Home » 3 Days in Jerusalem: The Classic Itinerary for First Timers

3 Days in Jerusalem: The Classic Itinerary for First Timers

by backpackisrael
34 minutes read
Dome of the Rock and Mount of Olives

Jerusalem is the most popular destination in Israel. You’ll probably go there if it’s your first time in Israel. Some people come for a day trip from Tel Aviv, but I recommend staying in Jerusalem for at least 3 days. This way, you will have enough time to thoroughly explore the Old City and its surroundings, some great museums, and the city center. So… here’s a classic itinerary for 3 days in Jerusalem.

Note that this itinerary is only a suggestion, so feel free to change it based on your interests, schedule, and pace. 

Recommended read >> Full guide to Jerusalem

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through the links, at no extra cost to you. These links help me keep the website alive and not depend on sponsors! Thank you in advance.

Some things to consider when planning your trip to Jerusalem

  • Some sites are closed on Shabbat, from Friday afternoon to Sunday. Yes, it could be an interesting experience to be in Jerusalem on Shabbat, but if you’re more into sightseeing, I recommend avoiding visiting Jerusalem on Shabbat because most sites, restaurants, and shops are closed. If you are coming on Shabbat, please make sure that the sites you want to visit are open. If they aren’t, you can change your plan accordingly. 
  • Make sure to take the weather into account. It’s always good to check the weather. If you’re traveling in the hot season, usually from the end of May to September, you might want to change the order of the sites so that you’ll be in an indoor place during the hot hours of the afternoon. If you’re traveling when there might be rain, usually from December to March, make a plan B in case there’s rain. Check out my ultimate packing list for the different seasons
  • Make sure to pick a good place to stay. Read my guide to where to stay in Jerusalem for relevant tips. 
  • To avoid the terrible traffic in Jerusalem, use public transportation. Check out my guide to getting around in Jerusalem for more info.
  • This itinerary does not include the Temple Mount. Visiting Temple Mount requires extra planning because it is open only at specific times of the day and may get closed without prior notice due to security reasons. In the winter, it’s open from Sunday to Thursday between 7 AM and 10:30 AM and between 12:30 and 1:30 PM. In the summer, it’s open between 7:30 and 11 AM and between 1:30 and 2:30 PM. It’s located in the Old City, next to the Western Wall. If you want to incorporate it into your plan, make sure to get there on time. 
  • This itinerary does not include night activities. Check out my guide to what to do in Jerusalem at night for ideas. 

Day 1: Tower of David Museum – The City of David – The Old City 

The Old City of Jerusalem is the most popular destination in the city and for a good reason. So, I recommend beginning your trip to Jerusalem in its Old City, where the city began. One of the best ways to tour the Old City is by joining a guided tour or, even better, hiring a private guide. But in this itinerary, I’ll give you my recommendations for an independent tour without a guide.

Stop #1: The Tower of David Museum

If you plan to tour the Old City of Jerusalem on your own, I recommend beginning your trip at the Tower of David Museum. This newly renovated museum will offer an excellent introduction to what you will see in Jerusalem, specifically in the Old City.

The Tower of David Museum stands right next to Jaffa Gate, one of the main entrances to the Old City. It’s located inside the Tower of David, an important landmark in Jerusalem. This is where King Herod built his palace in the 1st century BCE, and later, it was the location of fortresses that protected the city from unwanted visitors. When the British were here in the early 20th century, they turned it into an art gallery. Then, the Jordanians came in 1948 and turned it back into a military position. After Israel took control of the Old City in 1967, it again turned into a museum in 1989.

Once you get your tickets, you enter into the first exhibition, which focuses on the history of Jerusalem. In this exhibition, there are several archeological findings, each telling about a different time in the history of Jerusalem. You can also learn more about each period through interactive touch screens, which show how the city evolved and the main events connected to that time.

Other exhibitions in the museum talk about the three Abrahamic religions in Jerusalem and their connection to the city, the history of the Tower of David itself, and the history of Jerusalem from the 19th century until today.

At the end of your visit, I recommend climbing up to the top of the Phasael Tower for a fantastic 360-degree view of Jerusalem’s old and new city. There are some stairs to the top, so it’s not entirely accessible.

