(Last updated on: 02/04/2020)
The Old City of Jerusalem is high on everyone’s list when visiting Israel. It was certainly one of the highlights for our tour! If you’re planning a trip to the area and want to make the most out of your time in Jerusalem, here’s everything you need to know!
Where is the Old City?
Nestled within the modern city of Jerusalem, the Old City is a walled area of 0.9 km2 or 0.35 square miles. It is roughly divided into four quarters: the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Armenian Quarter and the Jewish Quarter.
You can stay in the Old City, or simply visit it on a day trip from the newer part of Jersualem, which is what we did. Public transport is pretty good, meaning that it is easier to stay in a cheaper part of the city and travel in to visit the main sites here, which helps with your Israel travel budget! It is also accessible from Tel Aviv.
Getting to Jerusalem Old City
The nearest airport to Jerusalem Old City is Ben Gurion Airport (TLV). Located in Tel Aviv, it is 55km from the centre of Jerusalem. Flights are easily available from many major cities worldwide, such as Paris, London, New York City, Frankfurt and more.
It takes just under an hour to drive from Ben Gurion airport to Jerusalem Old City. We hired a car through Eurocar, collected it at the airport and off we went to Jerusalem.
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Public transport is also on hand to get your from the airport to the Old City and other areas of Jerusalem. Shuttle bus 485 departs from gate 23 on the second floor of Terminal 3 – it costs 16 ILS per person each way. The shuttle bus runs every hour, on the hour apart from during Shabbat. There are 6 stops within the city, including the edge of Jerusalem Old City.
Things to see in Jerusalem Old City
Just walking around the old city itself is breathtaking enough. The walls, the market stalls, the incredible architecture – there’s so much to see and take in. But in case you’re looking for more structure, here’s some definite must-sees in the Jerusalem Old City.
The Christian Quarter
- David Street: one of the old city’s main market streets
- The Church of St. John the Baptist: 11th century church with a dome
- The Museum of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
- Hezekiah’s Pool: an ancient reservoir
- Church of the Holy Sepulchre: 4th century church that is said to be home to the site where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, and also his empty tomb
The Jewish Quarter
- The Broad Wall: an ancient defensive wall (8th century)
- The Burnt House Museum: a museum dedicated to an excavated house six metres below ground level, which is said to have been burnt by Romans
- Sidna Omar Mosque: a fascinating abandoned mosque
- New Church of Theotokos: a 6th century Byzantine church which is mostly destroyed
- The Southern Wall: a wall built during King Herod’s expansion of the Temple Mount platform, now one of the last remaining walls of the Jerusalem Old City
- The Ramban Synagogue: the second oldest active synagogue within the old city
- Hurva Synagogue: rebuilt in 2009
- Karaite Synagogue: the oldest synagogue in the Jerusalem Old City
The Muslim Quarter
- The Old City Three Markets: a butchers’ market, perfume market and goldsmiths’ market on Olive Press Street
- The Dome of the Rock: Islam’s third holiest site, and the iconic building with the gold dome that is synonymous with the Jerusalem Old City
- Al-Aqsa Mosque: the second oldest mosque in the world and where Muslims worship the they come to the mount
- The Western Wall: also known as the Wailing Wall, an ancient wall that is sacred to Muslims – there are underground tunnels here too
- The Temple Mount: the mount itself is home to the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall and the Al-Aqsa Mosque
- The Church of St. Anne: church with medieval architecture and near-perfect acoustics
Tip: Make sure you dress appropriately when visiting sites of religious significance or they might not let you in! I’ve written in this post about recommended clothes when visiting religious sites. I’ve been caught out many times on my travels so it’s worth making sure you are wardrobe ready for your trip to Jerusalem!
The Armenian Quarter
- The Cathedral of St. James: a 12th century cathedral
- St. Toros Church: a church built in memory of the son of the Armenian King of Cilicia in the 1200s, renovated in 1727
- Helen and Edward Mardigian Museum: a museum dedicated to Armenian art and culture
- The Tower of David: an ancient citadel with a museum
- The Armenian Garden: a walled park
The four quarters of the Jerusalem Old City all offer something different, but all are wonderful to explore. You can learn so much, I know I certainly did! The colours, the locals and the biblical sites are all something that will stick in your mind when you get home.
The Jerusalem Old City is also within easy reach of the Mount of Olives. Other things to see in the old city are the Jerusalem Archaeological Park and the New Temple Institute Visitor’s Centre. You can book tours that take you around the old city, I personally love Viator for their range of tours whether you’re already staying in Jerusalem or coming from further afield such as Tel Aviv.
Read also: Visiting Bethlehem: A complete guide
Where to stay in Jerusalem Old City
We based ourselves on the outskirts of Jerusalem in an Airbnb for our trip, because we thought that made a good base for exploring the rest of the country. I was, however, secretly envious of the people that we met who were staying in the Jerusalem Old City. Here are some of the recommendations of accommodation options in the Jerusalem Old City that we were given.
The Sephardic House Hotel is located in the Jewish Quarter the old city. With a 24h front desk, free WiFi, air-conditioning and a shared lounge/games room, the hotel is perfect for modern travellers. There is an airport shuttle service available too! The stunning 19th century building gives the hotel a real sense of authenticity and tradition, and reviews cite the location and breakfast as being absolutely spot on.
Legatia is an older building that has been converted into apartments. Family rooms are available and the accommodation has free WiFi. Close to a variety of amenities such as restaurants and shops, the building also has a terrace for guests to sit back and relax. Again, this accommodation is in the Jewish Quarter. It offers a perfect clash between modern and traditional decor, too.
For a spot of luxury, this apartment – known as a ‘modern pearl in historic setting’ is lovely. With an exceptionally clean and modern look as well as free WiFi, a fully functioning kitchen (meaning the freedom to eat whenever you want) and plenty of seating area, the apartment has it all. It also sleeps six! This means it’s the perfect option for group travellers, or larger families.
If it’s views you’re after, consider the Hashimi Hotel. It’s rooftop terrace offers stunning views across Jerusalem Old City at any time of day, and the interior decor is beautiful too. The hotel has free WiFi and parking reservations can be arranged; there are family rooms, a designated smoking area and a 24h front desk.
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For more options and to check what’s available on your travel tips use the search box below!
So there’s your complete guide to visiting – and staying in – the Jerusalem Old City.