Says the Local: Jerusalem for the first-time Visitors

Editor’s note: In this week’s Says the Local, we reach out to Joanna Shebson, founder of Fun In Jerusalem, for some insights on one of the oldest, and most visited of cities, Jerusalem. Joanna, originally from Los Angeles, moved to Jerusalem 8 years ago and now live in the city with her three kids, aged 11, 8 and 4. Fun in Jerusalem (FIJ) started as a mummy blog 7 years ago and has since grown into a leading source of up-to-date information about activities, attractions, events and fun for families in the Jerusalem area. If you are planning your first trip to Jerusalem with the kids, read on for Joanna’s tips on planning an itinerary for a memorable visit. 

Tips For Your First Trip to Jerusalem

With the Kids

Jerusalem city views visiting with kids

Jerusalem is a great family travel destination and once you are here you will see that its hard to fit it all in, in just one visit. I have created a sample “First Timer” itinerary for you that combines history (ancient and modern) of the city, religious sites, modern day culture and fun.

(Read too: If your kids enjoy exploring castles and old ruins, the Kingdom of Jordan might be worth a visit – the kids will have fun exploring the many Desert Castles.  Daddy Kevin shares more with us here.) 

For history and background  of Jerusalem:

Herzl Museum

To understand the background of the modern state of Israel, it is important to start at the Herzl Museum located on Mt. Herzl.
Herzl Museum in Jerusalem with kids

Theodore Herzl was the founder of modern day Zionism and the first person to formulate the idea of a Jewish State. The museum guides you though an interactive sound and light show that teaches you the history behind the founding of this young & growing country.

FIJ recommends the museum for kids ages 8+.  Read about our fave activities in the Herzl museum here.

Visit the Religious Sites:

The Old City & The Western Wall

Take a walk through the Old City of Jerusalem surrounded by ancient stone walls. The city is divided into 4 sections  – Jewish Quarter, Christian Quarter, Muslim Quarter and Armenian Quarter.

The old city of Jerusalem, a view from the citadel with my kid

My daughter, at the top of the Citadel, with a view of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Each neighborhood has its own flavor and history. A variety of walking tours, Segway tours and scavenger hunts are available to bring these stories alive.

At the end of your Old City tour make sure to stop at the Western Wall, known as the holiest site for the Jewish people, since it was next to the location of the Holy Temple.
The Western Wall at Jerusalem is one of the best known sights of the city

It is a tradition to write a small note with your hopes and blessings and to place it in the crevices in the Wall.

The religious area is divided for men and women and modest dress is requested (shirts with sleeves and skirts for women).

We have reviewed a number of tours and trips over in FIJ over the years, and a collection of our reviews can be viewed here.

For more on Modern Israeli History:

Ammunition Hill

Jerusalem has played an important role in Israel’s history and the Six Day War in 1967 is when the city came under Jewish Israeli control. The most well known battle site, Ammunition Hill is now a heritage site where you can take a tour while the kids run through the old trenches and bunkers and climb on old tanks.

Visiting Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem with kids
To add some “courageous” fun to this historic site there is a ropes courses, an omega zipline and laser tag. The focus of this tour is about the “bravery” of the men and women who fought for Israel & Jerusalem’s independence.

IDF Base Tour

Continue with this theme of bravery as you visit an Israel Defense Forces army base and meet soldiers first hand. Army base tours are apolitical and focus on the men and women who protect Israel today using some of today’s most modern technology. Arrangements have to be made up to two weeks in advance.

For a slice of Modern Israeli Culture:

The Israel Museum
The famous Apple sculpture in Israel Museum, Jerusalem

My sons, hanging out at the famous Apple sculpture at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The Israel Museum is one of the most beautiful museums in Jerusalem and houses ancient artifacts as well as modern art in its beautiful galleries. The Museum also includes the Shrine of the Book which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls and a youth wing with kids’ activities.

Guided English tours can be also be arranged in advance.

The Shuk

Just a short cab ride away you can enter the center of Jerusalem’s culinary culture. The Mahane Yehuda Market, also known as the Shuk, is a great family experience. Filled with stalls selling fruit, vegetables, meat, nuts and snacks, you can learn about the history of the city on one of the Shuk’s culinary tours, or attend a cooking workshop to pick up some culinary skills.

If you are travelling with younger kids, take a scavenger hunt or a Shuk dash through the market as you look for clues and collect info about the people in the market.

Some Jerusalem Travel Tips:

  1. Choose a hotel with a pool if you come between April – October; it gets very hot and the kids will welcome a dip in the pool at the end of a busy sightseeing day.
  2. Plan on having a large “Israeli” buffet breakfast each day in the hotel.
  3. Stay cool – bring hats and water wherever you go.
  4. Taxis are available so don’t bother renting a car.
  5. Most attractions & activities are closed from Friday at Sunset to Saturday at Sunset.

If you need more information feel free to visit us at Fun in Jeruselum!

Enjoy Jerusalem!

Editor’s note:  Do you have any queries re visiting Jeruselum or Israel? Drop Joanna an email or leave us a comment in this post.  Joanna might just oblige with a another insightful article on visiting this fascinating country 😉 

Explore more travel stories on the Middle East shared by our community here. 

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