In 2012, a law was passed by the Knesset (Israel's legislature) that kick-started a gradual program of increasing accessibility to places of worship, tourist sites, restaurants and bars. There has been significant improvement, but Jerusalem still has a lot of work to do to cater to those with a disability.
High-end hotels usually have at least one room tailored for people with a disability, but they are booked up very quickly; enquire and reserve as early as possible.
Parts of the Old City present big challenges for travellers with mobility issues. Stairs, paving stones and narrow lanes make some areas very difficult to navigate in a wheelchair, but some places are better than others. There is smooth asphalt leading to Jaffa Gate, and (relatively) flat paving in the immediate area around the Tower of David. You can approach the Western Wall plaza from Dung Gate without stairs. Nearby, Temple Mount/Al Haram Ash Sharif is accessed by a long covered ramp, and at the site there are only a few stairs to reach the Dome of the Rock. Most of the Via Dolorosa is doable by wheelchair, though crowds along this route can make it difficult. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has an entrance ramp, though many of the shrines inside are only reachable by stairs. The Tower of David has partial access (its sound and light show is fully accessible) and the Time Elevator can accommodate visitors with disabilities.
Several other top sights are accessible to travellers with a disability, including almost all parts of the Yad Vashem complex; the Israel Museum (both have parking and toilets for visitors with disabilities, too); and the Garden Tomb in East Jerusalem has accessibility ramps.
Many Jerusalem restaurants are on roof terraces, up stairs or tucked into alleys, but Mamilla Mall is a pedestrianised shopping centre lined with cafes and restaurants at ground level. The tourist office can provide additional advice on suitable restaurants and bars.
Tour Operators & Online Resources
SmartTrip Israel (www.smartrip-israel.com) Specialist tour operator that can arrange practically everything, including renting specially equipped vehicles, booking tours and making reservations in accessible restaurants.
Israel 4 All (www.israel4all.com) Can do some of the organisational heavy lifting with regard to suitable accommodation and guided tours in Jerusalem.
Access Israel (www.aisrael.org) This local nonprofit advocacy organisation is a useful resource for the latest on relevant news and projects.
For more information download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Most of your bargaining experiences will happen in the Old City souqs, flea markets or in taxis. While taxi drivers are required by law to use a meter, they rarely miss the chance to fleece tourists for a few shekels; particular spots, such as at the base of the Mount of Olives, are especially notorious. As with bargaining across the world, it pays to keep your cool and – particularly with souvenirs – remember that as the buyer you ultimately have the advantage.
Dangers & Annoyances
Most travellers to Jerusalem enjoy their visit without incident, but be cautious: ongoing tensions can escalate quickly, sometimes violently. Some people feel anxious seeing so many heavily-armed uniformed border police in the Old City streets.
- Demonstrations by Jews and Arabs are common. Many are peaceful, but steer clear of protests. Damascus Gate, Lions' Gate and Temple Mount/Al Haram Ash Sharif are common flashpoints.
- Many travellers report feeling unwelcome around the Mount of Olives, and some women travellers have reported harassment. If possible, don't visit alone.
- Ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups sometimes stone vehicles and violently confront the police in the neighbourhood of Mea She’arim. Hostilities can also erupt when tourists (especially those deemed to be immodestly dressed) saunter in.
Government Travel Advice
It's worth referring to the latest travel advice from your government when planning your trip to Jerusalem.
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (http://smartraveller.gov.au)
- British Foreign Office (www.gov.uk)
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (https://travel.gc.ca)
- US State Department (http://travel.state.gov)
An International Student Identity Card (ISIC) doesn’t get anywhere near as many discounts as it once did – none, for instance, are available on public transport; however, you can get 25% off Sandemans New Jerusalem Tours.
The Jerusalem City Pass offers discounts of 20% to 50% at more than a dozen sights and museums.
Some museums and sights offer discounts to senior citizens, though to qualify you may not only need to be senior but also a citizen.
