Jerusalem ain’t no Tel Aviv, but I suspect the city is more surprising than you’d first think.

People-Watching in Jerusalem

Western Wall
The Western Wall is segregated and makes for some great people-watching from any perspective…Especially at sundown on Shabbat (Friday night) and if you can catch a bar mitzvah, too!

Jerusalem is quite an intense city and with its diverse population, it’s no surprise that the people in and around Jerusalem are some of the most interesting in the world. This city is very passionate about its past, its history, its religions. And the people that are there

  • Western Wall — one of Jerusalem’s most famous tourist sites. It’s a great plaza to sit and soak up the history/religion/strange-awesome-power
  • Zion Square — I used to love sitting around here and just taking in the mix of locals and tourists. The pedestrian walkway usually has some sort of buskers or people hawking things so it makes for a nice mix of interesting characters.
  • Pedestrian mall outside Jaffa Gate — Jaffa Gate in and of itself is an interesting place. The official tourism office is located right there so there’s lot of people selling bagels and street food, not to mention the people dressed up as ancient Romans selling tours. But the pedestrian mall just outside the Old City is a comfortable place for a walk—especially if you get tired of the dust-brown, winding alleys in the Old City.
  • Mount of Olives — It’s a great scenic overview onto the Dome of the Rock and the Old City of Jerusalem. You can walk up through the Jewish cemetery on the side of the hill as well, if you’re into that. It’s also a great place for a political overview of Jerusalem. Many political tours stop here to explain a bit about the complex nature of Jerusalem.

Cool Bars & Nightlife

Jerusalem Old City

  • Sira Pub An old favorite bar of mine, it’s located on Ben Sira Street (and just around the corner from the delicious Humus Ben Sira). It’s a bit dark and gritty, but when the weather’s good, the tables outside along the alleyway are a great place to hang out.
  • Mike’s Place — There’s the one in Tel Aviv right on the beach, and this one in J’lem (which is kosher unlike its TLV counterpart) has been open for a short while. It can be quite touristic but there’s usually live music. Note: it tends to be very popular with Americans.
  • Uganda — Probably Jerusalem’s most trendy/hipster bar in my opinion. With amazing music, the place is decorated with old records and has an awesome vibe. People are usually spilling out onto the streets. 4 Aristobolus Street
  • Cassette (Hakaseta) - One of the coolest bar/clubs in Jerusalem, you’ll find good music and chill crowds.
  • Video Pub – Since the more popular Mikveh club closed down in 2013, Video Pub is now one of Jerusalem’s few gay (or really, gay-friendly) bars.

Food & Cafés

Food in Jerusalem - Hummus

  • Tmol Shilshom — FAVORITE! Love this place. Part bookstore, part cafe, part hipster hang-out. It’s near all the main touristy stuff, but through a back courtyard and up a metal staircase it can be a bit challenging to find. Like a clam oasis in the chaos that is touristic Jerusalem. Love the food, too!
  • Holy Bagels — Right near the Jerusalem bus station, I used to grab a quick bagel here on my way in and out of the city. Very American-style bagels :)
  • Falafel stand at Damascus Gate – this old stand in the Old Town, just near the Damascus Gate is SO YUMMY. And super cheap. It’s hard to miss as it’s right near the beginning of the market.
  • Humus Ben Sira — Really enjoyed this tiny place for their hummus. On a side street and usually crowded.
  • Zuni — A bit of a fancier restaurant than I usually visit, but their food was delicious.

Art & Museums

Art in Jerusalem

The museums in Jerusalem cover the full gamut—from historical to political, religious to artistic. The city is also home to one of Israel’s largest art schools (the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design) so you’ll find a lot of art markets and pop-up galleries. Keep an eye out for the street art in Jerusalem, some of which is very political but others less so.

  • Yad Vashem - If there’s only room for one Jerusalem museum on your itinerary, make it this one. Israel’s Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem is likely to be an emotional experience for many visitors. Entrance is free. Don’t miss the Hall of Names and the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations. Read more museum highlights here.
  • Underground Prisoner’s Museum - It’s a small museum located in a former prison that gives you a brief (and carefully dictated) history of Israel, mostly centered around the Zionist and Jewish underground movement which ultimately led to the formation of Israel.
  • Muslala - This art project is based in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Musrara, bordering East and West Jerusalem. An area once referred to as No Man’s Land. Thanks to the tireless work of local residents, the area has become a unique symbol of peace with artists leaving public art in several open-air galleries. The Muslala organization runs a free tour every Saturday which I highly recommend.
  • Ticho House - This house in Jerusalem has been converted into a gallery and restaurant as part of the Israel Museum. It’s currently closed and set to reopen in 2015.
  • Barbur Gallery - One of Jerusalem’s best art galleries, this small space and garden not only puts on unique exhibitions but also hosts art classes for the local community. Take a walk down Shirizli Street where the gallery is located and you’ll find plenty of creative inspiration in the colors and shops nearby.
  • Museum on the Seam – This isn’t your typical museum. Located in the Musrara neighborhood, it calls itself a socio-political contemporary art museum. Exhibitions cover political and controversial social issues.
  • Israel Museum - Perhaps the most famous museum in Israel, it’s the largest cultural institution in all of Israel. Inside you’ll find exhibitions on art and archaeology, plus the famous Dead Sea Scrolls found near Masada.