How to get to the Tower of David? As mentioned, the Tower of David Museum is located next to the Jaffa Gate. There are many hotels near the Old City, so if you’re staying in one of them, you can reach it on foot. If you’re farther away, you can use the light train, get off at the “City Hall” station, and walk about 10 minutes to the gate.

How much time does it take? It takes about 2-3 hours to visit the museum. I recommend coming at the opening time so you can see as much as possible on this day.

For opening hours and ticket rates, check out the official website of the Tower of David Museum.

Inside the Tower of David
Inside the Tower of David Museum

Stop #2: The City of David

After visiting the Tower of David Museum, you can make your way to the City of David, the most ancient part of the city, which is today an archeological site. The City of David is most probably where the city began more than 4,000 years ago, even before King David came and captured it in the 10th century BCE. It sits on the southeastern hill of Jerusalem, with the Kidron Valley and the Mount of Olives to its east.

The first part of the City of David is outdoors. It includes the remains of the city from the time of the First Temple, which was destroyed in 586 BCE by the Babylonians. You can see the remains of a monumental structure that might have been King David’s palace and the remains of wealthy houses in Area G. One of those houses even has a toilet seat next to it, a real sign of luxury!

After passing through those archeological remains, you get to the highlight of the City of David – the underground water system, Warren’s Shaft, probably the most impressive ancient water system in Israel! You climb down a set of stairs, walk through an underground tunnel, and reach a huge fortress standing on Jerusalem’s ancient water source, the Gichon Spring. Then, you can either walk in a dry tunnel out of the water system or in Hezekiah’s Tunnel, which is filled with flowing water that can reach up to 70 centimeters high. If you’re traveling with kids or if it’s really hot outside, I recommend walking in the wet tunnel. Hezekiah’s Tunnel is about half a kilometer long. It will take you all the way to the Siloam Pool, one of the pools that was used by the Jewish pilgrims on their way to the Holy Temple.

From the Siloam Pool, you can either walk up to the entrance via the drainage tunnel or take a shuttle back. There’s a City of David representative next to the Siloam Pool, who you can ask about the shuttle. Usually, there’s a shuttle every 10 minutes or so, costing around 7 ILS per person.

How to get to the City of David? Exit the Tower of David museum through its eastern gate, then turn right onto the Armenian Patriarchate Street. Continue on this street through the Armenian Quarter for about 450 meters until you see Zion Gate to your right. Exit through Zion Gate, turn left, and walk down the path to the City of David. You’ll see the City of David to your right after about 700 meters. The whole walk takes about 20 minutes.

How much time does it take? About 2 to 3 hours, depending on your pace and interest level.

For opening hours and ticket rates, check out the official website of the City of David.

City of David entrance

Stop #3: The Old City

It’s not exactly a stop because there are a lot of things to see in the Old City. You’ll actually pass through part of it on your way to the City of David. But yes, after the City of David, you can continue touring around the Old City. I recommend starting at the Western Wall, which is very close to the City of David, and then continuing from there.

Here are some of the main sites to see in the Old City, and you can choose which ones to see based on your interests:

  • The Western Wall – This is the last remnant of the Temple Mount complex. Some see it as the holiest site of Judaism, while others see it as the second holiest site after the Temple Mount. The Western Wall was one of the four retaining walls that supported the platform on which the Second Temple stood until it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Today, people come here to pray and leave wishes on notes between the Western Wall stones. 
  • The Jerusalem Archeological Park – Next to the Western Wall, this park includes the Hulda Gates, the Southern Steps, and the fallen stones dating from the Second Temple’s destruction. They also have a new visitor center that shows some interesting archeological finds and tells about the importance of Jerusalem. You can see a lot of the park from outside it, so you don’t really have to visit, but if you want to walk on the Southern Steps, the steps on which Jewish pilgrims walked up to the Temple Mount, you can go inside. For opening hours and ticket rates, check out the official website of the Jerusalem Archeological Park
  • The Via Dolorosa – According to Christian tradition, this is the route Jesus took to the crucifixion point. Read more about it in my full guide to the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. 
  • The Church of the Holy Sepulchre – The most important Christian site in Jerusalem, this is believed by many Christians to be the place of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Read more about it in my full guide to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
  • The Old City Market – The Old City Market spans the Muslim and Christian Quarters and is full of shops selling various souvenirs. Don’t forget to bargain and bargain hard. 
  • The Jewish Quarter – The Jewish Quarter is where you can find the beautiful Roman Cardo, the Hurva Synagogue, the Four Sephardic Synagogues, and other fascinating sites. Most of the sites require an entrance fee. You might be interested in this deal, which offers 25% off three sites in the Jewish Quarter as long as you visit them in one day. 

