Categories
Free things to do Jerusalem

Church of the Holy Sepulchre: A Full Visitor’s Guide

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is a sight to see, no matter if you are Christian or non-Christian. As a tour guide in Jerusalem, I’ve been to this church dozens of times, but it manages to amaze me over and over again. Usually, it’s packed with tourists and pilgrims, and you can barely see anything. But nowadays, with the coronavirus pandemic, the church stands empty. It gave me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to look around without rush.

So why is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre so important to Christians around the world? What can you see inside? And when should you come? Here’s a full visitor’s guide to the magnificent Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Table of contents:

  1. Why is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre important?
  2. History of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
  3. The Status Quo
  4. What is the best time to visit the church?
  5. How to get there?
  6. Etiquette rules
  7. What to see in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre?
  8. More things to do in Jerusalem

Why is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre important?

Thousands of Christian believers visit the church every year. According to tradition, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is the place where Jesus was crucified and buried. Three days afterward, he resurrected and left his tomb, which is why it is empty today. So, the church is so important because it is the place of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

History of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:

In the time of Jesus (the 1st century):

Archeological excavations suggest that in the time of Jesus, this place was a rock quarry. This rock quarry operated between the 7th century BCE and the 1st century CE. Till today, you can still see some remnants of this quarry at the bottommost floor of the church.

Inside the church, you will also see ancient tombs from the time of the Second Temple. These tombs suggest that there was a cemetery here. Generally, Jews do not bury within the city. This means that this area might have been outside the city walls at that time.

A pagan temple is built:

In 135 CE, when the Romans turned Jerusalem into Aelia Capitolina, a pagan temple was built on top of the quarry. The temple was dedicated to Aphrodite-Venus, the Goddess of Love.

The first church is established:

After years of persecution of Christians by the Roman empire, the Christian religion was legalized in 313 CE by the Roman emperor, Constantine the Great. Helena, the mother of Constantine, visited the Holy Land in 326 CE. She decided to break down the pagan temple that stood here and to look for Jesus’ tomb. With the help of a local Jew, she found it underneath the temple. That is why she ordered to build a church on this place.

In 335, the church was inaugurated and named “Anastasis”, which means “resurrection”. Only when the Crusaders arrived in the 11th century, people started calling it the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which means “the Church of the Holy Tomb.” 

When the church was first built, it was much larger than we see today. In the middle of the church was a large open-air garden. Inside the garden was a large rock, which is believed to be the rock on which Jesus was crucified. Today, we call it the Golgotha. West to the garden was the rotunda, where the empty tomb was and still is located. The original entrance to the church was from the east, from one of the city’s main streets. 

Here is how it might have looked like:

This painting was uploaded by Tamar HaYardeni, who found it in the church

Destruction and rebuilding of the church:

Almost 700 years passed. The Persians and the Muslims conquered Jerusalem, but the church remained quite unharmed. This changed in 1009, when the Fatimid caliph, al-Ḥākim bi-Amr Allāh, gave an order to demolish the church. While most of the church was destructed, you can still see some rows from the original wall inside it.

When the Christians rebuilt the church in 1048, it was much smaller than the original. The entrance to the church moved from the east to the south, where it is located today.

Later, in 1099, when the Crusaders arrived as part of the Crusades, they were shocked by the looks of the church. They were expecting to see something splendid and divine but instead, found something extremely modest. So, they decided to rebuild the compound and make major changes. They built a huge roof and domes above the church, so the garden was no longer open to the sky.

In modern times:

The church stood almost unharmed for centuries until a fire broke in it in 1808. This fire caused much damage and required extended renovations. The owners of the church used the opportunity to add a few more walls to the compound. This made the church darker and more claustrophobic.

Later, in 1927, an earthquake shook Jerusalem and the church. It led to another round of renovations. Catholic archeologists used the opportunity to make excavations in the church for the first time. These excavations helped us learn a lot about the history of the holy place.

The Status Quo:

In Latin, “Status quo” means “the existing state of affairs.” The property rights and liturgy rights in the Christian holy places of the Holyland have been dynamic for centuries. But they have stopped being dynamic since the mid-19th century. Following the Crimean War, several great powers signed the Paris Treaty in 1856. Amongst other things, they pledged to observe the status quo of the Christian holy places. So, they could no longer change the existing state of affairs unless the owners agreed.

The agreement refers to only four sites in the Holyland: The Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, Mary’s Tomb at the base of Mount of Olives, the Chapel of Ascension on Mount of Olives, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem.

When the Status Quo started, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was divided between six Christian denominations. Those denominations are the Catholic-Franciscans, the Greek-Orthodox, the Armenians, the Copts, the Assyrians, and the Ethiopians. Each one of the denominations is responsible for different spaces in the church. Some spaces are owned by two different denominations, which sometimes causes problems because then they need to both agree to change things in the particular space. The ownership of the different spaces has stayed the same since the mid-19th century.

When is the best time to visit the church?

Normally, when there are tourists, the church is packed during the afternoon. If you’re planning to enter the empty tomb itself, be aware that the waiting time might be very long, sometimes even more than an hour. If you want to get away from the crowds, come early in the morning or late in the evening. I advise coming before 9 AM or after 6 PM. In the early morning, it is usually less packed. But keep in mind that the first hour of the morning is dedicated to cleaning. Also, entrance is no allowed half an hour before closing time. By the way, entrance is free of charge!

The opening hours of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre vary according to month:

From April to August from 5 AM to 9 PM.

In September, from 5 AM to 8:30 PM.

In October, from 5 AM to 8 PM.

From the end of October to February from 4 AM to 7 PM.

In March, from 4 AM to 7:30 PM.

For the most accurate hours, visit the Christian Information Center website.

How to get there?

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City. To get there, you will need to walk. You can enter the city through Jaffa Gate, the New Gate, or Damascus Gate. It’s about a 5-minutes walk from all of them.

Etiquette rules:

  • Take off your hat before entering the church. I have already been with someone who was walking around with a hat, and one of the monks asked him to take it off.
  • Dress modestly.
  • Do not smoke in the area of the church.
  • Do not eat or drink beverages in the church.
  • Be respectful of the place. Try to keep as quiet as possible and definitely do not laugh.

What to see in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre?

I think the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the most magnificent churches in the world. It is enormous, so there’s a lot of things to see inside. So, I won’t go over every detail, but I’ll tell you about the main things to see:

The façade:

Before you enter the church, take a look at its façade. Yes, it’s quite simple, but there are some things to talk about:

The stairs:

You can see a short staircase on the right side of the façade. The staircase leads to a small chapel with a dome. In 1149, the Crusaders used this chapel as the direct entrance to the Golgotha, the crucifixion point. Instead of entering the church and then climbing up to the Golgotha, the pilgrims could simply climb up from here.

The Unmovable Ladder:

Look below the right-hand window, and you’ll see a wooden ladder. In Wikipedia, it is called “the Unmovable Ladder.” After the Crusader period, the rights of the Christians of Jerusalem were very limited. They had to block part of the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and were not allowed to ring the bells. Also, the church was locked throughout the year, and they were allowed to open it only once or twice a year on important holidays. The problem was that the monks lived in the church. They had to get food. So, they climbed down the ladder to the windowsill, lowered a rope with a basket, and someone loaded it with food supplies.

In 1831, an Egyptian ruler named Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt arrived and improved the rights of the minorities. Since then, the church is open every day. The ladder was no longer needed, but for some reason stayed there. And then, in 1856, the Status Quo kicked in, and the ladder became its symbol. It shows that even the smallest thing is not changeable. Even if they would want to move the ladder, it would be a problem. It is not clear who is the owner of the ladder. The windowsill belongs to the Greek-Orthodox, while the room behind the window belongs to the Armenians. Only the rightful owner can move it from its place.

The doors:

Here’s a fun fact: The keys to the church are kept in the hands of two Muslim families. They claim that they got the keys in the time of Saladin, around the late 12th-century. If you’re lucky, you might meet the family representative on the bench inside the church. They hold the keys because that was the state in the mid-19th century, and it stayed that way because of the Status Quo. They also perform the opening and closing of the church every day.

The facade of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Stone of Anointing:

When you enter the church, the first thing you see is the Stone of Anointing, also known as the Stone of Unction. If there are pilgrims, they will usually be on their knees next to the stone, touching it. Some also place small items on it for a few seconds and then take them back home. They believe that the items absorb the holiness of Jesus because his body was laid here after being removed from the cross. Here, they believe he was prepared for burial.

Jesus was a Jew, and Jews cannot be buried during the holy day of Shabbat. According to tradition, Jesus died on Friday morning. Though, there are scholars who believe he died on Thursday afternoon (see this article for example). Anyway, they had to prepare him fast to bury him before Shabbat enters on Friday eve. The preparation included anointment and wrapping of the body in shrouds.

Look on the wall in front of the Stone of Anointment. There’s a modern mosaic depicting the crucifixion, the preparation for burial, and the burial itself.     

The Stone of Anointing

The Golgotha:

From the entrance, turn right, and climb up a set of steep stairs to the second floor. Here, you can see the topmost edge of the Golgotha, believed to be the rock on which Jesus was put on the cross. Today it is secured underneath a thick layer of glass so pilgrims won’t break a piece to take home.

The space is made of two chapels, one is Catholic-Franciscan and the other Greek-Orthodox. The first chapel you enter is the Catholic one, with beautiful modern mosaics on the walls. One of the mosaics shows the scene of the Binding of Isaac. There’s a ram, a male sheep, caught in the thickets. In the Biblical story, Abraham sacrificed it instead of Isaac. The other mosaic in the chapel shows Jesus nailed to the cross. In the background, there’s a bush, but there’s no ram caught in it. That’s because Jesus is going to be sacrificed. In this case, according to Christian belief, Jesus is like the ram for humanity.

The Greek-Orthodox chapel rises above the Golgotha. The Golgotha is about 5 meters (16 feet) tall. In the past, this area was an open garden, and you could really appreciate the height of it. But now you can only imagine. If you want to see a bit more of the Golgotha, climb down the other set of stairs and then turn right. You’ll see another bit of the rock behind glass.

Jesus nailed to the cross
The Golgotha

The Chapel of the Finding of the Holy Cross:

Exit the Golgotha from the other set of stairs and then turn right. Continue through the curving corridor until you see another set of stairs to your right, going down. As you climb down the stairs, notice the small crosses sunken in the stone walls. These are ancient graffiti done by thousands of pilgrims over the years.

At the bottom of the stairs, you’ll reach the Chapel of Saint Helena. It’s a beautiful chapel owned by the Armenians, with many mosaics, paintings, and wall paintings.

On the right side of the chapel, you’ll find another set of stairs. They’ll lead you to the Chapel of the Finding of the Holy Cross. The chapel walls are probably part of an ancient quarry, that existed here in the time of the Romans. According to tradition, this is where Saint Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, found the True Cross. There’s a statue of Saint Helena here, holding the cross on which Jesus was crucified.

There are many legends connected to the finding of the True Cross. One of them tells that Helena forced a Jew to tell her where the cross was hidden. She made him starve for a week in a dry well until he led her to this place. Then, he dug and revealed three crosses. One belonged to Jesus, one to the Good Thief, and one to the Bad Thief. All three were crucified together on the same day. So, which one belonged to Jesus? Luckily, a funeral passed by, and Helena hurried to test the crosses on the dead body. They placed one cross on the body, and nothing happened. They placed the second cross, and nothing happened. Then, they placed the third cross, and the man came back to life.

The Holy Sepulchre:

Climb back up to the corridor and walk to the other side of the church, the circular Rotunda. There, you’ll find the Holy Sepulchre, the empty tomb of Jesus. Look up to see the spectacular ceiling. If you’ll come during daylight, you’ll see the sun rays spilling through the hole in the ceiling.

