The Old City
A jumble of religious shrines, historic sites, ramshackle residences and touristy bazaars, the Old City is a must-visit. I always go with a guide: Even after exploring the ancient walled city time and again, there’s always something to learn from an expert who can interpret the layers of history (literally—you can see the archaeological strata of civilizations built atop one another) and bring today’s headlines to vivid life. After wandering around the zig-zagging cobblestone roads, I made sure to stop for lunch at Abu Shukri (63 Al-Wad Street)—their hummus is legendary for good reason. Other recommended stops? The beautifully detailed Armenian ceramics at Garo Sandrouni, one of the few shops in the Old City that makes its own wares, and Elia Photo Service—the black-and-white photographs of old Jerusalem are haunting, as is the story of the owner, who escaped the Armenian genocide as a child.
City of Culture
Outside the ancient city’s walls (but within Jerusalem proper), I found cultural attractions that are worthy of any world city. Yad Vashem is a must for its harrowing narrative of the Holocaust, the principal reason the State of Israel exists today. Moshe Safdie's prismatic architecture, which leads visitors from a dark, claustrophobic past into a light-filled, optimistic future, deepens the emotional impact. The Israel Museum contains not only archaeological artifacts like the famed Dead Sea Scrolls but an impressive collection of masterworks from Rembrandt and Rubens all the way through to Picasso and Warhol. (A personal favorite: the scale model of Jerusalem as it appeared in the first century AD.)
The neighborhood of Nahalat Shiva was built in 1869, but it’s hardly stuck in time—the mostly car-free zone is lined with galleries, cafés and shops. Nearby, Gatsby Cocktail Room serves legit drinks in a speakeasy-style space where Scott and Zelda would have felt at home. My iPhone camera got a workout at Mahane Yehuda Market, where I spied young IDF soldiers casually stopping for coffee, merchants hawking artichokes the size of softballs and a rainbow of addictively delicious halva stacked high in the stalls. The foodie scene is in full swing here: Restaurants tucked away on surrounding streets range from traditional Levantine spots (try the eponymous dish at Azura (4 Ha'ashkol Street): eggplant baked with ground beef, pine nuts and fragrant spices) to modern classics like Machneyuda, where the contemporary Mediterranean food and free-flowing arak (the local anise spirit) has everyone dancing on the tables by the end of the night.
Where to Stay
Both the Mamilla and the David Citadel, twin hotels sitting like limestone temples just outside the Jaffa Gate, have streamlined interiors by Italian designer Piero Lisoni and modern comforts like soaking tubs and spa and fitness facilities. The Mamilla has an edgier look and an excellent rooftop bar and restaurant. The Citadel, recently renovated, is somewhat plusher and more family-friendly, with a pool whose views of the Old City are a pure knockout.