new word. Cafés have tables out on the cobblestones, and buskers are usually around in good weather, playing tunes old and new. It's a great place to sip coffee or munch falafel and watch the passing crowd. On Saturday and Jewish holidays, only a few restaurants and convenience stores are open, but after nightfall (especially in warm weather) the area comes to life.

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Independence Park

This is a great area for lounging around, throwing Frisbees, or eating a picnic lunch in warm weather. Some of the Muslim graves at the bottom of the park date from the 13th century. The large defunct reservoir nearby, known as the Mamilla Pool, is probably late medieval, though it may have much earlier Roman origins.

Jerusalem YMCA

The YMCA exudes old-world charm: its high-domed landmark bell tower thrusts out of a palatial white-limestone facade, full of carved arcane symbols and ancient scripts. The complex boasts the usual YMCA fitness facilities, a hotel, a concert hall, a restaurant, and a bilingual preschool. For NIS 20 you can ride the small elevator (they insist on two people minimum) to the Bell Tower, with breathtaking views of the city in all directions. The building, dedicated in 1933, was designed by Arthur Loomis Harmon, one of the architects of New York City's Empire State Building.

Montefiore's Windmill

This limestone, wind-driven flour mill was built by Sir Moses Montefiore in 1857 to provide a source of income for his planned neighborhood of Mishkenot Sha'ananim, the first outside the city walls. Its usefulness was cut short when steam mills made their appearance; but in 2012, with Dutch and English expertise, the landmark windmill was restored to working order.

Montefiore was a prominent figure in the financial circles of mid-19th-century London—a rare phenomenon for a Jew at the time. He married into the legendary Rothschild family, becoming the stockbroker of its London branch, and retired early. The larger-than-life philanthropist devoted much of his long life, and his wealth, to aiding fellow Jews in distress, wherever they might be. To this end he visited Ottoman Palestine seven times. A replica of the carriage that conveyed him around the country is behind thick glass: vandals torched its predecessor.

Yemin Moshe St., Israel
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Ticho House

Operated as part of the Israel Museum, this handsome, two-story, 19th-century building is worth a visit for its selection of artist Anna Ticho's works, and for its changing, intimate exhibitions of contemporary Israeli art. It was the home of Dr. A. A. Ticho, a renowned Jewish ophthalmologist, and his wife, Anna. He moved from Vienna to Jerusalem in 1912, and his cousin, Anna, followed soon after, to assist him in his pioneering struggle against the endemic scourge of trachoma. They were soon married, and in 1924 they bought and renovated this stone house. Anna's artistic talent gradually earned her a reputation as a brilliant chronicler—in charcoal, pen, and brush—of the landscape around Jerusalem. 

Umberto Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art

A little-known gem, the museum shares its classic old stone building with a cultural center (ask to see the frescoes in the ground-floor hall). The second-floor galleries include the interior of an ornate Italian synagogue from 1701; illustrated manuscripts; and ritual artifacts in metal, wood, and embroidered fabric from the Italian Renaissance to modern times. The attention to detail characteristic of the best Italian art was adopted and adapted by skilled Jewish craftspeople. The result is a feast for the eyes, even if the spiritual significance of some exhibits may be less familiar to some visitors.

Yemin Moshe

Attractive old stone buildings, bursts of greenery and bougainvillea, and well-kept cobblestone streets distinguish a now-affluent neighborhood that grew up a century ago alongside the older Mishkenot Sha'ananim, and was named for that project's founder, Sir Moses (Moshe in Hebrew) Montefiore. In the 1950s and '60s, the area overlooked the armistice line that gashed through the city, and was dangerously exposed to Jordanian sniper positions on the nearby Old City walls. Most families sought safer lodgings elsewhere, leaving only those who couldn't afford to move, and the neighborhood ran to seed. The reunification of Jerusalem under Israeli rule after the Six-Day War in 1967 changed all that. Developers bought up the area, renovated old buildings, and built new and spacious homes in a compatible style. Yemin Moshe is now a place to wander at random, offering joy to photographers and quiet nooks for meditation.