According to Christian belief, Jesus was buried here, in a burial cave originally intended for Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph was a rich man and a disciple of Jesus, and because Jesus didn’t have a burial cave, he offered his own. Three days after the burial, on Sunday, a group of women came to visit the tomb. But they found it open. When they stepped inside, they saw an angel that told them: “You came to visit Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified, but he is not here, because he was raised from the dead.”

The Holy Sepulchre is found inside the Aedicule, the small chapel in the middle of the Rotunda. The Aedicule is made of two rooms. In the first one, you’ll find a relic of the Angel’s Stone. This stone is believed to be part of the large stone that sealed the tomb. In the second room, you’ll find what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus. When there are many tourists, entering the Aedicule could take a very long time, sometimes even more than an hour. And every visitor can only stay a few moments in the chapel.

Light above the Holy Sepulchre

About the Holy Fire:

One of the most important Christian ceremonies take place in the Aedicule every year, on the night before Easter Sunday. The Greek-Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem enters the Aedicule and comes out with the “Holy Fire.” Then, the fire is passed between thousands of believers, who want to take a bit of the holiness back home.

Watch this video by the Christian Youth Channel to get a better understanding of the ceremony:

The Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea:

West of the Aedicule, you’ll find a door leading to the Chapel of Joseph of Arimathea. What’s interesting here are the ancient niche tombs located just outside the chapel. They are typical of Jewish burial in the Second Temple period. According to a new tradition, these are the tombs of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Both helped prepare Jesus for burial. Joseph of Arimathea gave him his tomb; Nicodemus brought a large mixture of myrrh and aloes to make it a royal burial.

Jewish people never buried their dead within the walls. That is why these niche tombs are important. They prove this area was outside the city walls sometime during the Second Temple period. So, it is one of the archeological proofs that this could be the place of Jesus’ crucifixion.

“The Center of the World” – the Catholicon:

Get back to the Rotunda and walk to the other side of the Aedicule. Right in front of its entrance, there’s a huge hall called the Catholicon. Usually, it is closed by a rope.

The Catholicon was built by the Crusaders on the place of the Holy Garden. It was the central nave of the Crusader-era church. Above it, is the largest Crusader-era dome in Israel.

In the hall, there’s a low, circular object made from stone, called “omphalos.” According to Greek-Orthodox tradition, this omphalos symbolizes the center of the world. Jews also believe that Jerusalem is the center of the world, but they say it is where the Foundation Stone is, beneath the Dome of the Rock. That is where the Holy Temple stood. In Christianity, the tradition moved to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and specifically to the Catholicon.  

Guided tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:

As you can see, there’s a lot to see in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. If you want to learn more and get answers to all of your questions, consider joining a guided tour. Many guided tours combine the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in their route. If you want a more personalized experience or only want a guide for the church, I’ll be happy to be your private guide. Contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com or read more about my guided tours here.

More things to do in Jerusalem:

The Many Sites of Mount of Olives: What to See?

Ein Karem: Following John the Baptist

Top Free Things to Do in Jerusalem Old City

Top Free Things to Do in Jerusalem


If you liked this post or found it useful, would really appreciate a like, a share and a comment (:

If you need any help with planning your trip to Israel, feel free to contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com.

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

And plan a great trip to Israel using my app – Travel Israel by Travelkosh for Android and iOS

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Free things to do Hiking in Israel Jerusalem

Hiking to Lifta: An Abandoned Village Near Jerusalem

About 15 minutes by foot from Jerusalem, lies the stunning, abandoned village of Lifta. I’ve heard about it before, but have never gone to this place. Three days before Israel’s second coronavirus lockdown, I decided to join a friend on a hike from Lifta to Motsa Junction. This 8-km trail is amazing and includes a natural water spring, ancient buildings, lots of prickly pears, and outstanding natural surroundings. It took us about four hours to complete at an easy-going pace. If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem, you can always hike down to Lifta, enjoy the quietness, and add some outstanding pics to your social media!

Let’s start with some history:

There are some who recognize Lifta as the biblical town of Mei Naftoach. Archeological findings suggest that it was first inhabited almost 4,000 years ago. In the Ottoman era, in 1596, there were about 396 people living in the village, most of them Muslim. They paid taxes to the Jerusalem region. Later on, they sold water, vegetables, and fruits to the residents of the first Jewish neighborhoods outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls.

Lifta in 1945, from the Jewish National Fund photo archive

The next chapter in Lifta’s history is the 1948 Independence War, which is seen by the Palestinians as the Nakba, literally meaning “disaster.” This topic is a bit sensitive and controversial, because one side says that things happened in a certain way while the other side says otherwise. So, I’ll try to tell the story by presenting both sides.

In the time of the 1948 Independence War, Lifta was populated by Arab Palestinians. Palestinians, because the Romans called the land Palestine, or Palestina, more than 1500 years beforehand. To be precise, all residents of the land were Palestinians, also the Jewish people who lived there at the time, including my grand-grand-grand-grandfather. The British ruled over the land from 1917 until May 1948.

In the early days of the war, which actually started in November 30, 1947, the Jewish Haganah started deporting Arabs from the villages that encircled the western side of Jerusalem. This, in order to secure the western entrance to the city. According to the Jewish side, the residents of Lifta left in December 4, 1947, following the order of the Arab Higher Committee. Later, the village became a base for Arab snipers.

The Palestinians, on the other hand, say that the residents stayed until January 1948. The Palestinian historian Aref al-Aref claims that in December 28, 1947, the Jewish forces attacked one of the coffee houses in Lifta, causing the death of six residents. The New York Times also referred to this incident, saying that five Arabs were killed in Lifta by Jewish people who were part of the Lehi. This incident, according to Aref al-Aref, was the reason why the residents decided to abandon the village.

After the war, Lifta was inhibited by Jewish immigrants. But the residents suffered from bad conditions and poverty. The Jewish settlement in the abandoned houses of Lifta didn’t succeed and in the early 1970s, the families were moved to better houses in Jerusalem.

There’s a lot to tell about Lifta, but this isn’t a history lesson. So, if you want to learn more about this amazing place, you’re welcome to google “Lifta” and find all the interesting information. The bottom line is – Lifta was abandoned by its Arab residents during the war, and today the houses still stand abandoned.  

Let’s continue with some safety instructions and general notes:

  • The hike is under your responsibility, so please be careful. It is always advised to hike with at least one more person.
  • Make sure you hike with good hiking shoes, have at least 1.5 liter of water, and wear a hat. You can also bring snacks for the way and of course, a garbage bag to pick up your litter and litter you find on the way. Unfortunately, the Lifta area is full of litter, which damages the beauty of the place. Let’s try to keep it as clean as possible!
  • There are vast parts of the trail which are entirely exposed to the sun. Therefore, don’t attempt to hike it in very hot hours. The ideal season is spring (February-April) or fall (October-November), but if you choose to hike in the summer like we did, you should start the hike early in the morning. We started at 8:00 AM, which in my opinion wasn’t early enough.
  • The trail is well-marked, but it’s always good to have a good hiking map with you.

How to get to the head of the trail?

How to get to the trail – from israelhiking.osm.org.il

The head of the trail is easily reached by foot from the Jerusalem Central Bus Station. From the entrance to the station, continue west on Jaffa Street towards the entrance to the city. Cross the road to the gas station on Weizman Boulevard and then continue on the road, pass the two gas stations, and cross the road once again. After crossing the road once more, you’ll see to your right a paved path, that goes downwards and is secured by a yellow railing (1). Walk down this path until you reach the bottom, where you’ll find an interesting statue (2).

The interesting statue at the bottom of the path….

Here, turn left on Nefto’akh Street and afterwards right. Continue down the road until you see a green sign of the Mei Naftoah (Lifta) Nature Reserve and the blue marking on the rock, pointing towards the trail (3).

The way down to Lifta

I know that it is also possible to reach Lifta by car, but I recommend the hike. It’s short and very accessible.

The trail itself:

The map of the trail from amudanan.co.il. Lifta is on the right side and Motsa on the left

From the green sign, we descended down the narrow asphalt road until we reached a green gate, which blocks the entrance for vehicles. From this point, the trail turns into a stony trail. In the distance, we could see some of the abandoned houses of Lifta, which was super exciting. I was never there before, so I had no idea how this ghost town will look like. The trail is quite steep until it reaches the bottom of the valley. Then, the trail is very straight and easy to walk on. Within a few minutes we were at the village’s natural spring.

The green gate and the trail beyond it
The abandoned houses of Lifta in the distance

The water comes from the underground aquifer, and flows from a man-made tunnel to a man-made pool. When we arrived, we saw a Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) man immersing in the water. There are Jewish men who perform this Jewish ritual every morning in order to purify their bodies. Many do it in a mikveh, but if you can go to a natural spring, it is much better, as it is believed that the water of a natural spring is the purest of all water sources. So, if you come here and see a naked man in the water, you can assume that he is performing this Jewish ritual. We went aside to give him some privacy, and when we saw that he had left the water and dressed, we came closer. We decided not to go into the water pool, as it was quite green and not so inviting. But we did go into the water tunnel. The tunnel stretches to a length of about 60 meters and ends at a dead-end wall. The water level wasn’t high, it reached below our knees. Walking inside the tunnel is thrilling. The tunnel is well-built and very impressive. Just make sure to bring sandals for walking in the water and flashlights, as it is pitch-black inside. Your phone’s flashlight should also be enough.

The Lifta Spring
The tunnel from which the water flows into the pool. It’s dark in there!

We continued from the spring along the marked trail. From both sides of the trail you can see the abandoned houses of Lifta, which are quite magnificent. We left the marked trail a few times to peek into the houses, but that’s not very good as it could be dangerous. There are many pits inside the houses and some are unstable, what is quite hazardous. If you don’t want to hike all the way to Motsa Junction, you can stroll around the abandoned village of Lifta, and then make your way back to the Jerusalem Central Station. It’s a very quiet and enjoyable place on its own. We decided to continue to Motsa Junction.

Before I continue to tell about the trail, here are some fantastic views from Lifta:

The trail going between the houses…
Graffiti inside the abandoned houses of Lifta

So… From Lifta we continued towards Motsa Junction. This route is about 6-km long. We continued on the blue-marked trail through the houses of Lifta. On the way, we saw a lot of prickly pears and fig trees. We were there in September and the figs were quite ripe, so my friend decided to pick a few from the trees. About 10 minutes from Lifta, we arrived at a playground. The sign next to it said that we were in the Arazim Valley Park, located in the upper part of Wadi Sorek. “Sorek” in Hebrew means “fine grapes.”

Our resting point. There are also benches.
The yellow signposts next to the road leading onwards…

After resting at the playground, we continued on the road that leads towards Tur Sinai Farm. The road is clearly marked with yellow signposts. It’s also a route for bicycles. We continued on this road until we saw a left turn onto a narrow route, that was clearly marked as a bicycle route. The truth is that at this point we decided to go see Tur Sinai Farm, so instead of turning left we continued on the road. If you want to do the proper route, you should turn left onto the bicycle route and continue on this route.

The left turn to the trail (which is the right way)

It took us quite a long time to get to Tur Sinai Farm and we didn’t really go inside. It’s an organic farm, that has a boutique hotel and resort. From there, we were somehow able to reach and merge with the blue-marked trail. But believe me, if for some reason you decide to go to the farm too, the best way to get back to the blue-marked trail is by taking the green-marked trail from the farm. Make sure to use a good map.

So, we were able to come back to the blue-marked trail. It was a dirt trail now. We continued on it for a bit until we reached an asphalt road. At this point, we turned left and followed the blue-marked trail, which continued right onto another bicycle route. There’s a signpost right next to it, with several yellow signs. The bicycle route led us below the massive train bridge, which was built here in 2016, and to Enot Telem National Park. If you have the time, you can look for the natural spring of Enot Telem. We decided to skip it because of the increasing heat.

