Of the more than 3 million travelers who visit Israel annually, almost all of them include Jerusalem in their itinerary. Jerusalem is holy to the three major monotheistic faiths so you should be sure to include these three religious sites into your visit here:
1) The Western Wall (Judaism) built by King Herod 2000 years ago during his renovation of the Second Temple.
2) The Church of the Holy Sepulcher (Christianity) built originally by Emperor Constantine in the fourth century and extensively rebuilt by the Crusaders in 1149
3) The Haram el Sharif, with the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosque (Islam) built originally in the 8th century by the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik.
To give you ten excellent places to visit in my city, here are my personal choices of other sites not to be missed.
4) Jerusalem is a walled city: For a unique view of Jerusalem, take the Ramparts Walk starting at Jaffa Gate where you actually walk on the stone walls built in 1540 by the Ottoman Turkish sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, for a birds eye view of the city. Check out the 8 gates in the city walls, including the remains of the Roman gate below today’s Damascus gate and the Golden gate, closed since the Persian invasion in 614 but through which the Messiah will enter.
5) Jerusalem Byzantine and Crusader churches: Visit the Church of Santa Anna in the White Father’s compound, the ruins of a Byzantine church and a Crusader chapel resting on a dike between two pools (there’s no water in them today). This is where Jesus performed one of the two miracles he did in Jerusalem, curing the cripple of 38 years (John 5). There is also a complete Crusader church with incredible acoustics (try it out by singing Amazing Grace or other liturgical melody).
6) Jerusalem archaeology: Visit the archaeological park at the Davidson Center and see the massive stones that were hurled down onto the Herodian street by the Romans and the steps to the Temple Mount where Jesus would have walked, the Umayyad palaces from the Early Arab period and Byzantine and Crusader ruins. There is a video in the Visitor’s Center that illustrates what it was like to be a pilgrim to Jerusalem.
7) Jerusalem underground: There are many sites underground but reserve a Western Wall tunnel tour and walk 488 meters under the city along the Western Wall on the Herodian street to the spot closest to the Holy of Holies, the holiest site to Judaism.
8) Jerusalem City of David: Tour the ancient City of David to understand the importance of water in the history of Jerusalem. Bring “water” shoes and a flashlight and walk 40 minutes through Hezekiah’s tunnel, a manmade canyon cut in the limestone with water up to your knees – quite an experience. The tunnel brought the water of the Gihon Spring to the Siloam Pool, inside the walls of the city. This is where Jesus performed the second miracle in Jerusalem, curing the blind man (John 9).
9) Israel Museum: There are a number of museums but if you have time for just one, then the world class Israel museum is the one to visit, more than one million people visit every year. The Archaeology wing is extensive and contains artifacts from archaeological sites throughout Israel, the Ethnography section includes Judaica and four synagogues moved from their original sites and rebuilt at the museum. The museum also includes the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls and other artifacts from Qumran are on display. Walk around and enjoy the Billy Rose sculpture garden designed by the Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi.
10) Jerusalem food and shuk: Explore the Arab shuk, a colorful market/bazaar of local foods, spices, artifacts, souvenirs, old photographs, ethnic clothing, crafts and jewelry, taking time to interact with the locals.
Thank you for this comprehensive list and excellent suggestions, Shmuel! We wish all our travellers who are celebrating these holidays a very happy Easter and Passover.