Embassies & Consulates
Most countries maintain embassies in Tel Aviv. Only the US, Guatemala and Paraguay have moved their embassies to Jerusalem. Consulates and embassies here include the following:
US Embassy As of mid-May 2018, the US embassy has moved from Tel Aviv to this location, previously the consulate general's office. A large new complex will be built here over the next six or so years. Passport renewals and visa applications can be processed here or at the Tel Aviv consulate.
US Consulate There's talk the Trump administration will turn the Consulate General office, now dedicated to serving US residents in Jerusalem, Palestinians and West Bank political leadership, into an annex of the new US Embassy. As of now, it still reports directly to State Department leadership. Housed in an attractive building circa the 1860s.
Emergency & Important Numbers
- Avoid politics Unless you know someone well, it usually pays to avoid expressing a strong opinion on the conflict – or at least consider your audience when doing so.
- Be polite Even if it feels like nobody else is! Israelis are famously brusque – almost proudly so – so don't be surprised if interactions don't come with Ps and Qs.
- Dress appropriately In Orthodox Jewish or Arab neighbourhoods. In buses and sheruts, a woman sitting next to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man may make him uncomfortable. Depending on how you look at it, that's either his problem or a local sensitivity you should respect.
It’s always a good idea to take out a travel insurance policy before leaving home. In addition to the usual coverage for sickness (visiting an emergency room/casualty ward can be expensive) and theft, make sure that your coverage is appropriate for your specific needs. Almost all policies exclude liabilities caused by 'acts of war'.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you're already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
The overwhelming majority of hotels, as well as the majority of cafes and restaurants, offer free wi-fi access.
Owing to Jerusalem’s religious nature, the city’s LGBT+ scene is much more subdued than its Tel Aviv equivalent. Orthodox Judaism, Islam and almost all of the Holy Land’s Christian churches adamantly oppose homosexuality, so it’s best to be circumspect in religious neighbourhoods, especially in Jewish Orthodox areas and East Jerusalem. There are no laws in Israel against homosexuality. Israel does not have gay marriage but does recognise gay and lesbian marriages performed abroad.
Videopub is a spangleicious gay bar with a tiny dance floor. Email the Jerusalem Open House for Pride & Tolerance ahead of time to learn about community events, some of which are English-speaker friendly.
In late July or early August, the LGBT community takes to the streets in the Jerusalem March for Pride & Tolerance. More a human rights demonstration than a carnival, the march urges tolerance of the LGBT community and remembers those killed and injured in the 2009 Bar-Noar shootings (a targeted attack on the gay community), as well as Shira Banki who was stabbed to death by an ultra-Orthodox man at the parade in 2015.
ATMs are found across the city, including in the Old City. Credit cards are widely accepted.
The best deals for changing money are at the private, commission-free exchange offices in the downtown area (around Zion Sq and on Ben Hillel St), East Jerusalem (Salah Ad Din St) and in the Old City (Jaffa Gate). In Jewish areas many close early on Friday and remain closed all day Saturday.
Tipping, while not expected in every circumstance, is increasingly common.
- Restaurants A 10% to 15% tip is usually expected.
- Bars Usually have tip jars on the bar; 10% to 15% of your bill is fair.
- Guides It's always good to tip guides; the amount depends on cost of tour and number in the group.
- Hotels 10NIS to 20NIS a night for housekeeping is a nice touch.
- Taxis Won't expect tips, but you can round up the price of the fare.
Opening hours for tourist attractions may be reduced by an hour or more in winter, but almost all museums, restaurants and hotels open year-round. Most businesses close for Shabbat, from Friday afternoon until Saturday evening, though some non-Jewish-run businesses remain open.
Banks 9am–1pm Sunday–Friday, plus 4pm–6pm Monday–Thursday
Restaurants 11am–11pm Sunday–Thursday, to 1pm Friday, from 9pm Saturday
Shops 9am–6pm Sunday–Thursday, to 2pm Friday
Clubs 11pm–4am Thursday–Sunday
The Central Post Office is located downtown, only a few blocks from City Hall and the Old City.
