Attractions: The Old City- make sure to venture through all four of the quarters, each of them has their own distinct flavor and architecture. It’s an incredibly unique experience to travel down the streets and see the various people.
Within the Old City itself, make sure to see the following places:
-The Church of the Holy Sepulchre: One of the foundational churches in Christianity, it’s a huge complex housing six different traditions of Christianity. There you can visit the supposed tomb of Jesus, touch Calvary, and the place where Helena is believed to have found Jesus’ cross.
-The Western Wall: The most iconic site in the Old City itself, head to the Western Wall of Solomon’s temple but be aware that there will be security precautions and segregation of genders.
-Stations of the Cross: On Fridays at 4, the Franciscans lead the Stations of the Cross throughout the Old City, concluding at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is an incredible experience. Not only do you get to tour around the Old City, but you’re literally walking the path of Jesus.
-Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock: This is a tricky one but definitely go if you have a chance. We discovered that there were only certain days when non-Muslims were allowed on the Temple Mount so look that up before you plan on heading there. Although you will not be able to make it into the Dome of the Rock itself, the Temple Mount is an iconic site that not many are able to experience. Be sure to cover up (especially legs and shoulders for ladies) or else you will have to pay for a scarf to cover you up. They are very strict and will not let you get away with anything even mildly revealing.
-Souk: Located in the Muslim Quarter, this is a kind of bazaar with a ton of goods (pretty much anything you can imagine). If you’re a good negotiator, you can really knock down the prices (don’t be afraid to start walking out the door if someone doesn’t lower the price enough… they’ll often call you back in).
Mahane Yehuda Market: This is a gem. We didn’t head here until near the end of our stay but it was amazing. There were so many local foods and vendors who were all very proud of the food and goods that they were selling. You don’t even have to buy anything but going for the smells and sites alone will be well worth your time. Not to mention the abundance of free samples. It’s a bit of a walk from the Old City so plan your transportation ahead of time.
Mount of Olives: You will probably head here as part of your curriculum but if it is an optional trip, be sure to go! The view from the top is absolutely spectacular and one of the churches you will visit, Pater Nostre, is a beautiful church. It will give you one of the best views of the Old City, perfect for snapping pictures to bring back to friends and family. You’ll be able to see the burial place of many of the world’s most influential Jews as well.
Yad Vashem: The Jewish Holocaust Memorial. It’s a very difficult place to go to but one you cannot miss.
Teddy Stadium: Our group got really into the soccer matches at the new Teddy Stadium and would highly recommend anyone to go! It was a great atmosphere and the tickets were not too difficult to get. Not to mention it wasn’t that hard getting there but we had a more difficult time getting back. You can walk from Teddy Stadium to Tantur but just be aware it is a thirty minute walk and uphill at some points.
Jerusalem Mall: For a dose of America while in the Middle East, head on over to the Jerusalem Mall which is conveniently located right next to Teddy Stadium. We went here for dinner before one of the games and it was a fun experience. One of our group members even had to buy a new pair of shoes there! They have a great food court for falafel and it is pretty inexpensive. In addition, there will be a mix of stores Americans would be familiar with and ones that are specific to the Middle East.
Bethlehem: It’s actually closer to Tantur than Jerusalem so make sure that you take advantage! While it can be a little intimidating to head into the West Bank your first couple of times, just make sure you have your visa and Passport on you at all times and you will be absolutely fine. Goods will be cheaper within the West Bank which makes shopping and food easier to buy. The Church of the Nativity is the main spot in Bethlehem but also enjoy the walk there. There are lots of cool spice stands and views of the separation wall. Also, if you’re in Bethlehem, visit the Refugee Camp there. You’ll most likely be taken there as a part of a class, but make sure you go. It’s a tremendous learning experience.
Food: Falafel. All day. Everyday. They’re pretty much everywhere so it’ll be your go-to. Either that, or hummus plates. The food is very fresh and delicious. But picky eaters beware, it’s not likely to be anything you have eaten before.