The bicycle route that leads to Enot Telem National Park and the train bridge!

From Enot Telem National Park, there’s about 1.5 more kilometers until Motsa. Follow the blue-marked trail. When you’ll reach a parking lot, follow the yellow sign post pointing towards Motsa (מוצא). Continue on the asphalt road until you see a tunnel to your left. That tunnel will lead you to a roundabout, where you’ll find the bus station for Jerusalem. We took bus number 154, but you can also take bus number 155 or 157. They will all take you to the Jerusalem Central Station.

The tunnel leading to the bus station at Motsa

How much time does the trail take? It takes about four hours to hike from Lifta to Motsa Junction, but if you only want to see Lifta, 1-2 hours should be enough.

Difficulty: Easy. The hike is quite flat. The only part that is quite steep is at the start of the trail, and it isn’t a long segement.

It is about an 8 km hike.

When is the best time to hike? February to April or October to November are always the ideal times because of the nice weather. If you hike around September you can see the ripe figs on the trees. There are also some pomegranates on the way.

I wish you a fantastic hike to Lifta and its surroundings. It’s a great hike, minutes from the city.

Pin this post for later!

Here are some more hiking trails which might interest you:

Sataf: Beautiful Hiking Trails Outside Jerusalem

Hiking Near the Dead Sea: Lower Nahal Og

A Beautiful Hike in Upper Nahal Darga – Dead Sea Area


Hiked the trail in September 2020.

If you liked this post or found it useful, I would appreciate a like, a share and a comment. If you have anything to add, you’re free to tell me in the comments (:

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook page for the latest updates – Backpack Israel.

And plan a great trip to Israel by using my app – Travel Israel by Travelkosh for Android and iOS.

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Jerusalem

The Jerusalem Dual Narrative Tour: Hearing Two Sides of the Story

A few months ago, I was exploring the Old City of Jerusalem with a friend of mine. Right at the entrance to the Old City, at Jaffa Gate, we spotted a group led by Mejdi Tours. My friend, who had heard about them before, commented that she would like to join one of their Dual Narrative Tours sometime in the future. “It should be really good,” she said. A long time has passed since then, but finally I was able to find time to join their Dual Narrative Tour of Jerusalem (or Al-Quds), which takes place every Monday morning and goes on for five hours.

It was very thought-provoking, and sometimes annoying (as one of the guides said, “If you won’t get pissed at some point of the tour, we aren’t doing a good job”). In this post I’m going to tell you a bit about how this tour works and about my experience, but mainly about some subjects which arose during the tour and made me think a bit more than usual.

The tour begins at Jaffa Gate, which is the classic starting point of almost every tour in the Old City. We were greeted by two guides a Palestinian-Bedouin, who lives in Jerusalem and represents the Palestinian side, and an Israeli, who lives in the northern part of Israel, and represents the Israeli perspective. After introducing themselves and their roots, they asked each of the group members to tell their name, country and why did they decide to join the tour. I, like many others, said that the reason for joining the tour was “to hear different points of view”.  We did get to hear the two different points of view, although I personally felt we were hearing the Palestinian side much more than the other.

The tour passes through the main sites of Jerusalem – David Citadel, the Armenian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and more or less ends at Temple Mount (or as our Palestinian guide called it – “al-Masjid al-ʾAqṣā”), the most controversial point in Jerusalem.

Here are some of the main subjects which were discussed during the tour. In some places I might accidently write “us” or “we”. In that case, I will be referring to the Israeli-Jews, as I am part of that group:

The West Bank and Palestine:

Right from the beginning our Palestinian guide made it clear that when we are entering the Old City, we are actually entering the West Bank. (My note: The Old City was conquered by the Jordanians in 1948, and the Jordanians were the ones to create this term – “The West Bank”). The Palestinians believe that the Old City is the West Bank and is supposed to belong to Palestine, although today it is part of the State of Israel. Among most Israeli people, it is clear that Jerusalem belongs to Israel. And maybe this is one of the main conflicts between the two nations – both want the same piece of land to be theirs.

Later on, when we settled down next to the David Citadel, the Palestinian guide mentioned that the name Palestine was first mentioned long ago, in the 4th century BCE. The Israeli guide commented that he wasn’t sure about it and that even if it was true, the name Palestine has no connection to the current Palestinians. The southern region of Syria was called Palestine because of its ancient dwellers, the Philistines. It is unclear if those people came from Egypt, the Mediterranean Sea or any other area, but they sure existed and were even mentioned in the Bible. The Romans were the first to call the region Palestine. Before them, the region was called many other names, such as Canaan and Judea. Today Israelis call the region Israel, while the Palestinians call it Palestine. The Palestinian guide claimed that the Palestinians won’t mind that Israel will keep on existing alongside a future Palestinian state, which will be established in West Bank and Jerusalem. But personally, what I hear from the streets and social media is that many Palestinians just want us to disappear.

Here’s a nice video about the Israel-Palestine conflict which sums up most of the things, published by Vox:

Were the British helping the Jews establish a state?

Another interesting topic was the Balfour Declaration, which was signed by the UK’s Foreign Secretary in 1917. Our Palestinian guide said that if the 1948 was a Nakba (“Catastrophe” in Arabic), then the Balfour Declaration was the first Nakba. Why? Because the Foreign Secretary, Balfour, wrote this public statement: “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

While our Israeli guide said that “a national home” is a very unclear concept, our Palestinian guide started asking us about our nationality. “What is your nationality?” he asked a number of people, and they answered “Germany”, “Poland”, “Italy”. “You see?” he said, “Our nationality is our country. A national home is a state.” He argued that the British wanted to help the Jewish people establish a state on account of the Palestinians from 1917. He also claimed that the land was given to the Jewish people on a platter, and that the British people helped get the Palestinians out of their homes in the War of 1948.  The Israeli guide shook his head and said: “If the land had been given on a platter to the Jews, there wouldn’t have been so many casualties from both sides”. I personally know from my history books that the British did help evacuate Palestinians from their homes in some cases, but in other cases urged the Jewish people to leave and even gave the keys to strategic buildings to the Palestinians. So, I wouldn’t say they gave us the land on a platter. I would even say that they didn’t like the Jews nor the Palestinians very much.

And here’s a bit about Balfoure’s Declaration by the Economist:

The Jewish Temple – Did it Exist?

As I have already mentioned, our Palestinian guide denied the name “Temple Mount” and instead called the whole compound “al-Masjid al-ʾAqṣā”, which means “Al-Aqsa Mosque”. I will be calling the place Temple Mount, because this is how I am used to calling it. So, when we arrived at Temple Mount, he claimed that there was no Jewish temple on Temple Mount, EVER. There was only a mosque, and if there wasn’t a mosque, then there was an administrative building of the Crusaders. There might have been a temple in the time of the Romans, but it wasn’t Jewish. Our Israeli guide argued and said that the two Jewish temples stood on Temple Mount, and that the Second Temple was three times higher than the Dome of the Rock. “There is no proof that a Jewish temple ever stood here,” said the Palestinian guide. So, the Israeli guide mentioned Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian from the time of the Second Temple, who wrote about the Second Temple. He also pointed out two archeological findings, which were found in the rubble next to Temple Mount, and are connected to the Jewish Temple – the Trumpeting Place inscription and the Temple Warning inscription. The Jewish people believe that the Second Temple stood more or less where the Dome of the Rock stands today, but cannot be sure since we are not allowed to do excavations beneath the compound. The Palestinian guide said that the Israelis cannot dig beneath the compound because digging tunnels below might make the building collapse. I’ve heard that the Palestinians don’t want excavations because they are afraid the Israelis might find something.

Exactly as the Palestinian guide claimed that the temple was actually a mosque, he also claimed that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Mary and Jesus were Muslim. Yes, very irritating for a Jewish believer.

The Right of Return:

Near the end of the tour we returned to the 1948 War, which is called the Independence War by the Israelis and the Nakba (“catastrophe”) by the Palestinians. The Palestinian guide talked about the millions of refugees, who had to leave their homes and move to different Arab countries or regions, like Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Then he talked about the fact that Israel deprives those refugees – not matter if they are first generation refugees or their descendants – of the Right of Return.  The State of Israel and many Israelis say that the Palestinian Right of Return is no realistic. To which homes will they return? The homes which were abandoned during the war were taken by the state and later passed on to Jewish residents. One of the tour members asked if there was any nation which already used the Right of Return before the Palestinians, and the two guides couldn’t think of such a nation. “But most of today’s refugees come from dangerous countries, so they don’t want to return,” commented the Israeli guide.  

And here’s a cool video I found made by Corey Gil-Shuster, which shows a number of Israelis answering the question – “What do you think about the Palestinian Right of Return?”:

The Oslo II Accords:

We also talked about the Oslo Agreements, the Oslo II Accords, which were signed in 1995 between the Government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Those agreements were supposed to pave the way to a Palestinian State within five years, but as our Palestinian guide said: “The agreements were signed in 1995. Now we’re in 2020, and the idea of a Palestinian state is slowly disappearing”. At first, the agreements were fulfilled and Israel began withdrawing from a number of areas in the West Bank, but at some point, this stopped due to Israel’s claim that the Palestinians were not fulfilling their part of the agreement. The agreement exploded when the Palestinians began the Second Intifada, which was a dreadful time of violence against Israel. The Palestinian guide showed some maps and said that Israel did not fulfill the agreement, since it did not withdraw to the lines of 1967. Someone from the group asked if he was sure that the Oslo agreements talked about the lines of 1967, and the guide said that he was sure. I took a look at the Oslo agreements later and didn’t find that it mentioned the lines of 1967, but maybe I missed it. Tell me in the comments if you find anything. Here’s the text of the Oslo Agreements.

Those were just a few of the subjects discussed during the tour. Bottom line – I would definitely recommend joining the Dual Narrative Tour in Jerusalem. If you’re a Jew, an Israeli or a Palestinian it might get you pissed, but I’m always in favor of getting to know each other better – and this tour gives a great perspective of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from both sides. Still, I would highly recommend to read well about the conflict beforehand, so you will be sure about the facts and know to distinguish between opinions and facts. I also recommend taking active part in the tour and asking lots of questions, so that you will be able to get the most out of it. If you wish to join, make sure to book the tour through Mejdi Tours’ website, because they offer the lowest price (with the promo code). Here’s the link: The Dual Narrative Tour in Jerusalem. It maybe isn’t the most budget-friendly tour, but is totally worth it!

Pin this post for later!


This tour review was written on January 2019. I chose to independently joined the tour and was not sponsored by any organization.

Think this post is useful, helpful or just interesting? Don’t forget to like, share and leave a comment 🙂

Also, check out my Facebook page, Backpack Israel.

Want help with planning your trip to Israel? Check out the new app, Travel Israel by Travelkosh. You’re also welcome to contact me through the Experts tab.

Looking for a private tour guide in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv? I’m a tour guide and I might be available! Send me an email – lior@backpackisrael.com.

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Jerusalem Stays

Cinema Hostel: Sleeping in Style in Jerusalem

One of the most popular hostels in the center of Jerusalem is the Cinema Hostel. This hostel is located just off trendy Ben Yehuda Street, in a renovated building which once housed the Orion Cinema. When it operated in the mid-20th century, it was one of the leading cinemas in Jerusalem. It was officially shut down in the 1990s and stayed abandoned for many years until it became the Cinema Hostel. I really loved my stay here! 

Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. I have stayed at Cinema Hostel and recommend it!

