If you are planning a trip to Jerusalem, there is a lot to consider. Depending on how long you plan to visit Israel, it will affect the time you have to explore on your trip to Jerusalem. Instead of telling you all about how to plan your trip, this guide is designed to tell you what NOT to do, and what to do instead.
Traveling overseas to a new country and a new culture can be daunting for some, and this guide to planning a trip to Jerusalem is designed to help make the process easier and ensure you know the cultural norms of the place you are visiting.
While Israel is probably the most westernized country in the Middle East thanks to the Jewish people bringing influences from the United States and Europe, but it has its own identity, unique to the State.
In order to fit in with cultural norms when visiting other countries, it is important to take a bit of time to understand the best practices for behavior and fashion. But this guide to Jerusalem goes farther than that, it will tell you how to make the most of your trip to Jerusalem from where to stay, what to do, and what not to do!
10 Mistakes to Avoid When Planning a Trip to Jerusalem Israel
Mistake #1 When planning a trip to Jerusalem: Coming just for the Day
My biggest Israel travel tip is to ensure you have more than just a day in Jerusalem. There is so much more to Jerusalem than having time to explore just the Old City’s sights for a few hours. While the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall or Kotel) and Temple Mount will bring visitors to see the holiest places for Jews and Muslims, Jerusalem has so much more to offer!
A day trip scarcely offers time to wander Jerusalem’s oldest market, Mahane Yehuda Market, which offers countless vendors with fresh fruits and veggies, fresh bread and all kinds of candies or an opportunity to dine in one of the local restaurants.
Other popular things to do include the Holocaust museum, the Temple of Olives, as well as visiting all 4 quarters of the Old City. I highly suggest you give yourself a few days to really immerse yourself in the city and give yourself a chance to wander the streets, ride the tram, follow the Via Dolorosa and sample the plethora of food options on your trip to Jerusalem.
Mistake #2 Not finding out what Shabbat is Before you Arrive
The weekend in the Middle East in general is mostly Fridays and Saturdays where Muslims attend Friday prayers. Often in Christian communities in places likes Jordan you will find that Christian schools take Friday and Sunday off so that their students and teachers can attend church service on Sundays.
Israel is a little different. While the weekend is Friday and Saturday, Shabbat is observed from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. It can also be referred to as Sabbath and is the seventh day of the week for Jews. It is a day off from labor and also serves as a memorial day commemorating God freeing the Israelites from Egypt.
During Shabbat most shops and restaurants will be closed and busses do not run.
If you are visiting during Shabbat and want to go out for a meal or need to get somewhere like the airport, you can visit the Arab section of Jerusalem or also arrange a taxi from an Arab service. This was something that we did while we were in Abraham Hostels as our flight left on a Saturday Morning. We had the hostel arrange a shared taxi to take us to TLV Airport since there were no buses running!
You can read more about our stay at Abraham Hostels here.
Mistake #3 DO NOT be Alarmed by Military Presence
While I was actually expecting more of a military presence that I actually encountered, where Israel is unique is that all military servicemen are required to carry their rifle with them even when they are off duty. You will see young people with a rifle casually across their lap at dinner, or slung over their shoulder as they walk the streets with a few friends after dark.
The Israel Defence Force requires all citizens over the age of 18 to partake in military service. Israeli Arabs, Christians and other minorities can be exempted but certain groups of people, such as bedouins are encouraged to partake in the military as a means of employment.
Mistake #4 When Planning a Trip To Jerusalem: Wandering the Old City without a Map or Tour Guide
The Old City is small, and “old” and because of that, the streets are narrow and winding and with so much to see, you need a plan to see it all without getting lost. I highly recommend taking a walking tour of the Old City. These tours leave daily and meet right outside Jaffa gate.
Having an experienced guide to take you through all four quarters of the city makes navigating it for the first time painless and informative! If you do not always want to do a ton of research beforehand, especially when it comes to historical significance, having a tour guide who can explain these things and answer questions can be invaluable. A walking tour gives you a great base to continue to explore on your own.
Be wary of people who are waiting inside the gate offering guiding services. Licensed guides will carry their credentials around their necks (or clearly visible) and they are not waiting around looking for work. They are booked in advance.
What to Pack on a Walking Tour of the Old City Jerusalem
On your walking tour, grab a bottle of water before you start and ensure you have comfortable footwear and modest clothing.
