Traveling to Jerusalem – 10 things you need to know
I returned from a trip to one of the holiest cities in the world, Jerusalem. A city that opened my eyes to its wonderment, it’s a place that’s leaped into my list of favorite cities. Before traveling to Jerusalem, these are the 10 things you need to know before visiting.
Traveling to Jerusalem – must know tips
1) The international airport is in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem
When you leave Ben Gurion International Airport, there’s 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 – Jerusalem travel tips
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 at nighttime, and wishing I’d brought my winter coat. Yes, it can get that cold. A rookie error on my part, as the romantic in me had wrongly envisioned a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern climate.
Though this can be the case for most of the year, it 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. Travel to Jerusalem – 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 depending on where you visit. In some cases, ie the Tower of David, some of the stones can be slippery, and there’s some semi-steep stairs to climb. On an average day, I would clock up over 20,000 steps. It goes without saying then, that high heels are a no no.
That said, exploring the Old City is totally worth it and I wouldn’t trade in my swollen feet for anything! If you want to get to know the city like a local, taking is a tour is an excellent way to see the main sights. It’s ideal whether you travel as a family, solo, or as a couple. You’re guaranteed to learn something new, and meet like-minded people in the process!
4. Jews, Muslims and Christians live together – Things to know about Jerusalem
One thing I wasn’t expecting in the Old City was the four different quarters: Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Armenian. Each quarter has its own individuality and strong ties to its religious roots, which is easy to spot when navigating the neighborhoods. Yet what I was most (pleasantly) surprised about, was seeing the 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, and put my mind to ease on 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.
I never saw, nor felt, any signs of tension or being in danger. Probably the most unusual sight for travelers is seeing members of the Israeli army riding the bus and light rail with their guns. However rather than for security purposes, they’re just regular young people riding on public transport. As with travel to any country, or at home, err on the side of caution and always remain vigilant.
“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 – Traveling to Jerusalem
I didn’t have much time this trip to hunt for any bargains, which was probably the best thing for my bank balance. Aside from bartering in the market in the Muslim Quarter, I found little difference in prices in Jerusalem to those you’d find in Western Europe.
To give you an idea, I ate at a trendy restaurant in the Shuk area and paid £28 (€33; $35) for a hamburger, sides and cocktail (alcoholic). I’d probably pay the same price for the equivalent in a London eatery. What’s more, the majority of locals avoid taking taxis, simply because they’re expensive, and the traffic can be bad. You can barter the price in taxis or download the ‘Gett’ (taxi) app and use this for cheaper fixed fares.
7. Jerusalem travel – you feel more spiritual
Though born and raised Catholic, I stopped practicing a while ago. There has, however, always been 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 when entering the old walls.
For me, I felt really moved when visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It’s the site of the crucifixion and tomb of Jesus Christ, so you can only imagine the emotion inside. Unsurprisingly, the church is always busy, and as with most sites in the Old City, the earlier you arrive, the better.
8. It’s more liberal than you might think – traveling in Jerusalem
As a travel writer, 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—yes, this happens too.
I’d always imagined Jerusalem to be highly conservative, where drinking alcohol and partying is frowned upon. I’m happy to report I was completely wrong.
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 is 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, head to the Mahane Yehuda Shuk 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. Once meeting an officer who asks you questions about your trip, you 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. Therefore, don’t spend too long neatly packing, because you’ll just have to do it all again!
10. There’s a diverse mix of people in Israel – things to know about Jerusalem
Given its geographical location, and the 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 ongoing political tensions. I only hope it stays the same when I next return.
* Looking for a place to stay in central Jerusalem? The superb Bezalel Hotel is in an ideal location, and a boutique choice for flashpackers.
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