Sunday night marks the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, so for today’s Destination of the Week, we decided to cover the Holy Land and the millenniums-old city of Jerusalem.
WHAT TO DO
Plan ahead, because a city that’s been around for thousands of years like Jerusalem is going to have a lot of interesting things to see and do.
Most of what you’ll want to visit is within the Old City, surrounded by its picturesque limestone walls. Here visitors will find some of the world’s most famous religious sites including the Temple Mount, upon which sits the Dome of the Rock, a 7th-century Islamic holy place that supposedly sits upon the spot where Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac and where Muhammad ascended to heaven. The shrine is instantly recognizable by its golden dome and gorgeous tile work decorating the octagonal structure.
The Al Aqsa Mosque is the third most important mosque in the Islamic world (after the mosques in Mecca and Medina) and is on the Temple Mount, as is Judaism’s most revered site, the Western Wall, which is the last remnant of the Second Temple dating back to Roman times (not actually part of the Temple, the wall was a buttress to support the raised earthen platform upon which the structure sat).
Nearby is one of Christianity’s holiest sites, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which sits upon the Hill of Calvary, or Golgotha, where Christ was said to be crucified, and which was built by the Crusaders to hold Christ’s tomb. This lies along the Via Dolorosa, or “Way of Sorrows,” with its 14 Stations of the Cross in the city’s Christian Quarter.
Stop by the citadel-minaret called the Tower of David and wander the surrounding Jewish Quarter, then stroll down ancient David Street and Jerusalem’s lively souks running from the famous Damascus Gate all the way to the Via Dolorosa in the Muslim Quarter. For a fascinating look at daily life around the start of the first millennium, visit the Katros House, or “burnt house” museum, which contains the well-preserved excavated remnants of a house from around 70 CE when the Romans sacked the city.
One great way to get your bearings is to walk along the beautiful city walls, which were actually built in the 16th century by the Ottomans, starting at the Jaffa Gate. Nighttime tours are a popular way to experience this side of the city.
The Jaffa Gate leads to the main Jewish section of town along Jaffa Road, filled with shops and cafes, while on the east side of the city, visitors can seek out a moment of tranquility among the groves dotting the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.
The City of David (it’s outside the Old City walls near the colorfully named Dung Gate) is an underground archaeological site with excavated battlements, passageways, cisterns and waterways that ends at a spring that fed the city its freshwater in ancient times dating to 1,000 BCE. Nearby is the Cardo, a reconstruction of one of the city’s main streets from Roman times in the heart of the Jewish Quarter.
To get a sense of the city’s history, the Jerusalem Time Elevator museum is supposed to be a fantastic multi-media exhibit that takes visitors from the time of Abraham up until the establishment of the state of Israel as it explores and explains this fascinating city’s history.
Two must-stop museums include the Israel Museum, which houses an unparalleled collection of archaeological artifacts from the region as well as collections of Jewish art, modern and contemporary works, a scale model of the Second Temple, and a hall housing the Dead Sea Scrolls; and the nearby, gleaming Bible Lands Museum, which explores the cultures of the various peoples mentioned in the Bible including the Canaanites, Philistines, Phoenicians, Persians and ancient Egyptians. Both museums offer evening concert series that you should check out while you’re here.
Of course, Jerusalem is also a thriving modern city which began to morph into its present existence in the 19th century, so be sure to explore some of the New City like the German Colony, which is filled with trendy shops and buildings.
The Holocaust memorial and museum of Yad Vashem is also located in the New City and is worth a stop on any itinerary to commemorate the traumatic events of the mid-20th century.
Many visitors use Jerusalem as their base for visiting some of the country’s other famous sights like the Dead Sea, the bucolic oasis of Ein Gedi, the mountain-top fortress of Masada where the Jewish rebellion against the Romans ended disastrously, and the Qumran caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.
Whether you have a day or a week to spend in Jerusalem, your schedule will be jam-packed with interesting things to see and do.
The main airport in Israel is Ben Gurion International Airport which is located in Tel Aviv. El Al is the primary carrier and offers non-stop service to New York-JFK, Newark and Los Angeles. When it comes to U.S. carriers, Delta offers non-stop service to New York-JFK starting at 80,000 miles in economy or 120,000 miles in business class roundtrip, and United flies to Newark, and one-way awards start at 40,000 miles in economy and 60,000 miles in business. US Airways also has direct flights to Philadelphia, so Star Alliance flyers should be covered with those as well as partners like Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines. SkyTeam flyers can also travel via Paris on Air France Those looking to burn some Oneworld miles can transit through London and continue on to Tel Aviv on British Airways – the flight from London requires 12,500 Avios each way.
One of the easiest, cheapest ways to get from the airport to Jerusalem is to take a “sherut” shared taxi mini-van. The ride takes about an hour and costs around $20. You can also hire a private shuttle like Israel Airport Shuttle for about $15-30 per person depending on how many people and the destination. Taxis will run you about $50 per person depending on the number of passengers and luggage. Another option is to take the train – though it’s a bit complicated. You have to take a train from the airport to Tel Aviv’s HaHagana station and change trains there to get to Jerusalem’s Malha station then catch a taxi to your hotel from there. It takes between 90 minutes and 2.5 hours and one-way adult fares are about $5. Visit Israel Railway network for more information.
