48 Hours in Jerusalem
A magnet for millions, Jerusalem is one of the world’s holiest cities, attracting followers of three of the world’s major faiths – Christianity, Judaism and Islam. One of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem is a melting pot of tradition, religion, and history, as well as modern culture and heritage with a wealth of things to see, do and experience.
To really get a feel for the city and its deep-rooted cultures, you’d ideally need more than just a few days to wander the city and soak up the rich fusion of this incredible city, however, if you have limited time and are willing to start your days early and do a lot of walking, you can experience all that Jerusalem has to offer in a couple of days.
Getting Around Jerusalem
The best way to see and experience this Holy City is on foot, and many of the city’s top attractions are within walking distance of one another inside or just beyond the Old City walls. The Old City has to be explored on foot, but if you are short on time and want to venture further afield then the easiest and quickest way to get around Jerusalem is by taxi or the new light railway system, Jerusalem Light Rail Transit (JLRT). Another option is by bus and the city’s transportation company, Egged, provides excellent public bus services within the city and many points around the country.
Bear in mind that Friday to Sunday are holy days of rest for all three religious groups in the city and many attractions are closed on these days, so plan your sightseeing adventures between Monday and Thursday to get the most out of the city. Also remember it’s a good idea to dress modestly (long trousers for men and skirts or dresses below the knee/tops with sleeves for women) to show respect when visiting holy sites.
Two-Day Tour of Jerusalem
Jerusalem has so many fascinating sites to see, but if you have limited time, there are few that shouldn’t be missed. We’ve put together a list of things to see and do if you have 48 hours in the Holy City. Enjoy!
Day 1: The Old City and Temple Mount
One of the most extraordinary places on Earth, the Old City is the beating heart of Jerusalem. Divided into four quarters that are home to three different religions – the Jewish Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter, this should be your first port of call to really get a feel for the city.
Exuding an atmosphere and energy like nowhere else on the planet, The Old City is home to some deeply religious and symbolic sites with Temple Mount at the core, which is a venerated holy site for all three religions. Forming part of Temple Mount is the Wailing Wall, the holiest site in the world for Jews, the Dome of the Rock, which Muslims believe is the site where the prophet Muhammad was thought to rise to heaven, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Christians believe Jesus died on the cross and was buried.
Christian Sites in the Old City of Jerusalem
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the most important Christian site in Jerusalem and every visitor, no matter their faith, should approach the holy site through the Jaffa Gate and walk the Via Dolorosa to the Church. This is believed to be the path that Jesus took on his journey to the Cross and is a deeply religious experience. Stop along the way to see the incredible markings on the ancient stone walls and for an out-of-this-world experience, watch the Franciscan Custodians of Holy Places lead a procession on Fridays at 3 pm.
Other fascinating sites to visit in the Christian Quarter of the Old City include The Convent of the Sisters of Zion (a Catholic nunnery), the Garden Tomb (around the City Walls), the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, and St. Anne’s Church. History buffs who want to spend some extra time exploring these incredible sites might want to take a guided Jerusalem Half Day Tour around the area.
Jewish Sites in the Old City of Jerusalem
The Jewish Quarter has been home to Jews since the century 8 BCE and is a fascinating place to explore with many beautiful synagogues, interesting museums and yeshivas, ancient historical sites, and the iconic Western Wall (‘Kotel’ in Hebrew). A visit to this iconic holy site is an unforgettable experience and one that should not be missed. Open to visitors of all religions, the Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, is one of the holiest sites in the Jewish religions, and Jews from around the world come to pay homage here, praying and placing notes in the cracks and crevices of the ancient wall.
This is a fascinating place to explore alone or on a guided tour, where you can wind your way through the alleyways, visit bustling markets, explore the many historic sites, and learn more about the history of the Quarter at excellent museums.
The Cardo was the main thoroughfare of the city of Jerusalem from Roman times. Beginning at the Damascus Gate in the Muslim Quarter and running right across the city to the Zion Gate in the Jewish Quarter, the Cardo has been excavated and beautifully restored with the original shops now functioning as cafés and gift shops. This is an amazing place to visit and shouldn’t be missed.
Stroll along the Cardo, once the main thoroughfare of the city of Jerusalem from Roman times where merchants sold their wares. Beginning at the Damascus Gate in the Muslim Quarter and running right across the city to the Zion Gate in the Jewish Quarter, the Cardo has been excavated and beautifully restored with the original shops now functioning as cafés and gift shops. This is an amazing place to visit and shouldn’t be missed. Don’t miss the Madaba Map, an awe-inspiring mosaic that depicts ancient Jerusalem.
Visit the Hurva Synagogue, a hidden gem that has had a tumultuous history, being destroyed and rebuilt several times over the past 200 years. After being destroyed by the Arab Legion in 1948, the new Hurva Synagogue was lovingly rebuilt and completed in 2010 and an impressive sight to behold. You can only visit the Hurva Synagogue on group tours, which are conducted throughout the day.
