The city of Jerusalem is more than 5,000 years old, with a history held sacred by Islam, Christian, and Hebrew faiths alike. The old city represents what once was, with ancient buildings, courtyards, and pilgrimage sites visited by thousands. And, the newer section of the city represents the world as it is today – technologically advanced yet simplistic at the same time. One of the holiest cities in the world, Jerusalem is full of incredible attractions, shrines, historic sites, and modern anomalies.
There is really no bad time to visit Jerusalem or any other part of Israel. For more temperate weather, March, April, and October are best. Unless you have a specific reason to be there, you will likely want to avoid Jerusalem during the main Jewish holidays. During those times you’ll find that hotel rates are higher and many of the sites have limited hours and accessibility.
Crime is not a major issue in Jerusalem, but you should use caution when traveling–don’t flash money, wear expensive clothing or jewelry, or leave your belongings unattended. There is a very strong military presence. This is not to make tourists uncomfortable (and it will) but to deter terrorist activity. Don’t be surprised if policemen or soldiers ask to search your bags before you enter a tourist attraction, shop, or restaurant as this is merely standard safety procedure and nothing against you personally.
Make sure you carry a passport with you at all times. Bethlehem and Ramallah (both nearby) are often mistaken by tourists as part of Jerusalem but they are not a part of Israel. Make sure you don’t inadvertently cross the border without proper documentation.
When visiting Jerusalem it is especially important to recognize that while the city does recognize modern customs it still clings to traditional customs. When visiting religious sites, especially on Saturdays, you must make sure you are not dressed in “western” style. Women should be wearing long skirts and shorts and short sleeved shirts are verboten.
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There are so many incredible sites to see in Jerusalem that you likely will have trouble figuring out where to begin. No matter your religion, take the time to visit at least one religious site. You’ll be amazed at how deeply rooted each of these sites, including the Church of Mary Magdalene, the Ethopian Monastery, and the Garden of Gethsemane, are in the city’s culture.
Hinnom Valley is an incredible historic site that is believed to date as far back as 7th century BC. The site is supposedly the place where King Menasseh held child sacrifices and, over time, the name of the site evolved to represent “hell.”
The Tisch Family Zoological Gardens (yes, the same Tisch family from the Loews Corporation) are absolutely astounding. Covering more than 62 acres of land, the zoo features monkeys, birds, and dozens of other wildlife species. You’ll also find a number of endangered species here, including the African elephant.
Jerusalem is not a city that can be discovered in a few short days. This is a city with so much history and depth that a simple pass through will never do. For many, Jerusalem will be a once in a lifetime trip, if this is the case, plan to spend a week in the area and you might just find that a return to Jerusalem has made your bucket list.
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