Photograph by Miriam Alster, Flash90/Redux
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A Muslim woman walks by the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a religious site revered by both Muslims and Jews.

Photograph by Miriam Alster, Flash90/Redux

What to Do in the Holy City of Jerusalem

The rich religious and spiritual history of Jerusalem adds an extra dimension to a visit to Israel, where ancient sites and thriving cultures continue to draw modern-day visitors.

The ancient city of Jerusalem resonates deeply with three monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The three religions intersect—and intertwine—in the maze of streets that run through Jerusalem’s Old City, ringed by a wall that dates back to the 16th century. That’s positively modern-day compared with the city’s holiest sites.

The Temple Mount, a large stone plaza in Old City, is the site of Judaism’s First Temple, built by King Solomon and destroyed in 587 B.C. It is now the site of the Dome of the Rock, the iconic gold-domed Islamic mosque completed in A.D. 691. Christian sites include the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which broke ground in A.D. 236 on the site of Jesus’s burial and resurrection.

When to Go: Spring is a cool, dry time in most of Israel. The Jewish holy days of Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) fall in either September or October and bring the country to a standstill. Many Christians visit at Easter, in either March or April.

Where to Stay: More than a century old, the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem is full of history and is where foreign journalists, diplomats, and a few notable celebrities have stayed. It was originally a home for the Ottoman Pasha Rabbah Effendi al-Husseini and his harem before becoming a Christian commune, and no two rooms are the same.

Cultural Tip: The Temple Mount complex, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Western Wall all require that visitors be dressed modestly. Praying by non-Muslims at the Temple Mount is prohibited. When leaving the Western Wall, it is traditional to walk away backward so as not to show the wall your back. Access to many of the sites is subject to change due to holidays and political situations, so check before visiting.

What to Read Before You Go: My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Avi Shalit is a 2013 award-winning book by an Israeli journalist exploring his conflicting feelings about Israel.