Though a major tourist destination, Jerusalem is a little light on points hotels. However, Priority Club members will find several options, and there’s a Waldorf Astoria coming to town next year. We’ve also included some mentions of hotels in Tel Aviv (which we’ll cover in a future Destination of the Week) since you’ll likely pass through the city and spend a few days there on either end of your trip.
Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem: Scheduled to open in August 2013, this hotel will feature 223 guest rooms and suites as well as 30 private residences. When it comes to accommodations, Heritage Guest Rooms will be located on the first to third floor of the main building, while the Tower Guest Rooms will occupy the newly constructed tower building. The hotel will contain a Mediterranean restaurant. There will also be two full-service spas featuring swimming pools, changing areas and wet & dry saunas and a gym. Reservations are not yet being accepted at this time, but expect to need 50,000 HHonors points for a free night.
There is also the 560 guest room Hilton Tel Aviv which is a Category 7 property requiring 50,000 Hilton Hhonors points for a free night.
InterContinental Bethlehem: Guest rooms feature classic-style decor and offer private balconies and wireless internet access. The hotel has a club level with private club lounge for guests to enjoy light meals throughout the day. The hotel features billiards, tennis, an outdoor heated pool and fully equipped health club with steam room and sauna. Dining options include the Zaitouneh restaurant specializing in authentic Lebanese cuisine. Other dining outlets include the Baidar restaurant as well as the Aresheh Palace. Rates in September start at $157 a night, or 30,000 points.
InterContinental Jericho: This hotel features 181 guest rooms including 14 suites and all rooms offer complimentary daily breakfast. The Intercontinental Jericho offers several amenities including a beauty salon, kids club, business center, two swimming pools – including one that’s even filled with health-conferring water from the Dead Sea – and a children’s swimming pool. There is a Jacuzzi, sauna and steam room, Turkish bath, squash, tennis and basketball courts. There are many restaurants on the property and most feature local Lebanese cuisine. Rates in September start at $115 a night, however there was no reward night availability.
Crowne Plaza Jerusalem: This hotel is located near the International Congress Center and offers 397 rooms and suites including club level accommodations with access to the club lounge. There is free WiFi throughout the property. The hotel features a fitness center, sauna, treatment rooms, tennis courts, and indoor swimming pool. There are three restaurants on-site including the hotel’s dine dining restaurant, Kohinor. Rates in September start at $180 per night or 25,000 Priority Club points per night.
Other Priority Club properties located in Tel Aviv include the InterContinental David Tel Aviv, Crowne Plaza Tel Aviv, Crowne Plaza Tel Aviv City Center, and there is a Hotel Indigo Tel Aviv opening in 2013.
The King David: Originally built in the 1920’s and opened in 1930, the historic six-story King David Hotel lies on the border between the Old and New Cities and is Jerusalem’s premier landmark hotel. It has gorgeous private gardens, colonial-style public rooms and guest rooms that blend Old World elegance with Middle Eastern touches. The public areas have recently been redone with an element that recalls Art Deco’s romanticized Egyptian aesthetic. There are 233 guest rooms and suites total. Standard rooms start at about 300 square feet, and suites range up to nearly 2,000 square feet. They include air conditioning, cable TV, WiFi (for a charge) minibar, LCD flatscreens and tiled bathrooms. Ask for one facing the Old City for the quintessential Jerusalem experience. The hotel has 4 bars and restaurants including the alfresco King’s Garden overlooking the hotel’s gardens and iconic pool, the Oriental Bar with its collection of fine scotch whiskies, a poolside snack bar, and the upscale La Regence Grill Room, one of the city’s fanciest restaurants, where the menu is a nouvelle twist on traditional Middle Eastern Cuisine. The hotel also contains a small fitness room and spa. Rates in September start at $720 per night.
Dan Panorama Jerusalem: Just around the corner from the King David, its slightly less luxe sister hotel is constructed in typical gold-colored Jerusalem stone across the street from one of the city’s beautiful parks. The hotel has 292 rooms and suites, which start at a mere 165 square feet – so be sure to ask what the dimensions are before booking! The hotel has three restaurants and bars plus a snack bar by the rooftop pool, which is open from April-October, as well as a fitness room and spa treatments available. Rooms here start at $256 in September.
Tel Aviv Suggestions
Members of other points programs should consider the following properties in Tel Aviv so that you can pay for at least part of your trip using those hard-earned points.
Sheraton Tel Aviv: This is a 325-room property right on Tel Aviv’s wide, sandy Mediterranean beaches. Rates in September start at $250, but this is also a Category 5 requiring 12,000-16,000 Starpoints per night.
Renaissance Tel Aviv: This Marriott group hotel is located directly on the beach as well as close by the city center. Rates in September start at $255 a night, or 30,000 Marriott Rewards points since this is a Category 6 hotel.
The Park Plaza Orchid: This Club Carlson Hotel has great views of the Mediterranean and Tel Aviv’s beachside promenade, a lobby bar and an executive lounge, and offers free WiFi throughout. Rates in September start at $190 or 44,000 Club Carlson Gold points.
Crowne Plaza Tel Aviv City Center: This Priority Club Hotel located in the business district has rates in September starting at $171. This is also a Category 5 requiring 25,000 Priority Club points per night or Points and Cash options of either 20,000 points and $40 per night or 15,000 points and $70 per night.