Jerusalem can be a lot to handle. With so much to see – and so many opinions to hear – sometimes you just need a break. Luckily, Jerusalemites of all kinds need one as well, so in every part of the city, you’ll find a range of cafes and bars that are ideal spots for a little relaxation.
Notre Dame Cheese & Wine Restaurant
If the sun’s setting, head up to the top floor of the Notre Dame Center (a popular place for Christian priests and pilgrims to stay, the Pope included), order yourself a glass of beer or wine and a platter of cheese and take in the calm. Located on the edge of the Old City, the Notre Dame’s Cheese & Wine Restaurant is a popular splurge in a city with many views but unfortunately very few that come with a rooftop.
American Colony Hotel
The luxurious American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem is a storied magnet for politicians, diplomats, journalists and travellers looking for a classy cup of coffee in the picturesque courtyard or a night of fine wine in the grotto-esque cellar bar. Located inside a 19th-century building, the Colony can cater to all your eating and drinking needs — albeit for a price. Pro tip for travellers on a budget: the bar provides unlimited mixed nuts and vegetables and cheese with your wine.
Kadosh has a legion of fans, from the locals who’ve regularly frequented for decades, to Israeli politicians looking to impress a guest, to the weary who’ve just battled with bureaucracy at the nearby Jerusalem Municipality or Interior Ministry and need a treat. With its strong coffee, mouthwatering pastries and classic main dishes with signature twists, Kadosh’s mix of the old and new is for many in Jerusalem a holy, or kadosh, experience. It’s also on the pricier side, but the pastries, from homemade meringues to decadent chocolate cakes and tarts, are said to be among the best you’ll find in the city.
Sarwa Street Kitchen
A more recent addition to East Jerusalem’s cafe and culture scene, Sarwa Street Kitchen is a quintessentially chill place for a quiet coffee, meal or beer. The kitchen offers a tasty range of fresh dishes, from homemade pizzas and burritos to Palestinian favourites like makloubeh (chicken, rice, vegetables and spices cooked together and turned 'upside down'), as well as a variety of vegan and vegetarian options. With wi-fi and lots of natural light, the cafe invites you to loiter as long as you like.
Café Betzalel is a beloved West Jerusalem staple for its laid-back vibes and creative touches to familiar dishes, like artichoke in salade niçoise, and fresh Israeli favourites like jachnun (a Yemenite Jewish pastry). It’s also famous as one of the few food establishments open on Saturday during the Jewish Sabbath. Space inside is limited, but the cafe opens up onto a pedestrian-only street to double its seating. Still, get there early Saturday for a table (and good people-watching).
The Sira, as Israelis and Palestinians call it, is an only-in-Jerusalem kind of establishment serving the city’s young and left-leaning crowds. It’s a bit dark and dusty inside, and you don’t go to Sira for a particular drink but instead for its chill atmosphere, mix of languages spoken and late night DJing and dancing. Located on a narrow street downtown, Sira is notably opened Friday nights (during the Jewish Sabbath) and a welcome respite from the city’s stresses.
After hours of wandering through the winding (and slippery!) old stone corridors of Jerusalem’s Old City, head over to the Viennese Café in the Austrian Hospice for strong coffee with, of course, Austrian touches like whipped cream or sweetened milk. Located in the Arab Quarter, it’s a quiet respite from all the holy sites. Connect to the wi-fi and reboot with further Austrian delights like apple strudel and goulash soup.
Casino de Paris
Located in the heart of West Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market, the cosy Casino de Paris is hidden off a small alley and boasts a courtyard nearly all to its own. A perfect spot any time of day for a treat from their wide selection of drinks — including historically named homemade cocktails like the Yitzhak Rabin and Arab Spring — Casino de Paris also offers satisfying nibbles and meals, like grape leaves and pizza. Bonus: you’re already in the Mahane Yehuda Market, where all kinds of delicious prepared foods and restaurants can also be found.
For more than 20 years, the bookstore-cafe of T’mol Shilshom has been West Jerusalem’s literary haven. With high-ceilings and book-lined walls, T’mol Shilshom often hosts readings from premier Israeli authors. The book-shaped menu offers a range of nourishing dishes, from its famous shakshuka (eggs poached in tomato sauce) to Middle Eastern winter favourites like warm sahlab (a hot drink made with ground orchid bulbs). The entrance can initially be tough to spot – the signs from Jaffa St are helpful navigators.
If you’re looking for a quiet corner away from the city centre, Carousela, located off the bustling Azza St in West Jerusalem, is a go-to spot for strong coffee, creative cocktails and a welcoming atmosphere. With its old-school Middle Eastern decor, Carousela is also a cultural centre and hosts musicians and events about once a month. You can lounge either inside or out and savour your drink and reboot as the city goes by. A tip for kosher travellers: all the food is technically kosher, but the restaurant itself isn’t certified, as the owners are among a small group of Jerusalem establishments boycotting the city’s official kashrut inspectors.
Educational Bookshop & Cafe
The Educational Bookshop & Cafe is a favourite East Jerusalem retreat for working and browsing, and it often hosts public events. The small upstairs cafe offers a range of drinks and sandwiches alongside the shop’s readings on the Arab-Israeli conflict and Palestinian politics, art and culture. Seating can be limited, but you can always peruse books and magazines while waiting for an open table.