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Israel’s ancient capital is bursting with historic and modern attractions that the whole family will enjoy. From archaeological sites to parks to bustling markets, Jerusalem is a fascinating city that’s full of culture and history.
Getting there with points and miles is doable — especially with the recent announcement that, as of July 1, 2019, you can use your Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles to book El Al flights. Since that’s the case, you may want to start building up your Mileage Plan account with the help of the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card (earn a 40,000-mile welcome bonus after you spend $2,000 on the card in the first 90 days).
There are plenty of family-friendly hotels in the city. Once you’ve booked those, it’s time to start planning what you’ll do when you’re there. This list should help.
Family Fun on the Cheap in Jerusalem
Jerusalem is full of free and super-fun attractions like archaeological sites and parks — plus the Old City can amuse children (and adults) for hours with its many alleys and hidden staircases to explore.
See Sacred Sites and Discover the Old City
Jerusalem’s walled Old City is one of its major highlights, and within it are some of the world’s most sacred places — all of which are free to visit. Divided into four quarters (Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian), the Old City is full of things to discover. The Western Wall (the only remaining part of the Second Temple) is one of Jerusalem’s — and Israel’s — most iconic sites and a holy site for Jews. Walking through the Jewish Quarter of the walled Old City to get to the Western Wall is an adventure in itself, complete with cobblestone streets, narrow alleys and stone courtyards.
Stop at the ancient and well-preserved Roman Cardo (the main street from the Byzantine era, lined with shops) for a snack before walking down the steps to Aish HaTorah Yeshiva, which offers one of the best views of the Western Wall. Be prepared for lots of security at the Wall, but once through the metal detectors, visitors can walk through the plaza and approach it. Just make sure to be aware of the separate areas for men and women and that you are dressed modestly.
Located in the Christian Quarter is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which according to Christian tradition was the site of Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. The modest building has been a place of worship since the 2nd century and the current church dates back to the time of the Crusaders. Today, visitors can see the Calvary (site of crucifixion), the Stone of Unction (marking the spot where Christ’s body was prepared for burial), the Aedicule, which contains the Holy Sepulchre itself, and various chapels.
The Temple Mount is another sacred site, and one that is hotly contested between Jews and Muslims. It may be best to avoid this with children if you’re feeling nervous about safety, but if you do want to see it, enter through the Mughrabi Gate. The gate is only open during certain hours and often has a long line, so be prepared. Visitors must be dressed modestly and no Jewish religious objects (like a prayer book) are allowed. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the Dome of the Rock itself. On your way out of the Muslim Quarter, be sure to walk through the Arab Market for souvenir and handicraft shopping — and remember to negotiate.
Explore Sacher Park
Jerusalem’s largest park is full of outdoor activities. Aside from strolling along the paths or having a picnic, there are two playground areas for children, basketball courts, tennis courts, soccer fields and a skateboarding park.
Get a Panoramic View
Grab your camera and walk up the Mount of Olives — actually a cemetery dating back to Biblical times where many Jewish leaders are buried — for a stunning and sweeping view of Jerusalem and the Old City.
Educational Fun in Jerusalem
Jerusalem is bursting with museums and archaeological sites — it’s almost impossible not to learn something while in this ancient city so full of history.
The largest museum in the country, the Israel Museum houses encyclopedic collections, including the most extensive holdings of biblical and Holy Land archaeology in the world and fine art. The museum has a far-ranging collection of nearly 500,000 objects, including the Dead Sea Scrolls and a model of Jerusalem from the Second Temple Period. There are also sculptures by artists including Auguste Rodin, Pablo Picasso and James Turrell in its Billy Rose Sculpture Garden, which is sure to be a hit with the whole family.
There’s a specific wing dedicated to younger guests, with a yearly rotating exhibit that pulls from the museum’s collection. 2019’s exhibit focuses on the Bauhaus School’s 100th anniversary. Tickets are free for children ages 5 to 17 on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Otherwise, they cost 54 NIS (about $14) for adults, 39 NIS (about $11) for students, and 27 NIS (about $7.50) for children 5 to 17. Children under 5 are always free.
Davidson Center Jerusalem Archaeological Park
Situated adjacent to the Western Wall, the Davidson Center Jerusalem Archaeological Park is one of the largest archaeological sites in the city. Visitors can see displays from the First and Second Temple periods like ancient city walls, the Temple’s staircase, Temple Mount rocks, ritual immersion baths and stores. You can even walk down a preserved ancient street dating back 2,000 years, tracing the footsteps of pilgrims and scholars. There’s also a museum with the site’s most significant findings as well as a 3-D model of Jerusalem to walk around. Tickets cost 29 NIS (about $8) for adults and 15 NIS (about $4) for children.
