By Andrew Sanger | March 2016 | 10 minute read
With its beguiling mix of the historic, biblical and modern, the Israeli capital is a uniquely rewarding city break or an essential component in a larger tour of Israel.
“At over 3,000 years old, Jerusalem has become almost mythical, a metaphor for a spiritual home. For some visitors it comes as quite a surprise to discover that Israel’s capital is no metaphor – it’s a modern city, brimming with life and beautifully placed in the dry Judean Hills of eastern Israel”
ANDREW SANGER, TRAVEL WRITER
Walking city: Downtown Jerusalem is a traffic-free zone, making for a mellow scene of shoppers, busy cafés, entertainment, juice bars, buskers, stalls and boutiques
Ancient stones: Breathe history, passion and piety at the Western Wall, the world’s leading place of Jewish prayer. Beside it are the Western Wall Tunnels and the Archaeological Park
Fortress Jerusalem: Grandest of Old City fortification is the Citadel (or Tower of David), which vividly tells the city’s story and hosts spectacular shows
Good start: All accommodation typically includes an Israeli breakfast of salads and savouries, fresh pastries and egg dishes
On the rock: The iconic landmark, Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount, is an architectural masterpiece – most enjoy it only from the outside as the Islamic authorities do not allow non-Muslims to enter
Scroll down: View the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel Museum, which holds a dizzying spectrum of important art, artefacts and archaeological collections
Get local: The Old City divides into Jewish, Muslim, Armenian and Christian (or Greek) quarters, while Jerusalem’s districts also have their own distinctive appeal, such as hip German Colony, religious Mea Shearim and Arab East Jerusalem
Never forget: Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum and Memorial, is not an ‘easy’ experience but is a must-visit for reasons that stretch beyond a fascination with history
Spiritual path: Tread the Via Dolorosa to the richly-decorated Holy Sepulchre, revered as the location of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Steeped in atmosphere, it attracts millions of pilgrims
Top table: Israel excels in imaginative cuisine served in relaxed, casual settings. Top names are Rachmo for Iraqi dishes, Machneyuda for market-inspired cooking, and Mantra for Mediterranean fine dining
Jerusalem’s sightseeing is breathtaking. Most major sights are within the Old City, a historic district east of the city centre. Majestic gateways pass through its massive ramparts into a tangle of atmospheric lanes and historic buildings – as well as noisy souks, quiet corners, small museums, craft shops and art galleries.
The city's great religious places are the main attraction. Christian pilgrims follow the Via Dolorosa to the Holy Sepulchre. Islam provides the city’s most familiar landmark, the gilded Dome of the Rock, gleaming high on Temple Mount. At the foot of Temple Mount, the immense Western Wall is Judaism’s most important place of prayer.
Non-religious sights are equally fascinating. The Tower of David soars beside fortified Jaffa Gate. Outside the Old City, too, are plenty of must-sees, including the sombre Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and the renowned Israel Museum, housing the Dead Sea Scrolls.
My Jerusalem experience
On an exquisite blue-sky morning so typical of Jerusalem, we walk at a leisurely pace, picking our way up the same uneven steps that Jesus climbed before us, as did prophets, priests and everyone who was anyone in the Jerusalem of Bible times.
You don’t have to be even remotely religious to be awed by following in such footsteps. The Monumental Hulda Staircase was the main entrance to the Holy Temple on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Golden stone steps alternate narrow and broad, forcing the throng of worshippers and pilgrims to pay close attention.
Nowadays, the stairway is blocked by Al-Aqsa mosque, and the Hulda Staircase forms part of the Jerusalem Archaeological Park on the south side of Temple Mount, around the corner from the Western Wall where Jews have stood in prayer ever since their temple was destroyed by a furious Roman Emperor.
It’s been said that ‘the past is another country’, but there are countries where past, present and even future blend together inseparably. That’s definitely Israel – and that’s certainly Jerusalem.
What the experts say
“There is more to Jerusalem than its history. Outside of the Old City walls the city has a vibrant modern atmosphere and offers an exciting mix of restaurants, bars, nightclubs, shopping and art galleries. This year, IGTO is working with the Jerusalem Development Authority, which for the first time has appointed a UK office to implement integrated campaigns in order to educate the travel trade about both the Old City and the new city of Jerusalem.”
“Israel has seen the introduction of even more flight routes from the national carrier, El Al, and easyJet, as well as new airlines entering the market such as Monarch Airlines.
“Throughout 2016, IGTO will continue the development of our online travel training programme, as well as promoting Israel’s capital city through joint ventures with our tour operator partners.”
NAAMA ORYAN KAPLAN, DIRECTOR, ISRAEL GOVERNMENT TOURIST OFFICE, UK AND IRELAND
Accommodation: The latest addition to Jerusalem’s hotel scene is the just-opened Herbert Samuel Hotel Jerusalem, offering stylish and affordable five-star comfort at the intersection of Jaffa Road and Nahalat Shiv’a, one of the most laid-back and agreeable of the pedestrianised downtown areas.
Upmarket hotel chain Isrotel is to open a luxurious new 250-room property at the end of 2016 in the city centre’s buzzing, sophisticated German Colony area, with its plethora of top-quality restaurants, trendy bars and high-end boutiques.
Airlines: With the start of Monarch’s flights from Luton (Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays), a total of four scheduled carriers now fly direct from the UK to Ben Gurion International Airport (between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv). The Monarch service will continue until at least April 2016.
Promotion: Jerusalem Development Authority has appointed a UK representative to work within the IGTO, running agent training and marketing campaigns as well as comprehensive fam trips to Jerusalem. The JDA will also continue working closely with IGTO to assist on UK national campaigns in 2016.
Transport: The quickest way to nip around town is on the Light Rail, a smooth, quiet, state-of-the-art tramway running across Jerusalem. Most useful to visitors is the section along Jaffa Street, while from the Old City to the Downtown Triangle is just two stops.
Festivals: A busy calendar of big-scale annual events and festivals now includes the stunning Festival of Light, May 25-June 5, displaying works in public, outdoor settings by artists whose medium is light itself.
Where to book it
Six nights in Jerusalem with Cox & Kings starts from £1,340pp, including return flights with British Airways from London, private transfers from Tel Aviv airport, four-star accommodation and breakfast daily.
Cyplon has a wide range of Jerusalem hotels and a choice of airlines, starting from £515pp for a week’s B&B at the three-star-deluxe Leonardo Hotel including return flights on Monarch from Luton.
Seven nights B&B at Jerusalem’s three-star boutique Arthur Hotel is priced from £1,089pp with Kirker Holidays, including British Airways flights from London, private transfers and Kirker’s concierge service.