Archaeology-lover will delight with a visit to the Burnt House, an interesting exhibition situated in the basement of a family home beneath the streets of Jerusalem dating back 2,000 years. The house is believed to have been the home of the upper-class Jewish Katros family, and an interesting audio-visual show tells the story of the burning of Jerusalem by the Romans in the first century.
You can also venture to the City of David on a City of David and Underground Jerusalem Tour.
Muslim Sites in the Old City of Jerusalem
The Muslim Quarter features beautiful Mamluk architecture that reflects the golden age of Islamic design, and its bustling streets are lined with merchants’ stalls selling fresh pastries, fruit and nuts, incense, and spices, creating a heady mix of rich aromas that fill the air. The area around the Damascus Gate is a hive of activity and a great place to grab a Turkish coffee before exploring the area.
The Muslim Quarter is home to a myriad of magnificent landmarks that are best seen on a guided walking tour of the area as some sites like the Dome of the Rock cannot be entered by non-Muslim visitors.
The Dome of the Rock rests at the heart of the Muslim Quarter and is Islam’s third most holy site. Built in 691-692 CE, the magnificent Islamic shrine is instantly recognizable by its shimmering gold roof and blue-tiled exterior and houses the holy Foundation Stone where Muslims believe the prophet Muhammad rose to heaven.
One of the most beautiful examples of Mamluk architecture can be seen at the Palace of the Lady Tunshuq. Situated halfway down Aqabat Al Takiya, the noblewoman’s palace was built in 1388 and features exquisite inlaid marble work, and stone ‘stalactites’ known as muqarnas, an architectural trademark of the Mamluk. The palace now houses an orphanage school so you can only admire this building from the outside but look out for the Tomb of the Lady Tunshuq that rests opposite the palace – look for the green door with a carved panel.
End the day with a walk up to the Mount of Olives outside the City Walls to catch the spectacular sunset. Spend the evening at one of the excellent restaurants or bars in Jerusalem’s New City and watch the Light and Sound Show at the Tower of David. Movie-lovers should head to the Cinematheque on Hebron Road, which regularly hosts documentary film festivals against a backdrop of fabulous views.
Day 2: The New City Jerusalem
The New City Jerusalem is home to an array of world-class museums that offer fascinating insights into the history and cultures of Jerusalem and some incredibly moving experiences. Two museums stand out above the rest and while this is might prove to be slightly overwhelming to do in one day, they are a must-visit if you have limited time.
Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Centre
Be prepared for an incredibly emotional experience at the Yad Vashem, which leaves most visitors with indelible memories. The museum presents the Holocaust (‘Shoah’ in Hebrew) from a uniquely Jewish experience and takes the visitor on a remarkable journey through this abhorrent time in history. The museum houses a collection of over 27,000 items donated by survivors ranging from personal possessions and artifacts to testimonies and visitors are confronted with the grim reality of life in concentration camps as they follow the path of millions of Jews during this time.
A Hall of Names remembers the six million murdered and the Righteous Gentiles space honors those who risked their lives to save Jews. While not the easiest place to visit, the Yad Vashem is a must to understand the collective trauma of the Holocaust that still reverberates throughout Israeli society today.
The Israel Museum
The Israel Museum is one of the world’s leading art and archaeology museums and Israel’s foremost cultural institution and definitely worth a visit if you want to learn more about the rich history of the region and see the Dead Sea Scrolls! The museum houses an immense collection of over 500,000 objects, including the most comprehensive assemblage of archaeological finds from the Holy Land and the world-renowned Dead Sea Scrolls. The museum is also home to extensive selections of Judaica, fine art from Israel and around the world, design, and architecture, and photography.
Fun for the Kids in Jerusalem
Jerusalem may be one of the holiest cities in the world, but there are plenty of fun and family-friendly activities to enjoy if you are traveling with kids. From the Bloomfield Science Museum and the Jerusalem Time Elevator to the Biblical Zoo and Aquarium, which offers night tours, workshops for all ages, and a petting zoo for the little ones, you won’t have difficulty finding fun things to do with the children. The Aquarium is enclosed and a great spot to spend a rainy day.
Biblical Archaeology in Jerusalem
Jerusalem is a wonderland for archaeologists, historians, and anyone with a passion for biblical history. Heaving with ancient and holy sites, age-old architecture, symbolic artifacts, and cultural icons, the Holy City is best explored on guided tours to take everything in. Tours like “In the Footsteps of Jesus” take visitors to the Church of St. Anne and the Pater Noster, explore the Pools of Bethesda, and discover the Garden of Gethsemane and the Mount. of Olives.
An Evening at “The Shuk”
If you have an evening free, head to the lively Mahane Yehuda market in the heart of the city where you’ll a variety of great places to eat serving an array of international cuisine from Persian to Portuguese. Located off Jaffa Street, the market is the buzzing hotspot to be in the evenings, particularly on Thursdays when the locals are out and about, and you can sip craft beers and listen to live music in a vibrant, laid-back atmosphere.