Politically, the Old City is part of East Jerusalem. The area within the city walls is discussed in the Old City article, while the ancient part of the city which is just outside the city walls is discussed in this article. Many of the important sites are concentrated in the City of David, Mount Zion, and the Mount of Olives. There are also some sites of interest in more distant parts of East Jerusalem.
In 1967, after capturing East Jerusalem, Israel decided to annex a large area surrounding the city, to provide room for the city's future growth. This large area included what were the Arab parts of Jerusalem at the time, as well as a number of nearby Arab villages, as well as empty land. Since 1967, the villages have grown into large suburbs, while Jewish neighborhoods have been built in the empty land. During this time, East Jerusalem's population of 66,000 Arabs has grown to a total of approximately 260,000 Arabs and 200,000 Jews.
East Jerusalem is also the location of the first campus of the Hebrew University on Mt Scopus, established in 1925. From 1948-1967 the campus was an enclave of Israeli control in East Jerusalem, though it did not function as a university. After 1967, the university was re-established on the site.
East Jerusalem remains a major point of contention in Arab-Israeli relations, as Israel has annexed it, but Palestinians claim it as their capital. Peace negotiations typically envision Jewish and Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem becoming part of Israel and a Palestinian state respectively. The status of the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary in the Old City has been harder to negotiate, as both sides have deep theological and historic links to the same location.
There has been periodic violence between Arabs and Jews in East Jerusalem (and on the boundary between the East and West), most recently the current (2015-2016) "Intifada of the Knives".
By busEast Jerusalem has three central stations for Arab urban and intercity buses. All are close to each other, just north of the Old City. Listed in geographical order, from west to east:
Nablus Road stationBuses to Ramallah and northern Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem
Sultan Suleiman stationBuses to Bethany, Jericho, and eastern Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem
If coming from West Jerusalem, bus lines 1 and 3 leave from the central bus station on Jaffa Street and circle around the old city, with stops near the old city gates and major sites of East Jerusalem in the vicinity of the Old City. Bus number 84 leaves from the Ammunition Hill light rail stop and will take you to the top of the Mount of Olives.
By light railComing from West Jerusalem, the light rail enters East Jerusalem, stopping first at Damascus Gate next to the Old City. It then turns north, paralleling the boundary between East and West Jerusalem, before continuing north into additional East Jerusalem neighborhoods.
Depending on the sites you want to visit, there are several stops you may want to get off at:
- - this is the last stop in West Jerusalem, and it is the closest stop to Mount Zion and the City of David.
- The light rail station is near the transportation hub of East Jerusalem outside the Damascus Gate. Use this stop for the Garden Tomb and Rockefeller Archaeological Museum.
- - for Tombs of the Kings and several hotels, including Grand Court and American Colony.
- (Giv'at Hatahmoshet) for Ammunition Hill Memorial Site, Dan Jerusalem Hotel, and bus 84 to the Mount of Olives.
On footMost sights within East Jerusalem are close to the Old City, allowing them to be explored on foot.
If you are visiting the Mount of Olives, keep in mind that it is quite steep. You might want to take a very short cab ride to the top to save you the climbing, particularly in hot weather. It should be easy to flag down a cab near the Old City.
For the few East Jerusalem sites that are far from the Old City, there are buses (separate but overlapping Jewish and Arab networks), as well as the light rail line.
Church of the DormitionAdorned by a conical dome and a tall bell tower, this Mount Zion church is the traditional site of the Virgin Mary's death. Several churches have been built on the site. The present-day structure was built in the early 20th century for the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The main part of the church contains a mosaic floor featuring the signs of the zodiac and the names of various saints and prophets. A statue of the Virgin Mary rests in the crypt surrounded by images of various women listed in the Old Testament.
King David's TombAdjoining the Church of the Dormition and located on the lower floor of the Crusader building is a small chamber venerated as King David's Tomb. The chamber—divided for separate viewing by men and women—contains a sarcophagus covered by a drape. From 1948-1967, when the Old City was under Jordanian control and there was no access to the Western Wall, Jews would come here to pray. Today the entrance hall is still used as a synagogue.
Last Supper RoomA room in the David's Tomb Compound, traditionally held to be the site of the Last Supper.
phone: +972 2-6716841Located directly opposite the Tomb of David on Mount Zion, this small museum is maintained by the Diaspora Yeshiva. The collection includes Holocaust artifacts, artwork inspired by the Holocaust, an exhibit of anti-Semitic publications throughout history, and memorials to individuals and communities that perished. It differs from Yad Vashem in that it puts the Holocaust in more of a Jewish-religious context.
