Story and Photo by Kendall French-Kazen
Jerusalem’s Old City is a citadel fortress built on ancient walls and history. Many of the world’s major religions began in the tiny 0.35 square miles that make up the Old City. Its backstory reads like a Game of Thrones synopsis, with a bevy of historical heists, sieges, and attacks. Despite its name, the Old City hosts a thriving, modern community against a backdrop of street markets, bustling crowds, and historical architecture. Here is a list of basic guidelines to follow to make the most of your visit.
Use a Map
The area is relatively small so it’s easy to explore on foot, and locals are often eager to help with directions as long as you treat them with respect. The city is divided into four sections: the Muslim Quarter, Jewish Quarter, Armenian Quarter and Christian Quarter. Many Christian sites such as the Church of St. Anne are actually located in the Muslim Quarter. Two of the most popular tourist destinations, the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock, are on the east side of the Old City between the Jewish and Muslim Quarters.
Heed the Golden Rule
Muslims, Jews, and Christians all consider Jerusalem a holy city, so it’s important that you treat religious customs with respect. Be considerate of religious landmarks and the traditions of the people around you. If you visit the area around the Dome of the Rock, remember to bring a headscarf—guards are adamant when it comes to covering heads and ankles. Keep in mind that there are restrictions on visiting hours for non-Muslims.
Barter and Bargain
The Old City is famous for its labyrinthine street markets. It’s a great place to snag a gift for family, but make sure you are getting a good deal on that wooden nativity set you have your eye on. Bargaining is encouraged so don’t be afraid to haggle prices down—just make sure you’re charged in the same currency you’re quoted for. Jerusalem’s currency is the New Israeli Shekel (NIS), and one US dollar is about four Israeli shekels.
Thieves frequent the crowded parts of the Old City, so keep that purse closed and move important belongings further inside your backpack. Make a mental checklist of your belongings and stay alert if shopkeepers or strangers approach you in the markets.
This story appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Baedeker.