Intensely vibrant Jerusalem is a feast for the senses, a world centre of religion and culture, and a great destination when travelling with children. Jerusalemites love kids, and if your family is up for some adventurous travel, the city has a lot to offer for all ages.
When travelling in Jerusalem, be prepared to be open-minded and flexible, and to soak up some incredible and possibly life-changing experiences with your children. Here are our top picks for what to do and where to stay in this holy city.
Even Jerusalem's main historical sights, like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, can be done with children in tow © Jan Hon / Lonely Planet
How to tackle big-name Old City sights with kids
Even young children will be fascinated by wandering the walled Old City of Jerusalem, with its winding alleyways, market stalls, ancient stones and bustling atmosphere. Stops at sights that top parents’ to-do lists, such as Temple Mount/Al Haram Ash Sharif, the Western Wall, Dome of the Rock, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre will astound older children, who will be spellbound by the atmosphere. Being in location is a great opportunity to discuss complex subjects like world religions while children can see it all in action.
Younger children can probably handle shorter stops at these spots, but when you’ve finished up at more heavy-hitting sights, try out a few action-packed places, such as some of the underground tunnels burrowed below the ancient city – perfect for a hot day. Zedekiah’s Cave, a vast 2000-year-old manmade cavern under Damascus Gate, is an unforgettable exploration. Hezekiah’s Tunnel at the City of David is filled with knee-high water, and passages have to be navigated with a flashlight. The Western Wall Tunnels, which run underneath the Western Wall, must be booked and explored with a guide, so it's a great choice for older kids, but toddlers might get antsy.
Let the little ones loose at the children's wing of the Israel Museum © Jan Hon / Lonely Planet
Jerusalem’s best museums and parks
Jerusalem's standout museum for all ages is the Israel Museum, near the Israeli Parliament (which is also worth booking a tour for if you've got older kids and teens). The collection of the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls, comprehensive exhibits about Jewish history and an impressive visual art collection is not to be missed. For toddlers to primary school kids, the children's wing is fantastic and features special temporary exhibits that are interactive and engaging, as well as an archaeological ‘dig’ area, a treehouse and art and crafts projects; check the website to see what's on before you go. The Bloomfield Science Museum is another great museum stop for families, with lots of hands-on science activities including exhibitions on levers, illusions, light and more. Live demonstrations and family tours take place throughout the day.
When the weather is suitable, the popular Jerusalem Biblical Zoo is home to wildlife mentioned in the Bible, such as Saharan rams and Persian leopards. The zoo often runs activities such as learning about animals’ diets along with fruits and grains mentioned in the Bible. It’s an excellent choice for a family with kids of varied ages. A neighbouring aquarium is set to open at the end of 2017.
Parks and playgrounds are strewn throughout Jerusalem, including water playgrounds. To let kids blow off some steam in hot weather, take them to Mitchell Park across the street from the Jaffa Gate. If it’s hot, there’s a water play area, and if you’ve got older children, stroll the walkway lined with studios of calligraphers, sculptors, painters and photographers. Be forewarned that many of Jerusalem's playgrounds don’t have a lot of shade, so lather on the sunscreen during the summer months.
Try out your bartering skills at Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda Market © Yadid Levy / robertharding / Getty
Best places to eat with children
Jerusalem boasts fresh, delicious and generally affordable cuisine, and everyone in the family will be able to find something to satisfy their tastes. A perfect Old City spot to grab an apple strudel and take a break is the Viennese Café at the Austrian Hospice, where you'll get an incredible rooftop view of the city for just a few shekels. A great area both for food shopping and restaurant sampling is around the Mahane Yehuda Market, or open-air marketplace. Produce, baked goods and spices are stacked high in the stalls, and kids will be fascinated by the frenetic haggling and the shouts of the vendors advertising their daily bargains. Restaurants like Hashipudia are a great place to sample Jerusalem's traditional cuisine, such as grilled meats, fresh hummus and pita bread.
In the Old City, grab fresh bread covered in zaatar (a blend of local spices that includes hyssop, sumac and sesame) or some delicious Arabic pastries from Ja’far Sweets. The trendy neighbourhood of Bakah, popular with young local families and easy to access from the Old City, has many delicious spots on the main drag, Emek Refaim St.
Amenities like high chairs are not always available at Jerusalem eateries, but your kids are guaranteed to be welcomed and often fussed over by the waitstaff.
Jerusalem is best visited in spring or autumn, but the city's water playgrounds will cool you down after a day of exploration in the summer © Jan Hon / Lonely Planet
When to go
The best times of year to visit Jerusalem are spring (late March to late May) and autumn (late September to early November). Summer can be incredibly hot, often making it harder to do outdoor activities, and winter is cold and sometimes rainy, though it's often much less expensive to go then. During significant Jewish, Christian and Muslim holidays, the city can get crowded and prices for accommodation are generally higher.
Jerusalem’s hotels and B&Bs are generally family friendly and frequently include delightful breakfast buffets in their rates. Splurge-worthy hotels like the King David Hotel and YMCA Three Arches Hotel offer amenities like cribs, pools and babysitting services, while smaller places like Little House in Bakah are more affordable but still provide many kid-friendly services.
The cobblestone pedestrianised Old City is best navigated without a pushchair © Jan Hon / Lonely Planet
How to get around
There are pros and cons to renting a car versus using public transportation with kids in Jerusalem. The bus and light rail system within the city is fairly comprehensive, but it’s chaotic and rather Middle Eastern in its timeliness (ie often not on schedule). Things such as waiting in line and letting people get off first frequently don't happen, so be prepared to be assertive. A car allows you flexibility and easier access to side trips outside the city, but narrow lanes and a lack of parking can make for stressful driving. The Old City, where a lot of the big-name sights are located, is entirely pedestrianised. A good compromise is to use public transit and walking for most things in the city and take a taxi if needed.
If you are travelling with a baby or toddler who needs to be carried, your best bet is a carrier or sling, followed by a lightweight umbrella pushchair that can be easily folded. Jerusalem, particularly in the Old City, has many staircases and cobblestoned paths that can be inconvenient to navigate with a large pushchair. In the neighbourhoods further from the Old City, a regular pushchair is fine.
Temple Mount/Al Haram Ash Sharif is a common flashpoint for tension © SJ Travel Photo and Video / Shutterstock
A note on safety
Visiting the Middle East might give some families pause because of potential safety concerns. Jerusalem, however, is a safe place to visit with your family provided you take a few precautions. Street crime is not a big concern, but be proactive and keep items like passports and wallets somewhere safe. For updates on the security situation at holy sites like Temple Mount/Al Haram Ash Sharif, check in with your accommodation or local guides regarding the feasibility of a visit that day. If you have older children, you may want to inform them that they will see a lot of security and armed soldiers throughout the city, often carrying large guns. Be prepared to put your bags through security checks in many locations, like the central bus station.
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