Schindler's TombDown the hill from the Zion Gate is a small Christian cemetery. It is here that the grave of Oskar Schindler is located. Schindler, a German industrialist, saved 1,200 Jews from the Holocaust by hiring them as laborers in his factory. The story was memorialized in Stephen Spielberg's Academy Award-winning movie, Schindler's List. (A phone number has been hastily painted on the upper gate and can be called if desiring entrance)
St Peter in GallicantuLocated to the east of Mount Zion and overlooking the Kidron Valley, this church commemorates the traditional site of St Peter's denial of Christ. In the crypt below the church are ancient caves, purported to be the place where Christ spent the night at the hand of Caiphas before being presented to Pontius Pilate. A large wooden model of an 18th-century Old City is on display in the courtyard, although it pales in comparison to the more elaborate model on display at the Citadel (see Armenian Quarter).
City of DavidLocated south of the Temple Mount, this area is the oldest inhabited part of Jerusalem. When King David conquered Jerusalem from the Jebusites (around 1000 BCE) and made it his capital, the city was limited to this area. David's son Solomon began the process of expanding the city to the north and west, so since then, the original city has been known as the "City of David".
City of David and Jerusalem water systemphone: +972 2-6750111To get here, exit the Old City through Dung Gate (by the Kotel), turn left, and then take the first street on your right. The site comprises two archeological findings. The City of David is the oldest part of Jerusalem with remains of buildings up to the city's capture by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The ruins include 13th century BC walls, as well as fortifications and fragments of a palace attributed to David, the second king of Israel.
Tomb of AbsalomAn impressive burial monument, approximately 20 meters tall, that is mistakenly attributed to King David's rebellious son Absalom. It is in the valley between the Old City and the Mount of Olives. Just to the south is the so-called Tomb of Zechariah which is also impressive. Between these is Tomb of Bnei Hezir which is cave cut into the cliff, rather than a free-standing monument. All of these date to the Hasmonean period (2nd-1st century BCE).
Mount of Olives / Garden of GethsemaneIt is recommended that one explore the Mount of Olives from the top down, as the uphill climb is fairly steep. The best ways to travel to the top of the Mount of Olives are bus 84 from Ammunition Hill light rail station (get off at the Seven Arches Hotel), by sherut (shared taxi) from outside the Damascus Gate, or by bus 275 or 255 from the bus station outside of Herod's gate (get off at the Chapel of Ascension).
If you decide to walk from the Old City, the best route is to exit through the Lions' Gate, go up the lane beside the Garden of Gethsemane (Church of All Nations) and turn right, then follow the tarmac road up past the Dominus Flevit church and the Tombs of Zachariah and Malachi to the short flight of stairs which brings you out at the viewing point overlooking the Old City. If you go up and down the same way, use the stairs a little further behind where the lane up starts and walk back down the lane. Be aware that pickpockets are a real menace at this spot and make sure that your valuables are safely stowed away and that you are aware of anyone coming close to you. Photographs and engravings dating back to the late 1700s show three paths leading up over the Mount of Olives which correspond to the two paths and one road in existence today. As the right-hand path is the shortest route to Bethany, it is possible that Jesus really did follow this path on Palm Sunday, as tradition claims.
Steimatzky’s bookstore in West Jerusalem carries a very good pamphlet called "The Mount of Olives" that includes an account of the history of each church, in addition to readings from the Gospels and notes from pilgrims to the area. It also covers Bethphage and the Church of St. Lazarus in Bethany.
The following points of interest are listed from the top of the Mount to the bottom. Once you have finished on the Mount of Olives, it is a short climb to the Old City's Lion's Gate.
Chapel of the AscensionSacred to Christians and Muslims, this medieval chapel—now part of a mosque—is on the supposed site of Christ's ascension. The chapel was built around 380 AD around a venerated imprint, now set in stone, of Christ's right foot. The chapel became a Muslim shrine after Saladin's conquest in 1187. If given a "tour" by the pushy guard, he will expect a gratuity for his services. Seems just to be a tourist nap, especially for Russians. Just remind him that you already paid ₪5 and walk away. Otherwise just skip this whole site.
Church of the Pater NosterBuilt over Constantine-era ruins, this church sits atop a grotto where Christ is believed to have taught the Paternoster (meaning "Our Father"), or Lord's Prayer. The church is famous for its tiled panels inscribed with the Lord's Prayer in more than 130 languages. The Seven Arches Hotel is a short walk from the church.
