Jerusalem is a city of contrasts, where modernity encounters the ancient, innovation and tradition go hand in hand, and streets crowded with people doing their weekend shopping turn into an oasis of quiet once Shabbat sets in. It is a city that leaves its inhabitants and visitors surprised, inspired, and curious for more, continuously unveiling new perspectives. Enjoy discovering this marvelous place.
Each of Jerusalem’s neighborhoods has its own distinctive flair and character. As a resident of the city, you’ll have ample opportunity to explore the many facets of Jerusalem that most tourists never see.
The Old City
Covering an area of only one square kilometer, Jerusalem’s Old City is likely to be one of the most intense places you’ll visit in Israel. With the Western Wall, Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, it is home to sites that are sacred to Judaism, Islam and Christianity alike, having attracted pilgrims for centuries. The four quarters – Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian – are an endless source of breathtaking, ancient sites of tremendous historical and religious significance, such as the famous gates to the Old City, the Dome of the Rock, the Via Dolorosa, the Tower of David, and so many more. Nowhere else in the city of Jerusalem will you witness greater cultural diversity than here. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, for example, is shared by six different Christian denominations. It will take you several visits to truly appreciate the abundance of cultural diversity the Old City has to offer.
Relatively unknown to tourists, Musrara is a hidden jewel and the kind of neighborhood one can only find in Jerusalem. Located just outside the walls of the Old City, at the nexus between East and West Jerusalem, in recent years Musrara has attracted many young artists and activists aiming to bridge the gap between Jerusalem’s populations. Institutions like the Eastern Music Center, the Naggar Multidisciplinary School of Art and Society, and the Jerusalem Center for Young People support these efforts. Yet Musrara is also one of the most magical areas in the city; just walk along Heleni ha’Malka Street on a late summer evening, take in the stunning historical churches and villas draped in bougainvillea, and you’ll understand.
The City Center
Always bustling, the triangle between Yafo, Ben Yehuda and King George Streets provides the pulse to the New City. Yafo Street is a paradise for all those who enjoy browsing for clothes. Since the modern light-rail runs the length of this street, you can easily get around here. As a local, you’ll soon discover that there are also many hidden gems in this neighborhood. How about taking a look at the beautiful courtyards of Nahalat Shivah or visiting the Ticho House Museum?
Narrow, winding streets lead through beautiful Nahlaot. This neighborhood is very popular with young crowds, especially with artists and people with a spiritual lifestyle. Nahlaot also attracts many international residents who love the neighborhood’s strong sense of community and its proximity to the city center. Despite extending over a rather small area, Nahlaot houses over 100 synagogues, one of them being the Syrian Ades Synagogue known for its elaborate ornaments. It is highly recommended to visit this neighborhood in the fall, around the time of the Jewish New Year, when you’ll hear penitential prayers being sung around just about every corner.
Up for an experiment? Ask a number of Israeli students at Hebrew University which area in town they like best, and chances are high that most will mention Rehavia. This beautiful neighborhood with its picturesque gardens and scenic views of the Knesset is immensely popular among young Israelis, secular and religious people alike. At any time of day, you’ll see people sitting outside the cafes on Azza Street, which often transforms into an open stage for jam sessions on Thursday evenings. Rehavia is also home to some of Israel’s most important political and cultural institutions, such as the residences of the Prime Minister and the President.
The German Colony
In the Germany Colony, nearly every building seems to tell a fascinating story. Established in the 19th century by Christians from Germany, today’s neighborhood is one of the most sought-after areas in Jerusalem. Its center is Emek Refaim, a beautiful street lined with cafes, restaurants and specialty stores that is highly frequented by French- and English-speaking Jerusalemites. From here, it is only a short walk to Liberty Bell Park and picturesque Yemin Moshe with the famous Montefiore Windmill.
For more information on Jerusalem’s neighborhoods, please click here.
