48 hours in… Jerusalem
Ancient religious relics, fascinating marketplaces, outstanding museums and an exciting culinary scene; frequent traveller Louise Russell-Pavier highlights the best of the holy city of Jerusalem.
1. Why go now
Why not?! Although the holiday spotlight has long shone on its young, hip and cool sister city Tel Aviv, Jerusalem is rapidly establishing itself as a must-see modern tourist destination. Looking beyond its religious and historical reputation, Jerusalem is a city in the grip of immense cultural rejuvenation, developing a vibrant contemporary metropolis to complement its most ancient, spiritual lure.
2. Get your bearings
Walking is the best way to explore central Jerusalem, a small and easily navigated area. Nowhere is this truer than in the Old City, which is almost entirely closed to traffic.
The Old City
While Jerusalem’s Old City is laid out into four quarters – Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian – Downtown Jerusalem is the heart of the modern metropolis. The area is made up of several neighbourhoods, each varying in personality: from the colourful Mahane Yehuda market to the charming Nahalat Shiv’a and fun promenades of Ben Yehuda and Yafo.
3. Check in
One of Israel’s most beautiful hotels – and certainly the most famous – The King David was built in the 1920s and is a major landmark. Blending modern luxury with the refinement of the ancient world, the hotel sits between the historic Old City and dynamic New Jerusalem, and is a magnet for world leaders and A-listers.
The King David hotel
4. Known for…
…the ancient religious sites of the Old City. These include the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection; Temple Mount and the golden Dome of The Rock, a site that is central to all of the Abrahamic faiths, and offers a valuable opportunity to get to the crux of the region’s story; and the Western Wall or ‘Kotel’, a 19-metre-high limestone wall from the Second Jewish Temple complex, built in 19BC.
5. Quick snack
Mahane Yehuda market in Downtown Jerusalem – known locally as ‘The Shuk’ – is a wonderful place for snacks and sweet treats.
Dried fruit, Mahane Yehuda market
Cafe Mizrachi serves the best iced coffee. And Marzipan – a popular bakery on Agripas Street – is a city institution, prized for traditional pastries such as rugelach (a nut, soft cheese or chocolate-filled pastry), knafeh (a sweet, soft cheese pastry soaked in sweet syrup) and challah (sweet or seeded bread).
6. Worth walking
One of Jerusalem’s most diverse neighbourhoods is Nahlaot, a mixed area where you will find everyone from hipsters to ultra-orthodox families. If you have the time to, it is definitely worth a stroll through it on your way to or from Mahane Yehuda market.
7. Cultural afternoon
Israel's Holocaust Museum and Yad Vashem may be sights of a far more sobering variety, but the curation is well judged and their cultural importance indisputable. Easily accessible, they lie a short walk from the Mount Herzl stop at the western terminus.
Sculpture, Yad Vashem
8. Dressing for dinner
Visit one of the many amazing restaurants around Downtown Jerusalem. This is, after all, the city of Yotam Ottolenghi. For a unique culinary art scene with an unbeatable atmosphere, Machneyuda is a restaurant near the Mahane Yehuda market. Superstar chef Assaf Granit’s buzzy eatery features imaginative local cuisine – chamshuka, a rich dish of chopped meat and hummus; or mushroom ragú, served in a jar with polenta, asparagus and mounds of parmesan – as well as art and music. When you book your flight, book a table here.
9. Biblical background
The Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem is an archaeological gem, exploring the cultures of the various nations and peoples mentioned in the Bible. From the Ancient Egyptians to the Persians, Phoenicians, Arameans and the Canaanites, the museum has amassed hundreds of truly astonishing historic artefacts. Anthropologically diverse objects, such as pottery, ancient documents, statues, coins and weaponry have been assembled from far across the ancient realms of the Middle East. Literally the stuff of legends.
10. Out of town
The Dead Sea region is just an hour by car or bus from Jerusalem, and both a surreal and oncein- a-lifetime experience. Famous for its healing properties, slather yourself in mineral-rich mud, or take a book and lie on top of the salt-saturated water and read.
Coastline, Dead Sea
11. Don’t miss
Contemporary developments of architectural significance, including the Ron Arad-designed Design Museum (in Holon), Santiago Calatrava’s ‘Chords’ Light Rail Bridge and the luxury lifestyle hotel, Mamilla, built in locally sourced limestone by Moshe Safdie, with sophisticated interiors by Piero Lissoni. For breathtaking views of the Old City, head to the hotel's rooftop bar and restaurant.
Recommended Cox & Kings tour
Journey to Jerusalem
6 Days & 5 Nights from £1,975
Staying in some of the most luxurious accommodation in Israel, marvel at the biblical and historical sites that lie around the Sea of Galilee and end your journey with 3 nights in the fascinating holy city of Jerusalem.