Planning a Family Trip to Jerusalem
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Jerusalem’s intricate history, going back thousands of years, makes this city a must-see destination for the whole family. Kids can explore the Western Wall tunnels, the Arab Quarter market and the archaeological wonder that is the City of David. You can also get a feel for modern life in Israel’s capital city at the bustling Machane Yehuda market, the botanical gardens and the Biblical Zoo. Jerusalem is hilly, so bring a lightweight stroller for toddlers who tire easily from lots of walking — but leave the stroller at your hotel when you head to the Old City, which is full of cobblestones and lots of steps. (Here are the best strollers for travel and a review of what TPG calls “the ultimate travel stroller.”)
How to Get There
Jerusalem is 35 miles from Israel’s largest airport Ben-Gurion Airport (TLV). Once you land, you can take the new 20-minute high-speed train to Yitzhak Navon Station in Jerusalem, an hourly shuttle bus (Bus 485) that takes about an hour, or a taxi, which can take between 40 to 60 minutes, depending on traffic. Uber is available, but the app connects you to a local taxi. Uber’s private car service was banned in 2017 and Lyft is not available here. Locals prefer the Gett app for ordering taxis, which are more reliable than Uber.
Ben-Gurion Airport is Israel’s main airport (It served approximately 23 million passengers in 2018.) and there are numerous nonstop flights from many destinations in the US.
El Al Israel Airlines
Israel’s own El Al Airlines currently flies nonstop from New York (JFK), Boston (BOS), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA) and has a newly launched service from San Francisco (SFO). In June 2019, it will begin service from Las Vegas (LAS), and in 2020, after a 13-year hiatus, service will resume from Chicago (ORD). For many of the routes, the airline is replacing its aging aircraft with recently purchased new 787-8 Dreamliners.
El Al has its own loyalty program called Matmid. The only current US transfer partner is American Express Membership Rewards (1,000 Membership Rewards points to 20 Matmid points). Earn Membership Rewards points with cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express or American Express® Gold Card. Another option is to transfer Citi ThankYou points from a card like the Citi Premier® Card to Qantas, an El Al partner. Alaska Airlines just announced a new partnership with El Al starting in July 2019. You can only earn Alaska Airlines miles by flying revenue fares on El Al.
Delta Air Lines
Delta flies nonstop to Tel Aviv from New York–JFK and, starting in June 2019, will increase the frequency to twice a day. Economy fares typically cost 85,000 Delta SkyMiles round-trip (plus $87 for taxes/fees) and business-class seats are double at 170,000 Delta SkyMiles round-trip (plus $110 for taxes/fees).
A workaround is to use Air France Flying Blue miles and book the same economy-class seat for about 58,000 miles. Air France Flying Blue is a transfer partner with both Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. The only problem is that availability is not nearly as good as booking directly with Delta. Earn Ultimate Rewards points with cards like Chase Freedom (No longer open to new applicants), Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Because neither Delta SkyMiles nor Air France Flying Blue have published award charts anymore, the number of miles needed to redeem for a free flight can definitely vary. For upcoming travel or peak travel dates in the near future, you’ll most likely be looking at a much higher number of miles.
United Airlines flies nonstop from three destinations within the US: Newark (EWR), San Francisco (SFO) and their latest addition, Washington-Dulles (IAD). An economy-class seat on United costs 85,000 MileagePlus miles, similar to Delta, although the taxes/fees are slightly less on United at $49. If you’re a United MileagePlus member, who also holds a United cobranded credit card, such as the United Explorer Card, you can get access to a wider inventory of award flights. Make sure you are logged in to your United account before searching for availability.
You can also use ANA Mileage Club miles since its award chart only charges 65,000 miles for an economy-class ticket round-trip. (Or, if you are looking to splurge, you can use 104,000 miles for business class.) ANA Mileage Club is a 1:1 transfer partner with American Express Membership Rewards, so redeeming miles in the program can be quite easy.
If you are flying from a city within the US that doesn’t have a nonstop option to Tel Aviv, or if you are OK with a layover, you have the option of flying through Europe and Canada. This opens up many more opportunities to use your reward points from the major alliance groups, such as Swiss Air, Air Canada and British Airways.
The Old City is a highlight and it’s worth spending time wandering through its meandering cobblestone streets and narrow alleys. It is home to religious icons such as the Western Wall, Dome of the Rock, and Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the vibrant Arab market and countless museums, cafes and shops.
West Jerusalem’s City Center is the heart of the modern city, packed with hotels, restaurants, bars, shops and the famous Machane Yehuda market. It’s home to the bustling Zion Square, Ben-Yehuda Street, Jaffa Road, King George Street and King David Street — all of which you will undoubtedly find yourself on at various times during your visit. Nachlaot is the neighborhood next to the market and has winding narrow streets and alleys where hip cafes and boutiques have sprung up in recent years.
The charming tree-lined streets along the German Colony enhance upscale restaurants and boutiques mostly along the main drag of Emek Refaim Street. The name dates back to the German Templers, who settled here in the late 1800s. The architecture has Ottoman, Bauhaus and Templer influences in the mansions (now often apartment buildings) and buildings.
Yemin Moshe is one of the most beautiful and historic neighborhoods in all of Israel, and worth strolling through on a sunny day. Constructed in the 1890s of Jerusalem stone by Moses Montefiore, the houses built there were the first Jewish properties outside the Old City. The neighborhood expanded from there, and its landmark, the Montefiore Windmill, still stands amid the trellises of bougainvillea and the cobblestone streets.
Best Points Hotels in Jerusalem for Families
Jerusalem isn’t packed with points hotels, but there are some good places to consider.
Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem
Definitely Jerusalem’s best points-bookable hotel, the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem is just outside the Jaffa Gate of the Old City. One of Israel’s most luxurious hotels, it opened as the Palace Hotel in 1929. Today, there are 10 floors, 197 rooms, 29 suites, and three restaurants thanks to a 2014 redesign by Turkish architect Sinan Kafadar, who restored the Moorish and Roman interior. Rooms are spacious, and all (very large) bathrooms feature heated marble floors, soaking bathtubs and shower stalls. There are many connecting rooms available as well.
Rooms starts at 90k Hilton Honors rewards points per night. There is maximum of three guests for a standard room with one king bed or two twin beds. Also, when using your Hilton Honors points, if you have any sort of Hilton status, you’ll receive your fifth night free.
Fortunately, earning status is quite easy since Hilton Silver status automatically comes with the no-annual-fee Hilton Honors American Express Card (see rates & fees). Find out which Hilton cobranded credit card is best for families.
Ibis Styles Jerusalem
Right in the thick of busy Ben Yehuda Street in the City Center, Ibis Styles Jerusalem debuted in 2018 as an affordable and stylish family option, thanks to family rooms and family suites that accommodate four people. The family room has one double bed and one pull-out double sofa; the family suite has two bedrooms (one with a double bed and one with two twins and even has a balcony). Smaller standard and superior rooms are also available. There’s a lobby bar, which offers a complimentary happy hour every evening, and a restaurant serving three Mediterranean-style meals a day.
Use your Le Club Accor reward points to deduct in 40 euro (2,000 points) increments from the price.
Crowne Plaza Jerusalem
Currently undergoing renovations to its lobby, Crowne Plaza Jerusalem is located near the Israel Museum and has solid amenities like indoor and outdoor pools, a fitness center and free self-parking. Rooms and suites (including a two-bedroom option) were recently redone and feature modern furnishings and a chic design.
This hotel starts at 20,000 IHG Rewards Club points, but usually only standard rooms are available to book with points (which fit two guests). Remember, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to IHG points at a rate of 1:1 and your fourth night is free if you have the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card. There are also many opportunities to purchase IHG points to top off your account, if needed.
TRYP Wyndham Jerusalem Bat Sheva
The TRYP Wyndham Jerusalem Bat Sheva debuted in 2017, near the Gan HaAtsmaut park west of the Old City. There are 79 contemporary rooms, a rooftop lounge, buffet breakfast and a gym. Unfortunately, the maximum capacity for rooms is two adults so if you have small children, who can’t be in their own room, this hotel might not work for you.
This hotel costs 7,500 Wyndham Rewards points (Go Free) or you can spend 1,500 points to combine with cash (Go Fast).
Although there are not a ton of points options in Jerusalem, the city is full of other hotels from Israeli brands (including some that are extremely luxurious and well regarded) as well as some apartment rental options. A few family favorites include the iconic and historic (it hosted dozens of heads of state and presidents over the years) King David Jerusalem Hotel, part of the Israeli Dan Hotels chain. It’s also a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, which does have a points-based loyalty program.
The Inbal is popular among families because of its central location and a variety of connecting rooms, family rooms, and family suites with two bedrooms and a living room that come with Executive Lounge access. David Citadel Jerusalem is a luxury hotel with epic views of the Old City with large rooms, balconies and a stunning pool. If an apartment is more your speed, Check In Jerusalem offers a variety of comfortable rental options that can accommodate up to four people.
You might not be able to use your traditional hotel points at these properties, but this is the perfect opportunity to redeem your miles earned from the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. The card allows you to “erase” travel purchases on your credit card statement using previously earned points. You could also book through Hotels.com Venture to get 10X miles on your Capital One Venture card through Jan. 31, 2020 in addition to earning in Hotels.com’s program.
When to Go
Jerusalem enjoys good weather year-round, but spring and fall are the most pleasant. Summer can get brutally hot; and winter can get chilly, especially at night — it even occasionally snows. Check the calendar for Jewish holidays like Passover, Sukkot and the High Holy Days, as prices will often be much higher and it will be near-impossible to redeem points and frequent flyer miles (but it is a sight to see Jews from around the city gather at the Wailing Wall on these holidays). Some services, shops and restaurants will be closed on holidays, and on Passover, many restaurants will not be serving their regular menus (no leavened bread or pasta, for example). Israel Independence Day, or Yom Haatzmaut, is in May, when you can expect the city to be in full celebration mode.
Because Israel celebrates Shabbat every Friday evening to Saturday night, Israel’s weekend is Friday and Saturday, with Sunday being a regular workday. Many attractions and restaurants might be closed on Friday afternoon and evening and Saturday during the day, so be sure to check opening and closing times carefully. Buses and trains do not run during Shabbat and getting a taxi can be difficult.
Language and Currency
The main language of Jerusalem, as well as the rest of Israel, is Hebrew. With that being said, many people converse well in English, especially in Jerusalem. The currency in Israel is the New Israeli Shekel (NIS). Currently, $1 equals approximately 3.5 shekels.
Jerusalem has a fascinating history and seeing it firsthand is a unique and memorable experience. Families and children are everywhere and it’s easy to get around and explore. Jerusalem is also a great jumping off point to explore the rest of Israel — it’s about an hour’s drive to Tel Aviv and Haifa to the north and the Dead Sea region to the south are only 90 minutes away.
Here are some more travel tips for visiting Israel:
- 12 Mistakes Most Tourists Make in Israel
- How to Get to Israel Using Points and Miles
- Jerusalem’s 10 Best Kept Secrets
- 9 of the Most Instagrammable Places in Jerusalem
- 5 Reasons to Visit Jerusalem Any Time of Year
- 10 Foods to Bring Back from Your Travels in Israel
- 8 Things Every Traveler Should Do in Israel
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