Here’s a promotional video of Cinema Hostel, published by Christian James Lee, which includes some shots from inside the hostel:

Short summary about Cinema Hostel Jerusalem:

Location: 5 Stars – Perfect location, just off Ben Yehuda Street, a pedestrian street with many shops and restaurants. It is also very close to many bars and nightlife venues. The distance from the hostel to the Old City is about 15 minutes by foot, and to Machane Yehuda Market – about 10 minutes by foot.  

Cleanliness: 5 Stars – When I stayed there, the hostel was clean and tidy.

Staff: 4 Stars – The staff was notably friendly. But the guy who did my check-in seemed like he wasn’t sure about which activities are happening in the hostel. Also, I saw one of the receptionists struggling with English when checking in other travelers. I think a good grasp of English is a must.

Security: 4 Stars – The hostel has CCTV, but the front door is always open, which means anyone who wants to enter can enter without any security measures. I guess this is because the hostel bar is open to anyone who wants to come, also people who are not hostel guests. In other hostels, the front door is usually locked. The dorm key is a card, which you receive upon check-in, which is good!

Facilities: 4 Stars – The reception works 24/7, there’s a cool bar, there’s a beautiful and well-equipped guest kitchen, and there are plenty of common areas. There is also free WIFI, which works fine. But if you want a towel, you have to pay for it. Also, there’s nowhere to hang your clothes in the room. There are also no lockers in the room; only storage units beneath the beds, which you can lock with your own lock.

Atmosphere: 5 Stars – This is a party hostel. They offer plenty of activities and have a very active bar, which operates till the late hours. So, you can expect to hear noise till very late. Though, they do try to keep the volume down in the common area near the rooms.

Value for Money: 4 Stars – This isn’t the cheapest hostel in town, but it offers you free breakfast, beautiful facilities, lots of activities and a perfect location. Still, at this price, they could offer free towels and make a bigger portion for breakfast.  

Bottom Line:

Cinema Hostel is a beautiful hostel in the center of Jerusalem, offering a great atmosphere for the younger crowd (18-45). With a bit more attention to the small details, this could definitely be the coolest hostel in town!

Want to stay at Cinema Hostel Jerusalem?

Book a stay through Hostelworld or compare prices on Hotelscombined.

Detailed review of Cinema Hostel Jerusalem:

Location:

It’s located in a perfect location, right in the center of Jerusalem. Cinema Hostel stands right next to Ben Yehuda Pedestrian Street, where you can find many restaurants and shops. It is also a short walk away from plenty of nightlife venues. The “Jaffa Center” and “City Hall” light-rail stations are nearby, and the hostel is just 15 minutes by foot from the Old City and 10 minutes by foot from the Machane Yehuda Market.

See the McDonalds? Cinema Hostel is above it

The common areas:

The common areas are beautiful! It seems they have put a lot of effort into the interior design of the hostel. The common lounge has several levels. On the highest level, there is a small room with desktop computers. On the other floors, there’s table football, a reading area and a LOT of chairs. The chairs aren’t very comfy but have pics of movie stars on them. The different floors of the lounge are not so accessible for people with mobility issues. But, there is an elevator connecting between the reception area and the dorms and common area. 

Cinema Hostel’s common area

Another common area is the beautiful terrace, which overlooks the street below. There’s also shade from the sun.

Another cool area in the hostel is the John Smith Bar, located on the second floor. It’s a great place to have a drink and party until late. And hostel guests get 20{f224ba440c8e8489685f5be0eb52a1764ff3ab93b94d860236479bc3f69cbf7f} off the menu!

The roof terrace

Activities:

Besides going to the bar, you can also participate in a wide variety of activities. Every day there’s a different activity. They even have Movie Nights, which is cool because they are located in an old cinema! When I came, the receptionist told me there was a jam session in the evening, but I couldn’t make it.  

The dorm:

I slept in a female-only 6-beds dorm. Like the rest of the hostel, the dorm is also beautifully designed and it was also quite spacious. The beds are very comfy and there’s a reading light, a small shelf, and a charging point next to the bed. There’s also an en-suite bathroom.

But I felt that there were some things which were missing. First of all, there were no hangers in the dorm (or at least I couldn’t find them). This means I couldn’t hang my towel anywhere in the dorm. The only hangers available were in the small en-suite bathroom, but I didn’t want to leave my towel there. There are also no lockers. What you can do is put your stuff in the bedding case below your bed. You might even be able to lock it with a lock, but in my view, it’s not ideal. I understood you can store your valuables in a safe at the reception, but I don’t think it’s ideal to have your stuff stored on a different floor than your dorm.  

The female only 6 beds dorm

The bathroom:

The en-suite bathroom is also very beautiful, but very small. After taking a shower, the floor gets wet and it could have been great if there was a mop to dry the floor up after every use of the shower.  

The en-suite bathroom – small and beautiful

Location of the dorm:

Another thing you should be aware of is that you might stay in a dorm that isn’t soundproof. I stayed in a dorm quite close to the common area and you could hear the noise of people over there. There are also some rooms with doors facing the common area. I wonder if people who stay in these rooms suffer more from the noise. Anyway, if you plan to stay up till late this shouldn’t be a problem for you. If you sleep early and have trouble falling to sleep with noise, you might want to ask for the dorm that is farthest away from the common area.

Besides dorms, Cinema Hostel also offers some private rooms.

Breakfast and guest kitchen:

Breakfast is free and quite varied. The breakfast is served between 7:30 to 10:00 AM in the common area and includes sliced vegetables, different types of cheese, cornflakes, pita bread, and shakshuka. The shakshuka is made from fresh eggs by one of the hostel’s staff members or volunteers.

The problem is that each time only one pan of shakshuka is made, and when there are a lot of people who come to eat breakfast, the pan is finished quite quickly. It takes several minutes until the next round of shakshuka, which could be problematic if you’re in a rush. As in other hostels, you also need to wash your dishes after yourselves.

If you prefer to make your own food instead of going out to the many restaurants that are in the area, you can use the beautiful and well-equipped guest kitchen, which is in the common area.

The guest kitchen

Extras:

The WIFI is also free, and you can get the password from reception. If you want, you can also work on the desktop computers in the common area. Bed linen is also given upon arrival, and you need to put the bedding on your bed (as in other hostels). If you come early you can also use the free luggage storage room.

If you’ll need a towel, you’ll need to pay 10 ILS as a deposit and an extra 5 ILS. The 5 ILS won’t be returned to you, but you’ll get the 10 ILS back when you return the towel at the end of your stay. I recommend bringing your own towel.

Staff:

The friendly and attentive staff are at the reception 24/7. I always saw someone at the reception, at day and night. They were also very welcoming at check-in and were attentive to my questions. Though, I felt that the receptionist at check-in wasn’t too sure about the activities of that specific day. Also, I saw another receptionist struggling a bit with English when talking to a couple of travelers, which left them a bit confused. Bottom line, I felt they were a bit unconfident. These are little things, that could make the overall experience better.

Security:

The front door of the hostel is open the entire day with no security measures, but I guess this is because they don’t want to block the entrance to people who want to go to the bar. The place is fully networked with CCTV, and the dorms are accessed by a hostel card given upon check-in.  

Bottom line:

To sum it up, Cinema Hostel Jerusalem has a great young vibe and is the perfect place for those of you who want to experience Jerusalem in style!


More hostels in Jerusalem:

Jerusalem Hostel

CapsuleInn Jerusalem

Pin this post for later!


Review written on October 2019. My stay in Cinema Hostel was part of a personal trip and was not sponsored by Cinema Hostel or any organization. 

Think this post is useful or helpful? Don’t forget to like, share and leave a comment 🙂

Also, check out my Facebook page, Backpack Israel.

Want help with planning your trip to Israel? Check out my new app, Travel Israel on Google Play or iTunes. You’re also welcome to contact me through the Experts tab.

Looking for a tour guide in Jerusalem? I might be available. Send me an email – lior@backpackisrael.com.

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Jerusalem Stays

Jerusalem Hostel: Historical and Very Budget Friendly

After staying a night at CapsuleInn Jerusalem, I moved to the other side of the road to check out Jerusalem Hostel. While CapsuleInn is one of the newest hostels in Jerusalem, Jerusalem Hostel is one of the oldest in town. It is located inside a historical building, originally built in 1928 as a two-star hotel named Ron Hotel. The little porch above the entrance to the hostel also has a historic story behind it, as it was the porch on which Menachem Begin announced the absorption of the Irgun into the IDF in August 1948. Later Begin served as the Prime Minister of Israel between 1977 and 1983. So, there’s no doubt that this hostel has a historical significance, but what about the stay? 

Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. I have stayed at Jerusalem Hostel and recommend it for budget-concious travelers!

Here’s a promotional video of Jerusalem Hostel, published by Sasha Tamarin, which includes some shots from inside the hostel:

Short summary of my stay in the Jerusalem Hostel:

Location: 5 Stars – Perfect location! The hostel is located on Jaffa Street, facing Zion Square, which is the central square leading to the pedestrian Ben Yehuda Street. It is about a 10 minutes’ walk to both Machane Yehuda Market and the Old City.  

Cleanliness: 3 Stars – It seems like they haven’t renewed the place since its opening. I don’t know if the carpets, beds and bathrooms don’t look clean because they’re just old or because they really aren’t cleaned regularly. One thing’s for sure – the closet in my dorm was dusty!   

Staff: 5 Stars – Very friendly and helpful staff.

Security: 5 Stars – I felt very safe. The front door has an auto-lock and can only be opened by the receptionist or with a code.

Facilities: 4 Stars – The place has all the needed facilities, though some of them look a bit worn down. It was really scary climbing up to the top of the bunk bed, as it was really swaying, and the shower could have been perfect if it had a curtain.

Atmosphere: 4 Stars – There are plenty of common areas to meet fellow travelers, including a huge roof terrace. But there aren’t any activities going on, or at least I wasn’t informed of any.

Value for Money: 4 Stars – The prices of a bed in a dorm are very cheap compared to other places! I stayed in a female-only dorm and payed around 80 ILS after VAT, which is crazy to find in Jerusalem. This also included a basic breakfast. If they could make it look a bit less worn down, it would have been perfect.

Bottom Line:

Jerusalem Hostel is a basic backpacker hostel in the heart of Jerusalem, which really keeps its historical character. The place looks like it hadn’t changed since the beginning of the 20th century, when it was first opened as a 2-star hotel. It also doesn’t have an elevator, just like it didn’t have one in the 20th century. If you like this kind of rustic charm, this might be the place for you. The price is also very-very budget friendly!

Detailed review of the Jerusalem Hostel:

The hostel is located in the center of Jerusalem. It is right in front of trendy Ben Yehuda Street and just a few steps away from the “Jaffa Center” light-rail station, which will take you to almost wherever you need. It is also just 10 minutes by foot from the Machane Yehuda Market and the Old City.Of course, there are also plenty of restaurants and bars in the area.

The entrance to Jerusalem Hostel

There are plenty of common areas. Next to my dorm I found a small common room with some sofas, books and a table. But the thing I loved most about this small common area was the small porch, which has two chairs on it, overlooking the beautiful Zion Square. If you like people-watching, I suppose you can spend a lot of time on this nice porch. There’s also great breeze in the night.

The view of Zion Square from the balcony

Another common area I found was the roof terrace, which is partly shaded and also overlooks Zion Square, though you need to stand on your tippy toes to actually see something. On the huge roof terrace there are plenty of sofas, tables and chairs to sit on, so you can definitely hang out here if it’s not rainy.

Just a little part of the roof terrace

The dorm is very simple. I spent the night in a female-only 6 beds dorm. There’s nothing amazing about the dorm itself. The carpet looks stained, the ladder leading to the upper bunk bed is not too stable, the bunk bed itself sways when you’re on it, the sofa chair looks crumbled and there’s no net on the window, which means you can expect flies. As I’ve already mentioned, the place looks like it hadn’t been renewed for a very long time. The only thing that looks very new – and very not connected to the rustic appearance of the room – are the lockers. By the way, if you want a lock, you can buy one at the reception for 15 ILS. There’s also an open closet hive, which you can use to store your things which are not valuable.

