In this Best of Jerusalem Travel – a 3 Day Itinerary, discover the best of what this holy city has to offer and how to see it in in just 3 days!
Jerusalem is so much more than a travel destination, it’s a pilgrimage for the soul and the senses. Don’t let the lively modern expanses fool you. Jerusalem is still one of those rare places on Earth that is shrouded with ancient history. The entire city’s vibrancy is palpable and deeply respectful of the past. Yet, it’s so committed to life that it almost feels like there’s a daily cultural rejuvenation. The city’s treasures are extremely accessible and its roadways (both ancient and modern) are easy to navigate. Just remember to bring a good pair of walking shoes! Around every corner there’s a story, a history, and a future. Whether you’re there for a day or a lifetime, Jerusalem leaves an indelible impression on the heart.
I was lucky enough to take my second trip to Jerusalem this past November while on a Jerusalem Press Trip with iTravel Jerusalem and TBEX. The first time I went to Jerusalem was a few summers ago with my husband, and I was thrilled to be back!
There is SO much to see, do, shop for, and EAT in Jerusalem. You can easily spend a week there and still come away feeling like you only scratched the surface. In this Best of Jerusalem Travel post, I have outlined how you can see the city’s best and holiest of holy attractions in 3 days.
Almost all of the other tourists I chatted with in Jerusalem said they wanted to come back. Many were already on their second, third, fourth, and even seventh return trip!
This post combines the first trip I took to Israel with my husband a few summers ago with my most recent trip in November.
Can you do Jerusalem on your own and without any tour guides? Yes, absolutely. That’s what my husband and I did on our first trip there mostly because we were on a tight budget. After seeing Jerusalem on my own and with a tour, I would say the happy medium is somewhere in-between. With that said, I would DEFINITELY hire a guide for the day to take you through the old city.
Jerusalem Travel Guide Book Recommendations:
Before heading to Jerusalem I purchased these two guide books. I highly recommend both of them, especially Eyewitness Travel. It gives some great background to the ancient and modern histories of the Holy Land.
- Eyewitness Travel: Jerusalem, Israel, Petra & Sinai
- Lonely Planet Israel & the Palestinian Territories (If you’re a Prime member, the Kindle version is FREE!)
Jerusalem Travel 3 Day Itinerary
The first day of my Jerusalem travel itinerary is all about the Old City and touring sacred sites of all 3 major religions; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This will be your heaviest walking day (easily 8 miles), so make sure you put some comfortable walking shoes on–you’ll be doing a ton of walking! Also, it’s super important, even in winter months, to drink water constantly (notice I didn’t say often, but constantly) and take breaks as needed.
Tower of David & Ramparts Walk
Start the day off by heading to Jaffa Gate. The Tower of David, and the Citadel, has a museum that is located at Jaffa Gate within the ancient fortress. After the museum, get up on the wall and walk the ramparts! Here you’ll get a unique perspective of Jerusalem by walking on the walls of the old city. Presently, the walk has 2 sections:
- The longer one starts at the Tower of David Citadel and continues to Lion’s Gate.
- The shorted one starts at the Tower of David Citadel and continues towards Mount Zion.
Start with the shorter route, and once you exit the ramparts, walk to the City of David.
The City of David
The City of David is the oldest settled neighborhood in Jerusalem. It’s where King David established his capital. Today, the City of David is an active dig site with multiple excavations going on daily!
Watch the 3D movie depicting what the city looked like during the days of King David, King Solomon, Isiah, and Jeremiah. Next, head to the ancient tunnels of the water shaft system that was built by the Canaanites.
There are a few options when it comes to exploring the City of David. In warmer months, I 100% recommend getting wet and taking the route that follows the ancient aqueduct that was commissioned by King Hezekiah. At some points you’ll be in thigh-deep water… Make sure you have a bathing suit and flip flops to change into before hitting the tunnels! If you don’t want to get wet, then take the Canaanites tunnel.
NOTE: If you’re claustrophobic, then you may want to skip the tunnels all together!
The Western Wall Tunnels & The Western Wall
The Western Wall Tunnels
From the City of David, head to the Western Wall via the Western Wall Tunnels. (Alternatively, if you’re claustrophobic or don’t have a guide, then head to the western wall through the Dung Gate.) The tunnels are only accessable by guided tours, but don’t let that deter you because they are truly a unique experience. When I first visited Israel, the Western Wall tunnels were not open, because they are a newly uncovered site. I was absolutely thrilled to get the chance to walk through the tunnels on my recent trip to Jerusalem!
In the tunnels, you will walk through a section of the Herodian Channel that is about 500 feet long. Along the way you will walk past the massive foundation stones of the Western Wall. From there you will exit and make your way to the Western Wall.
