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Top Free Things to Do in Jerusalem Old City

by backpackisrael
Published: Updated: 19 minutes read
Arch in the Armenian Quarter, Jerusalem

The Old City of Jerusalem is one of the world’s most enchanting and beautiful places. At least, that’s what I think. Of course, it is also one of the holiest cities in the world, sacred 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 you’ll find plenty to see and learn here! And if you want to see things outside 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.

Top things to do in the Old City of Jerusalem

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, together with the Temple Mount. It was one of the retaining 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 is why today’s Western Wall is so holy – it was the closest to the Holy of the Holies, where God’s presence appeared.

Many people come to the Western Wall to touch the wall and whisper a prayer, no matter their religion. Many place a wish between the giant and impressive stones, which have stood 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. If you don’t have a piece of paper or pen, they usually have some near the Wall. Ask the representatives sitting in the booths around the Western Wall Plaza. 

How to visit

The Western Wall Plaza 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 not allowed to take photos near the Western Wall because the Jewish law forbids it. If you take pictures on Shabbat, someone will most likely approach you and ask you to stop. 

If you’re coming on a Monday or Thursday, you can watch the Bar Mitzvah ceremonies at the Western Wall.

Western Wall Jerusalem

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 Christian Catholic and Orthodox beliefs, 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, the Goddess of Love. 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 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 a very long line.
  • The Chapel of Saint Helena, a chapel decorated with beautiful Armenian paintings and a fantastic 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 in Summer from 5 AM to 8:45 PM, in September from 5 AM to 8:30 PM, in October from 5 AM to 8 PM, and in Winter from 4 AM to 7 PM. The entrance is free. Try to avoid coming here between 11:00 AM and 3 PM because these are usually the busiest hours in the church.

Facade of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

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 portion of the entire Cardo. The rest is closed to the public because it’s underneath the houses. 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. There are also other maps that show Jerusalem in all kinds of periods. 

When you 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 almost 2,000 years ago. At the back, there’s a large wall painting showing what 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 the Madaba Map is closed on Shabbat.

The painting of the Cardo in the Jewish Quarter

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), also part of the Old City’s marketplaces. You can wander along those streets and see the different things offered in the marketplaces – spices, fabrics, menorahs, kippahs, printed t-shirts, ceramics, and much more. If you want to buy anything, don’t forget to bargain to get the best price!

Alleys in the Old City Market

Pay an intimate visit to the Little Kotel

Most people go to the well-known Western Wall Plaza. But there are also other sections of the Western Wall that are lesser known to the public. One of them is the Little Kotel, a small section 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.

Explore the quiet alleys of the Armenian and Jewish Quarters

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

If you would like to visit the Armenians’ main church, the Cathedral of Saint James, it is open to the public daily at 3 PM for about half an hour. An Armenian ceremony takes place at that time.

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 had destroyed it 19 years before, in the Independence War of 1948. So now, you should remember that you’re walking in alleyways rebuilt after 1967, which means it isn’t too ancient. Nevertheless, there are some beautiful spots and doors in the Jewish Quarter, so keep your camera ready.

Arch in the Armenian Quarter, Jerusalem

Walk the Via Dolorosa

One of the most famous routes in Old City Jerusalem is the Via Dolorosa. This Christian Catholic route 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 along it. The Via Dolorosa, also known as “The Way of Suffering” or “The Way of the Cross,” consists of 14 stations, each focusing on 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 several 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 to see while in Jerusalem Old City.

Read my full guide to Via Dolorosa.

Cross next to the 9th Station of the Via Dolorosa

Visit Temple Mount

Temple Mount is the platform above the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City. The Dome of the Rock, with its golden dome, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque stand on it today, both built in the 7th-8th century. It was once the area where the two Jewish Temples stood, which is why it is called Temple Mount. There are no remains of the two Temples because they were both destructed.

Many visit Temple Mount to see the magnificent Dome of the Rock from up close, with its beautiful ceramics. Since 2003, if you’re non-Muslim, you can’t enter the structures themselves, but even from the outside, they are amazing. 

How to visit

The entrance to Temple Mount is free of charge, but it is open in restricted hours – in the summer, from 7:30 AM to 11:00 AM and from 1:30 PM to 2:30 PM, and in the winter, from 7:00 AM to 10:30 AM and from 12:30 to 1:30 PM. The only entrance for non-Muslims is from the Mugrabim Gate, next to the Western Wall Plaza (the wooden bridge). You can exit from any other gate.

I recommend you come as early as possible because sometimes there is a long line at the security check. You must dress modestly in 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.

Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount

Enjoy beautiful (free) viewpoints in the Old City

If you like viewpoints, you can check out the Rooftop Viewpoint, which offers a great view of Mount of Olives and the Dome of the Rock. To get there, you can go to the Jewish Quarter, walk on Habad Street, and then climb up a set of metal steps to the viewpoint. Go up to the platform over there to see the best view. 

Another free viewpoint is the Western Wall Viewpoint, From the Jewish Quarter, walk north on Misgav Ladakh Street until you reach an open plaza, then turn right and up a set of stairs to the viewpoint. From there, you can get a good view of the Western Wall.

Read more about viewpoints in Jerusalem.

Looking for a guided tour of Jerusalem’s Old City?

I’m Lior, a certified tour guide in Israel. specializing in Jerusalem. I will be happy to give you a private tour of the Old City and beyond!

Learn more about my private tours

Lior - tour guide in Jerusalem


The Old City of Jerusalem is a top destination for anyone visiting Israel. Most of the sites you can see there are free of charge, including the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Via Dolorosa, and the Temple Mount. I wish you a great time in Jerusalem’s Old City!

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

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Rochelle | Adventuresfromelle April 13, 2019 - 1:12 pm

This is a lovely guide. I hope to visit Israel some day.

backpackisrael April 13, 2019 - 1:32 pm

Thank you ? Hope you will visit soon!

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[…] Free Things to do in Jerusalem Old City […]

Top Free Things to do in Jerusalem – Backpack Israel May 29, 2019 - 12:01 pm

[…] And check out Top Free Things to do in Jerusalem Old City. […]

Karen November 11, 2019 - 12:44 pm

Currently in Jerusalem thank you for your insights and knowledge of the places to visit a great help.

backpackisrael November 11, 2019 - 1:05 pm

Thanks for the comment! Happy to help ?


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