Seven Arches Hotel ViewpointNear the Seven Arches hotel, definitely the best view of the Old City of Jerusalem. Come here to take panoramic pictures and be stunned by the beauty of the city.
Tombs of the ProphetsAt the top of the Jewish Cemetery, which spans the southwestern slope of the Mount of Olives, lies a large catacomb complex containing oven-shaped graves (kokhim). The Palestinian family which discovered the catacomb claims that the tombs belonged to the 5th century BCE prophets Haggai, Malachi and Zechariah. In reality, the catacombs date from a much later period, the 1st century AD. Bring a flashlight or use your smartphone's light.
Mount of Olives Jewish CemeteryThe most ancient and most important cemetery in Jerusalem. Burial on the Mount of Olives started some 3,000 years ago in the First Temple Period, and continues to this day. Famous figures in Jewish history are buried here, including Nachmanides, S. Y. Agnon and Menachem Begin. The cemetery covers a large part of the Mount of Olives.
Dominus Flevit ChapelIts name meaning "The Lord Wept", this chapel was identified by medieval pilgrims as the place where Jesus wept over the fate of Jerusalem. The chapel's west window frames a breathtaking view of the Old City. A small collection of stone artifacts from nearby excavations are on display.
phone: +972 2 628 4371This Russian Orthodox Church, with its gilded onion domes, was built by Tsar Alexander III in 1885 in memory of his mother, Maria Alexandrovna, whose patron saint was Mary Magdalene. Tsar Alexander III's sister-in-law, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, was buried here after her murder during the Russian Revolution in 1920.
Church of All Nations / Garden of GethsemaneAlso known as the Church of Agony because it is built over the rock where Jesus agonized about his death, this 4th-century church has been rebuilt many times, the most recent structure being the result of financial contributions from 12 nations. To commemorate the benefactors, the church was designed with 12 domes adorned with each country's coat of arms. The rock in the center of the nave is the remnant of the ruined Byzantine church. The plan of the Byzantine church is outlined on the floor in black marble. Next to the church is the surviving part of the Garden of Gethsemane with its centuries-old olive trees.
Tomb of the Virgin / Cave of GethsemaneDirectly across from the Church of All Nations, the Tomb of the Virgin is believed to be where the Disciples entombed Mary, the mother of Jesus. Forty-seven steps lead past side niches and down to crypt, which contains the burial place of Queen Melisande of Jerusalem, St. Anne and St. Joachim (Mary's parents) and the Virgin Mary. Outside, to the right of the entrance, is the Cave of Gethsemane, also known as the Cave of Betrayal, the traditional place of Judas's betrayal of Jesus.
North of the Old City
Rockefeller Archaeological MuseumThe Rockefeller Museum was made possible by a substantial contribution by American oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller. The museum houses an impressive collection of antiquities, including a number of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Garden TombDisputed to be an alternative to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the location of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, the Garden Tomb is located a block north of the Damascus Gate. British general, Charles Gordon, popularized the view that the skull shaped hill just north of the city was the Golgotha referred to in the New Testament. Excavations have revealed an ancient tomb along with ruins of a cistern system and winepress—evidences that the site was once the location of a garden. Regardless of its authenticity, the lovely garden is worth a visit.
Armenian Bird Mosaicaddress: HaNeviim 16An impressive mosaic floor designed by Armenian Christian artists in about the 6th century. Call the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem (+972 2 628 2331) to arrange a visit.
Tombs of the KingsThe burial site of Queen Helena of Adiabene, a 1st-century Jewish monarch. The site is owned by the State of France, and unfortunately cannot be visited except on rare occasions.
Tomb of Simon the Justaddress: 'Uthman Ibn 'Affan StreetAn ancient cave tomb, traditionally the burial site of Simeon the Just, a Jewish leader and high priest in the 3rd or 4th century BCE. If you cannot get to Meron for the annual Lag BaOmer festivities, there is also a celebration here.
Cave of the Minor SanhedrinAn ancient underground tomb with 23 niches, matching the 23 members of the "Minor Sanhedrin" (an ancient Jewish court).
Ammunition HillThis was the main Jordanian fortification in East Jerusalem. Israel overran it in a bloody battle in 1967, leading to the capture of all of Jerusalem. Now the IDF runs a museum here commemorating the battle.
Hebrew University - Mount ScopusThe humanities faculties of Hebrew University, Israel's top-ranked university, are located here. The campus is quiet and leafy, but confusing to navigate. There are impressive lookouts on the Old City to the south west and the Judaean Desert to the east.
Tomb of LazarusThis Christian site is located in Al Eizariya village, an eastern suburb of Jerusalem in the West Bank. Take bus 36, 63 or 263 from one of the Arab bus stations.
