Last November, I embarked on a whirlwind 7-day tour of the Holy Land. The itinerary was, in a word, ambitious, but our group made it into the heart of a city filled with 4,000 years of history. Here are the hits, and what you don’t want to miss, in Jerusalem.
After a crazy busy day of sightseeing, walking into Mount Zion Hotel (17 Hebron Road) was a welcome way to decompress. The property has old-world charm to go along with sweeping views from x park and up to the walls of Jerusalem. The rooms are comfortable and most are complete with very spacious bathrooms. Squeeze in a relaxing steam in the hotel’s hammam spa before dinner. I recommend a deep tissue massage if you’ve got the time.
Mamilla Hotel (11 King Solomon Street) is for those that need to be in the centre of it all. The slick and stylish aesthetic is popular with business, fashion and media types.
And if you’ve got the dosh, take note that the five-star Waldorf-Astoria Jerusalem will open this year.
Ease your way into the fascinating city of Jerusalem by taking in the first views from the Mount of Olives. The major burial site seems to be where all the tour groups gather so it’s rather interesting to see these pilgrims from around the world. One word of advice: do not go to Jerusalem on a Friday. Everyone is praying, it is Shabbat for the Jews, and the place basically shuts down at 2pm. On any other day of the week, walk around the Old City that’s split into Arab, Jewish, Muslim and Armenian districts. The Arab souk (market), which sprawls across the Christian and Muslim quarters, is a good place to start. Next, visit the sacred Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Constantine the Great founded the original building in 335, and this is the blessed location of Jesus Christ’s tomb.
Then follow the pilgrims to the Western Wall (aka Wailing Wall) that’s stood through the ages, having been constructed somewhere around 19 BCE by Herod the Great. Say a prayer if you so desire.
MUSEUMS AND MARKETS
On another morning, we taxied to Yad Vashem (situated on Har Hazikaron) for an incredible guided tour through the living memory of the Holocaust. And trust me, you want to have a guide to help navigate and narrate the experience. There is always a crowd (note: groups of five or more have to schedule a visit in advance). Our guide, Sheryl, actually had a very personal Holocaust connection that made the visit all the more impactful.
Next up is the Israel Museum (Ruppin Boulevard) and the country’s largest archeological exhibits. From the Dead Sea Scrolls to contemporary Jewish art and life, one could make a full day of it here. There is also the MODERN restaurant if you are feeling peckish. However, I would recommend saving room for fresh halva at Mahane Yehuda Market. Halva King – the eminent purveyors of this melt-in-your-mouth sesame cake – is situated among the over 250 vendors at this shuk in the heart of Jerusalem. The market itself has two major streets; Eitz Chaim Street (the covered market) and Mahane Yehuda Street (the open-air market). Definitely worth picnicking your way through.
EAT + DRINK
If you have another day in the area, the Dead Sea and Negev Desert are memorable day trips. The latter is one of Lonely Planet’s top destinations for 2013, so hire a driver and get out on the dunes!
COOK LIKE A LOCAL
Not your average cookbook, Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi is a fantastic and delicious introduction to the city they call home.