Next to each bed there’s an electricity plug and a small shelf. During the night I accidently knocked my shelf off one of its hangers. I was lucky to wake up before it smashed down on my knee or something. Oh, and there’s no bed light, so forget about reading when everyone else is sleeping.

The rustic dorm with the super modern lockers

And you don’t have to leave the dorm in order to go to the toilet. There’s an en-suite bathroom! Though, it doesn’t look much better than the dorm itself. The mirror has orange dots all over it, the faucet is also quite colorful and the shower stands not far from the toilet, with no curtain surrounding it. You can lock the bathroom, so no problem with privacy. Though, if you go to the shower, you can expect a large puddle in the bathroom afterwards, including on the toilet. At least there’s a squeegee. Because of the small distance between the bathroom and the beds, you can also expect smells even when you’re not in the bathroom. As I said, get yourselves ready for a very simple stay.

Other than dorms, the hostel also offers some private rooms. You can check them out on Jerusalem Hostel’s website.

The bathroom

Breakfast is free. It is served between 7:30 AM to 10:30 AM on the roof terrace and includes boiled eggs, plain sliced bread, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, some cheese, hummus and jam. There’s also a free coffee and tea stand, which is available 24/7 in the guest kitchen area on the second floor. In the morning, the coffee and tea stand is also available on the rooftop. As in many other hostels, you need to wash the dishes afterwards.

The breakfast

If you prefer to make your own food, there’s a small guest kitchen on the second floor, with all kinds of cooking utilities and a cozy sitting area.

Other free things include: (1) the WIFI, which works great, and (2) the bed linen and a towel, which are given upon arrival. If you come in early and your dorm is still not ready, you can also store your stuff in the free storage room and go out to explore the city until the official check-in time.

So, what isn’t free?  As I’ve already mentioned, if you want a lock for the locker in your dorm you can purchase one for 15 ILS at the reception. The reception also offers earplugs for 5 ILS. The hostel is located in the center of the city, right above where all of the commotion is, so if you have trouble sleeping when people are making noise on the street, you might find those earplugs handy. You can also pay for laundry service.

The staff are very friendly and are available 24/7.  The hostel has a very friendly and helpful staff. When I booked the hostel, I accidently booked the wrong dorm. When I reached out to the hostel to change the reservation, they were very quick to do so and it was done in a very pleasant manner. Then, when I came early for checking-in, they also greeted me very nicely. The dorm wasn’t ready, so I asked if I could leave my stuff in the storage room. This is of course possible. The guy at the reception gave me the code to the storage room on the second floor, but when I got to the door, I had a really hard time opening it. I have a problem opening locked doors in general, so I won’t recommend you taking me to an Escape Room. Anyway, I went down to the reception and told him I couldn’t open the door, so he went all the way upstairs to open it for me. Other than that, they were friendly throughout all the stay, also at check-out.

The front door is always locked and can only be opened by the receptionist or by using a code, which is given upon check-in. The dorm was also locked by a code.

Part of an original door of the hotel from 1928

To sum it up, Jerusalem Hostel keeps its rustic appearance from the 20th century. There are plenty of old photos on the walls of the hostel, and the carpets on the floor also look like they’re ancient. When you step on the floor tiles, you can feel some of them are shaky. There’s also a beautiful curvy staircase leading to all three floors, the entrance, the rooms floor and the rooftop terrace. If you have a mobility problem or don’t like walking up and down stairs, this isn’t the place for you. But if you don’t have a problem with stairs and rustic surroundings, you might find this hostel very special.

The staircase leading from the roof terrace to the second floor

More hostels in Jerusalem:

Cinema Hostel

CapsuleInn Jerusalem

Abraham Hostel Jerusalem


Review written on September 2019. My stay in Jerusalem Hostel was part of a personal trip and was not sponsored by Jerusalem Hostel or any organization. 

Think this post is useful or helpful? Don’t forget to like, share and leave a comment 🙂

Also, check out my Facebook page, Backpack Israel.

Want help with planning your trip to Israel? Check out my new app, Travel Israel on Google Play or iTunes. You’re also welcome to contact me through the Experts tab.

Looking for a tour guide in Jerusalem? I might be available. Send me an email – lior@backpackisrael.com.

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Jerusalem Stays

CapsuleInn Jerusalem: Super Cool Capsules in the City Center

Jerusalem is an amazing city, and there’s nothing like staying the middle of the city to truly experience its vibes. That’s why I decided to spend 3 nights in Jerusalem, each night in a different hostel. The first one I stayed in was CapsuleInn. From the photos online it seemed like a really cool place, and I’ve also read that it was the FIRST capsule hostel built in Israel, so of course I had to check it out.

Here’s a promotional video of CapsuleInn, made by the Hadassah Academic College (in Hebrew), which includes some filming from inside the hostel:

In this post I’m going to tell you the main things I have to say about CapsuleInn. If you don’t have time to read through it all, here’s a very short summary:

Location: 5 Stars – Perfect location! The hostel is located right next to Jaffa Street, a few steps away from Ben Yehuda Street and about a 10 minutes’ walk from both Machane Yehuda Market and the Old City.

Cleanliness: 5 Stars – Everything was very clean when I stayed there.

Staff: 4 Stars – Overall staff were very polite and nice, but they could try to not talk too loudly, because the reception is exactly where the capsules are and they aren’t soundproof.

Security: 5 Stars – I felt very safe. The front door is auto-locked and can only opened by the reception or with the chip they give you at check-in. The capsules can also be locked from the inside.

Facilities: 3 Stars – The capsules are great, but they aren’t soundproof. Other than the capsules there’s not much more in the hostel. There is no bar and there is only one common area, which is where the capsules are and that means you need to keep your voice down. Also, the shower I used did not have hot water. Later I understood that they have some problem with it, which can be sorted.

Atmosphere: 3 Stars – I think this hostel is less suitable for those who want to meet people and socialize. The common area, as I said, is where the capsules are and it’s not so pleasant chatting there, knowing that you might be disturbing someone in their capsule. There are also no special activities. It’s just you and your capsule.

Value for Money: 3 Stars – CapsuleInn offers a capsule for 100 ILS a night. In other hostels, 100 ILS is more or less the price of a bed in a mixed dormitory. The difference in CapsuleInn is that you get some privacy in the dormitory, because the capsule can be completely closed and locked from the inside. Other than the capsule, there’s not much offered. There’s no breakfast, there’s only one common area, there’s no 24/7 reception and in my case, there was no hot water in the shower.

Bottom Line:

Sleeping in CapsuleInn is like sleeping in a small spaceship. If you’ve never slept in a capsule before, this might be a good opportunity to experience this special type of accommodation. The design of CapsuleInn is very beautiful and amazing, but I believe they have some things to work on to improve the place, like making sure that the showers always have hot water and finding a way to keep noise levels down. If you’re less interested in meeting new people and socializing and more interested in laying your head down after a long day of exploring Jerusalem, CapsuleInn could be an interesting option.

And here it is in detail:

The hostel is located in the center of Jerusalem, at Jaffa 35. There are plenty of restaurants and bars around, and the trendy Ben Yehuda Street is just a few steps away. It’s also just 10 minutes by foot from Machane Yehuda Market and the Old City. To get to the hostel, you can take the light-rail train to “Jaffa Center” station and then walk about 250 meters east until the right turn to the hostel. There are a couple of stairs and then you get to the entrance. After entering, you need to climb down a bit more stairs and then you’re there. And what’s amazing is that you don’t hear the street from inside the hostel, although it’s right above you.

The entrance to CapsuleInn

The hostel is very small. The reception is in the same room as the capsules, which is a bit weird. There are 26 capsules, all situated around a small common area with some sofas and a table. There’s also a space with personal lockers and a corridor leading to the toilets and showers. I felt that there were plenty of toilets and showers. Other than that, there’s nothing else.

This is more or less the entire hostel 🙂

The highlight of the stay is the capsule. I stayed in an upper capsule, which meant I had to go up the steps to its entrance. You open the capsule with an electronic card which is by itself quite cool – and then you climb inside. The capsule is like a mini private room, with a mattress (which for me wasn’t too comfy, but was bearable), a mirror, USB charging points, ceiling lights, reading light, air conditioning, hangers and ever a small TV with different Israeli channels. If you like, you can play around with the buttons of the capsule and change the lighting to blue, yellow, green and many other colors, which is super cool! You can also lock the door of the capsule from the inside, which really gives you a lot of privacy. The only problem with the capsule is that it is not soundproof, which means you hear every little thing that happens outside your capsule. It’s less suitable for light-sleepers. If you’re coming as a couple, you can also get a double capsule.

The mirror and the control dashboard inside the capsule
The little TV in the capsule… Talking about the government

Everything was very clean, including the toilets and the showers. I also saw the staff changing the linens of the mattresses.

There’s a free tea and coffee stand. You will need to wash the cup after yourselves. There’s also a small refrigerator, where you can store small things. But breakfast is not included, so don’t count on it.    

There’s free WIFI, which sometimes works but sometimes doesn’t. When it works, it works great.

Although it’s written that you have to pay extra for a towel, I was given one with no charge. The linen was also for free. At the reception you can see a list of things that you can purchase for extra payment, including a bathing kit, a tooth brush kit, flip flops and luggage storage.

A disappointment was the shower. When I tried to take a shower in the evening, the water was cold. Even after waiting for a few minutes, the water was still cold. I was told later that there is sometimes a problem with the heating system. So, if this happens to you too, I suggest you go to the reception and ask them to try and solve the problem. Other than that, the shower has soap, a mirror and a stool on which you can lay things down.

The staff were polite, but there was a downfall (that was solved later very quickly). During check-in I was greeted by a guy at the reception who was very polite, but insisted to charge me again although I told him I had already paid through Booking. After getting home and seeing that I was indeed double-charged, I contacted CapsuleInn via E-mail and got a quick respond from the owner saying that they will return my money. They contacted me via phone and returned the money. So, they are alright, but still, I suppose this could have been avoided. Other than that, the fact that the reception is where the capsules are is a bit disturbing. Every time someone comes to check-in or check-out, you can hear everything, and if the receptionist talks on the phone, you can also hear it. Also, keep in mind that the reception does not operate 24/7. On the one hand it means less noise from that direction, but on the other hand it means it would be harder to get help in the middle of the night. There is a number to call, though, in case of emergencies.

So, to sum it up… CapsuleInn is a small and beautiful hostel, which offers a very special and cool accommodation experience. You just have to keep in mind that the capsule isn’t soundproof and that it’s a fairly new hostel, which means there could arise some slight problems during your stay. If you’ve never stayed in a capsule before, I truly recommend checking out this place, which is also quite affordable!

Check out their website – CapsuleInn Jerusalem.


More hostels in Jerusalem:

Cinema Hostel

Abraham Hostel Jerusalem

Jerusalem Hostel


Review written on September 2019. My stay in CapsuleInn was part of a personal trip and was not sponsored by CapsuleInn or any organization.  

Think this post is useful or helpful? Don’t forget to like, share and leave a comment 🙂

Also, check out my Facebook page, Backpack Israel.

Want help with planning your trip to Israel? Check out my new app, Travel Israel on Google Play or iTunes. You’re also welcome to contact me through the Experts tab.

Looking for a tour guide in Jerusalem? I might be available. Send me an email – lior@backpackisrael.com.

