Not all trips are about beautiful landscapes or exciting cities. Some trips are about faith, beliefs, requests, thanks, hopes. This is the case of Jerusalem, the holiest place in the world for three major religions: Christian, Jewish and Muslim. Therefore, although it may not be the most beautiful place in the world, an itinerary in Jerusalem certainly deserves at least three days of your trip. During this period, it is possible to know the medieval part of the city, a little of modern Jerusalem and ALL its religious attractions. Well, at least almost all of them, hehe. But of course we don’t always have the time we’d like to visit a place, do we? That’s why we created an itinerary in Jerusalem for those who only have 24 hours, 48 hours or a whole 72 hours!
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This suggested itinerary in Jerusalem brings the most famous attractions of the city on the first day, the not so famous on the second and so on. Therefore, if you only have 24 hours to visit, we suggest you follow the tips in ‘Day 1’ and so on. But note that this is not a mandatory order: you can read the three days and choose the one or those that interest you the most. If your time is only 24 hours, but you enjoyed ‘Day 3’ more, go ahead without fear. You don’t have to visit a dozen churches just because you’re in the holiest city for Christianity in the world. Check out the suggested itinerary in Jerusalem from Escolha Viajar below and set up your tour!
Itinerary in Jerusalem – Day 1
If you only have one or if this is your first day in Jerusalem, it’s better to go straight to the attractions that interest you the most, right? Whichever part of the city you are staying in, head to the historic center, which is within the walls and is also called ‘Old Town’, or Cidade Velha (check out the suggestion of cheap accommodation in Jerusalem from Escolha Viajar here ). Look for the Jaffa Gate and start your tour of Jerusalem admiring the magnificent defense structure that surrounds it. They were built around 1500, when the place belonged to the Ottoman Empire, and are an excellent example of preserved medieval architecture.
Its 4,018 meters are marked by 34 watchtowers and eight access gates. Crossing Jaffa, you will see, half hidden on the left side, the entrance to visit the walls from the inside. Or rather, on top, as they are 12 meters high. Don’t expect beautiful views, as Jerusalem is nothing more than a great tangle of narrow streets and houses, dotted here and there by a church tower or a mosque’s minaret. But it is one of the best places to see and photograph the Dome of the Rock, its golden dome gleaming in the sun. Access to the walls can be done from Sunday to Thursday and Saturdays, from 9 am to 4 pm; on Fridays, only until 2 pm. Admission costs $4.
The tour of the walls ends near the Damascus Gate, another famous access point to the city. Go outside for a bit to admire it and then go back inside the ‘Old Town’. Follow El Wad Ha-Gai Street until the moment it meets Via Dolorosa, on the left and right. From here, you will see iron numbers nailed to the entrance of a church, chapel, wall or house facade. They mark the 14 stations of the Via Dolorosa, or Via Crucis, the path taken by Jesus Christ in his last moments of life, according to Christian tradition. To the left are the first two stops and then to the right are the rest.
You will easily see the numbers up to nine – always in Roman numerals -, but the others are not visible, as they are located inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. For those who are Christians, this is undoubtedly the highlight of a Jerusalem itinerary. Inside this Byzantine temple are the stone where the body of Christ would have been laid after being removed from the cross, the chapel built on the spot where the cross would have been erected and, of course, the shed that replaced the cave in which he would have been buried. Here, the queue to kneel in the tiny enclosure is always long.
Incidentally, the church is full practically all year round, but mainly on Christian holy dates, such as Easter. The church is open every day of the year from 4 am to 7 pm in winter or 9 pm in summer. The schedule of services and masses is more complex, since at least six currents of Christianity have the right to hold their celebrations inside the temple, and must be consulted on the church’s official website . Leaving it, go to the right until you find an alley where you can turn left (it’s difficult to give precise directions within the tangle of tiny medieval streets).
But if you keep going straight ahead, you should reach the Wailing Wall in less than 10 minutes. If you’re not in a hurry – or if you’re hungry – take the opportunity to get lost on purpose and stroll through the four neighborhoods of the Old City: Jewish, Christian, Armenian and Muslim. Note the houses that look more like a war bunker, because they belong to someone of one religion who is living in the neighborhood of another. There are also plenty of shops and restaurants dotted around the ‘Old City’ to catch your eye and your stomach.
One of the holiest sites for Judaism, the Wailing Wall is the only part that remains of Herod’s Temple, or Second Temple, built about 500 years before Christ. The building was destroyed by the Romans, but the wall was left behind as a way of reminding the Hebrews of their defeat. The plan backfired, as they interpreted the fact as the fulfillment of the promise made by God that at least a part of the holy temple would always remain standing. Today, the site is not only a Jewish pilgrimage site but a tourist attraction.
