The Old City of Jerusalem is a bustling place on a daily basis. The center of three religions combine together inside the walls of the tiny ancient city, but there are hundreds of things to do in the area. Discover Temple times, find where the old meets new, admire the modern secrets of the Old City (you’re going to need some refreshing ice cafe from one of the many vendors) and most importantly, enjoy the wonders that lie behind the ancient walls. Here is a list of our top 10 favorite family friendly places to visit in the Old City of Jerusalem, starting from the inside, out.
1. Kotel (Western Wall)
One of the holiest places in the world, the Kotel, constantly has visitors praying day and night. While the Kotel is just a small part of the retaining wall from the Second Temple, one can see just how big it is by attending an underground Tunnel Tour, taking you back in time to the streets of the ancient city. Much has been uncovered in the area of the surrounding the Kotel, but one should always go up to the ancient wall and say a prayer, leave a wish in the cracks of the over 2,000 year old stone, and really take in the holiness of the area.
2. The Jerusalem Archeological Park
The Jerusalem Archeological Park is located at the Southern Wall of the Old City and the archeologists there are constantly uncovering history right before your eyes. Excavations in the area have been going on for decades, but there is always something new to be discovered. As the sounds of prayer fill your ears from the nearby Western Wall, you can see the ruins of where the Second Temple once stood. Inside the park, there is a virtual reality reconstruction of the Temple for those who wish to see a more tangible perspective of how the Temple once looked.
3. Old City Menorah Replica
Inside the Jewish Quarter of the Old City stands a massive golden menorah. Created by the Temple Institute, this menorah is an exact replica of the one from the Second Temple. It took years of extensive research and crafting to create this menorah which is over 2 meters (6.5 feet) tall and weighs about one-half ton. The menorah is plated with about 43 kilogram (95 lb) of gold that was hammered out of a single block of solid gold!
4. Hurva Synagogue
In the early 1700s a group of Jews from Europe moved to Jerusalem and established a small community inside the Old City. They created a synagogue for themselves, but in 1721, it was destroyed and the area lay in ruins for about 140 years. In 1864, another group of European Jews rebuilt the synagogue and named it the Hurva Synagogue, literally translating to the Ruin. This was once again a main place of prayer for European Jews until 1948, when it was once again destroyed during the War of Independence. The country vowed to rebuilt the synagogue and in 2000 the Israeli government approved to rebuild the Hurva Synagogue. It took 10 years to finish but now the synagogue stands proudly as part of the Old City skyline and a place of prayer for Jews of European decent, just as it once did.
5. The Cardo
The Cardo in the Old City of Jerusalem is an ancient Roman market place, with even some of the original street stones still intact! The Cardo originally was from the Damascus Gate until the Zion Gate but now is broken up into sections that you can see as you venture through the Old City. At some sections, you can even still see the outline of where shops used to be. If you want to get the feel of shopping through the Cardo, the nearby Crusader’s Bazaar is the perfect example, with shops selling all kinds of treasures!
6. Tower of David
The Tower of David, also known as the Jerusalem Citadel, is an ancient citadel located near the Jaffa Gate entrance to western edge of the Old City of Jerusalem. The citadel that stands today dates to the Mamluk and Ottoman periods, but is built upon hundreds of years of fortresses, some of which were even created during the times of the Hasmonean Kingdom. The Tower of David today uses a combination of different technologies to teach their visitors about how life was nearly 2,000 years ago. If you visit the museum at night, they have an exciting light show that takes place in an excavated quarry from the First Temple period.
7. Old City Jerusalem Gates
One of the most incredible Jerusalem tours you can take is one of the Old City walls and gates. Today there are 7 open gates in which you can enter the Old City, most of them built by Suleiman the Magnificent during the Ottoman Empire. Each gate has it’s own story, leads to it’s own unique location and even looks different from one another. Two of the most popular gates are the Jaffa Gate and the Damascus Gate, but make sure to check out the scars on the Zion Gate from the War of 1967, or the Old City protectors on the Lions Gate. Herod’s Gate and the Dung Gate have an interesting history behind them, while the New Gate, well, it’s just the newest one, built in 1889. All are worth visiting if you’re up for an adventure.
8. Ir David/City of David
Ir David, the City of David, is a huge archeological site right outside the Old City walls. Excavations began in 1867 and are still continuing today. The archeologists unearthed the biblical city of David and found an ancient water supply system, built by King Hezekiah, a king from the Temple times. His water tunnel system is open today for an incredibly water hike, taking you below the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem.
If you enter of leave the Old City through Jaffa Gate, you’ll pass the new Mamilla Street. The street now hosts a very upscale outdoor mall with a pedestrian promenade stretching 2,000 feet. Mamilla has been a home to a number of different businesses in modern times, with the earliest starting from before 1948. The mall incorporates original buildings from the area, so while you’re passing modern day stores and delicious cafes, you’re also passing through the original 19th century structures.
10. Teddy Park
Although it is outside the Old City, it is the perfect way to end your tour. Teddy Park, named after former Jerusalem mayor, Teddy Kollek, is the place to be as the weather becomes nicer! the beautiful park is filled with walking paths, art structures, and sits right outside the Old City. The splash fountain that orchestrates animated water, sound and lighting is one of the biggest features of the park. Also check out the “Jerusalem as the Center of the World” sculpture while you’re there. The outside is represents Earth with it’s different continents, while reflecting the Old City walls of Jerusalem. The inside is more focused on the city of Jerusalem. At night, the sculpture is lit up from the inside, making a small lantern showing Jerusalem as a light of the world.
There are many more things to do, if you are going alone or with older kids, we also suggest going up to the holiest place in the world, Har HaBayit (if permitted), and the Temple Institute, where you can see pieces created for the next Temple when the Mashich comes. If you get hungry on your trip, there are delicious Jerusalem Bagels being sold on carts outside the Jaffa Gate, Mamilla has fantastic restaurants, or find ice cage, an Israeli specialty almost anywhere. Enjoy the secrets of the Old CIty, you never know what you might find!