Jerusalem is known as the eternal city, a holy site for the world’s three main religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock are high on the list for most curious tourists who pass through this spiritual city.
But while Israel’s capital is famous the world over for its ancient and biblical significance, its identity as a thriving 21st-century metropolis is a well-kept secret among the city’s residents.
Pesach is the perfect time to visit Jerusalem as the springtime weather is warm and sunny, but still fresh and comfortable. Meanwhile the week-long festival allows visitors to indulge their traditional side if they wish, while also catching a glimpse of life beyond the walls of the Old City.
Millions of tourists visit Jerusalem every year – and for good reason. Rubbing shoulders with all the fascinating archaeological sites are the best examples of top gastronomy, dynamic cultural experiences and unique shopping opportunities. For example...
Tourists mingle alongside busy locals in bustling Machane Yehuda market. The place to go to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, olives, spices and much more, it has also become a mecca for serious gastronomes and curious travellers. Be aware that if you are visiting during Pesach, many of the stalls selling baked goods will be closed.
The beauty of Machane Yehuda is its dual identity. What operates as a thriving shuk for shoppers by day is transformed into a hub of nightlife once the sun sets. The alleyways are packed with trendy restaurants, bars and clubs.
For those with more than a passing interest in food, it might be worth considering booking a guided culinary tour, however, other tours highlight the market’s darker side. Consider the ‘graffiti and nightlife’ tour. See some impressive street art in the alleyways and hidden corners, before dipping into the trendy bars for a real taste of Machane Yehuda.
The restaurants and bars in the shuk often hold events including live music, themed special food evenings, food and wine tastings, art exhibitions, and more. Café Avrum hosts folk nights with live music almost every night of the week. Thought provoking film screenings, art exhibits and lectures take place regularly at avant-garde gallery Barbur, which also has a garden.
If you’re visiting with kids, you may need an occasional break from the old and historical to try something a little more contemporary. A fantastic place to visit at any time of year – including over Pesach – is the Bloomfield Science Museum, located near the Givat Ram Campus of the Hebrew University.
The museum is filled with original and creative interactive displays and exhibits that invite one and all to touch, experiment, get involved and have fun. There are more than 10 popular exhibits that should not be missed, such as the Mind Boggling Illusions exhibition, where you'll be fascinated by visual tricks, as well as Fields of Tomorrow, an indoor and outdoor exhibition demonstrating where our food comes from and what we will eat in the future.
Under-fives go free, and best of all there’s no need to worry about the language barrier as explanations, both written and guided, are in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Each day there are guided tours that families can participate in, as well as science demonstrations, arts-and-crafts workshops and larger than life screenings in the museum’s Imax cinema.
The Eucalyptus is an acclaimed kosher restaurant located in the city’s Artists’ Quarter, close to Teddy Kollek Park and within walking distance of the Old City – which you can see in all its glory from the restaurant’s lovely balcony.
Owned and led by chef Moshe Basson, Eucalyptus serves up a modern interpretation of biblical cuisine. Every world-class dish has its origins in biblical scenes and all the spices and herbs used grow in the surrounding hills of Jerusalem and Judea, as they did in ancient times. There are references to these days gone by sprinkled throughout the restaurant’s menu, including tasting menus titled the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon Feasts.
Eucalyptus will be open during the Chol Hamoed days of Pesach, serving a menu resembling its regular offering, but with kitniyot substitutions. It can, however, cater without kitniyot for special events booked in advance. For the really enthusiastic foodie tourist, the restaurant also organises tours in and around Jerusalem, as well as classes in cookery and foraging for wild herbs. The beautiful venue features an event hall that can be hired for private functions like weddings and bar mitzvahs.
Wandering the streets of Jerusalem, there are moments when you can almost feel yourself travelling back to biblical times. But travelling by Segway - a fun, futuristic two-wheel vehicle you balance on - is an ultra-modern way to see the sights. For a totally unique Jerusalem experience, hop aboard a Segway to explore this hilly region. Safe and eco-friendly, Segways are easy to control and loads of fun – though not an option for children under 16.
While a walking tour might prove tiring and a coach trip is likely to waste much time sitting in traffic, a Segway will keep you on the go at all times. Travelling in small numbers also means it should be easy to set a group speed so that everyone can keep up. Guides start with training sessions, so by the time you head off you should be confident about how to operate your vehicle for the day.
Jerusalem Segway Tours offers visitors a range of trips to various areas, including the Old City, the Knesset and the Botanical Garden at Hebrew University’s Givat Ram Campus. Private tours can be arranged, both during the day and at night.
For a completely different perspective of the Old City, venture down to the Tower of David after dark. The walls of the Citadel serve as a stage for a night-time celebration of sight and sound. Amid the archaeological remains in the Citadel’s courtyard and set to the sound of original music, the story of Jerusalem unfolds through giant breathtaking, virtual reality images.
Better than any fireworks show, the spectacular is perfect for the whole family and offers a unique historical tour of Jerusalem, from the biblical kings to present day.
The show, which runs for 45 minutes, takes place in most weathers – so you may need to dress warmly over Pesach. With the use of 20 projectors, 10 video players, 14 computers and 14 loudspeakers, this innovative event sees the stones of the walls and the ancient structures fade into the background as viewers are whisked off on a hi-tech multi-sensory experience. It’s worth knowing that you can buy a combined ticket for the Night Spectacular and a daytime visit to the Tower of David Museum, which works out at a reduced price.
Had enough of sightseeing and fancy a bit of shopping in a relaxed but hip environment? Head for the First Station, a bang-up-to-date renovation of Jerusalem’s original railway station. Besides a host of cool resident shops, the station also regularly hosts pop-up stores too.
And if all the schlepping around with heavy bags begins to seem too much like hard work, there are plenty of places to grab a coffee or a bite to eat, including Bread and Meat, a trendy kosher eatery, and Station 9, which offers a combination of flavours from the oriental street and modern cuisine of chef Ron Finzi.
The First Station is also a place of art and entertainment. It has a gallery that hosts ever-changing exhibitions, and the venue’s events calendar is always bursting with interesting things to do. Kids are particularly well catered for, as the site plays hosts to a classic carousel, a soft-play tent, a railway museum, laser tag and a bungee trampoline. You can also catch a ride in a scale model copy of an 1889 steam engine – the only one of its kind in Israel.
For more information about Inbal Hotel Jerusalem, or to book your stay for Pesach, click here.