Israel is an incredible country to travel no matter how many days you have! At the edge of Europe and Asia, it marks an easy place to add a stopover when travelling around the world.
Most people would head to Tel Aviv when on a layover in Israel in order to enjoy the beaches, street art and food, plus the close proximity to Israel’s main airport – Ben Gurion Airport. Instead I took the easy 20-or-so minute train journey south to discover this historically and biblically significant city of Jerusalem.
For those who have an interest in history, culture, or religion then you may want to extend your trip! I recommend finding a great holiday package to Israel to make sure they visit all the Holy sites and even a few more cities like Tel Aviv, Hebron, Haifa, Ramallah, Jericho and Nazareth!
Jerusalem also makes a great base for tours around the region since many of them include the option to begin here.
What to do with 24 hours in Jerusalem
This is my suggested itinerary for a 24-hour layover in Israel:
Take a walk through the streets of Jerusalem and get acquainted with the city. Walk to the Jaffa Gate to enter the Old City. The Old City is divided into four quarters: Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Armenian. Maps are not much use in the old city (as I learned the hard way!) but there are various signs posted that will point you in the correct direction of major sites. If you get really lost, just ask a shop owner around you.
While in the Old City, dress modestly as certain religious sites require women’s shoulders and knees and men’s heads to be covered out of respect.
Here’s what you can’t miss in Jerusalem’s Old City:
The Shuk in the Muslim Quarter: If you are looking for a religious item or a great gift to take home, this is the place to do it. Relish in the scents of fresh herbs and spices, and imagine what the city looked like thousands of years ago!
Tower of David Museum: This archeological museum is a great way to learn about the history of Jerusalem and the perfect place to start your trip. After entering Jaffa Gate, the museum is on your right. As you walk along on the edge of the wall, you’ll get a great view of Jerusalem!
Church of the Holy Sepulcher: This is the holiest site for Christians as many believe Jesus was crucified and buried where this church now stands.
If you find yourself squeezing through a smaller than normal opening in a stone wall, you’re just about at the entrance which is somewhat tricky to find. There are also dozens of other sites holy to Christians in this quarter.
Western Wall: One of the holiest sites in the world for Jews is found in the Jewish Quarter. In fact, during the Shabbat, which occurs from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, this is considered the place where you can be the closest to God.
It is the closest retaining wall to the former temple on the Temple Mount. Thousands of people pray at the wall every year. Some even place written notes in the cracks in the wall.
Temple Mount: An extremely religious site for Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike. It also contains the Dome of the Rock, which can be seen above the Western Wall. Visitors can access the site only at specific times and non-Muslims are not allowed into the Dome of the Rock structure. But, you can catch a great view of the bronze dome from many places in the Old City.
There is so much to see in the Old City. If you really want to see the sites and know the history behind it, consider taking a half-day walking tour.
After having lunch in the Old City (I highly recommend trying Israeli swarma and trying the delicious, fresh array of grilled meats and sauces on offer!), it’s time to bid farewell to the Old City. From here, you have two great options depending on your interests.
Mount of Olives: This area is best known as the home to the Garden of Gethsemane, the mountain overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem. A significant sight to Christians as the place where Jesus was arrested the night before his crucifixion. While it offers great photos opportunities, there are several churches and mosques that are worth visiting.
Visitors can also walk along part of “Palm Sunday” road, which eventually leads into the Old City.
Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial: This is a somber and moving museum in Jerusalem. It was originally designed to recognise non-Jewish people who helped save Jews during the Holocaust but has grown into one of the most visited sites in the country. Entrance is free.
After all the walking of the day, I’m sure you are hungry and there’s only one place I recommend you visit for cheap eats and to enjoy the local atmosphere!
Machane Yehuda Market: If you want an authentic Israeli food experience, wrap up your first day in Jerusalem with a walk through Machane Yehuda Market.
Located right off of Jaffa Street, a 15-minute walk from the Old City, this market sells seasonal fruits and vegetables, wine and cheeses, and amazing spices. All of the locals shop here and the busiest time is on Fridays before Shabbat where the place is packed! Even if you don’t need to buy anything, it is worth the visit.
After exploring, enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants and bars within the market. You’ll find plenty of locals, including lots of young people, enjoying themselves and might even make a friend or two! These restaurants are often very busy so be prepared for a bit of chaos and limited personal space as you walk through.
The market is closed every Friday evening til Saturday evening and on holidays.
If you have a little extra time
If you have a little bit more than a 24 hour layover in Jerusalem or decide to add on an extra day, consider visiting the Dead Sea.
The Dead Sea is a salt lake whose banks are more than 400 metres below sea level, the lowest point on dry land. Enjoy the weightless feeling as you float in the hypersaline water and enjoy the mineral rich black mud, ofter found in many beauty products around the country.
To get to the Dead Sea, hire a taxi or call an Uber. Alternatively, book on the Dead Sea Shuttle which includes the entrance fee to the private Dead Sea beach resort.
Where to stay on a stopover in Israel
Deciding where you stay on a stopover in Israel comes down to a few things: when you arrive, when your departing flight is, and what you want to achieve on your Jerusalem stopover.
If you choose to stay in Jerusalem, I recommend the following:
Ibis Jerusalem City Center – Centrally located only a block from Jaffa Road, the main shopping street in Jerusalem, the Ibis is a fantastic hotel choice in Jerusalem if you want convenience and a central location close to everything you need. My room rate included a delicious (kosher!) breakfast in the on-site restaurant, fast WiFi and super helpful staff members who really went out of their way to help me. There’s also bikes on-site you can rent to ride around the cobbled streets – a fun experience!
If Ibis Jerusalem City Center is booked out, they have a second budget property called Ibis Styles Jerusalem City Centre just a few blocks away which opened in early 2019.
Airbnb – I found a great place within a block or two of Machane Yehuda Market on my second trip to Jerusalem. While the studio space was small in size, it was equipped with everything I needed for my trip, including space to cook up some delicious food from the market! This is the property I stayed at, and it’s opposite the Orthodox boys school. The guy who manages this property seems to have several properties scattered around the city so check if it says its booked for the dates you want to stay.
Click here to get $38 off your first stay with Airbnb!
Hotels near Ben Gurion Airport:
Israel is big on security at their airport due to ongoing security threats across the country. At the time of writing (November 2019), there is no hotels at Ben Gurion Airport.
Tel Aviv is a short drive away from the airport so if you wish to stay in a 3-star or above hotel you will likely need to look there. There are guest houses closer to the airport.
How to get from Ben Gurion Airport to Jerusalem
By far the easiest way to get from Ben Gurion Airport to Jerusalem is by train. With regular services throughout the day, it’s an easy 20 minute journey and costs around 23 NIS from memory, perfect for if you only have 24 hours in Jerusalem.
One thing to note is that the last train departing from Ben Gurion Airport to Jerusalem is at 21:31 (09:31pm) daily, except Friday. If you arrive later than this or get held up at immigration, you may want to consider taking a taxi or Gett, the most popular ride sharing app. Uber, Yango and Raxi also work in Israel.
Another popular and cost-effective way to travel from Ben Gurion Airport to Jerusalem is by taking a sherut. A sherut is a shared taxi and they have services which run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to Jerusalem. You can find them on Level G outside Arrivals.
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