Go to Zuni! It’s a twenty-four hour breakfast restaurant in Western Jerusalem and is one of the only places to offer sausage in Jerusalem or all of Israel, for that matter. The coffee there was phenomenal. You have to go.
Babette- this charming little waffle stand was by far one of our favorites. If you’re not in the mood for a whole waffle, split one with your friends! (There’s also a McDonald’s down the street if you’re into that).
We didn’t really eat out that often since breakfast, lunch, and dinner were included at Tantur. The food there was really great: lots of veggies, hummus, fruit, different meats (lamb, chicken), and rice dishes or pasta. There’s always an abundance of bread and desserts as well. Not to mention the 24 hour coffee room which we raided a few times.
Transportation: The main modes of transportation around Jerusalem can be divided between cabs and buses.
-Cabs: The cabs operate like anywhere else in the world, and as is usually the case, are more expensive than the buses. The upside is that they are a 24 hour option, and will drop you off exactly where you want to go. ALWAYS ASK FOR THE METER!!! You will get overcharged if you don’t.
-Buses: This is where it gets a little complicated. There are two different bus services around Jerusalem. The Egged, which is the Israeli state run bus system, and the Arab buses. The Egged are very nice and state of the art, but they run shorter hours (not at all during the Shabbat, which is Friday evening to Sunday morning), and are the more expensive option by a decent amount. The Arab bus service is always more crowded and pays less attention to a timetable, but it is cheaper and the route that it takes drops you directly in front of the Old City. We generally used the Arab buses for the convenience, and never had a problem. Both buses stop running at 2 AM so bear that in mind as you hit the town.
Dress: This one is also tricky. In Israel proper, you can wear essentially anything you wear here. During the warmer months, you can wear shorts and tank tops. But if you head into the Old City, be sure to bring scarves or sweaters with you to cover your shoulders and legs. The ladies of the trip often wore maxi skirts or dresses or tied scarves to our waists to cover up our legs. If you head into a mosque (if women are allowed in them), you will need to make sure that your arms and legs are completely covered and you are wearing a scarf over your head. Often times they will provide robes to you, but it still helps to be covered up completely. When you head into some areas of the West Bank (i.e. Ramallah), do not wear shorts. I made the mistake of wearing shorts the day we went there and was the subject of some pretty difficult stares and facial expressions. You don’t want to have this happen to you and don’t want to be in this uncomfortable situation. Just plan ahead. When heading into town at night, you can pretty much wear the standard outfit. Gentlemen need a few pairs of pants to wear into holy sites, but that’s about it, as long as your shoulders are covered.
Nightlife: There is a nightlife in Jerusalem! We tended to head out on Thursday and Saturday nights because most, if not all bars, are closed on Fridays. The bars in Western Jerusalem are most expensive because they are where the tourists generally congregate. But they’re very fun. One of our favorites was called Kings but it was shut down. However, it’s on a great street full of bars called Yosef Rivlin Street. The guys in our group often went to an Irish Pub near King George Street to watch soccer games so that’s also a good option. In Bethlehem, we went to a bar/hookah bar (common cultural thing) called Divano. It was incredibly inexpensive and a good time! Overall, drinks will pretty much be about the same price as here. However, they tended to put more alcohol in them so just be aware and smart.
Faith: This is pretty much the place to go for faith. You will never run out of churches to go to. A few of our favorites were the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (which has a mass at five in the morning if you so choose to attend), Church of the All Nations at the base of the Mount of Olives (mass in Italian), an Arab church in the Christian Quarter of the Old City that is absolutely gorgeous (it’s near Casa Nova Road) that had a mass in Arabic, Tantur head its own masses on Sundays, a few of our group would go to one just on the other side of the separation wall. If you have any questions or want to find a church, ask the people at Tantur. They will know many and have tons of suggestions for you. There’s pretty much a mass in every single language you could think of there every single day so there are plenty of unique options and you should check out as many as you can!