The Western Wall
Whether you’re Jewish or not, the Western Wall holds a mystical power. It’s considered Judaism’s most holy site, because it’s a remnant of the Temple Mount. According to Jewish tradition, all of creation began in Jerusalem, and the epicenter is Mount Moriah which was the site of the ancient Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is also the site where Isaac was bound for sacrifice, and it’s there where Isaac’s son, Jacob, dreamt of a ladder ascending to heaven. Other parts of the Temple Mount retaining wall remain, but the Western Wall is especially important because it is the site closest to the Holy of Holies, which was the central focus of the Temple. Within the traditions of Kabbalah, it is said that all prayers from around the world ascend to this one spot, and then ascend into heaven.
Jerusalem has been destroyed and rebuilt nine times over the centuries, and through it all one symbol has remained intact: the Western Wall.
The Dome on the Rock
After visiting the Western Wall, head to The Dome on the Rock, the second most sacred site for Islamic religion.
Dome on the Rock, the shrine on Temple Mount, dominates the Jerusalem skyline from every angle. Not only does this beacon of reflected light draw the eye, but its sacred holiness to no less than 3 of the world’s major religions makes it a must-see stop on the tour. This is the site where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac, where the Prophet Muhammed ascended to heaven, and where, in the Judaic tradition, the world was created and where it will end. Pretty serious place! Be warned though, actually getting to tour the Temple Mount compound takes a little planning.
Old City Gates
Old Jerusalem has 8 gates: Damascus Gate, New Gate, Zion Gate, Jaffa Gate, Lion’s Gate, Herod’s (Flowers) Gate, Dung Gate, and Mercy Gate (Golden Gate). The 8th gate, Mercy gate, is the only gate that is not open. It is an important gate for all 3 major religions in Jerusalem. The Jewish faith believes that it is the gate that the Messiah will enter through. The Christian faith believes that it is the gate that Christ entered Jerusalem through, and the Islamic faith believes that it is the gate through which the righteous will pass through on the day of judgement. The gate was walled up during the 9th century, and has remained shut for 12 centuries.
See all of the gates of Old Jerusalem by going gate hopping! Instead of walking the circumference of the old city (about 2.8 miles), I suggest taking the Old City Train to alleviate some of the walking. After visiting the Dome on the Rock, hop on the Old City Train at Dung Gate and ride it back to Jaffa Gate (if you need a bit of a reprieve from all the walking, then just ride it in it’s entirety until you reach Jaffa Gate for the second time). Then get up on the city walls again and walk the ramparts in the opposite direction from the morning. Walk from the Tower of David Citadel to Lion’s Gate, and make stops along the way to visit the different gates. Once you get to Lion’s gate, you’re in the right place to begin the Via Dolorosa!
The Via Dolorosa & the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
The Via Dolorosa
Tour the Christian Quarter of Old Jerusalem as the pilgrims of old did by entering through the Lion’s Gate and following the Via Dolorosa. It traditionally follows the 14 Stations of the Cross, or the last steps of Jesus Christ. The Via Dolorosa traces from where Christ was tried at Calvary to where he was crucified, and finally to the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (depending on your beliefs, he was buried either here or in the Garden Tomb–see Day 2 below). Throughout the centuries the route has changed, but the tradition of walking the Via Dolorosa is still strong. Every day you will see countless pilgrims, monks, and nuns walking the route while pondering and reflecting upon Christ’s suffering as they stop at the 14 Stations of the Cross.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is arguably among Christianity’s holiest sites. It claims to be the site where Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected (depending upon what you believe; see the Garden Tomb on day 2 below).
After the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, grab some dinner and head back to your hotel for an early bedtime–you deserve it after a long day of walking!
On the second day of my Jerusalem travel itinerary you’ll be spending time in modern Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives, and the Old City.
Kick off your morning with a Scavenger Hunt! During my recent trip to Israel I was able to take part in a super fun scavenger hunt. Not only was I able to see more of the city than I originally had planned, but I was able to interact with and talk to Jerusalem locals by engaging with the story of Israel and its people. Each scavenger hunt is designed with fun, adventure, and history in mind. Plus, it’s great for all ages. The Israel Scaventures company has 7 scavenger hunts to choose from in the city of Jerusalem, plus more in other cities in Israel.
After your morning scavenger hunt, head to the Garden Tomb. Some Christian sects outside of the Roman Catholic church believe the Garden Tomb to be the site for the resurrection of Jesus. While the actual burial and resurrection site of the Savior remains contested, the Garden Tomb definitely paints a vivid picture of what is described in the scriptures.
For an extra-special experience, attend a Sunday morning or Easter service at the Garden Tomb.
