I’m currently in the middle of a 5 week stay in Jerusalem and what strikes me the most (perhaps its the nature deprived New Yorker in me) is the accessibility to beautiful public spaces. I’m constantly surprised by how much the city has to offer kids and how welcome they are everywhere (I’m looking at you and your high chairs, Paris). Jerusalem is not merely an ancient city full of untouchable ruins and museums filled with tourists, there’s an endless amount for kids to see, to feel, and to experience. From food to day trips to the Mediterranean to puppet theaters my guide can only tap the surface of what the city has to offer, but hey- its a start.
For a more authentic experience (not to mention one that may be easier with kids) try staying in an apartment. AirBNB has lots of great options, just do your homework on the neighborhoods before picking one. My favorite is Market Courtyard as they offer an apartment/hotel experience. The rooms have kitchenettes and are located across from Machne Yehuda market and close to all transportation, walking distance to The Old City, and they have a manager onsite to help you with any questions, laundry, etc. If you feel like splurging, try King David Hotel or Mamilla Hotel.
Machne Yehuda, also known as the Shuk, is a big open air marketplace where vendors hawk everything from olives to cheese to fish to pastries. On Friday afternoons, before Shabbat begins, the vendors go into overdrive yelling their prices over one another, and trying to get rid of their supply before the day is over- its definitely an experience. Don’t be too shy to barter or to taste before you buy. For restaurants in the Shuk, try Azura and Rachmo. Adult tip: at night once the market shuts down, several bars come to life offering a quiet place to grab a glass of wine.
A Jerusalemite favorite for hummus is Pinati, and for some excellent street food try Shalom Falafel and Sabich I’lo Tasbich. Check out Darna for some real Moroccan vibes, or the famous Eucalyptus. Touroprovides the most special atmosphere- tucked quietly away near the neighborhood of Yemin Moshe this restaurant features stunning views of The Old City. Freshly squeezed juice, pastries, and Turkish coffees are readily available everywhere.
It’s worth it to dedicate a day to exploration via tour guide. A good guide can provide local as well as historical insight, and take care of any logistics. Mabat tours (while a little pricey) is excellent and can customize a tour to fit your interests be it religious, historical, kid friendly, etc.
Despite being hot and dry much of the year, Jerusalem boasts some stunning wildlife, and the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens is a fun option. The Biblical Zoo, Monster park, Train Theatre (which features puppet shows), and Bloomfield Science Museum are also wonderful spaces for kids to explore and interact with. First Station is a great spot during the day, parents can enjoy some fresh juice from re:bar while kids run, scoot, make giant bubbles and explore the kid stores around. And if you didn’t get enough at the Shuk, you can visit the farmer’s market here every Thursday and Friday.
There are a number of public parks in the city for kids to play and relax- and the scenery is not too shabby either. Grab a coffee from Aroma and head to Liberty Bell Park or Independence Park (which neighbors The Old City).
With Kids Over 10
Ammunition Hill, a pivotal battle site from the 1967 war, provides some insight into how modern Jerusalem came to be. The museum at the site has a video that accompanies a large model of Jerusalem so you really get your bearings, as well as open space to stretch legs and a mini snack bar. Remember that while an excellent space to visit Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum, only permits kids over the age of 10.
Jerusalem is only a 45 minute bus ride away from one of the top beaches in the world: Tel Aviv (bonus: you pay on the bus and it costs 18 NIS or about $5 USD) buy some matkot paddles, bring a picnic, and plan to camp out for the day. Frishman beach offers chairs & umbrellas for a fee (about 15 NIS each) though a beach closer to Yafo will have less crowds. Try the Tel Aviv Port, a boardwalk with lots of restaurants, shopping, ice cream for dinner or the much beloved Manta Ray.
WiFi is available practically everywhere, including on many busses. Use WhatsApp or Viber to text and call for free. While the entire country essentially speaks English, some things are harder to explain so download Google Translate to help (Note: this app offers an explanation of gluten intolerance in many languages). There is a helpful Jerusalem Light Rail app and Moovit also provides transportation directions and instructions. This Simple Currency app helps if your math challenged like myself.
Jerusalem completely shuts down all public transportation and nearly all stores, restaurants, etc from Friday Afternoon to Saturday around 9:30 pm with the exception of the Muslim and Christian Quarters of the Old City, and a few select other places. However, the rest of the country remains open. Take this as an opportunity to have a relaxed day off, or if you’re feeling adventurous- rent a car (about $40 USD/day) and day trip to the Dead Sea, Masada, the Negev, Galilee, Golan Heights, or Tel Aviv.
Do Your Homework
Simon Montefiore offers a history of Jerusalem from King David to the 1967 War in his book Jerusalem: A Biography. Your experience here will be greatly enhanced by even a basic understanding of this complicated place.