traveling in the holy land, part one: one day in jerusalem

when the boy first suggested we go take a trip to the holy land over the easter holidays, i was hesitant. that reaction definitely seems weird, because i have a deep, deep love for that part of the world and had held a fervent dream of returning there with my husband for nearly a decade (after living in jerusalem for a few months as a student). but traveling to the holy land is daunting -- the logistics of getting around a very politically charged and foreign place coupled with a desire to experience a very spiritually and historically meaningful place in the best way possible is overwhelming! i tried to convince the boy that it would be better to go with a group of people we loved and a guide we trusted, some year in the future. but he was sure that we could figure everything out and have a really great time exploring on our own, and he eventually convinced me. 

and he was right. we had a really, really, really fantastic, multi-faceted, beautiful adventure.

i think every traveler - religious or non-religious - should have the holy land at the top of their to-visit list. all things considered, i believe this little part of the map to be the most significant place on planet earth. it is fascinating and beautiful and diverse and spectacular and so, so worth time, money and effort to experience. in my opinion it's just incredibly more worthy than any exotic beach, cute european town, or bustling modern city.

and so, i'm going to dedicate a little series of posts to help anyone out there considering travel plans to feel less daunted and more inspired to visit the holy land. to kick that off, today i'm quickly sharing some one-day-in-jerusalem tips i passed off to ian's brother, who was in israel for work the week after we returned. in the future i'll share some other suggestions for more days in jerusalem, itinerary ideas for visiting galilee and the judean wilderness (and into petra), and general tips for traveling around the holy land. a few readers have already left queries - if you have any specific questions please leave them in the comments section of this post so i can address them in the future! i hope this little series is helpful to at least a few of you out there! (in the meantime, it will be fun for me to collect all my thoughts and reminisce, and i plan to use these posts for when we return to the holy land one day!)

one day in the holy city of jerusalem: {some of these tips are catered towards religious folks - probably with some type of mormon bias. but i think they hold for anyone interested in the significance and brilliance and beauty of this crazy cool city.}
{this is just (mostly) copy and pasted from an email to my brother-in-law. more refinement to come!}

{all of this is very walkable (and can be found on google maps). the only exception may be the jerusalem center, which is up a big hill in east jerusalem. grab a taxi and bargain for a cheap price (probably about fifteen shekels from the old city.}

  • wander the old city. if you want to buy something, start at half price or lower (probably closer to quarter price). and eat lots of the gummies! we found a great place to eat that we went back to twice that you might want to try. if you walk inside lion's gate and continue until the road t's, the restaurant is directly in front of you. all the restaurants are pretty much the same (schwarma, pita, hummus, falafel, orange/pomegranate juice), but we really liked the owner of this place and he had good prices. make sure you walk through all four quarters of the old city. They are all so unique and awesome.
  • garden of gethsemane. go to the church of all nations. there is a beautiful manicured garden and a church with sensational mosaics. then, continue up the street that leads up the mount of olives and on the left (after about five minutes of walking), there is a wild grove of olive trees overlooking the city walls. hop over the wall (and the trash), and wander around in there a bit and think of the saviour. it's pretty amazing.
  • church of the holy sepulchre. this is where the catholics believe both golgatha and the tomb were. it's cavernous and wild and you have to at least experience it. hugely historical and significant building in the middle of the old city.
  • garden tomb!
  • visit the byu jerusalem center. there are free tours every half hour from 10:00-11:30 wednesday-friday. it is a marvelous building and the views from the auditorium and terrace are unparalleled. worth a visit from any visitor to the holy city. attending church there on saturdays (10am) is wonderful (again, for any visitor of any faith).
  • western wall. if you are there on a friday, go right before sunset. go down to the wall and watch the jews celebrate. it's awesome.
  • temple mount/dome of the rock.
    it is only open for very limited hours each day (and closed fridays, saturdays, and sundays). check online and line up early.
other recommendations:

  • do the rampart's walk.
    you can scramble around the top of the city walls and it's pretty neat. the north side is better than the south side (the highlight is being on top of damascus gate). note that the south side is closed on friday and the north side is closed on saturday.
  • pool of bethesda/st. anne's/"caiaphas's palace"
    this is right inside lion gate (on the via dolorosa, traditionally considered the path that christ walked with the cross to his crucifixion) and is just ruins and a church (there's no actual pool anymore), but it's neat to go there and read the story of christ healing at the pool of bethesda.
    right across the street is a ramp that leads to a palestinian school built on the site of what many believe was caiaphas's palace and where Jesus was tried. there might be a guy there charging ten shekels so you can go inside the school grounds (totally unofficial). it's random but worth it because there is a spectacular view of the temple mount and the dome of the rock out a window up the stairs (which the guy at the door can direct you to). especially cool to check out if you are in jerusalem on a day when the temple mount is not open to visitors.
  • top of the austrian hospice.
    this is right by the restaurant I recommended above where via dolorosa t's off from lion's gate. it's four shekels or something to go to the top and worth a visit if you are right there (especially if you don't get to the ramparts walk). A unique view over the varied rooftops of the old city.
archeological/historical options:

  • city of david.
    they have 2.5-3 hour tours everyday (except saturday) at 10 and 2. it's very informative and really cool to walk through hezekiah's tunnel. you may not have time for this. the city of david visitors' center is really close to dung gate outside the city walls. you can buy tickets in advance (just google it).
  • western wall tour.
    you go underground and see the excavations all along the western wall, including the spot very closest to the holy of holies and thus most sacred of all to jews. our tour guide was awesome and the history she took us through was really helpful for context. you need to buy tickets in advance, so if you want to do this, i'd go to the ticket office first thing when you get to jerusalem and see if you can get on a tour before you leave (i couldn't figure out a way to do it online in advance). the ticket office is off the western wall plaza. there are big signs.
  • jerusalem archeological park/davidson center.
    this is a really great option, considering that you don't have much time in jerusalem. you don't need to buy anything in advance, you can do a little self-guided tour, you can see herodian (from the time of christ) stones on the south and west sides of the temple mount (including some that tumbled down after the roman destruction in 70 ad) and walk on the original steps to the temple that christ undoubtedly frequented.
  • citadel/tower of david.
    really informative museum right inside jaffa gate and the best view of the city that we found was there on top of one of the towers (they call it the "panoramic view" and you can't miss it).
more to come soon on the holy land!


  1. Considering travelling there with our 4 young-ish children and wondered if you could comment on your feelings of security there as a Westerner. Thanks! Loving these posts.

  2. Great, thanks! Bookmarking for the future. :) I was going to ask a similar question to Jayne. Did you take any safety precautions? You had mentioned wanting to use a guide previously, just curious if this is safety related as well. Thanks for taking the time to share your trip tips!