Day 1, Sunday
After a good night’s sleep at your hotel, put on your most comfortable shoes and get ready for some serious walking in the Old City. Start from the information center at Jaffa Gate, and pick a couple of key points in the Old City to explore, but allow for lots of wandering around time, as it is one of the best activities and you’ll likely be on sensory overload.
From Jaffa Gate, you can easily explore the Armenian Quarter (mostly residential) and loop back up to the Jewish Quarter and the old Roman Cardo, which includes some high-end shopping. Keep going north to the Christian Quarter and you can see a number of churches, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Head back out toward Jaffa Gate and stop at one of the pizza shops or cafés for lunch that are just next to the information center. If your hotel is close by, go back and rest up from the noonday sun, or take in the air-conditioned shops and bookstores at modern and upscale Mamilla, at the foot of Jaffa Gate.
In the afternoon, walk from Mamilla to Nachalat Shiva, where you can spend a couple of leisurely hours exploring the shops, full of handmade crafts, before you walk to the Jerusalem Time Elevator exhibit for a 2D and sensory-enhanced trip through Jerusalem history. Stay in Nachalat Shiva for dinner to experience one of Jerusalem’s most famous and authentically Middle Eastern restaurants, Tmol Shilshom.
Day 2, Monday
After a leisurely breakfast, get a picnic lunch and work your way over to The Israel Museum by taxi or bus for a late morning museum session of antiquities and Jewish and regional history and art, including the Shrine of the Book, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls. Directly across the way is the Bible Lands Museum, with its gorgeous ancient jewelry displays and emphasis on biblical history.
When you’ve had enough air-conditioning, take a quick taxi ride or a 25-minute walk to a free tour of the Supreme Court of Israel; tour starts at noon and then just hop over to the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) for another free tour, starting at 8:30am, noon, and 2pm, if you have time. After your tours, stop by the Wohl Rose Garden overlooking Jerusalem to eat your picnic lunch. The roses will stay in full bloom late into the year, and after lunch you can spend some time exploring the grounds and its approximately 400 varieties of roses.
Head back to your hotel by taxi and rest up before dinner at any one of the City Center restaurants near Zion Square. After dinner, take a stroll through Zion Square with its lively evening atmosphere, and get dessert from one of the ice cream shops or the local favorite hole-in-the-wall dessert waffle shop.
Day 3, Tuesday
Make sure you are conservatively dressed or have something to cover your shoulders and legs, but with pants that can be rolled up, and head back to the Old City in the morning (bring a flashlight). This time take a taxi to Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem, and enter the Old City through the gate where you can explore the Muslim Quarter and see some of the stations along the Via Dolorosa, where it is believed Jesus carried his cross on his way to be crucified. Continue along the Via Dolorosa to the northern side of the Dome of the Rock, Al Aqsa Mosque, and the Western Wall, holy sites to Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Just before the entrance to the Western Wall there are a number of restaurants where you can get lunch and rest before continuing.
Exit the Old City just past the Western Wall and you’ll be in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, where the City of David is located. Make sure you buy a ticket that includes a trip through Hezekiah’s Tunnel (a good activity when the midday sun is out). After traipsing through the 2,700-year-old tunnel for 580 yards to the Pool of Siloam and touring the City of David, take a rest back at your hotel and freshen up for the evening.
Before dinner, take in the sunset at the swanky Mamilla Hotel’s rooftop terrace bar and restaurant (make reservations in advance). You can stay for dinner after enjoying the view of the old and new cities, or head downstairs to try one of Mamilla’s restaurants.
Day 4, Wednesday
Start your day with breakfast at the hotel and get out early to the Mount of Olives for the awe-inspiring sunrise. Get a taxi to take you to the top of the Mount of Olives’ highest vista point, above the old Jewish cemetery, right next to the Seven Arches Hotel. From here, enjoy the incredible view of old and new Jerusalem. Take a leisurely walk down the hill and go through the Jewish cemetery, or just continue downhill to various vista points for photos. Continue downhill toward the Old City, stopping to see the inside along the way. It’s a long walk, but taxis will pass you the whole way, so you won’t be at risk of getting stuck.
When you’ve had enough churches, take a taxi to the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University, where you can explore the campus, see the adjacent Jerusalem Botanical Garden, and have a late lunch.
After lunch, take a bus from campus back to City Center that is bound for the Machane Yehuda market (the shuk). Ask anyone how to get to the shuk; most people will know. Once you get there, take your time and enjoy exploring the massive market with its fresh produce and delicious snacks. Make sure to stop off at one of the shuk’s many restaurants for a late afternoon coffee and then head back to your hotel with some shuk food for dinner and rest up for tomorrow.
Day 5, Thursday
Use Thursday to do some more low-key sightseeing. Start in the beautiful residential area of Talbiyeh, home to the Israeli presidential residence. Stop in the L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art and check out their exhibits, then take a short walk to the Jerusalem Theatre to see if an art exhibit is up and what upcoming performances they might have during your visit. From there, take a 15-minute walk downhill toward the historic German Colony neighborhood and note the exquisite parks you pass by that are full of shady, peaceful corners.
