The ancient winding streets of Jerusalem’s Old City house some of the world’s most sacred religious sites for Jews, Muslims, and Christians, including the Temple Mount, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Via Dolorosa, Dome of the Rock, and the Western Wall. Plus, each of the district’s four quarters has a unique character well worth experiencing.
Getting lost in the narrow streets and distinct quarters of the Old City is an essential Jerusalem experience, and feels like walking into a different time. Orthodox Jews pray at the Western Wall, priests and pilgrims stroll in the Christian Quarter, ancient homes dot the Armenian Quarter, and the Muslim Quarter pulsates with busy markets comprising a maze of tiny shops selling everything from falafel and fresh-fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice to head scarves and jewelry.
Many Jerusalem tours offer inclusive ways to see all of the top sights in one day with a variety of walking tours of the Old City tailored to different interests. An expert guide can help you gain a comprehensive understanding of the area, and to avoid cultural faux pas when visiting sacred religious sites.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Old City is an absolute must for all first-time visitors to Jerusalem.
- Visitors are expected to dress respectfully, with covered legs and arms.
- The Dome of the Rock is a sacred religious site, and non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the shrine.
- There are many steps and hills to get to the area, so good walking shoes are important.
- Despite cobblestones, many areas of the Old City are accessible to wheelchair users.
- Franciscans lead a weekly procession along the Via Dolorosa every Friday at 3pm.
How to Get There
The Old City of Jerusalem is accessible via the eight entry gates built into the walls around its perimeter. Many consider the Jaffa Gate to be the main entrance to the Old City. Private cars are not allowed inside the Old City, but taxis (found by Jaffa Gate) can take passengers inside. Public buses and the light rail stop within a 10-minute walk from the Old City, and there’s also a free shuttle to the Old City every 20 minutes from Jerusalem’s First Station.
When to Get There
The Old City is a year-round destination, with the quietest streets and mildest weather in May through October. Jerusalem in general can be very crowded and hot in the summer months; winter is chilly but crowds are thinner.
The Temple Mount
The raised stone plateau in Jerusalem’s Old City known as the Temple Mount is home to some of the most significant religious structures in the world, including the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Western Wall (the western support wall of the Temple Mount). The complex, which covers a 35-acre (14-hectare) area known as Al-Haram Al-Sharif, is a sacred place in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, though it is controlled by the Islamic Trust, making the area a very contested location. The compound is open to visitors outside of prayer times, which change seasonally; check the schedule in advance. Entry is via the Moroccan Gate, near the Western Wall.