BethphageThis is the place in which Jesus sent his disciples to find a donkey and a colt, upon which he would ride into Jerusalem. There is an annual Palm Sunday reenactment of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem which begins here.
Tell el-FulArchaeological digs have shown that this hill is the Biblical city of Gibeah, which was King Saul's capital before David came to the throne. The ancient ruins are not visible, but you can see a large ruined modern building. King Hussein of Jordan started building a palace here in the 1960s, but the 1967 war interrupted this and the palace was never finished. Be careful around the palace ruins, as they are not in good repair. There is a good view from here of the surroundings.
St. Elias Monasteryaddress: Near Hebron RdAn ancient Orthodox Christian monastery built over the ruins of a Byzantine church, surrounded by beautiful scenery.
phone: +972 2-6280342address: Tzurim Valley National ParkParticipate in salvaging antiquities from debris that was dumped out of the Temple Mount during construction by Muslim authorities there. The basic program is two hours long. At the beginning, you get instructions on how to sift through the archaeological debris. At the end, the guide explains the significance of the artifacts that each of the participants have found. (Since April 2017, the debris is from the City of David, not from the Temple Mount, but this might change in the future.)
phone: +972-2-626-5666address: Mt. Scopus, near Augusta Victoria Hospital and Tzurim Valley National ParkFree tours of the campus, and free evening concerts.
Kan Zman Jerusalem Hotelphone: +972 2 6283282address: Nablus RoadMiddle Eastern specialities plus pasta and salads. Not kosher.
American Colony Hotelphone: +972 2 6279777address: One Louis Vincent St.French and Middle Eastern cuisine. Reservations advised. Not kosher.
Shababeek Restaurantphone: +972 2 5322626address: 7 Shimon Hatsidik StLovely old style restaurant serving selected Mediterranean food.
GossipGreat Palestinian beer, nice atmosphere, and their Gossip Special Argila (shisha) is amazing.
phone: +972 2-627-3189Not the best ones around, but ok for the price.
Ramsis Hostelphone: +972 2 627-1651address: 20 Haneviim StVery friendly. Located in a historic building on the border between East and West Jerusalem, with the West Jerusalem bars a 5 minute walk away. Wireless internet included in price. The Owner and manager is Mike Mushasha, a very friendly and experienced man who speaks fluent English, Hebrew, and Romanian.
address: Salah Eddin St54 guest rooms.
address: 53 Mount of Olives RdAffordable family-run hotel situated at the summit of the Mount of Olives, next door to the Chapel of Ascension. Surrounded by famous churches and holy sites. Commands a dramatic view of the Old City and the Dome of the Rock. Accessible by bus #75 from Damascus Gate.
phone: +972 2 6283282address: Nablus Rd
phone: +972 2 6284887address: Ras el-Amud StThis hotel offers good service and facilities for the price. Most rooms are air conditioned and children's facilities are available. Rooms offer fine views but those overlooking the street can be noisy. This area is not serviced well by public transportation.
Seven Archesphone: +972 2 626 7777address: Main RdThis large, modern hotel is on the summit of the Mount of Olives and offers spectacular views.
phone: +972 2-627-9777address: 1 Louis Vincent StLuxury, historic boutique hotel in East Jerusalem. Popular with visiting dignitaries and diplomats. Ten minutes walk north of Damascus Gate. Has 86 unique rooms and suites, outdoor pool, spa treatments, breakfast buffet, free internet access and complimentary parking.
phone: +972 3-5202552address: 32 Lehi St, 97856Designed around a series of central patios, this hotel sits on the slopes of Mount Scopus, overlooking the skyline of the city and surrounded by the hills of Judea.
address: 9 Saint George StNot one of Novotel's finest hotels - some refurbishment is needed. Located a very short walk from the Old City.
phone: +972 2-591-7777address: 15 Saint George St442 rooms including family rooms and some especially designed for handicapped guests.
Be aware of pickpockets and be suspicious of any stranger trying to start conversation of offer to sell you something, especially at the Mount of Olives.
Some Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem are seen as "no go zones" by Israeli Jews, who will often even avoid driving through them. These include the Chapel of the Ascension, Bethphage and the Tomb of Lazarus. Jewish taxi drivers from West Jerusalem may hesitate or even refuse to take you to these sites, but you should understand that it is only because they genuinely fear for their own safety. If you do want to get to these sites by taxi, you can take an Arab taxi from outside the Damascus gate.
The City of David, Mount Zion and Gethsemane are generally safe.