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Food Jerusalem

My Favorite Budget Places to Eat in Jerusalem

I love to eat and luckily, Jerusalem is full of great restaurants. In this post I would like to share with you my favorite budget restaurants in Jerusalem, most of them even open on Shabbat! They offer delicious things to eat at prices that range from around 10 ILS to around 30 ILS, which is about 3 to 8 USD. Ready? Let’s start with a short video about Israeli street food by Israel (not shot in Jerusalem, but still quite good), so you can see how some of the food looks like:

And now… Let’s move to the list of my favorite budget restaurants in Jerusalem.

The post was last updated on 20 October 2021.

Table of contents:

Aricha Sabich – Eggplant and egg in a pita

Jahnun Bar – Oily delicacies

Hummus Lina – More than just hummus

Hummus Ben Sira – The regular hummus, just Kosher

AHummus Shel Tchina – Hummus with a twist

Pasta Basta – Fast and tasty pasta

Jafar Sweets – The best kanafeh in the Old City

Conclusion

Aricha Sabich (in Hebrew: אריכא סביח)

Let’s start with my most favorite. This little restaurant on Agripas Street, on the other side of the road from Machane Yehuda Market, is where you can get super tasty Sabich for just around 20 ILS. Sabich is a traditional Iraqi Jewish dish. It’s a pita stuffed with fried eggplant and hard-boiled eggs. On top of those you can add to the pita whatever you want – tahini sauce, salad, amba, spicy sauce and chopped parsley.

The place doesn’t have many tables, but if the place is busy you can always take the Sabich as take-away, as it comes in a pita. The service is fantastic. They take your order first and then ask you what you want in your pita. It takes just a few minutes to get your Sabich and then the only thing left is to eat and enjoy!

Check out their Facebook page here.

Opening Hours: Sunday to Thursday from 9:30AM to 11PM, Friday from 9:30AM to 2PM. Saturday closed.

Address: 83 Agripas Street, in the Machane Yehuda Market area.

The entrance to Aricha Sabich Jerusalem
The counter

Jahnun Bar (in Hebrew: ג’חנון בר)

Another great place to eat is Jahnun Bar. I usually go to their branch in Machane Yehuda, but they also have a branch on Hillel Street, which is open also on Shabbat (the one in Machane Yehuda isn’t). In Jahnun Bar you can taste some dishes from the Jewish Yemenite cuisine.

The Jahnun is made of rolled up dough and a lot of butter and is traditionally served with a tomato dip, hard-boiled eggs and skhug, which is a hot sauce used by the Yemenites. In Jahnun Bar they sell delicious jahnuns for just about 20-25 ILS.

They also sell malawach, which is a kind of flatbread, brushed with oil and cooked flat in a frying pan. You can ask whatever fillings for it, and they will wrap it up for you. It costs around 25 ILS. Their service is also fantastic and you can take it as a takeaway or stay to eat it in the market, which also as a great vibe.

Another dish they offer is the Shakshuka, which isn’t Yemenite originated. It’s a dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, garlic and spices, and is a very popular dish for breakfast in Israel. I’ve tasted the jahnun and the malawach and can recommend them very much! I still need to go taste the shakshuka, but suppose it’s also great.

Check out their Facebook page here.

Opening Hours: The one on Hillel Street is open 24 hours a day.

Address: In Machane Yehuda Market – 30 HaEgoz Street. Outside the market – 28 Hillel Street.

Jahnun Bar in Machane Yehuda Market

Hummus Lina (in Hebrew: חומוס לינא)

You’ve probably wondered where you can get great hummus in Jerusalem. There are a lot of hummus places in the city, but the one I recommend most is Hummus Lina in the Christian Quarter of the Old City. First of all, unlike other places in the Old City, Hummus Lina has a menu with prices, so it would be hard to work on you and sell you something at a higher price than it actually is (which sometimes happens in other places). Other than that, Hummus Lina has wonderful hummus and also very tasty falafel balls. A plate will falafel balls will cost you around 10 ILS and a plate of hummus – around 20 ILS. There’s hummus with fava beans, hummus with hummus beans or hummus with pine nuts.

Hummus Lina have plenty of room to sit and enjoy your food. The place is a family business that started about 60 years ago, and it seems like they have a winning recipe!

Check out their Facebook page here.

Opening Hours: Every day from 8AM to 4PM.

Address: 42 Al Khanka Street.

The entrance to Hummus Lina in the Old City

Hummus Ben Sira (in Hebrew: חומוס בן סירא)

Although Hummus Lina is great, it’s not Kosher. So if you want to eat Kosher hummus, I recommend you leave the Old City and start eating towards Hummus Ben Sira. This hummus restaurant is Kosher and located just a few steps away from the Mamilla Mall.

Their hummus is very-very good, especially when they add meat to it. But you can also get hummus with fava beans, hummus with hummus beans, hummus with mushrooms and hummus with cauliflower. The hummus costs around 15-25 ILS, depending on which type you choose. The other things on the menu are – in my point of view – less successful. And another thing you should keep in mind is that the service here is usually very-very-very slow.

Opening Hours: Sunday to Thursday from 11AM to 4AM (the next day), Friday from 11AM to an hour before Shabbat, Saturday from an hour after Shabbat to 4AM (the next day).

Address: 3 Ben Sira Street.

Just behind the car – that’s Hummus Ben Sira
The inside of Hummus Ben Sira

AHummus Shel Tchina (in Hebrew: החומוס של טחינה

If you want to try something special, AHummus Shel Tchina is the place for you. It specializes in hummus, but gives it a unique twist. When I was there, I ordered the “traffic lights hummus,” which is a dish of hummus divided to three colors – red, green, and white. The red is made from a mix of hummus and dried tomatoes. The green is made from a mix of hummus and parsley. And the white is just hummus (and maybe tchina). It was delicious. They bring it with some sliced pickles, olives, and warm pitas.

The hummus costs 28 shekels. If you want to add something to the hummus, like an egg, mushrooms, fried onion, or many other options, you’ll need to add a few shekels. We added eggplant, which was a great addition, but it cost us an additional 4 shekels. They also sell falafel balls, chips, and salads, so… you might end up spending more than 30 shekels, but it’s worth it.

The place is hidden in a side alley leaving from the main Agripas Street, next to the Machane Yehuda Market. It is nicely designed and has good, young vibes. The waitress was also very welcoming.

Check out their website here (in Hebrew).

Opening hours: Sunday to Thursday from 11 AM to 10 PM, Friday from 10 AM to 4 PM. Saturday closed.

Address: Nisim Bachar Street 23.

AHummus Shel Tchina – Hummus with a twist

Pasta Basta (in Hebrew: פסטה בסטה)

Pasta Basta is my favorite budget food chain in Israel. It serves fresh pasta. It’s not an Israeli food, but it’s delicious, fresh and on a budget! Jerusalem’s Pasta Basta is located at the end of Machane Yehuda Market and has plenty of places to sit. The menu consists of pasta types, pasta sauces and toppings. What you need to do is form your perfect pasta dish by choosing your favorite pasta type, sauce and toppings. If you choose to eat without toppings, the maximum amount you’ll pay will be 31 ILS and the minimum amount – 23 ILS. The pasta is ready within minutes from your order and the only thing left is just to enjoy your meal. I’ve never been disappointed!

Check out their Facebook page here.

Opening Hours: Sunday to Thursday from 11AM to midnight, Friday from 10AM to an hour and a half before Shabbat. Saturday closed.

Address: Tut Alley 8, Machane Yehuda Market.

Pasta Basta in Machane Yehuda Market

Jafar Sweets:

There’s no better way to finish a culinary post than with some sweets. A friend of mine took me to Jafar Sweets in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City a few years ago and I’ve been returning to this place for sweets ever since. The place is named after Mohammad Jafar, who opened it in 1951.

If you’re passing by, you should definitely try their sweet and super tasty kanafeh. Kanafeh is a traditional Arab dessert made from pastry or dough soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, and layered with melted cheese. Another type of sweet they sell is baklava, a pastry made of layers of filo, which are filled with chopped nuts, held together with honey or sweet syrup.

Jaffar Sweets is a huge place with plenty of places to sit and great service. On each table there’s a water pitcher if you’d like to drink between the sweet bites.

Opening Hours: From early morning until late.

Address: 40 Beit HaBad Street, in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.

The entrance to Jafar Sweets in the Muslim Quarter

A Bit Above the Budget:

At the beginning of the post I said that the restaurants I’ll talk about offer meals which are under 30 ILS. If you don’t mind going a bit above the budget, I highly recommend checking out Knaf in the Machane Yehuda Market, just across from Jahnun Bar. This place brings a twist to the original kanafeh, a kadaif pastry filled with melted cheese. Instead of cheese, they fill the kanafeh with meat (or with a vegan filling). And it is delicious! It costs 38 ILS for a meat filling and more for a vegan filling. Although it’s super yummy, I wouldn’t call it a meal because the portion is quite small. If you’re hungry, you would probably need to buy something additional after this.

Knaf at Machane Yehuda Market

And if you’re not interested in budget places at all, you can try out the famous Azura restaurant or the excellent Mano BaShouk, which are both located in the market and offer mid-range prices. Mano BaShouk also has a few items on the menu that are less than 30 shekels, so you can also count it as one of the budget restaurants in Jerusalem.

Conclusion:

There are many budget restaurants in Jerusalem that offer dishes for less than 30 shekels. And they don’t sell only hummus. You can also get pastas, falafel balls, jahnun, sabich, kanafeh, and many more food items for a reasonable price. Hope my list of favorite budget restaurants in Jerusalem will help you find a great place to eat. Have a yummy time in Jerusalem!

Pin this post for later!

More posts you might find useful:

Top Free Things to do in Jerusalem

Free Things to do in Jerusalem Old City

Shabbat in Jerusalem: What’s Open?


Do you have any recommendations on budget restaurants in Jerusalem? Tell me in the comments or send me a message through my Facebook page.

If you liked this post or found it useful, I’d really appreciate a like, share or comment from you (:

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Free things to do Jerusalem

Top Free Things to Do in Jerusalem Old City

The Old City of Jerusalem is one of the most enchanting and beautiful places in the world. At least that’s what I think. Of course, it is also one of the holiest cities in the world, holy to the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. AND it is at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so you can be sure that you’ll find plenty to see here! And if you want to see things outside of the Old City, check out my post – Top Free Things to Do in Jerusalem.

Here is my list of the top FREE things to do in Jerusalem Old City. Later in this post, you’ll also find a suggested itinerary for the Old City.

This post was last updated on 19 September 2021.

Table of contents:

Top things to do in the Old City of Jerusalem:

1- Leave a wish in the Western Wall:

The Western Wall (Ha-Kotel in Hebrew) is the holiest place in the world for the Jewish people. It is one of the remaining walls of the Second Temple complex built by Herod the Great in the 1st century BCE. The Romans destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 CE. On the western side of the Temple lay the Holy of the Holies. That’s why today’s Western Wall is so holy – because it was the closest to the Holy of the Holies, where God’s presence appeared.

Many people come to the Western Wall, no matter their religion, to touch the wall, maybe whisper a prayer. It is customary to place a wish between the giant and impressive stones, which have been standing here for almost 2,000 years. You are also welcome to come with a piece of paper and pen, write down a wish you would like to ask from God and place it in the Western Wall.

How to visit:

The Western Wall Square is open 24 hours a day, free of charge. Before entering the compound, you’ll need to pass through a security check. There are entrances both from the Jewish and the Muslim quarters. Near the wall, women and men pray separately because of religious reasons. On Shabbat (Friday eve- Saturday eve), it is recommended not to take photos near the Western Wall because it violates the Shabbat religious laws. 

The Western Wall Plaza

2- Visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:

The holiest church in the world is in the Old City of Jerusalem! This church is so holy because it marks the place where, according to the Christian Catholic and Orthodox belief, Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected. It is an enormous church with tons of history, so I recommend reading about it before visiting. Read my post – Church of the Holy Sepulchre: A Full Visitor’s Guide.