Once in the German Colony (Emek Refaim St.), enjoy the architecture of the many beautiful, Templar-style buildings and homes. Stay in the German Colony for lunch, and hop one street over to the Railway Park and follow it in the direction of city center. Along the way you will find the newly created HaTachana train station culinary and shopping complex, built from the foundation of Jerusalem’s former main train station, which is more than 120 years old. After you’ve shopped a bit here and enjoyed the atmosphere with a post-lunch latte, continue on the railroad track park to the end and the hilly Lion Park with its beautiful fountain and pathways. Walk through the park until you reach the Montefiore windmill and the sweeping vista of east Jerusalem and the separation barrier in the distance. Continue on to the King David Hotel and the YMCA, both of which have historic architecture and idyllic outdoor seating and serve dinner. After dinner walk over to the Old City for the Night Spectacular light show near the Tower of David Museum citadel at Jaffa Gate.
Day 6, Friday
Take a taxi to Mount Zion just outside Zion Gate at the Old City, and explore Dormition Abbey and the area near King David’s tomb. If you have time, stop at the small Holocaust museum. Then go by foot or bus to City Center just uphill from Zion Square off of King David Street for the Friday Shabbat festivities, including a street fair with local arts, crafts, and food. Make sure to also explore the shops at the top of King David Street and the Bezalel Arts Academy, where the Bezalel Art Fair takes place every Friday. They sell Israeli-designed and made fashions including shoes, dresses and other clothing, and accessories. Find a spot at one of the busy restaurants in the area for lunch before things start to shut down around 3pm. If you’re interested, Friday is also the day for Jewish and Muslim religious services, which you can find at the nearby Jerusalem Great Synagogue or Al Aqsa Mosque. You must be Muslim to enter Al Aqsa Mosque during prayer time.
Otherwise, take the opportunity on Friday night to relax at your hotel as most of the city shuts down. If you’re near City Center and hear an alarm around sunset, don’t be worried: It is the Shabbat alarm telling religious Jews that the Sabbath has started. If you plan to go out to dinner on Friday night to one of the restaurants that is not kosher and remains open after sunset, make reservations in advance.
Day 7, Saturday
Saturday in Jerusalem is like being in a ghost town. Very few things are open and there is no public transportation. If your hotel is near the Old City (which is open and less crowded than usual), go to the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum to see antiquities and then spend some time hanging around the Old City. This is a good day to hire a professional tour guide. In the afternoon, you can take a rental car and drive through the alpine Jerusalem Forest to the nearby idyllic village of Ein Kerem for some short hikes and lunch at one of the village’s many excellent restaurants. The restaurants are all within easy walking distance of each other, but make reservations in advance.
Then take your pick of a variety of tourist activities in the town where John the Baptist was born and the Virgin Mary visited while pregnant with Jesus (note Mary’s Well). It is a small town and the signage is well arranged, so you don’t need to plan in advance what you’ll do. However, if you plan to take one of the small area hikes in the surrounding forest to the Shrine of the Visitation or the golden-domed Gorny Monastery, wear comfortable clothing and bring water.
Ein Kerem has a surprisingly active nightlife scene (though relatively low-key), so you can also plan to stick around for drinks on the terrace of one of the restaurants later in the evening and watch the sunset and possibly enjoy some live music.
Day 8, Sunday
Take a bus to City Center and Zion Square, with its mixture of tourist shops, street musicians, and cafés, the best of which are just off of the main artery of the square. After a bit of shopping, go to the bottom of Zion Square toward City Hall and catch the light rail train to Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl. Start with Yad Vashem, which can take several hours (children under the age of 10 are not allowed in the main hall). On your way back to the light rail stop by Yad Vashem shuttle bus, visit Mount Herzl, where you can get an audio-visual history of Zionist leader Theodor Herzl.
Day 9, Monday
Take an urban walking tour around Jerusalem with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, a half-day archaeological tour, or a double-decker Egged bus tour. Whichever you choose, you’ll get a more in-depth perspective on the city and its treasure trove or historical, religious, and archaeological gems.
Then stop by east Jerusalem’s Temple Mount Sifting Project near the Old City, where you can play archaeologist alongside experts by sifting through dirt for ancient remnants and objects. After you’re done making important historical discoveries, head to the Museum on the Seam by foot or taxi for a detailed and clear-eyed look at the juxtaposition of east and west Jerusalem from the political to the historical and religious. If you have the time and energy, get tickets near the Jaffa Gate for the Ramparts Walk along the top of the wall surrounding the Old City. You’ll be exhausted from a day of walking, so have dinner either in or nearby your hotel.
Day 10, Tuesday
Use Tuesday to do anything you just didn’t have time for in the previous nine days. If you don’t have a leftover agenda, head to the edge of east and west Jerusalem and the Sherover-Haas Promenade. Take a bus along Hebron Road to Yehuda Street and hop down to the charming neighborhood of Bak’a for breakfast at the Grand Café, which opens very early and makes their own croissants and other pastry treats, and is one of the most popular restaurants in the area. Have a cappuccino with the locals at the restaurant’s wraparound outdoor patio and revel in the Jerusalem morning sun.
When you’re done, take a short taxi ride or long walk to the promenade, where you’ll get a unique vista of Jerusalem, including the Dome of the Rock. If the weather is clear, you can also see Jordan in the distance. The lengthy promenade makes for the perfect leisurely walk along a gently inclined pathway that extends all the way down the hillside. If you are there during the right time of day, you will hear the distant sounds of the Muslim call to prayer sounding out across the hills and valley. It is the perfect place for quiet reflection and introspection after days of intense touring.
For a quiet dinner and wine with a rooftop view of the city, go by taxi to the imposing Pontifical Institute Notre Dame’s four-star Roof Top Wine and Cheese Restaurant.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Jerusalem & the Holy Land.