Jerusalem is an absolutely fascinating city on many levels. I loved it. Whether you are religious or not, you can’t help but be hypnotised under it’s spell. My advice is to give the city time. Don’t do a whistle stop tour ticking off the usual suspects and leaving within 24 hours. We stayed for three days and to be honest I would have loved a couple more to explore further and just watch the world go by. People watching in this city is something else.
- Hire a Guide
Whilst we did a lot of exploring on our own, we did book an excellent ‘Three Religions Holy City Walking Tour’ of the old city via Viator. We lucked out massively on a hugely knowledgable guide called Joshua Levinson. He was absolutely brilliant. Our tour was a group tour and he kept our attention for 7 hours, both my daughters (12 and 9 years old) were absolutely entranced by all his stories and did not once say they were bored.
If you want to book him directly you can contact him via his facebook. You’ll need a comfortable pair of shoes – be warned that the narrow streets in the old city can be slippery if the shopkeepers have washed their steps outside their shops, and a big bottle of water. I also found an umbrella a great way to keep out of the sun.
The old city is divided up into four uneven quarters – Armenian, Jewish, Christian and Muslim and within these quarters there are subdivisions; for example in the Christian quarter you will also find Ethiopian Orthodox Christians living in an area with their own Ethiopian Monastery Church and dwellings.
2. Tea at the Austrian Hospice
Take some time out from the hustle and bustle whilst exploring the old city and go to the Austrian Hospice for tea, sachertorte and apple strudel. Seriously. Sure it’s surreal eating these Austrian fancies in Israel, but I think it’s these things that adds to its charm. It’s based directly on the Via Dolorosa (the road that Jesus walked on carrying the cross to his crucification). Built in the style of Vienna’s Ringstrasse palaces, once you’ve found the buzzer to open its large looming doors you’ll be greeted by a peaceful oasis. You can also stay here as well – it’s perfectly located in the middle of all the action, but peaceful at the same time. As a visitor you can also go on to the roof, which affords beautiful views across the old city.
3. Try some Middle Eastern Jewish Food at Azura
Modern Jerusalem is culturally rich with a wide range of ethnic backgrounds living together. The food at family-run Azura, located in the middle of the Machine Yehuda Market, or shuk, is an unforgettable experience. It has Iraqi, Kurdish, Turkish and Tunisian influences and the result is sublime. On our first visit (yes we returned it was so good) we felt the best way to experience the menu was to try the tasting menu – obviously! The portions are still large, not your usual tasting menu size, so we ended up taking a doggie bag of goodies home to have for supper.
Highlights from the menu were Azura – Turkish eggplant filled with group beef and pine nuts in a special sauce with cinnamon, okra with tomatoes, Mejadara – a rice and lentil combo, beet kubbeh, a glorious soup made with beet, celery and swiss chard, the meatballs in a tomato sauce, beef sofrito and of course the hummus to kick off the proceedings.
The staff were great, the owner – Moshe – incredibly affable and warm and the food delicious. If you aim for a late lunch getting a table won’t be tricky. It’s closed for supper, but lunch goes on until 4pm. Also don’t go on a Saturday as you’ll find it closed.
4. Linger in Machane Yehuda Market
Since you’ll be going there anyway to visit Azura, make sure you leave time to properly explore the Machane Yehuda Market. It’s the largest in Jerusalem with over 250 vendors selling a wide range of food and clothes. There are also a number of bars within the market, which even at 5pm were pretty buzzing. The sights, sounds and smells are hypnotic and its a great place to feel the vibe of a Middle Eastern style market. If you are staying in an Airbnb and want to cook at home then it’s also a great place to pick up some delicacies.
There are a number of food tours available, but it just so happened that the lovely lady, Aliza Press, who welcomed us at our Airbnb (who was a friend of the owners who were away), was a chef and she offered food tours as well as being a private chef. If you drop her an email to AlizaPress@gmail.com she can arrange a time to show her beloved city from a food perspective. Sadly due to timing I could not take her up on her offer, but when I return, I will be certainly be getting in touch. Mention my name and my blog if you get in touch with her.