In short, the church was first opened in 335 CE, built on top of a pagan temple dedicated to Aphrodite. Originally it was much larger than today, and its entrance was from the east. It was almost completely ruined in 1009 by a Fatimid caliph called Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah and then rebuilt about 40 years later on a much smaller scale than the original. The Crusaders, who came in 1099, added a rooftop to the central part of the church, closing what was originally an open-air garden. This church is what we see today.

Some of the most central points in the church include:

  • The Calvary (Golgotha), where Jesus was crucified.
  • The Stone of Anointing, on which they put his body before burial.
  • The Rotunda and Aedicule, where you can see Jesus’ empty tomb. You can also enter the tomb if you’re willing to wait in the very-very long line.
  • The Chapel of Saint Helena, today a chapel decorated with beautiful Armenian paintings and a wonderful floor mosaic. Underneath the Chapel of Saint Helena is the chapel in which the True Cross of Jesus was found.

How to visit:

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is open April-August from 5 AM to 9 PM; September from 5 AM to 8:30 PM; October from 5 AM to 8 PM, end of October-February from 4 AM to 7 PM; March from 4 AM to 7:30 PM. The entrance is free. Try to avoid coming here between 11:00AM and 3PM, because these are the busiest hours in the church.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

3- Go back in time in the Cardo:

One of my favorite places in the Old City is the Cardo in the Jewish Quarter. “Cardo” is the name of the main street in ancient Roman cities, that crossed the city from north to south. The Cardo in the Jewish Quarter is just a small part of the whole Cardo. The rest is not open to the public. At one end you can see the columns of the Cardo and the places where there were stores. Then, you enter a small underground part, where you can see a beautiful replica of the Madaba Map, which shows Jerusalem during the Byzantine period, the 6th century.

When you’ll continue to the other side of the underground passage, you’ll exit to another part of the Cardo, which has some beautiful wall mosaics showing how the Cardo’s stores might have looked like almost 2,000 years ago. On the main wall, there’s also a fantastic painting showing how the Cardo might have looked like. Can you spot the boy who came from the future?

The Cardo is free of charge. The part with the replica of Madaba Map is closed during Shabbat.

The Roman-Byzantine Cardo

4- Wander through the different marketplaces:

The Old City is full of marketplaces. When you enter through Jaffa Gate, you see the David Street Marketplace right in front of you. When you enter Damascus Gate, you see the two streets, Beit HaBad and Al-Wad (Ha-Gai), which are also part of the Old City’s marketplaces. You can spend time wandering along those streets and seeing the different things that are offered in the marketplaces – spices, fabrics, menorahs, kippahs, printed t-shirts, ceramics, and much more. If you’ll want to buy anything, don’t forget to bargain to get the best price!

5- Pay an intimate visit to the Little Kotel:

The Western Wall square is the most popular amongst visitors to the Old City, but there are other segments of the Western Wall that are less known to the public. One of them is the Little Kotel, a small segment that was discovered in 1970 in what is today the Muslim Quarter. You’ll find it in a small courtyard north of the Barzel Gate. Here, you can pay an intimate visit to part of the Western Wall. Usually, the Little Kotel is empty from visitors. So, you won’t have a problem reaching and touching it and you can stand next to it with your travel partner even if you are of opposite genders.

The entrance to the Little Kotel is free of charge.

The Little Kotel

6- Explore the quiet alleys of the Armenian and Jewish Quarters:

There are parts of the Old City which are very crowded, but there are also some areas which are usually quite empty of tourists. If you’re searching for some quiet, you can make your way to the Armenian Quarter, which has some wide streets and almost no tourists walking through them. Once in a while there are also some beautiful archways, so keep your eyes open.

Another fairly quiet area is the Jewish Quarter, especially its side alleys. Enter one of the alleys leaving from the main square and start exploring the area. The Jewish Quarter was fully reconstructed after the Six Day War in 1967, because the Jordanians have destructed it 19 years before, in the Independence War of 1948. So now, you should remember that you’re walking in alleyways that were rebuilt after 1967, which isn’t too ancient. Nevertheless, there are some beautiful spots and especially some beautiful doors in the Jewish Quarter, so keep your camera ready.

A quiet street in the Armenian Quarter

7- Walk the Via Dolorosa:

One of the most important routes in Old City Jerusalem is the Via Dolorosa, a Christian Catholic route that traces the last footsteps of Jesus from his sentence by Pontius Pilate to his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection in what is today the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Surprisingly, this route mainly goes through the Muslim Quarter and not the Christian Quarter, so you’ll also have a chance to see a bit of the Muslim Quarter while walking on along it. The Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering/ Way of the Cross) consists of 14 stations, each telling a phase in Jesus’ last way to the Cross.

It begins in the Umariya Elementary School on Via Dolorosa Street, the former location of the Antonia Fortress in which Pontius Pilate might have held the trial against Jesus. Then it continues through a number of small churches and chapels until it finally reaches the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where you can find four of the stations. Each station on the street is marked by half a circle on the sidewalk and a grayish plate on the wall with a Latin number on it, telling the number of the station. If you’re a Christian, this route might be one of the top things you should see while in Jerusalem Old City.

Via Dolorosa

8- Visit Temple Mount:

Temple Mount is a flat complex situated above the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City. The Dome of the Rock (with the Golden Dome) and the Al-Aqsa Mosque stand on it today, both built in the 7th-8th century. It was once the area on which the two Jewish Temples stood, and that is why it is called Temple Mount. There are no remains of the two Temples because they were both destructed.

Many people visit Temple Mount to see the magnificent Dome of the Rock from up close, with its beautiful ceramics, but I’ve put it last on my list because I was a bit disappointed – if you aren’t Muslim, you cannot enter the buildings of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, so you cannot see the beauty from the inside. My father has been lucky enough to be in a time when they did allow non-Muslims to enter the buildings. Only recently, in 2000, they have blocked this option.

How to visit:

The entrance to Temple Mount is free of charge, though it is open in tight hours – in the summer, from 7:30AM to 11:00AM and from 1:30PM to 2:30PM and in the winter from 7:00AM to 10:30AM and from 12:30 to 1:30PM. The only entrance for non-Muslims is from the Mugrabim Gate, next to the Western Wall square (the wooden bridge). You can exit from any other gate. I recommend you come as early as possible, because sometimes there develops a long line at the security check. You must dress modestly with long pants and covered shoulders, and cannot bring any religious or nationalistic items that are not Muslim or Arabic-Palestinian.

For more info on Temple Mount, read my post – The Story Around Temple Mount.

The Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount

Bonus attraction:

One attraction that isn’t free, but is worth paying a visit in Jerusalem Old City is the David Tower Observation Point. If you’re not interested in seeing the museum, you can just pay to climb up the observation tower (just 10 ILS as of April 2019). The observation tower’s base is a tower from the time of Herod the Great, the 1st century BCE, so that’s exciting in itself. The view from up there is just splendid and surely worth the price! You can see both the old and the new city.

Suggested self-guided Itinerary in Jerusalem Old City:

This is how it looks, more or less…

Looking for a guided tour in Jerusalem Old City?

I’ll be happy to guide you around the Old City! Read more about my private tours here.

Begin your visit at Jaffa Gate.

Jaffa Gate was one of the first gates to be built in the Ottoman wall of the Old City, in the 16th century. It was also one of the two main gates together with Damascus Gate. The road that led from Jaffa Gate went all the way to Jaffa, and that’s why we call it Jaffa Gate. In Arabic, it’s called Bab al-Khalil, which means Hebron Gate, since there was another road from the gate which went all the way to Hebron. To reach Jaffa Gate, you can walk south of Jaffa Road or use the light-rail train, get off at “City Hall” station and walk southward to Jaffa Gate.

Jaffa Gate

Enjoy the view from David Tower.

After entering through the gate, you’ll see to your right a huge tower, which was one of three towers built by Herod the Great in the 1st century BCE. Today it is called David Tower following a Byzantine tradition which says King David sat in this tower and wrote his poems here. Of course, that can’t be true, because the tower was built a long time after King David was dead. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful and ancient tower, which was a bit repaired during the Mamluk and Ottoman eras. You can climb up to the top (at a small cost) and enjoy a beautiful view of Jerusalem Old City.

Continue through the Armenian Quarter towards the Jewish Quarter.

From David Tower, continue right (south) on the wide street into the Armenian Quarter. Turn left on St. James Street (near the first small tunnel) and walk along it until you reach an intersection of streets. You’ll see a sign saying, “Welcome to the Jewish Quarter”. Continue on the street that continues straight, called Or HaHayim Street (אור החיים). It will take you straight to the central square of the Jewish Quarter.

Enter the Cardo.

Look beyond the railings and you’ll see an ancient Roman-Byzantine street right underneath you. You can climb down to this beautiful segment of the street and walk along it for a few meters before climbing back up to the modern street level.

Have a look at the Wide Wall.

The Wide Wall is another ancient remaining to see in the Jewish Quarter. It is part of the wall built by King Hezekiah in the early 8th century BCE in order to try and prevent the Assyrian army from conquering the city of Jerusalem. Somehow, whether it was because of God’s help or because of a plague that hit the army, the Assyrians never crossed this wall. The wall can be seen on Bonei ha-Khoma Street (בוני החומה).

The Wide Wall

Continue to the Hurva Synagogue.

At the center of the Jewish Quarter stands the magnificent Hurva Synagogue, which was rebuilt here after the 1967 Six Day War. “Hurva” in Hebrew means “ruins”. The synagogue stood in ruins between 1948 and 1967, but is called “ruins” because it was ruined in the 18th century, about 20 years after it was first built. You can enter the synagogue and see it from the inside for 20 ILS as of April 2019. In front of the synagogue stands a replica of the golden Menorah that once stood in the Holy Temple. It is the symbol of the Jewish people and so fits very well in the center of the Jewish Quarter.

Enter the Western Wall Plaza.

From the Hurva Synagogue square, continue east on Tiferet Israel Street (תפארת ישראל) until you reach Misgav Ladach Street (משגב לדך) and then take the stairway going down. The view of the Mount of Olives and the Temple Mount will soon be revealed to you in its greatest splendor. Continue all the way down the stairs until you reach the security checkpoint. After crossing this checkpoint, you’ll be on the Western Wall Plaza. The area close to the wall is divided between men (left) and women (right), so if you wish to get close, make sure to enter through the suitable part.

Visit the Little Kotel.

After visiting the famous part of the Western Wall, I recommend you make a stop at the less known part – the Little Kotel. Exit the Western Wall plaza through the covered passage that leads to Al-Wad Street (הגיא). Continue on this street until you’ll see a right turn to Sha’ar ha-Barzel Street (שער הברזל). Continue on this street through a dark passageway until you reach one of the entrances to the Temple Mount complex. It’s guarded by Israeli soldiers, who prevent anyone non-Muslim from entering. But you won’t need to enter the Temple Mount. Just turn left into a small passageway right next to the Barzel Gate, walk a few steps, and you’ll be next to the Little Kotel. “Kotel” in Hebrew means “Wall”. This is part of the Western Wall, and its courtyard it usually almost completely empty, so if you didn’t have a chance to touch the wall with all the crowds in the other location, you can touch it here.

Stop by some Mamluk architecture.

When you leave the Little Kotel back to Al-Wad Street, take a look at the building opposite the opening to the Little Kotel. It is made from integrated red and bright bricks, an architectural style called ablak. If you can spot it, there’s also a beautiful muqarnas feature in one of the doorways. This is one of the many buildings built by the Mamluks, who came to Jerusalem in the 13th century and stayed here until the beginning of the 16th century when the Ottomans came. “Mamluk” in Arabic means “slave”. They were slaves who were trained to be warriors, converted to Islam and later revolted and became the rulers of Egypt.  