Between the myriad Jewish and Muslim festivals and holy days that are marked (both officially and unofficially), it can often feel like there is a rarely a day in the calendar that isn't some sort of national holiday. Bear in mind that during Jewish holidays, such as Passover and Yom Kippur, most restaurants, bars and even supermarkets will close in Jerusalem (not East Jerusalem). As well as the religious holidays, there are a number of national holidays that can have a impact on your stay.
- Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaSho’ah; 1–2 May 2019, 20–21 April 2020, 8–9 April 2021) At 10am sirens sound and Israelis stand silently at attention wherever they happen to be. Places of entertainment are closed.
- Memorial Day (7–8 May 2019, 27–28 April 2020, 14–15 April 2021) At 8pm and 11am sirens sound and Israelis stand silently at attention. Falls on the day before Israel Independence Day. Places of entertainment are closed.
- Israel Independence Day (Ha’Atzma’ut; 8–9 May 2019, 28–29 April 2020, 15–16 April 2021)
- Yom Kippur (Jewish Day of Atonement; 8–9 October 2019, 27–28 September 2020, 16–17 September 2021) In Jewish areas, all businesses shut and transport (including by private car) completely ceases; Israel’s airports and land borders close.
- Hanukkah (Jewish Festival of Lights; 2–10 December 2018, 22–30 December 2019, 10–18 December 2020, 28 November–December 6 2021) Expect Shabbat-like closures on the first and last days only. It's a popular time to go on holiday, so accommodation is scarce and room prices rise.
Jewish holidays follow the lunisolar Hebrew calendar and fall somewhere within a four-week window relative to the Gregorian (Western) calendar. Some holidays are celebrated for two days in the diaspora but just one day in Israel.
The Islamic calendar is lunar, so each year festivals arrive 11 or 12 days earlier than the Gregorian dates. Final dates are determined according to the sighting of the moon.
Jewish and Muslim holidays begin at sundown and last until sundown of the following calendar day.
Eastern Orthodox churches use a combination of the Julian calendar and, for Easter, the Paschal cycle.
- Smoking While a large percentage of adults smoke in Jerusalem, it is banned in all enclosed public spaces, including concerts, event halls, sports venues and even parking lots. Violators can face on-the-spot fines.
Taxes & Refunds
Israel has value-added tax (VAT) of 17% included in all purchases (including in East Jerusalem). Israeli citizens have to pay VAT when staying in hotels and hiring cars, but tourists are exempt. Accommodation prices given in shekels include VAT, so most places (though not some B&Bs) charge non-Israelis significantly less than their shekel prices. Prices given in US dollars, and those generated by hotel booking websites, do not include VAT so Israeli citizens will find an extra 17% tacked on at checkout.
Foreign tourists are entitled to a VAT refund on items worth a total of at least 400NIS purchased from certain shops (look for a sticker reading 'tax refund for tourists' in the window). Purchases must be paid for in foreign currency and sealed in partially transparent plastic and accompanied by a tax-refund invoice (a standard receipt will not suffice). Claim your refund – subject to a handling fee of up to 15% – when you exit the country by air or land. At Ben Gurion International Airport, the refund desk is in the Check-In Hall; tax officials must see your purchases so take care of refund formalities before going through security.
With a local SIM costing anywhere from 36NIS to 46NIS (these can even be ordered before your arrival), several competing companies, each with their own three-digit international access code, offer international dialling. International direct-dial rates can be as high as 3.80NIS per minute, but if you buy the right package, fees can be remarkably cheap (as little as 0.05NIS per minute). Companies include 012 Smile (www.012.net), Netvision (http://netvision.cellcom.co.il), Golan Telecom (www.golantelecom.co.il) and Hot Mobile (www.hotmobile.co.il).
Israel’s country code is 972. To call from abroad, dial your international access code followed by the country code, Jerusalem's area code (2) or mobile phone area code (minus the zero) and the subscriber number.
