On an autumn trip to Tel Aviv, I joined a guided day tour to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. Looking back at the experience, I think I would have enjoyed exploring Jerusalem more on my own, and having more than 5 hours in the city. But, given the timing of my visit, the tour allowed me to see way more than I would have been able to otherwise.
How was Jerusalem?
Simply put, awe-inspiring.
Tel Aviv blew me away. After only one day in the city, it immediately ranked as one of my favourite cities in the world- top five even. The coastal city is a place that’s hard to put into words- it’s ancient Middle Eastern history and culture, but mixed with a modern heartbeat- relaxed and fun-loving.
But by contrast, in Jerusalem, the religious history is enough to leave anyone awestruck.
Home to Jews, Muslims, Christians and Catholics, Jerusalem is a holy city ranking among the oldest cities in the world. The city itself is divided into four parts- Jewish West, Arab East, Me-a Shearim (inhabited by Orthodox Jews) and the Old City.
On our visit, we only explored the Old City- wandering the streets, markets and visiting a few religious sites.
One thing to note before your visit: Dress modestly. With so many religions, it’s a sign of respect. I wore a sleeveless jumpsuit that hit mid-calf. Once off the bus, I put on a long and wide shawl to cover my shoulders and chest.
My two favourite sites were visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is said to have been buried and resurrected and the Western Wall.
There were so many tourists, but the church was a must-see. Boasting glittering mosaics and dimply lit lanterns, it’s full of charm, and there’s something particularly moving about observing people to whom the visit holds so much meaning.
At the Wailing Wall, you have to pass through a security check but we didn’t wait long. Once inside, men and women are divided to separate sections of the wall. It’s an intense place- we stayed for a while, listening and observing history.
We didn’t have time to visit Temple Mount or Damascus Gate, but I’d love to see them on a return trip.
Aside from the religious sites, I also really loved wandering the stone streets- some stones are as old as 2,000 years- and meandering the markets. The markets reminded me a bit of the ones I’ve encountered in Morocco- lots of metallics, dishes, tea, spices and blankets/clothing on offer.
Before we left the city, we stopped at a restaurant for pitas stuffed with falafel, hummus, pickles and tahini. Savoured with a Fanta (so refreshing in the heat), and eaten while on the rooftop overlooking the city, it was a pretty special way to end our time in Jerusalem.
Couple a visit to Jerusalem with an afternoon spent floating in the Dead Sea, gazing at Jordan in the distance, and you’ll be hard pressed to dream of a better day.
Have you ever been to Jerusalem or Israel? What tips would you give to first time visitors?