Steeped in history, astoundingly beautiful and a place that always sparks emotion from visitors, Jerusalem is an extraordinarily magical city and has to be top of an itinerary for anyone touring in Israel.
Moreover, because it’s home to three major world religions, it is a city to which pilgrims flock. Full of holy sites, offering panoramic views from atop its hills and boasting world-class museums to gourmet restaurants, Israel’s capital has something for every visitor and with a wealth of attractions is the kind of city you can enjoy year-round.
So when is the best time to travel to Jerusalem? Honestly, any time of the year can be enjoyable but every season brings with it its own special pleasures. Here are a few ideas of what to expect, when visiting Jerusalem, across all four seasons…
Jerusalem in the Spring
Visiting Jerusalem in the spring is simply wonderful – the flowers are in bloom, the weather is sunny and pleasant, but not too hot, and outside of the two major religious holidays – Passover and Easter (which usually fall close together), it is not overwhelmed with tourists.
If you are coming for Easter, however, there’s no time more special to see the Old City, when thousands of Christian pilgrims flock to the Via Dolorosa (‘the Way of Sorrow’) which is the path Jesus trod, en route to his crucifixion. If you arrive early, you might catch a glimpse of the procession, where those lucky enough to have tickets make their way along the street, carrying crosses, singing hymns and stopping to place their hands on the Stations of the Cross, just as Christ did.
Passover is also a time when Jews flock to Israel, and if you have the opportunity, head to the Western Wall (‘Kotel’ in Hebrew) in the Jewish Quarter. Here, you can witness the traditional Priestly Blessing ceremony, where thousands of orthodox Jews from historic lineage stretch their hands out and repeat the prayers in one voice.
For those who love nature, then a trip out to Ein Kerem, a pastoral village in the southwest of the city, is a must. This is where John the Baptist was born and it really is a beautiful and tranquil spot, with breathtaking views, olive groves and vineyards. And for those who want to visit the lowest place on earth, then a visit to the Dead Sea is extremely easy since it takes less than two hours.
Jerusalem in the Summer
Jerusalem in the summer is beautiful but can be blisteringly hot so be prepared! The good news is, however, that it’s a dry heat and whilst it can feel scorching at mid-day, the heat always gives way to a cool evening breeze (so don’t forget to take a sweater with you to dinner).
And because of the long holidays for children, Jerusalem is always full of families in July and August. The good news is that Israel’s capital has so many events being held at this time of the year that you’re spoiled for choice. Children will love the Jerusalem Puppet Festival, which is held in Liberty Bell Park, as well as a visit to the Biblical Zoo (and the nearby aquarium) and the Bloomfield Science Museum (perfect for when it’s too hot to be outside).
Jerusalem also offers the visitor world-class cultural attractions, with plenty of theatre and classical music, as well as an array of outdoor concerts held at the Sultan’s Pool (an ancient water basin, close to Mount Zion, which is wonderful to attend on a balmy summer’s evening). Cinema lovers will appreciate the Cinematheque, which not only has international festivals but offers breathtaking views over the city (our tip: have a drink in their restaurant before a screening and soak up the atmosphere).
Jerusalem in the Fall
Jerusalem in the Fall (or Autumn, as the English say) is truly delightful. The scorching summer days by now have given way to blue skies and sun, but with more clement temperatures, which means you can walk much more comfortably.
Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and the other Jewish ‘High Holidays’ fall at this time of the year, so the city can be crowded at times but it also has a great vibrancy to it. If you’re in Jerusalem over this period, you’ll really feel the atmosphere, as millions of Israelis prepare to host festive meals, fast and pray for 25 hours on Yom Kippur (‘the Day of Atonement’ in Hebrew) then build ‘succah booths’ in their backyards, in which they will eat and play games.
If you’re touring in Israel at this time of the year, taking guided tours in Jerusalem is the ideal way to learn about the extraordinarily rich history of this old city. Then wander the narrow alleyways of the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Armenian, explore ancient holy sites then stop for Arabic coffee and a hummus lunch before haggling for souvenirs in the bazaar.
Jerusalem in the Winter
It cannot be denied that Jerusalem in the winter can be rather chilly! Because it’s in the mountains, there will be a nip in the air during the day and by night it can be freezing (indeed, every few years there is snow in the capital, which is a sight to behold). But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do.
Indeed, Christmas in Jerusalem is extraordinary – there will be church masses, Christmas Carols, and winter markets and for anyone curious about Bethlehem, try and visit there on 24th December, where there’s a huge parade with music before Midnight Mass is screened outside in Manger Square. Bethlehem is under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority but quite safe to visit, and you can travel there easily by local bus, though if you have any concerns about safety then taking a day trip, with a guide, is the way to go.
And, if it really is cold, enjoy some of Jerusalem’s cultural attractions – the Israel Museum is world-class, and home to all sorts of treasures, including the Dead Sea Scrolls (housed in a specially-designed building) a miniature model of the Second Temple, a beautiful sculpture garden, and replicas of synagogues from around the world – Venice, Cochin, Curacao – which will give you an idea of the architecture of the buildings inside where Jews prayed, hundreds of years ago.
Every visitor to Jerusalem should also make time to visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s monument to victims of the Holocaust, which is both harrowing and moving.
Finally, the capital is home to a number of excellent restaurants, tiny cafes in charming neighbourhoods such as Yemin Moshe, the German Colony and Nachlaot, and the bustling Mahane Yehuda market, where you can sit and watch the world go by, grab some lunch or a coffee, shop with the locals and, at night, enjoy live music as bars open their doors to young students and musicians and the area starts to buzz with life.
Jerusalem – it doesn’t matter when you visit. You just have to make sure you do!