Note that you will probably not be able to see all those sites on this day since the Tower of David and the City of David will take about half of your day if not more. But you will definitely be able to get a good sense of the Old City, and if needed, you can always combine some more time in the Old City on your two other days.

View of the Old City of Jerusalem from the Tower of David
The Old City from above

Where to eat lunch on your first day in Jerusalem?

In my opinion, the best food is in the Muslim Quarter. Two recommended places to eat are Hummus Lina and Arafat Hummus.

If you’re looking for Kosher food in the Old City, you can find good restaurants in the Jewish Quarter. However, they are more touristic than other places. One restaurant that I usually stop at is the Courtyard in the Quarter, where they serve kebab, falafel, and other things in a pita or without a pita.

Want a private tour of the Old City?

As I said, one of the best ways to explore the Old City is with a private tour guide. I’m Lior, a certified tour guide in Jerusalem, and I would be happy to show you around and tell you the city’s stories. Feel free to contact me at [email protected] for a price offer or contact me here

Lior - tour guide in Jerusalem

Day 2: Yad Vashem – Machane Yehuda Market – Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods – Shopping in the City Center 

I recommend starting your second day in Jerusalem at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum, and then continuing to Jerusalem’s city center, where you can experience the more modern side of the city.

Stop #1: Yad Vashem

Start your day at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, and visit its Holocaust Museum. The museum tells the story of the Holocaust in chronological order, from the rise of the Nazi Party, through the concentration and extermination camps, to the establishment of the State of Israel. It focuses not only on the horrors and the 6 million Jewish victims – and other victims – of the Holocaust, but also on those who reached out and helped, many times while risking their own lives. You’ll see video testimonies of survivors and original items and documents.

There are many explanation signs throughout the museum, so you can tour it on your own. At an additional fee, you can also get an audio guide at the entrance. The entrance is free of charge, but you have to book your visit in advance through the Yad Vashem website. They usually do not allow people to enter if they don’t have a pre-booked time slot.  

After visiting the museum, you can stroll around the vast grounds of Yad Vashem, which include many different memorials in honor of the Holocaust victims and survivors. One of the most moving is the Children’s Memorial, where you walk in a dark space, surrounded by the reflections of candles, and hear the names of children who were murdered in the Holocaust. Around 1.2 million Jewish children were murdered.

How to get to Yad Vashem? Take the light train to “Mount Herzl” station and then walk about 10 minutes to Yad Vashem.

How much time does it take? About 2 hours. I’ve seen people who spent even 3 hours in the museum. So, it really depends on your interest level and if you would like to stop and read all the explanation signs.

For opening hours and ticket rates, check out the official website of Yad Vashem.  

Stop #2: The Machane Yehuda Market (the “Shuk”) 

I recommend planning your visit to Yad Vashem so that you will end it just in time for lunch. Then, you can go to the Machane Yehuda Market and experience Jerusalem’s biggest market. In the market, you can find shops, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, meat, nuts, and many more. Soak the ambiance and then settle down to eat in one of the restaurants. Some recommended places include Aricha SabichJahnun Bar, and Azura. For more ideas, you can read my post about the best places to eat in Jerusalem.

Alternatively, you can book a culinary tour in the Machane Yehuda Market and let your guide take you to some of the best spots in the Shuk.  

How to get to the market? Take the light train from “Mount Herzl” station to “Machane Yehuda” station.

How much time does it take? You can spend around 1 or 2 hours in the market, depending on what you do there.

People walking in the Machane Yehuda Market
The open-air part of the Machane Yehuda Market

Stop #3: The Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods

Across the road from Machane Yehuda Market are the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem. I often recommend tourists to go there before or after the market because it’s so close, yet it feels like a whole different world. Unlike other areas in Jerusalem, you’ll see that most people here are dressed in black and white and that the women are dressed in long skirts and long shirts. You may also notice that there are no real restaurants, only shops that sell pre-prepared food and mostly Ashkenazi food. The shops are also different. The book shops, for example, sell mainly religious books. Even the children have books that focus on Biblical stories and Jewish sages.

