I arrived to Jerusalem with eyes wide open with excitement for my first visit to a country I had only heard so much about.
The city itself is very segregated which is uncomfortable and seemingly normalized by everyone I met. It’s divided up into 4 quarters (Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Armenian) and I was curious about how this influenced the feel of the city. Would it be unpleasant at times? Would it feel dangerous to navigate any one area as a foreigner?
I only had 4 days to spend in Jerusalem, so I made sure to leave sleep for when I got home and focus on seeing and learning as much as I could in my short time there. Here are some of the best ways I was able to do that:
I have always found that the best way to get to know a culture, a country, it’s through its food. This is why it is the first tour I signed up for, and I did so using an app called BiteMojo. It’s a new service, now available in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Berlin (with more cities coming soon) offering a series of different food experiences, all self-guided, to get you into some of the city’s best food and drinking spots, some off-the-beaten-path. With this app (I signed up for the Food Tour between East and West Jerusalem), I got to walk all around Old Jerusalem and experience different spots, some very trendy, others a bit more casual. The bites were so delicious and filling and in some of the spots I got to connect with locals and talk about travel, their interests, and even their favorite bites in town. I loved this app for the opportunity it offered to connect with locals and for helping me to experience the diverse tastes and sites throughout Jerusalem. The app isn’t just about food. There were a few cultural stops as well highlighted along the way. I highly recommend it. Just remember to wear comfortable shoes and go hungry. Because it is self-guided, you can go at your own pace with the help of the app’s map.
Hummus at Hummus Ikermawi. Owner Muhammad Fakhry Ikermawi is the sweetest and a wonderful person to chat with while you are there!
Treats from El’Am’In Bakery.
Wine at the rooftop of the Notre Dame.
A must for beer lovers: Biratenu.
Another fabulous way to immerse yourself in a country’s culture is through the arts. Through Jerusalem Art Tours I got to explore the neighborhood of Nachlaot, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Our group even had a chance to visit the home and gallery of a local artist, as well as studios where artists from all faiths and backgrounds came together in one place to create art, and galleries where artists are constantly finding ways to courageously express their views and opinions, even if at times these are challenged by the local government. Our guide Caron is an artist herself and she was able to beautifully share how art is transforming not only her city but those in it.
Bar hopping isn’t normally my thing, but since experiencing as much as I could in the short time I was there was my goal, I jumped into the fun offered through Abraham Hostels and their Jerusalem Pub Crawl. The hostel was the place to meet travelers from all over the world and join them to taste some of Jerusalem’s best watering holes. By the end of it, I had plenty of drinks, had danced a few songs, and had laughed so much I almost lost my voice.
Several pubs and many drinks later.
Just walking around
Jerusalem is a small enough city to navigate by foot, but there is also a tram and plenty of taxis (make sure that your driver has the meter running, otherwise expect unpredictable charges for rides).
Jerusalem is such a great city to walk, and their trams are a wonderful, inexpensive option.
I loved exploring the Mahane Yehuda Market both during the day and then again at night, which was a completely different experience.
The market by day.
The market by night.
I enjoyed walking through the tunnels around the walls of Old Jerusalem – the colorful Muslim Quarters being my favorite part.
Walking up the Tower of David and taking in the views of the city and the people below was a highlight.
I walked away with fond memories of conversations with store and restaurant owners, with locals helping me to find my way, with friendly faces at the local pub, and with local artists who shared stories about their lives in this ever-evolving city.
The city is eclectic and full of energy.
Arrive in Jerusalem with room for listening and learning and exploring, opening yourself up to conversations and new friendships, and making sure that the walls and quarters and whatever other divisions that exist don’t stand in the way of your journey and sense of exploration. Politically, there are a lot of things that I don’t agree with. As a non-religious person, I appreciated the influence of religion in the city, as it relates to the arts, history, and the nuances of the city, but other than that, I felt no real affinity to this aspect of it and have views that might in fact point to the conflicts that surround this city and its history. But, I was able to see Jerusalem for more than its politics, and despite being known as the Holy City, it is more than its religious beliefs. I found the best of Jerusalem not in its parts, or segregated communities, but rather in what it is in its entirety. In the people that I met and conversed with. In the artists and activists who see potential for change, and are courageous enough to speak out for it…and for its growth and unity. And in those who dedicate themselves to sharing the stories of the people who live there, and have historically always been there…not just a few. To me, the best of Jerusalem is in the diversity, the difficult conversations, the courageous voices, and the culture that strives to remain against all odds. It is what makes this city vibrant, exciting, and interesting. And the more those diverse voices, ideas, and beliefs continue to flourish, regardless of any opposition they may face, the better Jerusalem will be.
Read more about my time in Palestine.
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