The cobblestoned streets of the Old City silently bear the weight of the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; a confluence of three holy sites from three religions, all a stone’s throw away from each other. In this ancient area, fresh fruit juice stalls pop up amidst shops selling trinkets and souvenirs. Shopkeepers try to entice tourists by greeting them with a ‘shalom’ in sing-song voices.
The city has probably been invaded, destroyed, rebuilt, and fought over more than any other place on this planet, so it comes as no surprise that it continues to be a centre of conflict. As contentious as Jerusalem’s status is, life goes on in the hallowed city that anchors deep roots of faiths responsible for many of the few million tourists that explore its passages.
Start your morning in the Muslim Quarter. Non-Muslims may visit the Dome of the Rock (one of the oldest existing Islamic monuments, located on the Temple Mount) between 8.30-10.30 a.m. and 1.30-2.30 p.m. during the summer months; October through March allows visitors from 7.30-10.30 a.m. and 12.30-1.30 p.m. The queue for the Dome of the Rock is long, so get there early to avoid waiting. Later, make your way to the Western Wall, which is the western support wall of the Temple Mount. Jews gather to pray at the wall and stick prayer notes into its crevices. A sign instructs visitors to be modestly dressed out of respect for the site.
The Jewish Quarter boasts the 16th-century Hurva Synagogue. It was later destroyed, and then rebuilt in 2010. (Entry is 20 NIS/Rs400 for adults and 10 NIS/Rs200 for children and students.) Non-Jews aren’t allowed in the the prayer room but can see the rest of the synagogue, including its circular terrace that offers a great view of the rest of the Old City.
Afterwards, head to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre via the Christian Quarter Road. The church is identified as the place of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It is richly decorated with carvings, 12th century frescoes and lanterns, and attracts a number of pilgrims.
If you manage to carve out some extra time before lunch, also visit the St. James Cathedral in the Armenian Quarter. The courtyard of the Cathedral is decorated with traditional Armenian stone crosses, all sporting intricate masonry. The church itself is decorated with 18th century blue and white tiles made by Armenian artists. The theme continues as you make your way through Old Jerusalem—the street signs are made with Armenian ceramics.
Taste the medley of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern culinary influences that merge with North African and European touches that all together make up Israeli fare. The best place to start? The Mahane Yehuda market, wrapped in colour and chaos, is home to many eateries and food stalls that offer a memorable Israeli meal. Go to Azura for slow-cooked food like meat with potatoes, kima (lamb kebabs with layers of eggplant, potato and spinach bathed in broth), aubergine stuffed with minced beef, and other dishes like kibbeh (semolina dumplings stuffed with ground beef, served on their own or in a soup). It’s a family-run institution, operating since 1952, spread out over a stone courtyard that makes for a great lunch spot.
A 20-minute cab ride from the Old City takes you to The Yad Vashem—The World Holocaust Remembrance Center. It’s a grim place to visit, but an important one for anyone passing through Jerusalem. The Yad Vashem has nine horrifying galleries featuring displays in the form of documents, photographs, films, and articles found in concentration camps. It is a free museum, which ends with the Hall of Names, a hair-raising dome-like space that contains names of Holocaust victims. Most of these were submitted by the victims’ families and relatives. Visitors may still submit names, which are then added to the digital archive.
Return to the Mahane Yehuda market to experience its evening bustle. Stalls selling olives, spices, and fragrant tea come alive as merchants lure customers with sample servings of what they have to offer. A stone’s throw away is Hatzot, a popular restaurant that serves up the famous Jerusalem mixed grill. Hatzot’s menu is vast, including chicken hearts, chicken liver, veal kebab, and goose liver. For a few extra shekels, the waitstaff will bring over an assortment of salads and dips before the meal.
There are direct flights from Mumbai and Delhi to Ben Gurion International Airport starting from Rs34,000. The airport is located near the town of Lod, approximately 35 minutes from Jerusalem and 30 minutes from Tel Aviv by car. It is advisable to arrive with the itinerary of your trip printed out as the level of security is of a very high standard at the airport.
Vritti Bansal is a writer and editor who lives between Dublin and Delhi. She has previously led the Food & Drink sections for Time Out Delhi and India Today Group Digital, and now runs a food website called Binge.