9 Free things to do in Jerusalem

9 Free things to do in Jerusalem was written by Aiden who blogs about his travels on his blog, Freeborn Aiden.

Jerusalem is without a doubt one of the world’s great cities. It is considered to be a Holy City by the world’s three major monotheistic religions; some even say it is the very centre of the universe. Accordingly, it should sit high up on everybody’s must visit list. Modern day Israel is not a particularly cheap place to travel and the nation’s capital can put some strain on your budget. However, it is worth every penny; besides that there are still rather a lot of free things to do in Jerusalem.

Walking through time

Free things to do in Jerusaslem - Explore forgotten nooks and crannies on a free walking tour, photo courtesy Freeborn Aiden

Explore forgotten nooks and crannies on a free walking tour, photo courtesy Freeborn Aiden

The world’s biggest empires, from the Romans to the Ottomans to the British, were in Jerusalem at some point, leaving their marks behind. This means that even a casual stroll through the city’s ancient streets delves through the entire history of Western civilization. To truly appreciate this, I recommend joining one of the old cities free daily walking tours departing from Jaffa Gate. Over the space of 90 minutes, your guide will bring Jerusalem’s history to life. You will receive a quick rundown of 4,000 years of human history ranging from the Passion of Christ, to the crusades, to the rise and fall of the Ottoman’s and even the British red post box. Please note that whilst the tour is technically free, your guide will expect a tip. Pay what you think it is worth which in my case was around NIS25 ($5).

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Free things to do in Jeruslaem - The Church of Holy Sepulchre, photo Freeborn Aiden

The Church of Holy Sepulchre, photo/Freeborn Aiden

Follow in the footsteps of Christ by retracing the fateful route he took from arrest towards a slow and painful death. The short procession around the Christian Quarter, from Pilate’s balcony to the The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of the Crucifixion, is for many pilgrims, one of the most moving experiences of their lives.

The Dome of the Rock

Free things to do in Jeruslaem - The Dome of the Rock in the distance, photo Freeborn Aiden

The Dome of the Rock is s the gold dome in the distance on the right , photo/Freeborn Aiden

The stunning Dome of the Rock, the famous Islamic site, is according to The Qur’an, where Mohammad ascended to heaven to barter with God. Please note: on Fridays the site is only open to Muslims; everybody else will be turned away. Pale skinned or European looking Muslims have to convince the security staff of their devotion by quoting Islamic scripture in Arabic before they can gain admission.

Strolling along Jerusalem’s rooftops

Free things to do in Jeruslaem - People walking on Jerusalem's rooftops, photo Freeborn Aiden

People walking on Jerusalem’s rooftops, photo/Freeborn Aiden

Jerusalem’s old city is a warren of twisting and turning cobbled streets. By taking the right (or wrong!) turn you can end up on the city rooftops where you can legally walk from building to building. The best time to make the ascent is just before sunset; the view over the Mount of Olives is epic and the eerie sound of the Islamic call to prayer steadily rises up into a haunting and moving cacophony. If you’re struggling to find an access point, there is one on St Marks Street.

The Western Wall

The Western Wall, photo/World Wide Writer

Jerusalem is famous for its walls. The fortified old city walls, surrounding the ancient tourist centre of the city, are impossible to miss. The high ramparts can be accessed at certain points found throughout the old town. The Western Wall, all that remains of Solomon’s temple, has remained at the centre of the Jewish faith for 3,000 years. To get to the Wall you have to pass through security checkpoints which can get very crowded during the High Holidays when thousands of pilgrims flock to worship. Tradition says that if you write a note and place it between the limestone blocks of the Wall, God will read it although he hasn’t replied to mine yet. Both men and women must cover their heads to approach the Wall, scarves and kipha’s are provided.

No visit to Israel and Palestine is complete without taking a look at the “other wall”: the security barriers which split the region in two, separating the Jewish and Arab neighborhoods into distinct ghettos. In Jerusalem, the wall can be found a short distance from the East Jerusalem/Damascus bus terminal. The 20 foot high concrete barrier offers a harrowing and sobering insight into the realities and complexities of modern Jerusalem.

Damascus Gate

Free things to do in Jeruslaem - The Damascus Gate, photo Freeborn Aiden

The Damascus Gate, photo Freeborn Aiden

Exiting the old city through Damascus Gate, you end up at the peripheries of East Jerusalem which is the city’s Arab neighborhood. Here you can find the best falafel and while there really is no such thing as a free meal, prices are considerably cheaper here than in the rest of the city.

Mount of Olives

Olive trees in Gethsemane, Garden at the base of the Mount of Olives (c)2012, photo/Travels with Carole

Olive trees in Gethsemane, Garden at the base of the Mount of Olives (c)2012, photo/Travels with Carole

The Mount of Olives is integral to both the Christian and Jewish faiths. It’s the prophesied site of the return of the Messiah. Religious associations aside, even non-believers can appreciate the peace and tranquility found up on the mount as well as the spectacular panorama over the old, walled city. Beginning at the Garden of Gethsemane, the steep but manageable ascent should take even the chronically unfit no more than 30 minutes. There are also a few, very healthy looking and extremely friendly stray cats knocking around.

Fresh olives and cold beer

free things to do in Jerusalem - The view from Mount of Olives on a hazy day, photo Freeborn Aiden

Shop the narrow, winding pathways of Yehuda Market, photo Freeborn Aiden

Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Shuk, near the bus terminal, is in many ways the beating heart of the city. It s narrow, winding pathways are alive with the bustle of consumerism and the air is filled with the shouts of the traders and the aroma of fresh fish, pickled olives and sweet cakes. One gets the impression that the market has probably been more or less exactly the same throughout Jerusalem’s history, proving the immortality of the market place. A second visit to The Shuk after nightfall is also wholly encouraged as the olive and vegetable stalls close down and a string of micro pubs open up, serving cold beer until the wee hours.

Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem, Holocaust Museum, (c) 2012, photo/Travels with Carole

Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, (c) 2012, photo/Travels with Carole

Jerusalem is home to a few great museums covering a range of things from Jewish history to contemporary art. However Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center  is not only free to enter, it is without any doubt the best museum in the city. The ambitious installation mixes multi-media with period artifacts to tell the sorry story of anti-Semitism in Europe, which climaxed in the horrific genocides of the 1940’s. I made the mistake of visiting while suffering from a heavy hangover which made the experience all the more emotional. After visiting, you can also take a stroll through Mt. Herzl and visit the state cemetery where Israel’s military casualties and deceased statesmen are laid to rest. Considering current global events, a visit here could be more relevant than ever.

Jerusalem's Old City, photo World Wide Writer

Jerusalem’s Old City, photo/World Wide Writer

Jerusalem is a seductive combination of old and new, sacred and profane. It will take your heart, probably your soul and is guaranteed to leave a lasting impression. Now you’ve seen my guide to free things to do in Jerusalem, all that’s left is to leave your wallet at home, charge up your camera, put on your walking shoes and get out into its streets!

What are your favorite free things to do in Jerusalem?

Aiden is, in his own words, a “failed rock star turned adventurer and writer; serial breaker of promises and stealing own scene to star in own sky. In pursuit of a life without limitations and forever condemned to wanting to be everywhere at once. Travels with a hair dryer, has a surly, unemployable face and is best approached with caution.” You can read his blog Freeborn Aiden and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Additional photo credits:
Karen Warren of
World Wide Travel Writer
Carole Terwilliger Meyers of Travels with Carole

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11 free things to do in Edinburgh
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5 free things to do in Copenhagen
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