We recently visited Jerusalem. Honestly, the Holy City wasn’t pretty high on our bucket list. If it wasn’t for TBEX International to be held in Jerusalem this year, we might have never visited at all. That said, we were pleasantly surprised with Jerusalem and are now recommending everyone to go have a look for themselves. We were only there for a couple of days, but managed to compile this list of 5 free and 3 paid things to do in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem, the Holy City
Jerusalem is a unique city in many ways. For starters, it’s one of the oldest cities in the world. That’s probably partly why it’s one of the most important cities in 3 different religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. All these religions, and the Armenians, live together in Jerusalem Old City. They each have their own quarter and live next to one another within the Old City Walls.
We had no clue, but apparently Jerusalem is earthquake country. It’s sitting on a fault line, making it a sensitive area when an earthquake hits. The city has suffered from earthquakes before, but it’s been attacked and captured way more.
When wandering through Jerusalem you’ll notice that most buildings are made up out of the same stone: limestone. It gives the city a sort of togetherness, and it looks nice. Another thing that stood out for us is the fact that we hardly saw any dogs out on the streets, only lots of cats. I’m not sure if there’s an explanation for this, I just noticed.
Enough background information, on to some of the most fun free things to do in Jerusalem!
5 Free Things to do in Jerusalem
Exploring and experiencing a city doesn’t necessarily have to cost a lot of money. Just like in every city, we found a bunch of fun free things to do in Jerusalem.
Wander through Jerusalem Old City
We love just wandering through a city when exploring it, and Jerusalem Old City is perfect for that. We entered through the Jaffa Gate, like most tourists do. It’s one of 8 gates in the historic city walls. Did you know that some gates are named after the city you’ll reach when leaving Jerusalem in a straight path through that gate? Handy.
Throughout Jerusalem Old City you’ll find those typical small shopping streets with lots of vendors selling jewellery, scarfs, leather stuff, artwork, herbs, you name it. The owners often sit or stand right outside of their shop, watching every possible customer. We must say they weren’t as pushy as the vendors in Turkey or Morocco. Wandering through these beautifully coloured shopping streets is definitely one of our favourite things to do in Jerusalem.
The Western Wall
One of the most popular spots in Jerusalem Old City is the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall or the Kotel. Entrance is free, but you need to go through a security check. You’re kindly asked to respect this holy place and be silent, but plenty of tourists don’t seem to take that request seriously. The first thing I noticed is the Western Wall being divided in 2 parts: men and women have their own side of the wall. The women’s side is smaller and at that moment busier. Huh.
There are tons of tourists at the Western Wall, most of them coming out of the tourist busses on the other side of the Dung Gate. This gate is an exception when it comes to its name btw. A long time ago it was apparently used to remove the ashes and dung from the Holy Temple. That’s what happens when you don’t have any inspiration I guess. *shrugging* We exited the Old City through the Dung Gate to head to the Mount of Olives. More on that later.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
When returning from the Mount of Olives, we entered the Old City again through Lion's Gate. This is another exception. The gate is named after the lion embossments on both sides of the gate. From here it’s a 13 minute walk to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site for Christians. It’s where Jesus was crucified, buried and eventually resurrected.
Just inside the gates is the Stone of Anointing, where Jesus’ body is said to have been prepared for burial. We found people kissing and rubbing scarfs over the stone. The church is pretty impressive on the inside, so take your time to walk around and admire its beauty. We left the church again where we entered.
Noticed the wooden ladder on the facade of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre? It symbolizes the rising of Jesus. The ladder has been up there for over 160 years, as proof of the status quo: agree to disagree. All Christian communities share this holy site and gave the keys to the church to a Muslim family ages ago. To this day they are still responsible for opening the church gates at 4:30 in the morning and closing them again when it’s dark.
Marvel at the view from Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives is situated east of Jerusalem Old City. Its slope is dotted with gravestones, olive trees, and a church here and there. Even though the Mount of Olives is pretty impressive as seen from below, you should check out the view over Jerusalem from its top. We climbed the 500 steps up to get there, and it was definitely worth the sweat. Do prepare for windy weather at the top.
You don’t have to walk up there though, there are other options to get to the top of the Mount of Olives. You can take a cab, a bus, or go on a tour.
Join a free walking tour of Jerusalem
SANDEMANs New Europe Tours is a touring company that made it their mission to ensure that everyone, regardless of their budget, is able to experience a world-class tour. They operate in 18 different cities, including Jerusalem, offering free walking tours. Well, tip-based actually, so you can pay the guide whatever you think he or she is worth.