Jerusalem’s location at the crossroad between East and West is easily reflected in its shopping scene. Depending on your preferences, you can choose between Western-style supermarkets and shopping malls, or Middle Eastern-style markets.
Supermarkets for groceries and drugstores are located in all neighborhoods. When shopping for clothes, household items and books, you can either peruse the small local stores around Yafo, Ben Yehuda and King George Street, or if you’re looking for Western brands, head to one of the city’s main malls (Mamilla in the center, Hadar in Talpiot, or Azrieli in Malcha). These places are great for anyone who is looking for a specific brand or prefers fixed prices.
If you enjoy haggling for a cheap deal or love discovering things that you did not know existed, then our colorful outdoor markets (shuks) are perfect for you. The main market is in the western part of Mahane Yehuda, where you’ll find incredibly fresh produce, some of the most delicious deserts in the city, household goods, affordable jewelry, and much more. On Friday morning before Shabbat, Mahane Yehuda is particularly busy, but it is an experience not to be missed.
In the Muslim quarter of the Old City, you’ll find another market or shuk, which is particularly good for beautiful decorative items and souvenirs, as well as fresh food. If you don’t mind haggling, you can often get amazing deals.
On this website, you’ll find further suggestions for shopping.
Eating Out and Bars
Whether you’re looking for a nice place to eat out with your friends, your date, or your family who are visiting, Jerusalem offers lots of restaurants for every occasion. The large majority of establishments here operate according to the Jewish dietary laws, or kashrut. Some of the most important practices are that dairy and meat products are always kept separate, and certain kinds of meat are strictly prohibited. Muslim restaurants in the Old City and East Jerusalem will most likely be halal, respecting the Muslim dietary laws.
In the City Center, you will find a large selection of street food and restaurants for every budget and mood, many of which are open till late at night. Emek Refaim in the German Colony is a good bet if you’re looking for a restaurant in a nice, quiet atmosphere. The area around Azza Street in Rehavia has some of Jerusalem’s most popular places to eat out, so make sure to book in advance if you consider going there. You’ll also find a number of bars there that are particularly popular with students. The Mahane Yehuda Market boasts some of Jerusalem’s most popular chef restaurants, and is also great for tasty street food like Sabih, Shawarma, or Falafel, or for grabbing a beer with your fellow students. Last but not least, you should try exploring the culinary offer of the Old City. Rumor has it that you can find some of the best hummus in town there.
For more information on Jerusalem’s culinary scene, visit this website. For a list of bars, click here.
Every Friday evening at sunset, the city of Jerusalem slows to a crawl as Shabbat sets in. This is the Jewish day of rest, the Sabbath, which is observed for 25 hours. Most shops and institutions, including the university, are closed, and public transportation does not run. People stroll leisurely in the streets or sit in parks, enjoying a picnic with friends and family. This special atmosphere is unique to Jerusalem, and should you be invited to attend a Friday evening Shabbat dinner, it is definitely worth considering, just to experience the beauty of century-old songs and rituals, and tasty, home-cooked food.
If you do not observe Shabbat, it might take some time to get used to Shabbat and everything it entails, and you may prefer to carry on with business as usual instead of a day of rest. This is possible, of course. Not all of Jerusalem observes Shabbat. In the Old City and East Jerusalem, areas with a large Muslim and Christian population, shops and restaurants are open. You will also be able to enjoy restaurants in the First Train Station complex, on Azza Street in Rehavia, and in the City Center, for example on Hillel, Bezalel and Heleni ha’Malka Streets.
Many of the city’s museums are open on Shabbat. As for transportation, for short distances it is indeed best to walk on Shabbat, but you can always call a cab. For those longing to go on a day trip, you can take a shared cab to Tel Aviv from the area of Ha’Nevi’im/Ha’Rav Kook Street. The taxis leave once enough passengers have arrived, which might take between 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the season and the time of the day.
For a list of Jerusalem restaurants that are open on Shabbat, click here.