Do NOT bring any religious items with you if you plan to enter Temple Mount as they must be left outside.
Bring your camera, but not a lot of extra lenses. They may not be permitted into Temple Mount.
Is the Walking Tour Kid Friendly?
The walking tour is fine for all ages but it is not stroller friendly. If you have little ones, ensure they are in a carrier or can walk for 4 hours. My 5 year old struggled the last hour as there is not a lot to do for kids, but my 7 year old was very keen to hear all of the history and asked a ton of questions.
It is also very crowded in places like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre so keep holding on to your little ones, as the tour guide often moves quickly from room to room!
Mistake #5 Wearing shorts to the Old City in the Summer
While the sun beats down on Jerusalem for many months of the year, it is important to understand that there are parts of the city where modest dress is expected. When visiting churches and mosques, it is important to respect the culture and religious customs. It is recommended that men wear pants, not shorts and shirts with sleeves if you plan on visiting Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock. Women should have long pants or a skirt and long sleeves.
There is security at the entrance to Temple Mount to ensure that guests meet the dress code.
Mistake #6 Not Keeping your Hands to Yourself in Religious Areas.
Public displays of affection are frowned upon on Temple Mount. There is even a sign indicating such. Standing beside a spouse for photos, arm in arm, will quickly bring a security guard around asking you to separate yourself.
You will also notice when entering the Western Wall, that there is a men’s and women’s section, similar to a synagogue.
Mistake #7 When Planning your Jerusalem trip: Not Budgeting Properly
A trip to Jerusalem is on par with visiting Western Europe, North America or New Zealand. Despite its location in the Middle East, it is quite expensive for almost everything. A bottle of water in the Old City will set you back about USD3 and a basic meal will be 30-60 ILS (about USD8-16 for take out)
A bed in a Hostel costs about 85 ILS and a family room can set you back over 500 ILS. We chose to stay at Abraham Hostels due to its location in the city and its amenities for guests. You can read more about our stay here
Mistake #8: Do Not Settle for the First Price when Buying Souvenirs in the Old City
Haggling is an old past time and something that still exists today in markets all over the world. The shops in the Old City are the same. When looking for the best souvenirs from the Holy Land you will be in for a treat. There are countless shops to find what you are looking for!
You can read more about the Best Souvenirs from Israel
Mistake #9: Do NOT Pretend to Understand the Political Situation Unless you Know what you are Talking About
Visiting Jerusalem and Israel on a whole is an eye-opening experience and one that everyone should have. With that being said, unless you have studied the political situation at length, it is better to use your ears and listen to the locals on their perspective, as it may be vastly different from what you see on TV.
With that being said, there is always another side to the story and I highly suggest that after listening to the narrative in Jerusalem and beyond, that you visit Palestine and listen again to their perspective on this tumultuous region.
Mistake #10: Do NOT Ask Someone Their Religion unless they Volunteer the Information Freely
A typical question in the Western world is what do you do for work, information about your family and perhaps your political or religious beliefs. However, in the Middle East, it is not culturally acceptable to come out and ask someone what their religion is.
After spending some time in Jerusalem, you will likely be able to take clues from people’s dress as to their religion. But unless someone you are talking to provides the information to you, it is not a polite question to ask.
BONUS TIP! Do NOT Shave your Legs the day before or the Day you visit the Dead Sea
I added this tip because there are many day trips from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea and this is something that you ladies need to plan for! For everything else you need to know about visiting the Dead Sea, read these Dead Sea Tips.
More Israel Travel Resources
Ensure you have Travel Insurance
There are a few other things to think about when it comes to travel. The first thing is travel insurance. Whether it is an emergency room visit for something as simple as strep throat, or an emergency appendix surgery, or an unfortunate moped incident things do go wrong when people travel everyday.
I highly suggest travel insurance and a good policy. I personally never travel without it, and I even checked into my policy about care for my children if I am ever in an accident or hospitalized. There are just too many things to think about.
You can find out more information and buy your travel insurance here.
So thats a wrap on mistakes to avoid when planning a trip to Jerusalem. If you have a trip in the planning stage or have any questions about visiting Jerusalem let me know in the comments!
Lindsay Nieminen hails from Vancouver, Canada and shares her love of travel on this website. She is passionate about showing others that they should not put off traveling the world just because they have young children or are single parents. She aims to encourage them to seek out adventure, whether it is at home or abroad by providing information on how just about everywhere can be a destination to explore as a family.