SANDEMANs sponsored TBEX International, so we joined them for a free walking tour of the Old City. We met Allan, our guide, just inside the Jaffa Gate. He loved calling Jerusalem a layered cake, referring to Christianity, Islam and Judaism. You see it in the buildings he said, but not necessarily in the correct order. He took us on a tour through the four quarters of the Old City, while telling us all kinds of fun facts and pieces of history.
One of my favourite parts of the tour was the big mural displaying the market street as it used to look. Can you find what doesn’t belong? The marketplace you are standing on when looking at the mural used to be part of the cardo, the Latin name for a main street running from north to south through a city. It was a whopping 22 meters wide, like a modern road with 4 lanes, flanked by rows of pillars. You can see some remnants of this market street, but there was no money to dig it all up.
During the walking tour we also stopped to watch some of the remains of the Broad Wall, running beneath that marketplace. This is an example of the layers of the cake I mentioned before. Allan showed us some old cobble stones people walked over 2000 years ago, and lead us to a not-so-secret-but-awesome viewpoint watching over the Dome of the Rock and the Wailing Wall.
We had a great time with Allan and learned a lot. I’m sure you’ll have an equally awesome guide when going on a free walking tour with SANDEMANs New Europe Tours. They have to be, as they wouldn’t receive tips otherwise!
Look for geocaches throughout the city
Geocaching is a great way to give you some direction when exploring a city and take you to secret spots. We went hunting for some geocaches on our way to Jerusalem Old City from Abraham Hostel. Some geocache spots are pretty busy though, making it hard to stay stealthy. But that’s part of the fun!
Attend the Sounds of the Old City Festival
We were visiting Jerusalem during the Sounds of the Old City Festival. This music festival is held every year in March. Different artists perform throughout the Old City and you can freely make your way from one stage to the other. We briefly watched a band play in front of the Tower of David. They were actually pretty good! Too bad we only saw the last short part of their performance.
3 Paid Things to do in Jerusalem
However much fun (or good on your wallet) free activities are, there are a couple of paid things to do in Jerusalem you shouldn’t miss out on.
Go on a Self-Guided Food Tour with Bitemojo
Our favourite paid thing to do in Jerusalem is going on a self-guided food tour with Bitemojo. Food tours are, just like cooking classes, the perfect way to combine trying local food and interacting with the locals. Guided food tours are awesome, don’t get us wrong, but a self-guided one through an app has its advantages as well. If you’d love a food tour at your own time and pace, Bitemojo is right up your alley.
Prices in Jerusalem currently range from €22 to €27 per person. Check out the Bitemojo website for more information.
Watch the Night Spectacular at the Tower of David
The Night Spectacular at the Tower of David is a sound and light show in the courtyard of the museum. Virtual reality images are projected on the walls of the Citadel, and together with original music they tell the story of Jerusalem. To get to the venue of the show, you have to cross the courtyard, where you get some small previews of what’s waiting.
After we had taken our seats, the light show lasted for about 30 minutes. We were impressed with the imagery and came eyes short to take it all in, but maybe the show is just a tad too long. A ticket costs you normally 55 NIS per person, but was included in our TBEX package. Photography is not allowed during the show, but they made an exception for this big group of travel bloggers, so we’re able to give you guys a sneak preview.
I’m not sure if this is included in regular tickets as well, but after the show we climbed the Tower of David to marvel at the view of the Old City and beyond by night. I really liked the view over the courtyard though, magical!
For more information on the Night Spectacular, you can go to the Tower of David website.
Enjoy a rooftop view over Jerusalem
At the end of our free walking tour with SANDEMANs New Europe Tours, our guide Allan mentioned another viewpoint. It has an unobstructed view of the Dome of the Rock and an awesome 180° view over Jerusalem. It’s on a rooftop, above a money changer.
When you enter Jerusalem Old City through the Jaffa Gate, turn left and continue straight to the start of the small shopping street. The money changer will be on your left. It has a sign “New Petra Guest House” as well. Climb the stairs, pay the guy 5 NIS per person and you’ll be rewarded with a great rooftop view.
Is it dangerous to visit Jerusalem?
Some of you might be wondering if it’s dangerous to visit Jerusalem. There sure were more soldiers (carrying guns) in the streets than I’m used to, but we never felt unsafe.
In fact, we really enjoyed our (unfortunately short) trip to Jerusalem and hope to have convinced you to visit too! Even if you’re not willing to pay any money for activities, there are plenty of fun free things to do in Jerusalem as well. Enjoy!
Is Jerusalem on your bucket list or have you visited already? Were there any parts you particularly enjoyed? We’d love to read all about it in the comments!
Like it? Pin it!
Did you find this post helpful? Help us spread the word by sharing this post or pinning the following image.