No matter where you turn in Jerusalem, there are constant reminders that you are in one of the most spiritually and historically significant cities in the world. With an overwhelming number of sites to visit, there are four activities that no visitor to the Holy City should miss.
There are many paths you can take to seek out unique views of this ancient town, but the Ramparts Walk is one of the best. The Old City of Jerusalem is walled and there are several gates through which you must enter in order to access the ancient part of town. Atop the walls are ramparts, which were originally part of the defense of the city and now provide a great path for the intrepid tourist. A note of warning, the Ramparts Walk is not for everyone. The routes are deceptively long, there are a lot of stairs and, depending on the season and time of day, it can be intensely hot. A hat, bottle of water and a moderate level of endurance are all prerequisites.
Battling the heat and dizzying heights are well worth it for the unique perspective of Jerusalem that you can’t find anywhere else. From atop these ancient battements, you get a glimpse of Jerusalem as it has been seen for centuries. Peer at the maze-like souks radiating in every direction below you. In the distance, the gold top of the Dome of the Rock glitters in the desert sun. Walking along the narrow route, breathe in the smells of thousands of kabob skewers and listen to the melodic sounds of the call to prayer.
Food is a key experience of any trip, but especially so in Israel. One of my favorites, both for its price as well as its taste, is the falafel. A classic street food specialty, falafels can be found everywhere in the historic city. I usually opted for the compact falafel pita, rather than the baguette pita or mysterious-sounding Iraqi pita. The falafel balls are fried to order and topped with equally fresh French fries and hummus. Lettuce is also available to top this incredibly messy meal. A veritable portable Middle Eastern buffet, the falafel pita is truly a culinary masterpiece.
Walk the Via Dolorosa
The Via Dolorosa, or Way of Suffering, is the path that Jesus walked, carrying his cross, on the way to his crucifixion. Even if you aren’t religious, retracing his steps provides a time for reflection on this brutal historical event and its impact on the world. It also allows you to see hidden parts of the city you would otherwise miss.
Most guidebooks have instructions on following the path, but it can be challenging to find the markers for each station fixed on the sides of buildings throughout the Old City. The path starts in the Muslim Quarter and continues through the city, ending finally at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion as well as his burial.
Jerusalem is a city of tremendous importance to three major world religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. You see examples of this in almost every corner of the Old City, but few are as inspiring as a visit to the Western Wall during Friday night prayers.
As the Friday afternoon sun sets, a weekly day of rest, or Sabbath begins for millions of Jewish people around the world. Walking around the old souks, I saw scores of Orthodox Jews dashing through the narrow alleyways, each trying to make it to the Western Wall before the sun disappeared behind the horizon.
When I arrived at the Wall, or Kotel, the square was packed with thousands of people celebrating the beginning of the Sabbath. I just stood there and watched as people flooded the wall area, some praying alone while others formed gigantic circles and began singing and dancing. If you want to experience the Wall, Friday night is not to be missed.