Traveling to Jerusalem — 10 tips for first-time travelers
After visiting one of the holiest cities in the world, Jerusalem, I returned home with a completely different outlook.
A city that opened my eyes in so many ways, it’s somewhere that’s leaped into my top ten favorites. If you’re also thinking of traveling to Jerusalem, take a read of these 10 things to know before going.
1. The international airport is in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem
When you leave Ben Gurion International Airport, there are several options to reach Jerusalem. These include taxi, minibus and the national bus service.
The cheapest option is the bus, which at the time of writing cost NIS 16 (£3.5; €4; $4.40).
It takes around one hour, depending on traffic, to reach the central bus station in Jerusalem. The 485 bus leaves every hour, 24 hours a day on Sundays to Thursdays. If you arrive on a Friday or Saturday, the bus only runs from 12am to 2pm on Fridays, and to 7pm on Saturdays.
2. Spring is colder than you might expect
When I traveled to Jerusalem in late March, I’d been looking forward to plenty of sunshine and warm weather. Instead, I found myself freezing cold, more so at nighttime, and wishing I’d brought my winter coat.
Pack right — traveling to Jerusalem
Though this can be the case for most of the year, Jerusalem also gets very cold. However, from experience, be smart and pack wisely.
Bring two jackets—one for the day, and one for the evening. Alternatively, keep warm by layering up. Jerusalem comes to life at night and it’s better enjoyed when warm.
3. You walk a LOT when exploring the Old City
Though I’d made an error of judgement in the choice of clothing I’d packed, I did choose the right footwear.
The Old City is made up of a combination of cobbled stones and some uneven pathways. At some attractions, for example, the Tower of David, some of the stones can be slippery. On top of this, there are also some semi-steep stairs to climb.
To give you an idea of an average day in Jerusalem, I clocked up over 20,000 steps. It goes without saying, that high heels are a no no.
Walking everywhere is a must — traveling to Jerusalem
That said, exploring the Old City is totally worth it and I wouldn’t trade in my swollen feet for anything.
What’s more, a tour’s a great way to learn something new, and meet like-minded people in the process.
4. Jews, Muslims and Christians live together
One thing I wasn’t expecting in the Old City was the 4 different quarters: Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Armenian.
Each quarter has its own individuality and strong ties to its religious roots; something evident when navigating the neighborhoods. Yet, what I was most (pleasantly) surprised about, was seeing diverse groups of people living together in relative harmony.
Without delving too far into Israel’s history and political landscape, it was really encouraging to see. It also put my mind at rest regarding the next point….
5. Jerusalem is safer than what you see on the news
I’ll be honest with you: I was slightly nervous when I decided to travel to Jerusalem.
Constant news about political instability, threats of terrorism and tension with neighboring countries would make anyone nervous. The reality however was completely different.
Signs of normality — traveling to Jerusalem
I never saw, or felt, any signs of tension, nor did I feel like I was ever in danger. Probably the most unnerving sight was seeing members of the Israeli army on public transportation with their guns.
However, rather than for security purposes, the army members were just regular young people riding public transport. As with travel to any country, you should always remain vigilant, whether at home or abroad.
“Unsurprisingly, the church is always busy, and as with most sites in the Old City, the earlier you arrive, the better.”
FOLLOWING THE RIVERA
6. Prices are similar to Western Europe
I didn’t have much time to shop for any bargains, which was probably the best thing for my bank balance. Aside from the market in the Muslim Quarter, Jerusalem was more expensive than I had anticipated.
In fact, there was little difference in prices compared to those you’d find in Western Europe.
Just like London (prices) — traveling to Jerusalem
To give you an idea, I ate at a trendy restaurant in the Shuk area. I paid £28 (€33; $35) for a hamburger, sides and cocktail (alcoholic). The total cost wasn’t too far off for what I’d pay in an upmarket London eatery.
What’s more, many locals avoid taking taxis, simply because they’re expensive, and the traffic can be awful. You can barter the price in taxis or download the ‘Gett’ (taxi) app and use this for cheaper fixed fares.
7. You feel more spiritual
Though born and raised Catholic, I stopped practicing a while ago. However, there’s a side of me that believes in a greater being, and if anywhere can reinforce this, it’s Jerusalem. Its reputation as the holy city is clear the second you enter the old walls.
For me, I felt really moved when visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It’s said to be the site of the crucifixion and tomb of Jesus Christ.
Moving and indescribable — traveling to Jerusalem
Inside, is an atmosphere of mixed emotion and energy. It’s difficult to put into words, but is unlike any other experience I’ve had on my travels.
Unsurprisingly, the church is always busy. It has only closed its doors twice in 600 years. The first time because of the Black Plague and the second occasion due to the Coronavirus.
As with most sites in the Old City, the earlier you arrive, the better.
8. It’s more liberal than you might think
It may sound strange but I actually don’t like to read too much about a place I’ve never visited. This way, I can either be pleasantly surprised, or disappointed.
I’d always imagined Jerusalem to be highly conservative, with drinking alcohol and partying being frowned upon. However, I’m happy to report I was completely wrong.
Cool vibes — traveling to Jerusalem
The nightlife in Jerusalem is open, liberal and varied. I never went to, or saw, any nightclubs, but I did visit many bars. The atmosphere’s exactly as what you’d find in any European bar, and with just as many drinks on offer.
If you want to enjoy Jerusalem by night, the Mahane Yehuda market transforms into a local hotspot.
Market stalls close, and shops transform into bars and restaurants. It’s the perfect location to eat, drink and socialize.
9. Security checks take longer in Israel
Before traveling to Israel, some friends had advised to allow more time for the security checks on both ends.
From the UK side, everything is routine, and security is nothing out of the ordinary. Departing from Tel Aviv is something else altogether. Once meeting an officer who asks you questions about your trip, you then continue to the bag check.
Here, every traveler goes through a thorough bag search with an individual guard. When I say thorough, they scan everything from every item of clothing to your umbrella. That said, don’t spend too long neatly packing your things as you’ll just have to do it all again.
10. There’s a diverse mix of people in Israel
Given its geographical location, and neighboring countries, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to identifying who’s Israeli.
“It’s encouraging to see such diversity in a country with ongoing political tensions. I only hope it stays the same when I next return.”
FOLLOWING THE RIVERA
You’ll hear, and see, many migrants from the Middle East, Africa, Europe and America all over Jerusalem.
Most people also speak Hebrew and Arabic, or can at least understand what the other is saying.
It’s encouraging to see such diversity in a country with a history of political strife. I only hope it stays the same when I next return.
Where to stay in Jerusalem
For a boutique hotel that’s close to all the main sights, you can do no wrong with the superb Bezalel Hotel.
Stylish, comfortable and with a happy hour everyday for its guests, I challenge you to find something better.
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