The Wall of Lamentations is located in a gigantic square, capable of receiving up to 60 thousand people. It can be visited at any time of the day or night for free. But there is always an inspector controlling the clothes of those who approach the wall, so don’t wear anything that could be considered disrespectful. Until January 2016, there were only two prayer sessions on the wall: one for men and one for women, but the construction of a third, mixed area was authorized by the Israeli government. Also respect the notes placed on the wall by faithful and tourists. These are personal prayers and wishes and should be left where they are.
Even former US President Barack Obama and Pope Francis have written their own. So don’t forget to bring a piece of paper and a pen if you want to place an order. If it’s late afternoon on a Friday, you can witness the full faith of the Jewish people in the prayers at the beginning of Shabbat, the weekly day of rest. After the visit, with the sun setting behind the walls, you can end your first – or only – day in Jerusalem looking for a good restaurant for dinner and dreaming of the rest that your little feet will soon have at the hotel.
Jerusalem itinerary – Day 2
Start your second day in Jerusalem by heading back to the Old City, this time to visit the Temple Mount. As the name implies, this was the place where the temples of Solomon and, later, of Herod stood, erected to mark the exact spot on the stone where Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, according to Jewish tradition. But the temples were destroyed and today the site is under the administration of Islam, for whom the mount is linked to Muhammad’s journey to Jerusalem and his ascent to paradise. Therefore, three mosques were built there, including Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, whose dome is covered with 80 kilos of pure gold.
Thanks to her, it’s impossible not to see the Temple Mount from any part of the Old City, but let’s make it easy and say that the entrance is on the right side of the Wailing Wall, next to the Dung Gate. Visitation is free, but must follow strict rules of time, behavior and safety. In the summer months, April through October, the Temple Mount is open from 8:30 am to 11:30 am and from 1:30 pm to 2:30 pm. In winter, from November to March, from 7:30 am to 10:30 am and from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm. On Fridays and Saturdays, the place is closed to tourists.
With such tight schedules, queues to get in are often long, so arrive at least an hour before opening to ensure you’ll be able to visit. The security inspection is strict, and no Christian or Jewish symbols are allowed through, not even the popular cross necklaces and earrings. Women and men must have shoulders and legs covered up to the knee. Necklines and tight clothing are prohibited. If you survive all this, be aware that non-Muslims are not allowed to see the inside of the Dome of the Rock or Al-Aqsa, only to admire and photograph them from the outside.
After the visit, leave the Old City through the Dung Gate and you will see another great attraction of Jerusalem: the Mount of Olives. Most tourists take a taxi to get to the top of the hill and then just walk down the hill. Not because it is too high or too far, but mainly because it is an area close to the wall that divides the Palestinian and Israeli territories and, therefore, not 100% safe. Whichever way of climbing you choose, your starting point could be the Chapel of Ascension. This tiny mosque – yes, the former chapel was turned into a mosque – marks the spot from which Jesus would have ascended to heaven, according to Christian tradition.
There’s nothing to see inside, except for the footprint in the stone that resembles the shape of a foot and is said to be the last place Christ walked on Earth. But, as this is a tour about faith, and not about common tourism, it is worth including it in your itinerary in Jerusalem and paying the US$ 0.85 that Muslims charge for admission. The chapel is open from 8 am to 6 pm every day of the year (if the door is not open, ring the bell). Then, leaving to the left and going down a few meters along Rub’a el-Adawiya Street, you arrive at El Sheikh Street, where the Church of the Pater Noster is located.
The temple received this name because it was erected on the spot where, according to biblical tradition, Jesus taught the apostles the most popular of Christian prayers: the Our Father. But what impresses in this church is not the small cave where it is believed that the first mention of the Our Father took place, but the 140 versions of the prayer painted on colorful tiles that cover the walls of the temple. Each in a different language (yes, in Portuguese too)! Pater Noster is open from Monday to Saturday, from 8am to 12pm and from 2pm to 5pm. Entry costs $2.65. Leaving it and heading left along Rabaa Al-Adawiya Street, you will see the huge Jewish Cemetery.
It is the oldest Jewish cemetery in the world and an impressive sight, both when viewed from the Old City and from the top of the hill. The site began to be used as a cemetery 3,000 years ago, thanks to the Jewish belief that the Messiah will descend from heaven on the Mount of Olives on Judgment Day. Today, more than 150,000 tombs dot the hillside. From it, it is also possible to have an incredible panorama of the old part of Jerusalem, crowned by the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock. After admiring the view, it’s important that you head to the right and start going down the hill (if you keep going left, you’ll go up. On this street, which has no name, you’ll find two more attractions.
The first of these is the Church of All Nations, or Basilica of the Agony. The temple is recent, from the 1920s, and got its name thanks to donations from 12 countries used for its construction. According to biblical tradition, it was on the stone where the altar is located today that Jesus wept and asked not to be crucified on the eve of Good Friday. Outside the church is Gethsemane, a garden of olive trees believed to have existed since biblical times and which would have sheltered Christ and his apostles on that fateful night. Some of the trees planted there are over 900 years old and this is one of the few places on the Mount of Olives where they can still be seen.
