A Cultural Holiday in Jerusalem

A Cultural Holiday in Jerusalem

Curious to see #Israel from a non-religious perspective, I decided to check out the #HolyLand for myself. #Jerusalem was a revelation, it’s a most welcome assault on the senses. Believe the hype and discover Jerusalem’s wealth of #culture and activities.


Israel always seemed like an exotic mystery to me, not a real place so much as a fantasy land where magical things happened. You know the kind of thing: the son of God being born, only to later turn water into wine, walk on the Sea of Galilee, resurrect a man, and then be resurrected himself. 

I’m not religious so I didn’t expect Jerusalem to have such a profound effect on me, but it did.

I’m not religious so I didn’t expect Jerusalem to have such a profound effect on me, but it did

Jerusalem can’t fail to impress with its iconic sites, winding streets and palpable atmosphere of history. I met a friend who was on her way back west from Jordan and we stayed in the centrally located Arthur Hotel.

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Arthur Hotel - An Atlas Boutique Hotel

 Dorot Rishonim 13, Jerusalem, Israel
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It was a relaxed and friendly place that had a fridge to keep our drinks cool in the summer heat. Arthur Hotel was near loads of shops and restaurants, and I was a regular customer of the ubiquitous 5-shekel shops, where you can buy snacks and drinks for - you guessed it - five shekels (90p). 

I also happily established myself as a repeat customer at Falafel Mullah, located near the bustling Mahane Yehuda Market.

The labyrinthine Old City is where the magic happens; divided into four quarters (Armenian, Jewish, Muslim and Christian), it contains the highest concentration of landmarks.

The labyrinthine Old City is where the magic happens; divided into four quarters (Armenian, Jewish, Muslim and Christian) 

We decided to get oriented by going on a 4-hour walking tour of the old city with Sandemans, and it was totally worth it.

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 Jerusalem, Israel
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The tour covered some of the most important sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western (Wailing) Wall, King David's Tomb, and the Via Dolorosa, and our guide explained them thoroughly but in an enjoyable and accessible way.

My favourite discovery was the ancient stone rooftops of the old city, where anyone can freely go up and wander above the souk below, it’s so peaceful above the alleys teeming with tourists. 

My favourite discovery was the ancient stone rooftops of the old city, where anyone can freely go up and wander 

I went back at night and it happened to coincide with Shabbat (the Sabbath) and a Friday 13th ‘super moon’ that would not occur again for another 35 years. The atmosphere was electric standing under the full moon watching worshippers gather at the Western wall.

The atmosphere was electric standing under the full moon watching worshippers gather at the Western wall

I met my friend and some people from the walking tour for drinks and downtown was buzzing in a different way because it was also the second day of the World Cup. That was quite a memorable evening!

As I was reading my guide book during breakfast the next day I accidentally dropped olive oil over the section on the Mount of Olives. Of course, I took that as a sign, joking that I could see Jesus’ face in the oil stain, so we decided to walk up to the Mount of Olives and take in the views over Jerusalem. We walked past churches and gardens down the slope on the way to my favourite entrance to the Old City, the Lion’s Gate, which sees much less activity than the other gates. 

In the evening we checked out the Light Festival, where there were some amazing and creative light installations set up all around the ancient city and you just had to follow certain trails. I really couldn’t believe my luck at the timing of my trip and so much cool stuff happening.

Much as I loved the city centre, I thought it was important to get out and about so I booked a tour to Bethlehem with Abraham Tours.

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 Bethlehem of Galilee, Israel
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I’d always wanted to see the town that I had sung Christmas carols about at school. It was eye-opening to go to the West Bank and beyond the huge concrete wall separating it from Israel, but if you’re expecting a quaint village with a manger you’ll be surprised at the hectic town that greets you. The Shepherds’ Field where the ‘shepherds watched their flocks by night’ before famously following a star into Bethlehem, makes a relaxing detour.

I liked Abraham Tours enough to book a day tour to the Dead Sea with them, stopping off at Masada fortress for the spectacular sunrise.

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The 3 am start was harsh, but it was worth it and how could I go to Israel and not experience the Dead Sea? 

Word of warning: only the most masochistic swimmers should attempt to go in the water with even the slightest cut, I have eczema and I only managed a painful paddle, but it was fun watching everyone else float around.

Jerusalem is one of the most fascinating cities in the world, it has so much to offer people of all ages and backgrounds. 

Jerusalem is one of the most fascinating cities in the world, it has so much to offer people of all ages and backgrounds

I fell in love with it almost instantaneously, so much so that my plans to visit the north of Israel were quickly abandoned. I don’t regret it as even after six days I still feel that there was more to see and I hope to go back and see the rest of this beautiful country.

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