Where to Stay

Jerusalem
The view from Abraham’s Hostel in Jerusalem. And yes – it does actually snow in the Holy City!

Jerusalem is pretty much at the center of the world and it attracts tourists from, well, everywhere. There are hotels and hostels throughout the city. You’ll find most luxury or 5-star properties in East Jerusalem, hostels and budget accommodation within the Old City walls and many other properties scattered around the western parts of the city (near the Mahane Yehuda Market and Zion Square).

  • Austrian Hospice – this place is a hostel/hotel (I never stayed there, though) but they have a great courtyard and cafe. It’s inside the Old City, maybe a 5 minute walk from the Western Wall. They serve some delicious apple strudel and Viennese style coffee!
  • Abraham’s Hostel - This independent hostel has a smart ethos when it comes to tourism in Israel. They keep their bar and lounge area open to the public with events not just for tourists but locals as well. With live music, weekly Friday Shabbat cooking events and even Hebrew & Arabaic language lessons, Abraham’s is *the* best place to stay in Jerusalem. They have dorm rooms, private rooms (with mini-fridges, even) and family rooms. Dorm prices from $23/night

Politics

Musrara Jerusalem

I’m no stranger to controversy but I did want to add this to my Jerusalem city guide… This city is an incredible, fascinating place with a very long and complex history. There are many nonprofits, NGOs and independent organizations that delve into the politics of Jerusalem today. Many of these even offer tours or informational guides to tourists.

I’d suggest looking them up if you really want to learn about Jerusalem. Sure, you can show up in the city and spend a few days seeing all the holy sites but Jerusalem deserves a bit more attention than just a cursory look. Learn about the city’s current political situation from both Israelis and Palestinians. Below are a few recommendations on where you can find additional information.

  • Educational Bookshop - Located just outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate, this bookshop and café sells international newspapers, magazines, DVDs and books focusing on Middle Eastern culture and the Arab-Israeli conflict. It’s a great place to learn more about the region and its political history, or to at least buy some books which might be able to shed more light. Also make sure to check their Facebook page for news about local events, demonstrations or film screenings.
  • Museum on the Seam – This isn’t your typical museum. Located in the Musrara neighborhood, it calls itself a socio-political contemporary art museum. Exhibitions cover political and controversial social issues.
  • Green Olive Tours - This popular tour operator sells a small variety of tours in Israel and Palestine, including the West Bank. Their Greater Jerusalem Tour includes a tour of East Jerusalem with political maps, visits to the Separation Wall and even one of the Jewish settlements, Ma’alah Adumim. I haven’t personally taken the tour… yet… but I’d recommend them as a tour operator.

10 comments

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  1. Liz zharovsky

    I’m happy you enjoyed! Love from Jerusalem!!!!! 3>

  2. that’s one of the most surprising cities I’ve visited and I believe it has a lot of potential to become another hipster paradise, especially with the complex history, politics etc. I loved how much random street art was around the city. And the nightlife on Saturday night was pretty awesome, something I’ve never thought of in Jerusalem!

  3. claude idel

    the austrian hospice has a rooftop terrace too from where you can see the whole old city. it is really worth climbing the stairs. there are even some benches where you can have a rest and enjoy the panoramic view.

    • Oh I definitely missed that the last time I visited but will be sure to check it out on my next trip to Jerusalem. Thanks for the top tip!

  4. I’ll have to save this list when I get to Jerusalem at some point. Sounds like you found some of my favorite activities: people watching, history and food.

    • Adam

      Some of my favorite activities, too, Suzy. Jerusalem is a surprising city with a lot to offer. Enjoy!

  5. Pingback: Hipster Jerusalem: Things to do near Zion Square & Ben Yehuda | Travels of Adam - Hipster travel around the world

    • Adam

      When I first entered Israel, I spent the week in Jerusalem—it’s pretty much what convinced me to stay in Israel for longer…and I ended up staying four months!

  6. Pingback: How to get from Jerusalem to Amman (or Amman to Jerusalem) | Travels of Adam - Hipster travel around the world

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