From the time King David made Jerusalem the capital of the Israelite nation in 1003 BCE, this holy city has become a focal point for the world’s three major monotheistic religions.

David wouldn’t recognize the city today. It has greatly expanded beyond the small section his dynasty ruled for 400 years. Today, Jerusalem is Israel’s most populous city, with more than 800,000 residents of diverse ethnicities and religions. The municipality’s numerous neighborhoods are spread across 42 square miles (100 square kilometers).

The hilly terrain, stone stairways and cobblestoned walkways in many parts of the city don’t make Jerusalem the easiest place to traverse on foot, but walking tours are the best way to get acquainted with the rich history and culture of this timeless city. So put on sturdy shoes and a hat, and let’s get started with these 11 options.

1. Free guided walking tours

Every Saturday, the Jerusalem municipality offers 31 different free guided walking tours in English beginning at the Safra Square municipal complex on Jaffa Street at 10am. For more information, go to the website, press 106 locally or call +972-(0)2-531-4600.

Among the areas covered are Nachlaot, Supreme Court and Knesset, Jaffa Road, City of David, King George Street, the Old City, Abu Tor, Mount Zion, Mamilla, First Station  and German Colony, Yemin Moshe and Via Dolorosa.

Municipal walking tours meet at Safra Square. Photo by Corinna Kern/FLASH90
Municipal walking tours meet at Safra Square. Photo by Corinna Kern/FLASH90

New Jerusalem Tours offers a free two-hour walking tour of the Old City of Jerusalem every day at 11 and 2. Guides accept tips. Book online or show up at the Jaffa Gate tourist information kiosk 10 to 15 minutes before start time.

2. Free self-guided walking tours

The municipality offers 10 downloadable self-guided walking tours of Jerusalem ranging in duration from two to five hours. Choices in the Old City include First and Second Temple ruins, the Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter, Valley of the Kings, Via Dolorosa, northern ramparts, southern ramparts, Zion to Ararat, Christian sites and marketplaces.

3. Old City audio walking tours

The Jerusalem Development Authority’s audio walking tour app for the Old City, available in English, Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, lets you choose from among 20 different guided explorations of churches, synagogues, mosques, historical and religious points of interest, marketplaces and local eateries.

To download the iOS app, click here. To download the Android app, click here.

4. Biblical Jerusalem

View of an archeological excavation in the City of David. Photo by Uri Lenz/FLASH90
View of an archeological excavation in the City of David. Photo by Uri Lenz/FLASH90

Starting and ending at the City of David Visitors Center, this three-hour tour takes you through archeological excavations of a palace and royal acropolis from the period of the Judean kings; an underground water system from the time of Abraham; and a recently discovered Canaanite fortress that guarded ancient Jerusalem’s main water source, the Gihon Spring. Walking through King Hezekiah’s water tunnel is optional. See prices and booking details online.

5. Walking the Old City and beyond

Abraham Tours’ four-hour Holy City Tour  starts at Jaffa Gate at 11am Sunday to Thursday and goes through the four quarters of the Old City, King David’s Tomb, the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, Al Aqsa Mosque, Via Dolorosa, Church of the Holy Sepulcher and more. Book online;  ₪90 per person.

Tourists gathering outside the Jaffa Gate entrance to Jerusalem's Old City. Photo by Hadas Parush/FLASH90
Tourists gathering outside the Jaffa Gate entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City. Photo by Hadas Parush/FLASH90

Zion Tours’  three-hour guided tours step off at 10:30 and 2 Sunday to Thursday from the Jaffa Gate, available in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian. Seven routes are offered: the Old City quarters; Mount of Olives to Gethsemane; Southern Wall excavations and Herodian Quarter; rooftops and underground passages; Machane Yehuda market and Meah She’arim; City of David and Zion Gate; and the Old City Walls, Mount Zion and Yemin Moshe. Each requires a minimum of three participants at a cost of ₪120-160 per person.

6. Machane Yehuda marketplace

Dating from 1930, the downtown “shuk” is a favorite with tourists because there’s so much to see, hear, taste, touch and smell within a few blocks. After the shops close for the day, come back to see how the metal shutters have been transformed into a street-art gallery.

Click here  for details on official guided walks through the shuk: A classic tour, bakery tour, wine-and-cheese tour, chef-guided tasting tour and cooking tour/workshop.

Or buy a YallaBasta Bite Card for ₪99 and wend your own way through Machane Yehuda, tasting as you go. It includes a map and smartphone audio guide.

7. Rehavia

Established in the 1920s, Rehavia was Jerusalem’s first planned garden neighborhood. Leafy Rehavia, which includes the Prime Minister’s Residence and several landmark buildings, features streets named after Jewish scholars and poets from the Golden Age of Jewish culture in Spain. Explore it on a three-hour walking tour offered by Tanach Tiyulim.

The Rehavia Windmill. Photo by Chameleon’s Eye/Shutterstock.com
The Rehavia Windmill. Photo by Chameleon’s Eye/Shutterstock.com

8. Picture Jerusalem

Given the countless iconic images in Jerusalem, it’s not surprising that several professional photographers and tour companies offer walking tours designed to show participants the best sites and angles for taking memorable pictures.

A few options include Israel Photography Tour with Laurie Cohen; Photo Tour Israel  one-on-one half-day workshops with Yahel Herman; and Machane Yehuda photo workshops with Yehoshua Halevi.

9. German Colony and Greek Colony

Learn the history of these trendy Jerusalem neighborhoods built in the 19th and 20th centuries and anchored by Emek Refaim Street. They’re just two of the 24 walking tours of Jerusalem neighborhoods in English offered twice a week by licensed tour guide Miriam Safira Simon. Tours usually take place on Tuesday and Thursday mornings starting at 9:30am and ending at noon. Cost: ₪60. Information: 972-(0)54-521-6933 or www.miriamsafiratours.com.  

10. Mount Herzl National and Military Cemetery

Named after Binyamin Ze’ev (Theodor) Herzl, the visionary of the Jewish state who is buried here, the terraced and meticulously landscaped Mount Herzl is the final resting place of Israeli presidents, prime ministers and other dignitaries as well as Israeli soldiers and police officers. Tanach Tiyulim offers a walking tour replete with stories of the famous, the heroic and the anonymous statesmen and soldiers buried here.

Graves in Mount Herzl’s military cemetery. Photo by Abigail Klein Leichman
Graves in Mount Herzl’s military cemetery. Photo by Abigail Klein Leichman

11. Jerusalem Pub Crawl

Meet at the Abraham Hostel Bar at 9:30pm on Wednesdays for a nightlife journey through the alleys, streets and thoroughfares of downtown Jerusalem. Free shots, VIP entrance and special drink offers are included in each venue along the route. Book online or in person; ₪60 per person (age 18+).

Jerusalem nightlife. Photo by Ariel Jerozolimski
Jerusalem nightlife. Photo by Ariel Jerozolimski