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Jerusalem is one of the holiest cities in the world. A tangle of Jewish, Christian and Muslim neighborhoods, the city is a powerful example of harmony and an important stop during any trip to Israel. After taking a 10-day tour of the nation, we compiled our perfect itinerary for a two-day visit to Jerusalem.
Getting to Jerusalem
It’s easy to get to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport (TLV) — it’s just a 45-minute drive away. It’s possible to do a day trip from Tel Aviv (a one-hour drive) if you don’t want to spend the night there, as you’ll be able to see most of the main attractions in the Old City. But it’d be impossible to cram everything in to just 24 hours, so we recommend spending at least two days.
TPG Tip: You may run into traffic on this route, so be prepared for a longer ride if you head there during peak times.
Where to Stay in Jerusalem
Our team bedded down at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem, which has a beautiful, bright lobby and in-room amenities like Ahava products and Nespresso machines. The hotel lacks a proper gym (it’s currently under construction) and a pool, so if that’s important to you, you might consider the King David Hotel Jerusalem instead. The hotel’s grounds are immaculate, covered with rose bushes and greenery, and the historic property also has a large, inviting swimming pool.
Both properties cost upwards of $500 per night (the Waldorf starts at $515 while the King David is closer to $570) and are available through the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts program. If you have The Platinum Card® from American Express, the Business Platinum® Card from American Express or the Centurion Card you can earn 5x points on prepaid hotels booked when reserving through AmexTravel.com.. By booking through the FHR portal, you’re entitled to benefits such as guaranteed late checkout, a room upgrade when available, daily breakfast for two people and more. (The unique property amenity at the Waldorf is a $100 food and beverage credit, while the King David offers travelers who book through Amex FHR a complimentary dinner for two.)
TPG Tip: It’s important to note that both hotels are Kosher, meaning that on Shabbat (from Friday at sundown to sundown on Saturday) dining options are limited to cold foods and instant coffee. The elevators may also run slower as a few are designated Shabbat elevators that stop at every floor automatically. Offsite, you’ll be able to get breakfast and other meals during Shabbat at many non-Kosher spots.
What to Do in Jerusalem
Jerusalem has so much history and culture, it can be difficult to know where to start. But you’ll want to head first to the Old City. The Western Wall, or the Wailing Wall (also known as the Kotel in Hebrew), is a special place to visit at any time of day — but especially so during sundown, when people come to pray.
The wall, separated into two distinct areas for men and women, is believed to be the holiest site in Judaism. Write your wish on a small piece of paper and slip it into one of the wall’s crevices, always making sure to be respectful of those praying. Plan to wear modest clothing (there are shawls available for women and hats for men, free of charge), and prepare to walk through security upon arrival.
Touring the Kotel tunnels — the underground portion of the Western Wall — is especially interesting. Navigate the subterranean passages as you learn about the history of the wall.
Another highlight is the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, home to the Foundation Stone and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam.
Walking along the Via Dolorosa will take you past all the Stations of the Cross. The final stations end at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, considered one the holiest spots in the world for Christians. It contains the spot where Jesus was said to be crucified as well as his empty tomb.
Exploring the different quarters of the city will also give you a feel for all the different cultures that coexist here, so make sure to walk through the Jewish Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Muslim Quarter and the Armenian Quarter.
Beyond the walls of the Old City, visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. The 45-acre campus includes the Holocaust History Museum, the Museum of Holocaust Art, the Hall of Remembrance, outdoor memorials, sculptures and more. It’s a powerful and incredibly somber experience, but one no traveler should skip.
End your visit with a trip to the Mount of Olives, which offers beautiful panoramic views of the city. The hill, which was once covered in olive trees, has more than just views. A long history of biblical events are said to have happened here.
TPG Tip: Make sure to reserve your tour of the Kotel Tunnels in advance, as they only operate with pre-booked tours and slots fill up quickly. Note that the Temple Mount is closed to tourists on Fridays, Saturdays and during Muslim holidays. Arriving at the other attractions, like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, early in the morning will ensure you beat the crowds and the heat.
Where to Eat in Jerusalem
Israeli food is absolutely delicious, and there are great spots all over Jerusalem where you can enjoy the cuisine. For breakfast, go to Café Kadosh where you can find classic shakshuka (a savory baked tomato-and-egg dish) and sugary pastries.
Not only is the Machane Yehuda market an amazing place to wander around, snap photos and little bites along the way, but it’s also home to some seriously awesome, no-frills restaurants like Azoura for hummus or Rachmo for Kurdish food — just be prepared to wait in line.
For a chic dinner, head to Mona. The eclectic cocktails and farm-to-table cuisine will wow you, and the patio is perfect for an intimate gathering.
TPG Tip: Eat as much as possible, and try everything at the market. We promise, you won’t regret it.
Featured image of spices at the Machane Yehuda market by Nicky Kelvin.
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