From the sky, Jerusalem is a mass of white stone dwellings, spread over hilltops, with the walled Old City as a center point. Despite the city's buildings all being made from the same stone, (this is according to a planning law), the diversity from area to area is huge, with each neighborhood being its own little world. Within a matter of kilometers you can switch from the history and intensity of the Old City, to the cosmopolitan buzz of downtown, from the hubbub of a souk to the peacefulness of a panoramic look-out point, from hearing Arabic on Salah Al-Din Street to Hebrew in Malha Mall, from the religiosity of Mea Shearim to the dance club culture of Talpiot.
The walled Old City is the center of Jerusalem (but sometimes feels like the center of the world), with Jewish West Jerusalem on its one side and Arab East Jerusalem on its other. It's a wonderful place to get lost in by day and to marvel at its fairytale-like beauty when it is floodlit at night. A walk around the Ramparts Walk of the city walls is recommended to get a feel for the geography of the Old City, which is composed of several different areas: the Muslim , Christian , Armenian , and Jewish Quarters as well as the highly contested Temple Mount. These quarters within the Old City can be divided into East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem.
The Temple Mount is the location where it is said that Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son. Later, the First and Second Temples were built on this site, and it is believed that this is also the location from where the Islamic prophet Mohammed went to heaven. The gleaming gold-topped Dome of the Rock mosque, which dominates the Jerusalem skyline, stands in this compound as does Al-Aqsa Mosque .
The only remaining wall of the Temple provides the border between the Temple Mount and Jewish Quarter . This is the Western (Wailing) Wall and Judaism's most holy site, where worshippers pray verbally and stick written prayers into the cracks between the ancient bricks. The Jewish quarter also contains numerous religious institutions, museums and archaeological sites, such as the Cardo , an ancient Roman thoroughfare.
Another must-see area is West Jerusalem's Mea Shearim , which is inhabited by strictly Orthodox Jews living a life devoted to the Torah and dressing in the same way they have been doing for the last hundred years. Visitors should walk around this area with respect - in modest dress, without a camera, and refraining from public displays of affection.
The adjacent areas of Nahlaot and Mahane Yehuda Market are fascinating to walk through during the day - a bustling market and a pedestrianized residential area with the sound of song floating down alleyways and the poor and the gentrified living side by side in this old part of town.
Bordering the other side of the Temple Mount is the Muslim Quarter , which is rich in architecture from the Mamluk period (1250-1516). Its souks, which wind through countless alleys, are a treat for the senses, where you can experience the scent of Turkish coffee, the cries of the market sellers and interesting merchandise ranging from hair ribbons to chicken legs to feast your eyes on.
For people watching in East Jerusalem, the Damascus Gate area and Salah Al-Din Street are a hive of activity with vendors selling produce along the roadside and service taxis coming and going from Palestinian areas all over the country.
The differences in language, sights, and sounds between East and West Jerusalem will make you think you have arrived in a new country. Jaffa Gate is the entrance to the Armenian Quarter and Christian Quarters. On your way in, you will pass the Tower of David Museum . The Armenian Quarter is home to some 1000 Armenian residents, and much of the life of this community goes on behind the high walls of the Armenian Compound.
Within the Christian Quarter is the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus is said to have been crucified. Many pilgrims follow Jesus' last footsteps to this church along the 500 meter (one third mile) Via Dolorosa , (which is best approached from Lion's Gate). The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer and the Ethiopian Compound are also in this quarter.
Outside the Old City
One kilometer outside the walls of the ancient city (exit from Lion's Gate), more religious sites and wonderful views can be taken in from atop the Mount of Olives, home to the spectacular St Mary Magdalene , with its golden rooftop, the Chapel of the Ascension where they say Jesus rose to heaven and the Tomb of the Virgin Mary .
For fun, try the Russian Compund at night (West Jerusalem's bar area) and the touristy Ben Yehuda Street, Zion Square and surrounding alleyways, which have a lively mix of cafes, restaurants and specialty stores.