A great way to experience this area of Jerusalem is by joining a guided tour, such as Abraham Tours’ Meet the Ultra-Orthodox Jews Tour. The guided tours usually provide deeper insight into the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. But if you want to wander around on your own, I recommend walking on Malkei Israel Street, which is the heart of the Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem, and exploring its surroundings. Make sure to dress modestly with long pants or a skirt and long-sleeved shirts, or at least shirts that cover the shoulders. Learn more about what to wear in Jerusalem.

An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish man standing next to a genizah
A genizah in one of the Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods

Stop #4: Shopping in the City Center

At the end of the day, you can spend time walking around the city center. I wrote “shopping,” but you don’t have to shop. You can just walk and observe the surroundings, watch people coming back from work and locals shopping in the different shops on Jaffa Street and Ben Yehuda Pedestrian Street.

If you are interested in shopping, you can find some nice Judaica shops on Yoel Moshe Salamon Street and several souvenir shops on Ben Yehuda Street.

Another option is to return to the Old City to explore more of it before it gets dark.

Day 3: The Israel Museum – Mishkenot Sha’ananim – Mount Zion – Mount of Olives 

On your third day in Jerusalem, you can cover the main sites which you haven’t visited yet. Start your day in the Israel Museum and end it with a beautiful view from the Mount of Olives.

Stop #1: The Israel Museum 

The Israel Museum is one of Israel’s leading cultural institutions. There’s a lot to see there, but I highly recommend focusing on three things in the museum – the Model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period, the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea scrolls are displayed, and the Archeology Wing, which has one of the most extensive collections of Biblical era archeology in the world. You’ll find items connected not only to Jerusalem but to the entire Land of Israel.

Recommended read >> The Highlights of the Israel Museum.

How to get to the Israel Museum? You can take bus number 66 from the city center to the Israel Museum. Alternatively, you can take a taxi or walk to the museum, if you’re staying nearby.

How much time does it take? It really depends on what you want to see in the museum and how thorough you are. If you only want to see the model of Jerusalem and the Shrine of the Book, one hour should be enough. If you also want to see the Archeology Wing or other wings, you will need at least 2 hours.

For opening hours and ticket rates, check out the official website of the Israel Museum.

Israel Museum Shrine of the Book
The Shrine of the Book

Stop #2: Mishkenot Sha’ananim

Mishkenot Sha’ananim is a beautiful neighborhood situated right in front of the Old City walls. It was the first Jewish neighborhood that was built outside the walls and, therefore, holds historical significance. Today, the main thing you can see is the old windmill, which does not operate today but was the first building built in Mishkenot Sha’ananim, back in 1858. Moses Montefiore, who was a British Jewish philanthrope, funded the establishment of the neighborhood, which was completed in 1860, hoping that it would help the Jewish community leave the crowded and filthy streets of the Old City. The windmill was meant to provide them some living.

The funny story is that the Jews were afraid to leave the protected Old City. Outside the walls, there were robbers and wild animals. So, they weren’t willing to rent a house in Montefiore’s new neighborhood. Montefiore thought about it and decided to offer the houses for free. Legend says they were still unwilling to move, so he paid them to rent the houses, and only then did they leave the Old City.

Take a look at the windmill, enjoy the view from the viewing platform, and then continue to Mount Zion. If you’re hungry, you can stop at one of the restaurants near Mishkenot Sha’ananim, in the First Station compound.

How to get to Mishkenot Sha’ananim? It’s about 2.5 kilometers from the museum, so technically, you can even walk there. But another option is to take bus number 97 or 7 or a taxi.

Stop #3: Mount Zion

When you look from the viewing platform next to the windmill, you can spot Mount Zion, which lies on the other side of the Hinnom Valley. If you did the first day of this itinerary, you passed on it briefly on your way to the City of David when you exited through Zion Gate.

The area of Mount Zion was once within the Old City walls but, at some point, was taken out of the protection of the walls. From 1948 to 1967, it was the closest point to the Western Wall that was held by Israeli forces, and people used to come there to view the Western Wall from the top of King David’s Tomb.

