During our short trip to Israel with Jerusalem in focus, we’ve visited a lot of more or less touristic spots of the Holy Land. No surprises that the majority of them are linked to Christianity, or Judaism, or Islam, or all of three together. It’s hard to deny – even if you’re a non religious person like me – that many of them are really important for the history of humanity. Visiting them in person was also an interesting experience for me – and I’ll definitely cover these places in future blogposts!
But actually the value of Israel is not limited to the places of worship – let’s for a moment talk about locations and experiences that are not usually included to the religious pilgrimage.
Scroll down, and you’ll be surprised to see how many things you can do in Jerusalem that don’t have a real – or at least straightforward – connection with religions!
Enjoy views of the Old City
The panorama of the Old City of Jerusalem looks astonishing! There are over 200 historical monuments – and just imagine how many more could be found if archaeological excavations came deeper into the historical layers! Obviously, the Old City and its Walls are listed as a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. And there are several places from where you can enjoy the views of it to the fullest.
The most straightforward choice is a lookout from the Mount of Olives. It was obviously named after the olives trees that were covering its slopes long time ago – now you can see how it was supposed to look like at the Gethsemane by the side of the Basilica of the Agony.
It’s not only a place continuously mentioned in the Old and New Testaments and where one of the oldest cementers still in use is located, but also a spot with a nice view over the old city. Another place I recommend is Golden Panoramic City restaurant which might not serve the most refined dishes ever but the views over the crowded street are really fabulous! We even were lucky to see the rainbow!
Finally, another place is Petra Hostel just a min away from Jaffa Gate. It’s a small and quite modest hostel with a royal view – and you can get access to the rooftop by paying a small sum.
Interesting: Famous Russian writer Ivan Bunin stayed there with his wife in the 1907!
Walk along Jaffa Road
Jaffa road starts almost straight from the Jaffa gate and represents a more modern part of Jerusalem – well, compared to the Temple mountain 🙂 Some nice cafes and shops are located over there as well as beautiful murals on buildings. If you need transportation to other parts of the city, Jerusalem Light Rail is also located over there.
Buy fruits at Mahane Yehuda Market
Mahane Yehuda Market is a nice partly covered space where you can buy all sorts of pastries, fruits, vegetables, nuts, dried fruits, spices, clothing and many many more (see the slides!).
It looks more natural, vivid and less touristy than sweet shops in the Old city and the variety of products sold really amazes any visitor. Have you ever seen dried lychees or watermelon? Neither have I!
To get there we just walked along the Jaffa Road from the Jaffa gate for about 20 min.
Treat yourself with a strong coffee
Coffee drinking tradition has really ancient roots in the Middle East. I know some prefer a Starbucksy coffee beverages with lots of cream, syrups and all other masking additives. But stay strong in Jerusalem and try – and maybe fall in love – with a strong raw unfiltered coffee beans product!
A portion of divine bitter drink is usually served in a small cup with no sugar or milk added. Sometimes it’s mixed with some spice (cardamom is my favorite one!) and accompanied by some delicious local sweets.
Admire the real damask (and maybe buy some!)
There are some material objects that are an art. If you want to get a unique experience of visiting kind-of-museum store, come to the Bilal Abu Khalaf’s shop in the Old City and see the variety of precious textiles for yourself! The proud owner buys outstanding pieces himself from Syria where old traditions of weaving are still very much alive in spite of the political unease in the region.
Damask, rare, expensive and historically important fabrics from Damascus, that has been worn by the richest individuals on the planet since the Middle Age? 14-carat gold threads that make a textile look like a liquid metal? The finest hand-woven strokes that create unique stories on such an unusual canvas? You can find it all in here.
Religious leaders (oops, I remember I promised to focus on different topic, but it’s just a tiny mention) of Muslims, Jews and Christians all agree in one topic: they all wear the textiles of traditional patterns and colours from Bilal Abu Khalaf’s shop. If you see the photos of magnificent Pope Benedict XVI’ robes, do keep in mind that you may know where they came from 🙂
I’m not a person who usually admires this kind of stuff, but believe me – it’s worths seeing!
Help yourself with a slice of Jerusalem’s long history
Saint Anna’s Church near the Lions’ gate is notable not just per se, but for the archaeological wonders in its courtyard as well! A definite must see for a history lover where different eras are all combined in one tiny area.
The Pools of Bethesda give you an idea of how Jerusalem looked liked and how civilisations came and wend.
Going deep down under the ground, there are the remnants of northern and southern pools, a Roman Temple to Asclepius, the God of Medicine, a Byzantine church and Crusader Churches.
Some beautiful mosaics are also present in there – just in a separate space and covered by a cloth!
A disclaimer: talking about non-religious activities there is an elephant in the room – museums such as Yad Vashem, Israel Museum and many others. But I won’t be talking about them in this blogpost which focuses more on entertainment and historical curiosity.
Hope you enjoyed my blogpost!