5. Go eat Pizza and Panzanella at P2
Yes….. seriously….. you read correctly. P2 on Keren HaYesod Street is a small (max 20 covers), unassuming little restaurant where most of seating is up at the bar watching the chefs make the pasta and pizza from scratch – literally. The menu is short, as all good menus should be, but the quality of the food was spot on. We were in awe at the one waiter who served out the tiramisu, made the lettuce salads, served and cleared plates like a whirling dervish, took orders and settled bills for the whole restaurant; it certainly created a buzz. The panzanella salad was the best I’ve eaten – so make sure to order one to share before your pizza. Photo of said salad below.
Below is my take on the wonderful salad that we ate at P2 and the recipe to follow. The combination of the crunchy old toasted baguette, onion rings, cucumber, the creamy mozzarella, salty black olives, fleshy tomatoes, work so well with the sherry vinegar dressing.
4 medium tomatoes, quartered
1 cucumber, cut at diagonal angles
1 small/medium white or red onion, finely sliced
3 tbsp black stoneless olives
2 mozzarella, broken up into bite size chunks
12 small pieces of day or two old baguette, cut into bite sized pieces (I used white petite ficelle hand cut bread that I found at Waitrose)
1 tbsp olive oil
handful or two of fresh basil leaves
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1/4 tsp dijon mustard (optional)
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper
- This recipe is mostly a case of compiling ingredients. Make sure you cut the cucumber into diagonal bite sized chunks. The different shapes of the ingredients really makes this dish. Place all the ingredients in a bowl.
- Using a pan, dip both ends of the bread in the olive oil and heat in the pan so that it begins to bronze and slightly char, turn over to bronze the other side and then remove. Place into the bowl with all the other ingredients.
- Prepare the vinaigrette in a separate small bowl.
- When ready to serve gently toss the vinaigrette over the salad and place in a large bowl for people to serve themselves.
6. Deciding Where to Stay
There are lots of options on where to stay in Jerusalem. For us it made sense to book an Airbnb and I found a beautiful apartment in Talbiyeh, a good 15 minutes walk to the Jaffa Gate. The area is safe, quiet, with tree lined roads with beautiful grand houses. Below is a photo of the outside of our apartment.
If a hotel is what you are after and perhaps one with a pool, then The American Colony
might be a stylish option. The Austrian Hospice, that I spoke about earlier in this post, looked lovely and might be a good option if you are travelling as a couple or solo traveller. This
article by Vogue also has a few other good options.
7. Sunset at the Mount of Olives
Walk up to the Mount of Olives just before dusk to watch the setting sun over the old city. Yes it’s a step – ish climb, but you will be rewarded with a truly beautiful sight. It’s a 15/20 minute walk from Lions Gate in the old city. The walk takes you pass the Garden of Gethsemane as well as the Russian Orthodox church and convent (photo above). It’s a great way to work up an appetite before supper.
There are taxi’s at the top, if you don’t want to walk down, but the evening was so balmy when we were there that we continued down on foot to walk through the old city once the crowds had made their way home.
Jerusalem really is an extraordinary city that I would urge you to visit if you get the opportunity, but don’t get too carried away. I will leave you with these words below written by Lonely Planet about ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’.
Each year tens of thousands of tourists descend on Jerusalem to walk in the footsteps of the prophets – and a handful come away thinking they are the prophets. Jerusalem Syndrome is a medically recognised ailment that occurs when visitors become overwhelmed by the metaphysical significance of the Holy City and reach the conclusion that they are biblical characters or the Apocalypse is drawing near. Doctors estimate the syndrome affects between 50 and 200 people per year, and although many have a recorded history of mental health issues, about a quarter of recorded cases have no previous psychiatric record.
Source: Lonely Planet