Time Elevator Museum
A multimedia cinematic experience, the Time Elevator Museum has two different films: Time Elevator Jerusalem, which takes viewers through 3,000 years of the city’s history and features motion-based seating, and I Am Jerusalem, which is a multimedia and multisensory performance about the city. Be aware that children under 5 are not allowed. Tickets are 54 NIS, or about $15, per film.
Jerusalem Botanical Gardens
A 30-acre respite from the city, the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens has over 6,000 plant species displayed in six phyto-geographical sections: Southern Africa, Europe, North America, Australia, Asia and the Mediterranean. The gardens are an ideal way to relax amid greenery and learn something new about nature. Tickets cost 35 NIS, or about $9.50.
Tisch Family Zoological Gardens
Commonly known as the Biblical Zoo, the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens is one of the area’s best attractions. On a 100-acre campus in the Judean Hills just outside the city, the zoo is home to animals from the Biblical period, as well as everything from a Sumatran tiger to giraffes to flamingos. There’s also an aquarium, multiple aviaries, a petting zoo and sculpture park. The visitor’s center is adorably shaped like Noah’s Ark and there’s a zoo train that runs through the park if your feet get tired (it costs 3 NIS, or about 80 cents). Tickets cost 59 NIS (about $16) for adults and 46 NIS (about $12.50) for children ages 3 to 18. Children under 3 are free.
Splurges in Jerusalem
Most activities in Jerusalem won’t break the bank but there are a few splurges that are worthwhile.
Night Spectacular at Tower of David
The Tower of David is a medieval citadel near the Jaffa Gate entrance of the Old City. The citadel is an archaeological site and museum, and it also has a stunning view of the city from the top. But most enjoyable for kids is a state-of-the-art nighttime light and music show projected on the tower’s walls and courtyard. Tickets for adults cost 65 NIS (about $18) and 55 NIS (about $15) for children.
City of David and Hezekiah’s Water Tunnels
King David captured the oldest part of Jerusalem, the City of David, about 3,000 years ago. Today, it’s an active archaeological site that began excavations in 1850. There’s a worthwhile 15-minute 3-D movie at the Visitor’s Center (15 NIS, or about $4) and while the aboveground sites are free, admission to the underground sites, including the highlight of Hezekiah’s Water Tunnels, is 29 NIS, or about $8. Because the tunnels are narrow, wet and dark, we highly recommend touring them with the offered Biblical City Tour, which covers Dr. Mazar’s Palace Excavation, the Royal Acropolis area, Gihon Spring and the tunnels. Be sure to bring appropriate clothing, waterproof shoes and flashlights. The price for the tour is 62 NIS, or about $17.50 for adults, and 46 NIS, or about $13, for children age 5 to 18. There is a 5% discount for advance online purchases of the tour.
Restaurants Kids Will Love
Jerusalem is full of family-friendly restaurants serving a variety of cuisines — plus, the affordable options of a hummus platter or falafel sandwich are available throughout the city. (Make sure you’re getting extra points when you eat by using the right credit card.)
Machane Yehuda Market
To walk through the city’s main outdoor market is to be confronted with intoxicating scents, a cacophony of noises and bursts of color. Hundreds of stalls sell everything from fruits and vegetables to cheese and meat to spices and oils. Some offer ready-to-eat foods like overstuffed pita sandwiches, shawarma and crispy chicken schnitzel, making this an affordable and fun lunch stop. Be sure to save room for dessert: choose from hundreds of halva (a sweet sesame confection) flavors at Halva Kingdom or gooey, chocolate-filled rugelach from Marzipan Bakery. You can also browse non-food items like clothing, kitchen supplies, and cheap souvenirs here — again, don’t forget to bargain! Try to go on Friday morning before Shabbat for a glimpse into typical weekend prep for Jerusalemites.
This Italian restaurant has a menu full of focaccias and pizzas hot from their taboon (clay oven), antipasto and various fishes. The décor is fun (make sure you look up at the umbrella-festooned ceiling) and the atmosphere is casual.
This casual all-vegetarian spot is a buffet — an asset for indecisive kids and their parents. It’s just off the main drag of Jaffa Street and has been a standby for decades. It’s also great for getting takeout to bring back to your hotel.
Captain Burger and Blondie Grilled Cheese Bar
Located inside the old Jerusalem train station, these sister spots are both kid-friendly. Captain Burger makes tasty hamburgers with a variety of toppings. Drink refills are free and the freshly made onion rings are a must-order. Over at Blondie’s, there’s a variety of gooey grilled cheese sandwiches and a craft beer selection for Mom and Dad.
The historical city of Jerusalem will keep you and your family busy for days with its many educational and fun offerings. Expect lots of walking, eating and discovery.
Are you heading to Jerusalem with your family? Here are some related articles:
- 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
Featured photo by sander crombach/Unsplash.
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