You plan your trip, select your dates and make your booking – but then the flight brings you into town a day ahead of the group. You could always hole up in the hotel sipping cocktails – but we think you’re more adventurous than that. All the major highlights are ready and waiting, but before the tour kicks off, here’s how to use your extra time to full advantage courtesy of guest blogger Matthew Teller.
With a day free, the best way to lift the lid on Jerusalem ahead of visiting the major sights is to skip to and fro from one side of the city to the other, sampling the flavours and atmosphere of Jewish Israeli culture in the west and Palestinian Arab culture in the east.
In the west, the main artery is Jaffa Street. Take the tram – also known as the light railway – to the Davidka or Yafo stops to discover the huge, sprawling, fascinating Mahane Yehuda street market, crammed into a web of lanes between Jaffa and Agrippas Street. You could spend hours here, browsing aromatic stalls of fruit and veg, spices of all kinds, pastries, fresh bread, cheeses and a thousand other items. Grab a falafel sandwich or pause at Ima (Agrippas 189) for Israeli homecooked favourites such as spicy meatballs or stuffed aubergine.
Continue down Jaffa Street into the heart of West Jerusalem, stopping for coffee at one of the funky terrace cafés on pedestrianized Ben Yehuda Street, then head onwards to reach the Old City walls.
Entering the Old City at Jaffa Gate, you could lose yourself in the bazaars of David Street – or rise above it all: the self-guided Ramparts Walk (NIS16) leads atop the 16th-century walls in two sections, both starting from Jaffa Gate, offering amazing views down into streets and backyards as well as out over the Jerusalem cityscape. To the south you walk above the Armenian Quarter to Zion Gate (45mins) and then above the Jewish Quarter to Dung Gate (1hr), where you must descend to street level. Alternatively opt for the atmospheric northern section, above the Christian Quarter past New Gate (20mins) to the Muslim Quarter: descend at Damascus Gate (40mins) or continue past Herod’s Gate (50mins) to Lions’ Gate (1hr 30mins) where the walk ends.
The wonderfully frenetic Palestinian markets of the Old City crowd the Muslim Quarter around Souk Khan Al-Zeit, from where you exit the Old City at either Damascus Gate or Herod’s Gate to stroll along the main commercial artery of East Jerusalem, Salah ed-Din Street – thoroughly untouristy, and devoted chiefly to fashion boutiques, Arabic bookshops and travel agencies. At its northern end, take a peek inside the legendary American Colony, a splendid 19th-century mansion now serving as a luxury hotel of character. Take tea here in the peaceful internal courtyard, or aim instead for the vine-shaded terrace of the modest Jerusalem Hotel on Nablus Road, one of East Jerusalem’s most atmospheric hideaways for refreshments.
From here, you could walk back into the Old City, or jump on the tram (which stops two minutes away) to continue your explorations.
Have a look at our website for more information on our tours and holidays to Israel.
Matthew Teller is a freelance journalist and travel writer, specialising in the Middle East. His first big adventure was a family holiday to Jerusalem aged 11 – even today, the smell of cumin takes him straight back there. Since then, he’s lived and worked around the Middle East, had dinner with the Queen, been thrown off a train on the Polish-German border for having no shoes, lived in a self-built shack on the beach at Tel Aviv, sampled warm milk fresh from the camel in Saudi Arabia, driven across the US, hitch-hiked from Morocco to Paris in 22 hours straight, been blessed while sitting on a holy shaking wall in the Punjab and had many other adventures of the kind travel writers always boast about. He lives in the UK and tries to keep his website matthewteller.com and his blog quitealone.com reasonably up to date.