The garden also houses a tree planted by each pope, with John Paul II being the most sought after by pilgrims. The church is open daily from 8am to 12pm and from 2pm to 5pm. Access is free and open to both the temple and the garden (pictured below). Finally, a few meters away from the temple to your left and already on the Jerusalem-Jericho Highway, is the Church of the Sepulcher of Santa Maria. As the name implies, this is where the mother of Jesus Christ would have been buried. To reach the small crypt, where there is an empty tomb – according to Christian tradition, Mary did not die an ordinary death, but ascended to heaven – you will have to go down a large staircase decorated with beautiful chandeliers.
Visiting is free and can be done from 6 am to 12 pm and from 2:30 pm to 5 pm. On leaving the church you will already see the walls of the Old City again just ahead. If you’re not already exhausted from all that walking, we suggest you take the opportunity to stroll through the alleys and go shopping, as there are many stalls selling souvenirs and other products inside the walls. If that was enough for the second day of your Jerusalem itinerary, just find a restaurant for dinner and then head back to your hotel for a well-deserved rest!
Itinerary in Jerusalem – Day 3
If you have three days to visit the city, your Jerusalem itinerary will be complete. To start this last part of the tour, head to the terminal at Damascus Gate, just outside the Old City, and take bus number 21, which runs every 15 minutes to nearby Bethlehem. It is there that one of the most sought after temples by pilgrims – and tourists, of course – from all over the world is located: the Church of the Nativity. It is there that the cave of the same name is found and which marks the birthplace of Jesus Christ, according to Christian tradition.
Ask the driver to get off at the church and he will drop you off on a nearby avenue, where you have to walk 10-15 minutes uphill or take a taxi. If it seems too complicated, hire a tour or a taxi from Jerusalem. Don’t forget to bring your passport, as you have to pass through the security checkpoint when entering or leaving Palestinian territory (and don’t be alarmed when heavily armed soldiers enter the bus to carry out the security check). The church itself is beautiful and ancient, dating back to the Byzantine period.
Thousands of pilgrims flock there every day to enter the tiny space and admire, kiss, touch and even cry over the little star. So try to arrive early in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the long line. And don’t believe the guides who promise to get you inside in five minutes: They just push people through the crowd and make you awkwardly cut in line. Just a little patience and your turn will come. Entrance to the church and grotto is free and can be done every day from 6:30 am to 7:30 pm (April to September) and from 5:30 am to 5 pm (October to March). The cave is closed on Sunday mornings.
Back in Jerusalem, you’ll get off again at the terminal in front of the Damascus Gate. Go a few meters further along Sultan Suleiman Street and take the first avenue on the right, called Hatzanhanin Road. There you will find a stop on the red line of the Jerusalem tram, or ‘Light Rail Train’. Take a carriage going in the direction of Mount Herzl and get off at Mahane Yehuda station. This is also the name of the main attraction of the place: the Mahane Yehuda Market, the largest and most popular in the city. What began as an open fair in Ottoman times is now a labyrinth of colors, smells and flavors with more than 250 exhibitors.
They sell all kinds of spices, fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, breads, sweets, cheeses, liquors, wines and ready meals, including the popular falafel and kebab. Known by locals as ‘shuk’, the market is open every day of the week except Saturdays. Opening hours are from 8 am to 7 pm from Sunday to Thursday, and until 3 pm on Fridays, when all stores close their doors at the sound of the horn announcing the beginning of Shabbat, the Jewish weekly rest. Reserve a couple of hours to get lost in the hundreds of colorful stalls with all kinds of food and, of course, make a stop for lunch.
Once your stomach is full, go back to the tram stop, take the carriage again in the direction of Mount Herzl and get off at the station of that name. Go back a few meters and turn left onto Ha-Zikaron Street. You can walk to the end of the street on foot – between 15 and 20 minutes – or wait for the free shuttle at the bus stop which is almost around the corner. Your destination is Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The complex is gigantic and houses ceremonial sites, gardens, art pieces, research area, library, synagogue etc etc etc. But the part that interests the tourist is the modern Museum of the History of the Holocaust.
Throughout its 10 exhibition rooms, it is possible to get to know a little of this so dark part of the last century through the eyes of its greatest victims: the Jews. Extremely interactive and dynamic, the place uses videos, photos, audio, panels, recreation of environments, maps and personal objects to report from the first restrictions on Jews to the mass extermination promoted by Hitler. Admission to the museum is free and visits can be made from Sunday to Wednesday, from 9 am to 5 pm; on Thursdays until 8 pm; and on Fridays until 2 pm. The site is closed on Saturdays and other Jewish holidays. And that’s it, your itinerary in Jerusalem will be complete! The night is yours to rest or enjoy as you please.