To get a feel for what hip locals like to do at night, go to the German Colony's Emek Refaim Street - a strip of eateries a couple of kilometers South of the Old City, with outdoor tables and specialty stores or the industrial zone of Talpiot (a few kilometers further south along the same road), which houses some of the city's dance clubs.
Israel's plentiful range of home-grown fruits and vegetables means that Jerusalem has wonderful salads, fresh juices, and vegetarian dishes to offer. Menus draw heavily on local ingredients such as pine nuts, eggplant, mint, chickpeas, tomato, cucumber, avocados, figs, and Bulgarian cheese (Israel's answer to feta).
Vegetarians will find Jerusalem an easy city to eat out in, thanks to Jewish dietary laws that do not allow milk and meat dishes to be served in the same restaurant. Look out for Kosher dairy restaurants, which will have no meat on their menu, such as Yerushalayim haKatana , but might serve fish, and the juice bars that line the roads and alleys of the downtown area. For pure vegetarian food try the canteen style Village Green in the center of town.
Jerusalem has an eclectic range of food to offer due to its standing as an international city, a city on the crossroads between North Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East–a city which is home to both Arab and Jewish cultures. Israel's Jewish immigrants come from all corners of the globe, leading to a lively culinary mix. Jewish food is more than smoked salmon bagels (available at the Holy Bagel ) and chopped liver. It is malouweh from Yemen (a deep fried dough served with tomato relish), spicy couscous stews from Morocco, on the menu at Darna , as well as the chicken matzo-ball soup and gefilte fish of Eastern Europe, served by places such as Marvad Haksamim in the Hechal Shlomo synagogue. At ILS130 a head, the King David is probably the priciest option.
The city's favorite snacks are falafel (deep fried balls made from crushed chick peas) and shwarma (slices of lamb) – both of which are served in pita bread along with hummus, tehina, salads, chips, pickles and spicy sauce. In West Jerusalem, head to the alleys of the Mahane Yehuda market for a cheap and authentic falafel experience.
Things happen late in Israel, and many restaurants do not get busy until 9p or later. The biggest concentration of eateries in West Jerusalem is in the pedestrians' area around Zion Square and Ben Yehuda Street, including the charming alleyways of Nahalat Shiva and Yoel Solomon. As this is a popular tourist area there are cuisines here from all around the world: bagel stands, creperies, South American steakhouses such as Pampas or El Gaucho , and Far Eastern food, be it sushi at Sakura or kimchee at Korea House , to name a few.
During Shabbat (just before sundown on Friday to the appearance of the first three stars on Saturday night) many eateries in West Jerusalem will be closed. However, non-Kosher establishments are open as well as the plethora of restaurants in East Jerusalem and the Old City (bar the Jewish Quarter), so you won't go hungry.
Sahlab is a delicious Arab drink made from the roots of orchids, which is served warm with a nutmeg and shredded coconut topping. Another popular local delicacy is the boureka – puff pastry with a savory filling, such as mashed potato, spinach, mushrooms, or white cheese. The Arabesque Restaurant is the place to go to get all of the traditional Middle Eastern cuisine as well as selections from various countries all over Central and Eastern Europe. Val's Brasserie Lounge is located in the American Colony Hotel and offers a relaxing experience and dishes from around the world.
Many Arab eateries, such as Pasha's , will provide a nargillah (water pipe with flavored tobacco) for relaxing after a meal. Israel is known for its light, healthy breakfasts and a visit to a breakfast buffet at a five-star hotel is recommended. The staples of an Israeli breakfast are a large range of cheeses and salad vegetables. In keeping with five-star tradition, there will also be omelets, crepes, smoked salmon, cheesecake, and fresh fruit. Guests can help themselves as many times as they like, and lunch afterwards is rarely necessary!
Inside the Old City, there are many places to grab a takeaway falafel or shwarma. Some other options for eating in this area are the charming Armenia Taverna or the more casual Bagel Bite . Also in the Old City is the always delicious and gourmet Michael Andrew . Abu Shakri in the Arab quarter provides good Middle Eastern food–for those wishing to eat their falafel sitting down. Try labana, a white cheese, and foul – a bean dish seasoned with lemon juice.