Here are some sites you can see on Mount Zion:

  • Zion Gate – It’s worth standing outside the gate to see all the bullet points on it. These bullet points are a testimony of the fierce battles that took place here between the Israelis and the Jordanians during the 1948 Independence War.  
  • King David’s Tomb – Nobody really knows where King David is buried, but this is the most famous traditional spot. People come here to pray next to the traditional tomb, hoping that GOD will hear them better because King David is seen as righteous. There are separate areas for women and men.
  • The Room of the Last Supper – Above King David’s Tomb is the Room of the Last Supper, believed to be where Jesus held the Last Supper with his 12 disciples. Today, it’s quite empty. There’s no table. There’s only a modern statue, a Crusader-era column, and a mihhrab, a Muslim prayer niche. In the past, this place was also a mosque.
  • Dormition Abbey – One of the most impressive churches in Jerusalem, the Dormition Abbey is believed to be where the Virgin Mary fell asleep for eternity.
  • Saint Peter in Gallicantu – This three-floor church is believed to be the house of the High Priest Caiaphas, who arrested Jesus, interrogated him, and then sent him over to Pontius Pilates for crucifixion. It’s also an impressive church, with an ancient staircase from the time of the Second Temple in its yard.  

If you have time and have some sites you haven’t visited in the Old City, you can catch up on them before continuing to the Mount of Olives.

How to get to Mount Zion? From Mishkenot Sha’ananim, walk down to Hebron Road and, next to the traffic lights, walk up the winding path to Mount Zion. If the trench is open, you can also climb up through the trench from the Six-Day War.

The trench to Mount Zion

Stop #4: The Mount of Olives

A great way to complete your trip in Jerusalem is by enjoying the fantastic view from the Mount of Olives viewpoint. Try to get there near sunset to view the sun as it sinks over the city.

From the Mount of Olives viewpoint, you can see the whole Old City and the new city beyond it. You can try to spot some of the places you’ve visited during your trip. You can see the City of David to the south of the Old City walls, Mount Zion above it, the Jewish Quarter, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and, of course, the Temple Mount with the golden Dome of the Rock.

Recommended read >> A full guide to Mount of Olives.

How to get to the Mount of Olives? From Mount Zion, you can take a taxi to the top of Mount of Olives. Tell the taxi driver to take you to the Mount of Olives Viewpoint near the Seven Arches Hotel. Alternatively, you can get there on foot. Walk down the road in the direction of the City of David, but pass past the City of David and continue on the road until you reach a junction with traffic lights. Then, turn right, continue until you see Gethsemane to your right, and then turn right onto a steep road that will take you up to the viewpoint. The whole walk should take around 40 minutes. 

Mount of Olives viewpoint in daylight
The view during the day

Optional: Swap one of those days with a day tour to the Dead Sea

The best base for a day tour to the Dead Sea is Jerusalem. If you have an extra day, you can stay another night in Jerusalem and then take a day tour to the Dead Sea. If you don’t have an extra day, you can change this itinerary and swap one of the days with a day tour to the Dead Sea.

You can rent a car and explore the Dead Sea area on your own. In this case, my guide to the Dead Sea and Judean Desert might be useful.

Another option is to join an organized tour that will take you to the main attractions, including Masada and a popular Dead Sea beach. Abraham Tours offers a tour to Masada, Ein Gedi, and the Dead Sea from Jerusalem. If you only want to chill out at the Dead Sea, they also provide a Dead Sea chill out tour from Jerusalem.

Dead Sea from above
The southern part of the Dead Sea

Conclusion

Jerusalem is a beautiful and fascinating city filled with things to see and do. While some people go there for a day tour from Tel Aviv, I actually recommend spending at least 3 days in Jerusalem to really appreciate its different sites. This 3 day itinerary covers the Old City, the City of David, Yad Vashem, Machane Yehuda Market, the Israel Museum, Mount of Olives, and many more fabulous sites. Have a great time in Jerusalem!  

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If you liked this post or found it useful, please don’t hesitate to like, share or comment (:

If you need any more advice, please don’t hesitate to send me a message on my Facebook page or to contact me at [email protected].

If you’re searching for a tour guide in Israel, I also offer private tours in Israel.

You can also support my work by buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi.  Your support helps me maintain the site and keep creating content about Israel. It’s greatly appreciated!

Yours,

Lior

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