Smartphones are ubiquitous and it's easy to purchase a local prepaid SIM card. Buy one upon arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport. Whatsapp is the preferred method of communicating.
Toilet facilities in Jerusalem, including public toilets in the Old City, are very good. Nearly all are Western style.
The Jerusalem Tourism Authority's official website (www.itraveljerusalem.com) is a great source of information.
Jaffa Gate Tourist Office Main tourist office for Jerusalem. It supplies free maps, organises guides and provides information and advice. It's the second office after Jaffa Gate.
Brightly painted Jerusalem tourism trucks are parked at two locations: the plaza just outside the Old City walls at the intersection of Jaffa and Shlomo HaMelekh Sts, near the New Gate; and at Mahane Yehuda Market on Jaffa St. Besides being a good source of information and free maps, you can charge cellphones and access wi-fi here.
Christian Information Centre This office opposite the entrance to the Citadel is operated by the Franciscans and provides information on the city’s Christian sites.
Visitor Center of Jerusalem Municipality Basic info, maps and brochures. With a reservation, you can tour City Hall (the six-storey building in the plaza complex), see a model of the city and take in the view from an observation point.
Call the Tourist Line on *3888 (note the asterisk) for immediate answers regarding tourist services as well as assistance from the Israel Police, Ministry of Interior Services and Airport Authority. Operates 24/7.
Travel with Children
While Jerusalem's religious and archaeological sights leave adult visitors awed, young children tend not to agree. Ruins and archaeological parks are exhausting for small feet, queues are boring, and hot weather can be a struggle. Luckily, there are many child-friendly sights to mix into a family itinerary.
- Tisch Zoological Gardens
A welcome break from archaeological sites and suitable for all ages. There's a special emphasis on species mentioned in the Bible, arranged around a pretty artificial lake.
- Ein Yael Living Museum
Interactive and hands-on biblical-themed activities.
- Gottesman Aquarium
The tunnel through the massive Mediterranean aquatic life tank will amaze.
- Western Wall Tunnels
The subterranean location will spark kids' imaginations even if the history fails to excite.
- First Station
Try the bouncy castle, ride on a scale model steam engine, bumper cars and trampoline at this dining and entertainment complex.
- Bloomfield Science Museum
Halls of mirrors and a host of science-themed games, with the suitable age groups flagged, plus a play area and snacks out back.
- Time Elevator
An interactive cinema experience for over-fives, with panoramic screens and special effects synchronised to the action of the film. Book in advance.
- City of David
Older kids can wade through spooky, water-filled Hezekiah’s Tunnel, where the water level is around 70cm.
- Israel Museum
Older children and teens may enjoy the Youth Wing, which brims with historic toys and work by child artists.
- Smart Tour
Discovering Jerusalem is a lot more fun on a Segway or electric bike, and this operator can lead guided cycling tours tailored for families.
Parks and playgrounds are strewn throughout Jerusalem, including water playgrounds. To let kids blow off some steam in hot weather, take them to Teddy Kollek Park across the street from the Jaffa Gate. If it’s hot, there’s a water play area. Older children can stroll the walkway lined with studios of calligraphers, sculptors, painters and photographers.
Other large parks are Liberty Bell Park, between Talbieh and the German Colony, and Sacher Park near the Supreme Court and Knesset just west of Rehavia. Keep in mind that many of Jerusalem's playgrounds don’t have a lot of shade, so lather on the sunscreen during the summer months.
Need to Know
- Pharmacies Easy to find, stocking over-the-counter medicines and baby food, nappies (diapers) and other essentials.
- Hotels Can usually provide cots, and high-end hotels offer babysitting services.
- Restaurants Many have kid-friendly menus, and foods such as pizza, pasta and burgers are common.
- Strollers The Old City's narrow lanes, stone stairs and uneven paving can be troublesome. Downtowns streets are generally more friendly.
- Online resources Check out www.funinjerusalem.com for advice, events and comprehensive activity listings.