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48 Hours in Jerusalem

Published Apr 26, 2010


Depicted as the centre of the world in the Middle Ages, Jerusalem is primarily known these days for its religious and political importance. If you know where to look, however, there are plenty of secular delights.

Local correspondents help you get the most out of a stay in a city revered by Muslims, Jews and Christians.

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6pm - Plunge straight into the Old City. As you weave your way through the throngs of people and souk stalls, take some time to exchange pleasantries with the local shopkeepers. A simple Salaam Aleikum (peace be with you), to which the response is Wa-Aleikum Salaam (and with you be peace), gives an insight into the elaborate world of greetings in Arabic culture.

7pm - Arrive at the Western Wall (Kotel in Hebrew) just before sundown and marvel at the hundreds of Jews, both liberal and Orthodox, welcoming in the Jewish Sabbath by dancing and singing. Built by King Herod around 19 BC, the wall is considered one of the most holy places in Judaism. Jews from all over the world come to cram prayers written on folded scraps of paper into its cracks. Make sure you are dressed appropriately.

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8pm - If you can, have Sabbath dinner with a local family. If not, now is the time to head for something a little less Kosher. Due to a large influx of Ethiopian Jews, there are several restaurants serving traditional Ethiopian food at the beginning of Jaffa road. Think 10 shekel beers and a delicious plate of injera (a sour flat dough pancake) with meat and vegetable wats (stews).

10pm - Although it may look like Jerusalem shuts down over the Sabbath, now is the time to follow your ears. A cluster of bars around the Russian Compound will take you late into the night, including swanky Toy Bar, left-wing hippie joint Uganda (named after the alternative destination originally offered to Zionists), and trendy cave-cum-club Cassette.


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10:30am - Sabbath is the time to explore the Muslim and Christian side of Jerusalem, so make your way to the Old City's Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which holds the last five stations of the Via Dolorosa (Jesus' final walk, literally the Way of Pain/Suffering). Follow the stations backwards to Lions Gate, where you can get onto the city ramparts, minus the tourists. It's a 20 minute walk back round to Damascus Gate, but the views, especially of the Muslim Quarter, are unparallelled.

1pm - Take a well-earned break with a strong Arabic coffee at the Alternative Tourism Cafe just inside Damascus Gate, the place to go if you want to explore the West Bank and need a good guide to help you. Grab a hummus and falafel pitta sandwich in the Old City.

2pm - A trip to Jerusalem wouldn't be complete without delving into some of the politics that come with life here, so grab a bus to the Church of the Nativity and Manger Square in Bethlehem, and on your way back, come through the Israeli military's Bethlehem checkpoint. See for yourself the several metre high Israeli wall covered with colourful graffiti and experience first-hand what many Palestinians endure twice a day to get to work or school. Israel says the barrier is a security necessity. Palestinians call it a land grab.

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6pm - Once back in East Jerusalem, head to the American Colony Hotel for a glass of wine from their well-stocked cellar. The hotel also houses excellent English book and gift shops.

8pm - Sabbath ends once there are three stars or more in the sky, and Jewish neighbourhoods in Jerusalem come back to life. Cross into ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood Mea Sharim, where families take to the street to stretch their legs. Appropriate modest dress is recommended, which for women means no trousers.

9pm - The German Colony's main road, Emek Refaim, is lined with restaurants and shops and is a good place to soak up the post-Sabbath buzz. Taiku offers some of the best sushi in the city, whilst Marvad Haksamim (the magic carpet) serves delicious traditional Middle Eastern fare.

10:30pm - If you're not feeling too exhausted, now is the time for a different sort of culture. The Jerusalem Cinematheque specialises in art-house, independent, and Israeli films, and offers a jam-packed programme late into the night, whilst the Yellow Submarine in Talpiyot offers live jazz.


9am - Start early to see what Muslims call al-Haram al-Sharif and Jews describe as the Temple Mount. Opening times are from 7:30 - 11:30am and 1:30 - 2:30pm, Sunday to Thursday, but vary depending on the security situation. This is the site of the oldest Islamic building in the world (691 AD). Jews revere the Temple Mount as the site of the Biblical Jewish Temples. You won't be allowed into either al-Aqsa mosque or the Dome of the Rock (where Muslims believe Mohammed ascended to heaven, and Jews believe Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac) but you can wander through the peaceful courtyards and admire the stone archways and exterior tiling. The tourist entrance is from the Western Wall plaza.

11pm - Go on to Yad Vashem, which contains the incredibly moving Holocaust History Museum, as well as a Hall of Remembrance, a Holocaust Art Gallery, and other memorial sites. The meticulously curated main exhibition includes video footage, photographs, and survivor's testimonies. Leave a few hours to go through it properly.

2:30pm - Head back into downtown Jerusalem for a final stop in the bustling Mahane Yehuda market, where you can pick up cheese, olives, and bread from any one of the delicatessen stalls.

3:30pm - Finish your trip by strolling through the quaint twisting alleyways of bohemian neighbourhood Nahalaot, just south of the market. Find your way slowly back to the Ben Yehuda street to catch a final glimpse of the Orthodox Jews dancing and singing amongst the crowds, a contrast utterly typical of Jerusalem. - Reuters

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