Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Jerusalem

Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Jerusalem

The most contested city on earth is also one of the most beautiful. The scope of its history is staggering, and its vital place in the traditions of all three monotheistic faiths has led to it being fought over continually through the centuries. This is the heart of the Holy Land, where the Jews raised the First Temple to keep the Ark of the Covenant safe, where Jesus was crucified and rose again, and where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven to receive God's word. For believers, a visit to Jerusalem is a pilgrimage to one of the most sacred sites in the world. The number of religious tourist attractions here can be baffling for first-time visitors, but luckily most of the top sightseeing landmarks and things to do are secreted within the lanes of the compact Old City district. With so much to see, the best way to tackle a trip here is to decide on a few key points of interest that are must-dos and break your sightseeing down into sections of the city. Don't try to do too much and wear yourself out. It would take a lifetime to see everything that Jerusalem offers.

1 Haram Al-Sharif (Temple Mount)

Follow in the footsteps of centuries of pilgrims, and enter one of the holiest sanctuaries on earth. Lauded by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, this is the site where Abraham (father of all three monotheistic faiths) is said to have offered his son up as a sacrifice to God, where Solomon built the First Temple for the Ark of the Covenant, and where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven during his early years of preaching Islam. It's a place of deep significance (and contention over ownership) for those of faith. The wide plaza, above the Old City, is centered around the glittering Dome of the Rock, which is Jerusalem's most iconic landmark. Beneath the golden dome is the sacred stone both Jews and Muslims believe to be where Abraham offered his son to God and where Muslims also believe the Prophet Muhammad began his journey to heaven. The southern side of the mount is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, said to be one of the oldest mosques in the world.

2 Wailing Wall and Jewish Quarter

The Wailing Wall (or Western Wall) is the surviving retaining wall of Jerusalem's First Temple. Commonly called the Wailing Wall due to the people's laments for the temple in AD 70, it is now the holiest site in Judaism and has been a place of pilgrimage for the Jewish people since the Ottoman era. The Jewish Quarter of the Old City runs roughly from the Zion Gate east to the Western Wall Plaza. This part of the Old City was destroyed during the Israeli-Arab fighting in 1948 and has been extensively rebuilt since 1967. A major highlight here for history fans is the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, at the southern end of the Western Wall Plaza, where archaeologists have unearthed fascinating remnants of old Jerusalem. The Western Wall Tunnels, which take you under the city, back to the level of the original city, are also not to be missed. Jewish Quarter Street (Rehov HaYehudim) is the main lane of the district, and veering off this road onto the surrounding side streets are a cluster of interesting synagogues to visit.

3 Church of the Holy Sepulchre

For Christian pilgrims, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is Jerusalem's holiest site and is said to have been built on the site where Jesus. The site for the church was picked by Empress Helena - mother to Constantine the Great during her tour of the Holy Land. She was the one to announce to the Byzantine world that this spot was the Calvary (or Golgotha) of the gospels. The original church (built in AD 335) was destroyed by 1009, and the grand church you see now dates from the 11th century. Although often heaving with pilgrims from across the world, the church interior is an opulently beautiful piece of religious architecture. This is the ending point for the Via Dolorosa pilgrimage, and the last five Stations of the Cross are within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre itself. The interior contains various holy relics, and the quarters inside the church are owned by different Christian denominations.

4 Armenian Quarter

Running south from the Citadel, Armenian Patriarchate Road is the main street of the Old City's tiny Armenian Quarter. Within the narrow lanes here are the St. James Cathedral and St. Mark's Chapel, which receive much fewer visitors than others in the Old City. Armenians have been part of Jerusalem's community for centuries, first arriving in the city during the 5th century. Many more arrived during the Ottoman era and after the Armenian massacres in Turkey during the early 20th century. This is the Old City's most tranquil corner to explore and a good place to wander if the press of pilgrims gets too much.

5 Via Dolorosa

For many Christian visitors, the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrow) is the highlight of a visit to Jerusalem. This walk follows the route of Jesus Christ after his condemnation as he bears his cross towards execution at Calvary. The walk is easily followed independently, but if you're here on a Friday, you can join the procession along this route led by the Italian Franciscan monks. The course of the Via Dolorosa is marked by the fourteen Stations of the Cross, some of which are based on the Gospels' accounts and some on tradition. The walk begins in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City on Via Dolorosa Street (1st station, near the intersection with HaPrakhim Street) from where you follow the street west through eight stations until you reach the 9th station at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where the last five stations are. Of particular interest along the way is the Chapel of the Flagellation (2nd station), built on the site where Jesus is believed to have been flogged.