The Mount of Olives & Mount Zion
You will spend the rest of the day exploring the Mount of Olives and Mount Zion. The Mount of Olives holds spiritual significance to Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The mount is home to Jewish cemeteries dating back to 2400 BC. Many Jews wish to be buried there because of its close proximity to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. The valley is where it’s said mankind will be resurrected on judgement day. The mount is also dotted with sites connected to Jesus’ last days on earth; the room of the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Mosque of the Ascension. The mosque site is sacred to both Muslims and Christians, and this medieval chapel, now part of a mosque, is the site where Christ ascended into heaven.
Other sites not to be missed on the Mount of Olives: The Cave of Gethsemane, Basilica of the Agony, Dominus Flevit Sanctuary, Tomb of the Virgin, Tombs of the Prophets, Valley of Jehoshaphat, and the Russian Church of the Ascension.
Night Spectacular Sound & Light Show
After your day on Mount Zion, head back to the old city for a bite to eat. Then head over to the Citadel for the Night Spectacular Sound & Light Show. The 45-minute show turns the ancient walls into a stage as it spans Jerusalem’s 4,000-year-old history: King David, the Roman conquest, Muhammad, the Crusaders, and more.
On the third day of my Jerusalem travel itinerary you will spending the morning in Ein Karem, the afternoon at the Isreal Museum, and the late afternoon/evening at the shuk!
Start your day early with a beautiful drive through pine forests to Ein Kerem. Ein Kerem is a picturesque village within Jerusalem city limits that has biblical ties. John the Baptist was born and lived here. The village is home to a few churches and monasteries connected with his life.
The village itself is very walkable, and I think you will love wandering its beautiful streets, and discovering its charming architecture and doors.
Church of St. John the Baptist
The Church of St. John the Baptist is a beautiful Francian church that dates back to the 17th century. It is built over earlier Byzantine and Crusader ruins and structures. The open courtyard in front of the church is a great place to snap pictures, or contemplate your pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On the walls of the courtyard are large ceramic plaques that have the song of thanksgiving by Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, after his son was born. The song of thanksgiving is written in 24 different languages. Within the church is a cave which is said to be the birth site of John the Baptist.
Notre Dame de Sion Church
After the Church of St. John the Baptist, exit the courtyard and head down the hill. Grab some sweets or ice cream at Sweet Ein Kerem before setting out on your stroll up the Judean Hills to Notre Dame de Sion Church.
While on your stroll, take in the charming views of the wooded valley, limestone streets, and the doors. Yes, the doors! They are beautiful and so inviting. I couldn’t help but take pictures of a few of my favorites!
On the Notre Dame de Sion grounds is a church, a convent, a guesthouse, and beautiful gardens. The quiet and peaceful gardens are clearly loved. You can see people just sitting throughout the grounds while meditating and praying. NOTE: The gardens are known for their silence, make sure you prepare little ones before visiting the grounds.
Next, spend the afternoon in Jerusalem’s museum district. If you only have an afternoon to explore Jerusalem’s museums, then I suggest you go to The Israel Museum. Grab lunch at their European-inspired restaurant, Modern, before viewing the collections.
The Israel Museum is the largest cultural institution in all of Israel. It has an extensive collection of Holy Land and biblical archeological finds. The most famous of which are the Dead Sea Scrolls! While on our visit we were privileged to get a private tour from the curator himself! The Shrine of the Book, the building the scrolls are housed, is shrouded with symbolism. The outside is modeled after the lids of the jars that the scrolls were found in. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed inside the building, so you’ll have to go and see the scrolls for yourself.
Mahane Yehuda Market
Mahane Yehuda Market, or “The Shuk”, is arguably the heartbeat of Jerusalem. It’s here where you’ll see all 3 major religions represented in its offerings, people, sights, sounds, and smells! Tourists and locals alike congregate here for grocery shopping, eating, card playing, nightlife, concerts, and more. It’s the largest market in Jerusalem with more than 250 vendors that sell fresh produce, baked good, sweets, meat, cheese, nuts, fish, spices, housewares, clothing, shoes, and more.
To get a true taste for the different kinds of food that the shuk offers, I suggest booking a BiteMojo Jerusalem food walking tour for dinner. I recommend either the self-guided Mahane Yehuda Market Food Tour, or the Jerusalem Nightlife Food Tours.
If you have any questions about Jerusalem or traveling there, feel free to leave a comment below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org!
This post, Best of Jerusalem Travel – a 3 Day Itinerary, was written in partnership with iTravel Jerusalem and TBEX. I took part in the TBEX Jerusalem Press Trip, however, I have only included things that I personally recommend and enjoyed on the trip. I have also included content from a previous trip to Israel. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.