When I first landed in Israel (well, walked into Israel, really), I had little idea of what to expect. Coming from Egypt, I was already used to the Middle Eastern lifestyle (ie, things move slow…) so when I first arrived in Jerusalem, I was pleasantly surprised to find a city all mixed up in modernity and old oddities. The city moves to its own beat, that much is for sure.
Jerusalem is like no other place I’ve visited. I’ve said it one hundred million times, but saying it again won’t hurt: Jerusalem is special. With hundreds of thousands of people and a history that goes back thousands of years, it’s hard for it not to be interesting. And yet it somehow manages to continue to captivate. If I had to choose one word to describe Jerusalem it would be intense. You can feel it in the air—peoples’ passions and their desires and this feeling of old and new. Jerusalem is special.
But while the city has a long and complex history, Jerusalem also has an incredibly interesting hold on the present. The city is developing and constantly changing—sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Politics aside, the city is a mecca for religion but there’s more than just tourism. Jerusalem is a place where people live. And that’s why there’s actually some pretty cool things to do in Jerusalem.
Okay, those are probably two words you never expected to see next to one another. But in a city of mixed cultures and a hotspot for international tourism, there’s actually quite a few interesting things to do see and do in the Holy City. In the one month I spent in Jerusalem, I pretty much hung out near the Ben Yehuda pedestrian street and Zion Square.
Things to do near Zion Square
Zion Square, or Kikar Tsion, seems to be a main square in modern West Jerusalem. Where the Ben Yehuda pedestrian street meets Jaffa Street, Zion Square is a popular meeting place because of its proximity to some of Jerusalem’s coolest things to do. In about a 15-minute walking radius from Zion Square are a handful of awesome bars, cafes and restaurants. Here’s a few that I especially like. Want more? View my hipster Jerusalem travel tips.
- Uganda bar/club — This is as about as indie/hipster as you can get in Jerusalem. Not only is it a bar with some pretty cheap beer, but it also doubles (quadruples?) as a record, dvd & comic store.
4 Aristobolus Street | website | fb
- Tmol Shilshom bookstore/cafe — A great little place to escape for a while and lose yourself in some books and a nice coffee.
5 Yoel Salomon Street | website | fb
- Hakatze (The Edge) pub/club — A small pub that has a popular drag show once a week (Mondays when I was there, but double-check to confirm).
Shushan 4 | website | fb | tw
- Catch a demonstration/protest/public event — Zion Square is a central meeting place and is occasionally the place where demos or peaceful protests take place.
- Mahane Yehuda market, “The Shuk” — With lots of fresh produce, nuts and cheeses for sale, this is one of the best places to buy a snack. If you wander around the stalls for a while, you’ll also stumble onto some small falafel stands and other restaurants.
- Shopping! — You can find a lot of clothing and apparel shops on the streets around Zion Square and Ben Yehuda. There are some larger department stores but many independent brands as well.
If you’re looking for a cool place to stay in Jerusalem, one that is perennially popular among backpackers is the Abraham Hostel. It’s located just a 5-minute walk from Ben Yehuda street and not far at all from much of Jerusalem’s nightlife. I’ve recommended it before (even though I’ve never stayed there) because I hear quite a bit about it from other travelers! Check out their website (where they’ve even got a good guide for things to do in Jerusalem): http://www.abraham-hostel-jerusalem.com/
I’ve stayed in a few other hostels in the Old City of Jerusalem—none of whose name I can remember now. A friend has also repeatedly suggested the Jerusalem Peace House as worth a visit (even if not for a hostel stay). It’s a peace collective modeled after a similar type of house in Amsterdam. Interesting concept.
Some things to keep in mind
- Ben Yehuda & Zion Square are pretty boring during Shabbat — Well, most of Jerusalem is pretty boring during Shabbat, actually. So many places are closed, unlike in Tel Aviv where there’s still plenty of exciting things happening. Friday nights, if you’re not into religion or all that jazz, are best for house parties or movie nights.
- There’s more than just Zion Square & Ben Yehuda — Besides the things to do around Zion Square, there are plenty of tourist sites (religious, historical and even political) around Jerusalem. Go forth and wander!
Click here for additional hipster Jerusalem travel tips
Photos (1), (2)
A month in Jerusalem? Goodness but I can only dream! I had but 2 nts there (a quick run sandwiched between 10 days on the Nile and a few nights at exquisitely laid-back Neweiba (ever so much less touristy than Dahab). I fell in love w/ the old city and could easily go back and spend 3 months!
Only downside, for a shoestring traveler, I found Israel a bit spendy. I mean, 20 bucks for a bed in a dorm (and $60+ for a private room) at a *HOSTEL* (Abrahams) is a bit much (though no higher than most other hostels in Jerusalem).
Then again, I guess I’m spoiled here in Asia. ;)
When I first arrived in Jerusalem, I spent almost a solid week inside the Old City. Once I got out of there, I realized there was even *more* to Jerusalem. Such an amazing city and way more vibrant and lively than I originally thought.
It can be a bit pricey especially compared to its neighbors. But there are plenty of cheap places in Jerusalem—especially in the Old City. I know I used to get a falafel sandwich for something like 4 or 5 shekels. You just have to know where to go! Also, things are definitely cheaper in the West Bank—Bethlehem and Ramallah are both really close to Jerusalem and VERY affordable!
I’m hoping to see more of the Middle East next year, Jerusalem is definitely on the list – especially now I know it’s hipster :)
Hey Vicky – Glad to hear it. The Middle East is truly fascinating and despite Jerusalem’s reputation as a capital of religion, there’s some definite cool things to do there!
Love these suggestions for experiencing hipster Jerusalem.
Thanks Brock! Have you been to Israel?
[…] as a time warp where Jesus lives – Adam from travelsofadam.com knows full well it’s not. Hipster Jerusalem: Things to do Near Zion Square is a great post on the intensity of modern Jerusalem and some of the cool stuff you can do while […]
Im planning to go to Israel in september so Im absorbing as much information as I can get. Im gonna be 5 nights total in the country so…. hehe what do u recommend? I plan to spend at least 1 day in Jerusalem and 1 visit to the Dead Sea. I dont know if Im going to be able to go to Petra but I really want to try to.
I need help! Hahaha Im gonna be a Costarican lost in the middle eastern lands.
Five days is a short trip! Jerusalem’s Old Town is the place to see there, you can do a free walking tour. You can do a day trip to the Dead Sea and Masada. Tel Aviv is my favorite city in Israel, and I’d also recommend a day in the West Bank (Bethlehem or Ramallah are easy to get to from Jerusalem).
I think it’s possible to visit Petra (in Jordan) on a 2-day trip from Jerusalem if you’re really itching to go, but even that would be a time-crunch. Petra really deserves a FULL day (like 8 hours) and many people visit it for 2 or 3 days at a time. Both times I saw Petra, I spent 1.5 days going around. Hope that helps!
Perhaps I should have given myself more time in Jerusalem, but Tel Aviv allured us way too much; fun times even during Shabbat! These are great tips for when I decide to go back to Israel, because Lord knows I sure would love to go back!
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