Make your way back to Al-Wad Street and continue until the next turn left to Aqbat e-Taqiya Street (מעלות המדרשה). You’ll need to climb up some very low stairs and keep your eyes on the left side of the street, where you’ll see another Mamluk building with the same ablak and muqarnas elements. This building is called Toonchok Palace. The lady Toonchok was buried inside. Later, in the 16th century, the building was expanded and became a soup kitchen for the poor. Today, it is an orphanage.  

See the building on the right? It’s Mamluk

Explore the different chapels of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Continue up the street until you reach Beit Ha-Bad Street (בית הבד). Turn left and then right to Shuk ha-Tsabaim Street (שוק הצבעים). This street will lead you eventually to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Pass through a small doorway and you’ll be inside the square of the magnificent church, which might look quite plain from the outside, but is very impressive from the inside. Explore the different halls and chapels before continuing on your way.

Leave the Old City through Damascus Gate.

You can either leave the Old City from Jaffa Gate or you can diversify and walk out of the city through Damascus Gate. Return to Beit Ha-Bad Street and continue on it north towards Damascus Gate. You’ll pass through the Muslim marketplace all along the way. If you want to finish your day with something sweet, I recommend you keep your eyes out for Jaffar Sweets, which should be on the left side of the street, closer to the gate. It is my favorite place for Arabic sweets, kanafeh and baklava.

Pin this post for later!

More posts that might interest you:

Shabbat in Jerusalem: What’s Open?

The Jerusalem Dual Narrative Tour: Hearing Two Sides of the Story

The Many Sites of Mount of Olives: What to See?


Have a wonderful time in Jerusalem Old City!

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

Also, if you think anything is missing or have any more questions, please send me a message through my Facebook pageBackpack Israel or email me through lior@backpackisrael.com.

If you’re looking for a guide in Jerusalem, you can contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com. I’m a licensed tour guide in Israel.

And if you’re planning a trip to Israel, don’t forget to check out my FREE app – Travel Israel for Android and iOS.

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Jerusalem Trip Planning Tips

Shabbat in Jerusalem: What’s Open?

Shabbat is the holy day of the week for the Jewish people. It begins on Friday eve and ends on Saturday night. So, you can call it Saturday. Because Israel is a Jewish democratic state, most businesses and public transportation follow the Shabbat religious laws. This means that most public transportation does not operate on Shabbat. Also, almost all businesses are closed, including shops and restaurants. In this post, I want to focus on Shabbat in Jerusalem. 

Get ideas on how to get around during Shabbat here:

There’s No Public Transportation on Shabbat.

The holy city of Jerusalem is strict regarding Shabbat laws, so many places and services will be closed. But there are still some things that do operate on Shabbat. Now, I’ll tell you about the top things you can do on Shabbat in Jerusalem. Also, I’ll mention some restaurants which are open on Shabbat and aren’t too expensive. 

Post last updated on 12 July 2021.

Here’s a video by Kinetic Village, which talks a bit about the Shabbat and gives some footage of Jerusalem. The footage isn’t necessarily from Shabbat, but I really like it: 

Table of Contents:

Top things to do in Jerusalem on Shabbat

Explore the Old City

Visit one of Jerusalem’s museums

Enjoy the graffiti works in Machane Yehuda Market

Take part in a Shabbat dinner

Visit the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo

Join a guided tour

Restaurants open on Shabbat in Jerusalem

Top Things to Do in Jerusalem on Shabbat:

1- Explore the Old City.

Almost all places in the Old City are open on Shabbat, including churches and the Tower of David Museum. The Jewish Quarter attractions, restaurants, and shops are closed, but the Western Wall is open. Just keep in mind that it is not customary to take photos in the Western Wall plaza during Shabbat because it isn’t allowed to use cameras during Shabbat. If you do take photos, people might ask you to stop (and might not). Temple Mount is also closed on Shabbat.

 

Temple Mount – Closed on Shabbat

2- Visit one of Jerusalem’s museums.

Some of Jerusalem’s top museums are open on Shabbat, including the Tower of David Museum and Rockefeller Museum, which are in the Old City area. Also open are the Israel Museum, Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem Science Museum, and Museum for Islamic Art. But they are a bit farther away from the city center, so you will need to take a taxi or walk about 40 minutes to reach them. By the way, the Israel Museum offers FREE entrance for kids on Shabbat.

 

The Israel Museum – open on Shabbat

3- Enjoy the graffiti works in Machane Yehuda Market.

On Shabbat, the stalls in Machane Yehuda Market are closed. That means that the shutters are down. You’ll be able to see dozens of beautiful graffiti works made by the artist Solomon Souza. The graffiti works are painted on the shutters and show the faces of famous people – and less famous people – from Israel’s history. There are also some biblical scenes.

Just a few of the graffiti works in Machane Yehuda Market

4- Take part in a Shabbat Dinner.

One of the most amazing experiences in Israel is taking part in the Shabbat dinner. For Jewish people, this dinner is the most important meal of the week. Religious or traditional families say a set of blessings, sip from the wine and split the challah bread between all the participants. Many hostels offer a Shabbat dinner to their guests at an additional price.

If you want to experience a more intimate Shabbat dinner, you can join a Jewish family for this important event. Several companies link travelers and families for Shabbat dinner. One of the leading companies is Shabbat of a Lifetime. You can also find a Shabbat experience on Eatwith

Challah bread on Shabbat

5- Visit the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.

The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo is open during Shabbat between 10 AM to 5 PM. You can spend a pleasant afternoon walking on the different paths, between the variety of animals. Though, keep in mind that the zoo is far from the city center. That could be problematic on Shabbat because there’s no public transportation. You’ll need to rent a car or take a taxi.

Find more info on the official website of the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.

These giraffes look grumpy… don’t they?

6- Join a guided tour.

COVID-19 Alert:

Many of the tours do not operate at this time due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Prefer exploring the city with a guide? You can join one of the tours offered by different companies in Jerusalem on Shabbat:

 

Restaurants Open in Jerusalem on Shabbat: 

(all restaurants are in the city center or the Old City)

  • Jahnun Bar – They serve amazing jahnun and malawachs, but you can also order shakshuka and different salads. The place is open 24 hours a day, including Shabbat, and the prices are affordable! Address: Hillel 28.
  • Aroma – This is a national chain that serves coffee, sandwiches, salads, and breakfasts. The breakfasts include shakshuka, of course. Most branches in Jerusalem are not open on Shabbat, but one is open on Hillel 18.
  • Bolinat – This is a pleasant cafe and bar, popular among the students of Jerusalem. It offers excellent hamburgers, pasta, and salads. They also have a menu for vegans. Prices are average, and it’s open every day until late, including Shabbat. Address: Dorot Rishonim 6.
  • Abu Shukri Restaurant – In the Old City Muslim Quarter, Abu Shukri offers wonderful hummus. There are also the usual side dishes – falafel balls, french fries, pita bread, and salads. This restaurant is here from the 60s and is well-known amongst tourists and locals alike. Address: El Wad ha-Gai 63.
  • Jafar Sweets – Here is the place to go for a perfect kanafeh. This Arab dessert is a pastry soaked in sweet syrup and layered with yummy cheese. But besides the kanafeh, there are also delicious baklavas and other Arab sweets. They have been making sweets for over 60 years, so they know what they are doing. You’ll find their restaurant inside the Old City Muslim Quarter, on Beit HaBad Street. 

I’m sure there are more, but those are the ones I know and recommend. Know of any more budget restaurants open on Shabbat? Let me know in the comments or PM me on my Facebook page.

Pin this post for later!


Wishing you a great Shabbat in Jerusalem!

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

Also, if you think anything is missing or have any more questions, please send me a message through my Facebook pageBackpack Israel or email me through lior@backpackisrael.com.

And if you’re planning a trip to Israel, don’t forget to check out my FREE app – Travel Israel for Android and iOS

Yours,

Lior

 

Categories
Jerusalem Tel Aviv Trip Planning Tips

5 Places that I Love in Israel

This evening we will celebrate Tu B’Av in Israel. This Jewish holiday is corresponding to Valentine’s Day. It’s the holiday of love. So on this special occasion, I want to share with you 5 places that I trully love in Israel. There are more places I love, of course, but let’s leave them for next year. You’re also welcome to share yours!

Here are my 5 places that I love in Israel:

Mount of Olives Observation Point – 

I’ve become fond of observation points this year and the Mount of Olives Observation Point is without a doubt my favorite. It overlooks the Old and New City of Jerusalem, which I love as well, and is located on Mount of Olives, an interesting hill per se. Day and evening, this observation point is fantastic! The climb to the top is quite challenging, because a very-very steep road leads to it, but if the weather isn’t too hot and my legs aren’t too tired – I’ll climb up it a thousand times to see the view from here.

Lookout over the Old City

Aish HaTorah Overlook –

Yes, this is another observation point. I discovered this overlook just a few weeks ago and fell in love. It’s located on the rooftop of Aish HaTorah, a Jewish Orthodox organization and yeshiva in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. From the top of the building you get an amazing view over the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. I’ve never seen such a great view of those two holy sites. And the model of the Holy Temple here is really impressive.

 

It costs 10 ILS to climb up to the rooftop.

The view from the rooftop…

Agamon Hula –

When I’m in the Upper Galilee, I like to stop here to enjoy a good bicycle ride. In the center of Agamon Hula Park is a beautiful artificial lake, where water birds rest, nutrias swim andaquatic plants grow. Everything around is green and the path that encircles the lake goes on for about 8.5 kilometers, so I can easily bike here for around one-two hours (I’m a slow biker). Bikes can be rented at the entrance to the park, and if you prefer to walk around the lake that’s also possible.

The entrance to the park is free. You only need to pay if you want to rent bikes or golf carts. It’s open Sunday to Thursday from 9:00AM to 4:00PM and Fridays and Saturdays from 6:30AM to 4:00PM. There are some buses that stop close by (such as 111 and 500), but the easiest way to get here is by car.

I really love this nutria!

Ein Avdat National Park – 

One of the most enchanting places in Israel is Ein Avdat. It’s in the middle of the desert, but has flowing water in it. The Tsin stream passes here in a beautiful canyon, full of aqua plants and magnificent trees. There’s a beautiful spot with a waterfall, and then you start climbing up a cliff, where monks once lived in caves. I really like climbs and beautiful oasises in the desert, so this place in the Negev is one of my favorites!

The problem is that it isn’t very accessible. You can get there by taking a bus to Sde Boker, but getting on a bus at the other end of the trail can be difficult. If you’re coming with a car, that’s difficult as well, because you’ll need one for pickup at the end of the trail. So… The only logical option is to go back the way you came.

This park is under the responsibility of Israel Nature and Parks Authority. It’s open Sundays to Thursdays and Saturdays from 8:00AM to 5:00PM, Fridays from 8:00AM to 4:00PM. In the winter, it closes an hour earlier. The entrance costs 28 ILS for an adult. If you plan to visit more national parks in Israel, I would recommend you check out the Money Saving Tickets.

Water in the desert

Tel Aviv-Jaffa Promenade – 

I love walking along the promenade between Old Jaffa and the Tel Aviv Port. The beautiful Mediterranean Sea is spread on one side, the modern city of Tel Aviv on the other, and people pass by on the promenade itself, some on foot, some on bikes. It’s really enjoyable during the summer evening, when it’s a bit chilly. During the day, you can see people enjoying their time on the beachside. The walk takes about an hour and is a great way to relax after a long day of city touring!

One of the beaches along the promenade

Happy Tu B’Av full of love!


Those were my five beloved places in Israel. And yours?

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

Also, feel free to connect with me on Facebook – Backpack Israel.

For more info about Israel – check out my new app, Travel Israel (free download on Google Play  and iTunes).

Yours,

Lior