What to do in Jerusalem, Israel

The idea of going to Israel was in the air for a very long time – since my friend moved there some 6 years ago. So we considered and considered, but were a bit afraid because of “there is war there” and “in the airport they look through all your things, and then undress you and look into your vagina”. And then my friend was getting married and this argument was stronger than the previous two (and we hoped they were not THAT correct anyway). We are coming.

Before the whole story, let me say just that I am consciously not bringing the politics into this post and this is not the space to discuss any of it.

Rainbow over Jerusalem

Best time to visit Jerusalem

This can actually depends very much on whether you like heat or cold more. The altitude of Jerusalem combined with its continental climate ensures rather cold winters and dry hot summers. To make your stay more comfortable in summer, do look for accommodation with proper air conditioning. As for the winter, make sure that the place you are staying in is well-insulated and the heating is included in the price. Although the country is in the south, winter nights can get rather cold, so you will want to stay warm inside.

For me the best months to visit would be either March and April or October to November. The average temperature in Jerusalem during those months would be around 15-19, which is probably the most comfortable temperature I can think of for walking a lot around the city – and in Jerusalem you will really need to walk a low.

Getting to Jerusalem

The flight from Vilnius is a bit over 3 hours (though stated 4, it was faster), which is good – I expected much longer. Mark did his usual stuff: played, eaten, slept, charmed and annoyed us and people around – in no particular order. But 3 hours is an ok time, you can survive it on a plane with a toddler. And so can the people next to you.

When we got to the famous security check at the airport, it proved to be not too scary. The lady looked strict and she asked question in a strict tone:
– What is the purpose of your visit?
– How long are you staying and where?
– Are your friends picking you up at the airport?
– How did the little one take the flight? Was he ok? Did the ears hurt?
– Welcome to Israel.

So that was it, no vagina check up. However, as we found out later, if you happen to have a black beard and not reply to the questions seriously, you are taken in for questioning, and it is a much less of a smooth start.

But now we are out of the airport, see the grass, palm trees and smell the orange bloom and this makes us extremely happy, because we just left from snowy fairy-tale.  Cycling in Jerusalem

We had 5 days in Jerusalem, out of which 1 was arrival day and one – the wedding day. The original plan was to visit Tel Aviv as well, but then we dropped it. You see, I have a secret long distance crush on Tel Aviv for some reason, similarly as you can fall in love with a singer or a film star without ever meeting them, and I was afraid that one day there is absolutely not enough. We decided to leave it for the next time, and this time focus on Jerusalem only.
And it was a good idea, having a toddler in our party, who just learned to walk and wants to walk himself – it did set our speed down a lot a lot a lot. We managed to visit the main sights and even more playgrounds, spent a full day at the zoo (more about this later) and also had time for slow coffees and picnics.
One good thing about Jerusalem – it is walkable, even with a stroller. We used the tram (there is only one line) a couple of times in the rain, and a bus once to get to the zoo, but apart from that we just walked. It is hilly, but really manageable – just treat it as a workout. And during the Sabbath all of the public transport stops, which allows you to walk on the tram rails!
Hills of Jerusalem

So, what to do in Jerusalem?

Ben Yehuda street Jerusalem

Ben Yehuda is busy street full of restaurants, coffee, kippa and other shops. And people, except for the evening of Sabbath – then it’s completely deserted. 

Armenian quarter

We were told it has beautiful churches and ceramic shops. But at the time we were there (Saturday evening), it was cold and windy and dark, and we only saw the walls. So please don’t repeat our mistake.

Christian quarter

Looked like a very big market. The small streets are within the city walls, they are mostly covered and there are shops of all possible things: clothes, jewellery, souvenirs – and the closer you come to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the more religious souvenirs you can buy, like candles, crosses and icons.  It was rather loud and overwhelming, but we did visit the Church and were even more overwhelmed inside by crowds of people. You can call it anything but serene.

But the stairs outside were very smooth and warm from the sun, so this felt in a way stronger than inside the church.

Jewish quarter

We enjoyed it the most, partly because of the weather and timing, but also because it seemed most spacious and atmospheric. Also it had a great playground, where Mark spent at least a couple of hours in total (we ended up coming there several times). And we were also there when the Sabbath was about to begin, so it was filled with people preparing, bringing the food and extra chairs out and had an atmosphere of anticipation of a really nice evening. Well, maybe because we were also anticipating a nice evening – visiting our friends and their gang (a cat, a dog and two rats) and later going for a dinner with an amazing loud and loving family, who almost adopted Mark, and us together with him.

Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem

Just to finish the Quarters

There is also a Muslim quarter, which we didn’t see. The streets were getting narrower, and more stairs were coming, so it was difficult to continue with the stroller, Mark was falling asleep, and there were many loud teenage boys sitting on the stairs. So we decided not to venture in and leave it til the next time.

Western Wall

In Russian the name of the wall can be translated “the wall of crying,” so this is what I was actually expecting. You can have an outlook at the wall from the square (where this picture was actually taken), but as it was Sabbath, you are not allowed to use camera near the actual wall. You are also supposed to go through a check point, similar to the ones in the airport: the scanner for yourself, and a separate one for your bags. Again, as it was Sabbath, the (electric) scanners were switched off, and the guards just looked into the bags.

Western Wall, Jerusalem

And last but not least a confession. I am much more a modern city person rather than an ancient city person. To illustrate this, two examples:

– I was meeting a couple of Italian friends in Rome, who took me to see the Colloseum for the first time. They were anticipating my excitement and amazement when I see it, and when I did see it I hard to actually fake some of this excitement. The truth is I didn’t feel much of it, as much as I wanted to.

– We were on a work trip to Oslo with my boss, and had a free couple of hours for sightseeing. When we reached the Opera building, I spent good 40 minutes walking around it, touching it and took at least 100 pictures of it from all possible angles. And then sat down on the terrace, kept staring at it and felt like giggling and crying at the same time (I did nothing of that, but you get the point of a violent love reaction) until my boss really really demanded to continue sightseeing.

Chords Bridge

Coming back to Jerusalem, I was expecting to enjoy it, but not to love it. But look, it does have something specially designed for me as well!

This beauty has several names (or probably several translation from Hebrew versions): The Chords Bridge or the Bridge of Strings or Jerusalem Light Rail Bridge.

And we crossed it every day twice a day!

Chords Bridge, Jerusalem

All in all

So yes, the city is definitely a mix of ancient, relatively old and very modern. It was also some time ago that I had a wish to come back to a place right after coming home, and started checking the flights back here straight after landing in Vilnius. So stay tuned, at some point more Jerusalem will be coming here. And for now in a couple of days: the food and the zoo.

View from the Chords Bridge, Jerusalem

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3 thoughts on “What to do in Jerusalem, Israel

  1. Sheree says:

    What a fantastic guide!! We missed the Chords bridge, but we loved the Western Wall and everything else in the Old City. Sorry to hear you missed the Muslim Quarter, it’s definitely worth checking out next time you’re there!

    • merrygoroundslowly says:

      Thank you! I’m glad you got to see the Muslim Quarter, and I do hope to have a chance to go there again soon!

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