A man arrives for a meeting in a Jerusalem office building and accidentally presses the wrong elevator button. When the doors open on the 21st floor, his eyes see an unfinished expanse of prime real estate. His imagination sees an upscale boutique hotel.
Five years later, in June 2015, the 21st Floor Hotel opens at 34 Ben-Yehuda Street, offering duplex suites with commanding views over the city and beyond.
It’s one of numerous boutique hotels popping up around central Jerusalem’s Ben-Yehuda Street pedestrian mall, stretching from King George Street to Zion Square at Jaffa Road. This lively spot for souvenir shoppers by day and for café and pub hoppers at night wasn’t always a preferred destination for overnight visitors.
“I think these new hotels near Zion Square are bringing new life to the center of Jerusalem,” Jerusalem Hotel Association Director General Arieh Sommer tells ISRAEL21c.
“There was a lack of smaller hotels in the area and I am sure this will herald a big change for both Israeli and foreign visitors to Jerusalem.”
Sommer says the city’s hotel rooms currently number roughly 10,000. During 2017, almost 1,000 more rooms are being added. The need is clear: In April alone, a record 349,000 tourists visited Israel – the highest figure for any month since 1948 – and Jerusalem is Israel’s most-visited city.
Plenty of medium and large hotels (topped by the Dan Jerusalem with 505 rooms), hostels, vacation apartments and boutique hotels are spread across Jerusalem.
“Hotels in central urban areas have a young vibe and are more connected to community.”
Few were in the city center until Atlas Hotels opened the 50-room Harmony Hotel in 2006 near Zion Square.
“At the time, it wasn’t even considered a boutique hotel but more an affordable design hotel versus the big guys like the Plaza and Prima,” says Ronit Copeland, managing director of Copeland Hospitality Consulting in Tel Aviv.
Copeland is actively involved in the boutique-ification of central Jerusalem as well as Tel Aviv and Haifa.
“Hotels in central urban areas have a young vibe and are more connected to community,” Copeland tells ISRAEL21c.
“Very often, you’ll see the older generation of a family staying in traditional hotels while the younger generation chooses a smaller, cheaper, in-the-neighborhood boutique hotel.”
Boutique hotels generally have no more than 150 rooms and offer personal attention, unique design features, “character, soul and even theatrical qualities,” says Copeland.
Below we highlight 10 of the many boutique hotels within five minutes of the center of Ben-Yehuda Street.
- 21st Floor Hotel, 34 Ben-Yehuda
Yoel Lazar (the accidental button-presser) brought in a Tel Aviv designer to fashion 14 duplex suites with full kitchen, salon and dining area – with picture windows and a telescope – and bedroom/s and Jacuzzis on the upper floor. Today, nobody can push the 21 button by mistake; hotel guests receive a code to activate that button in the elevator. This is one of the few boutique hotels in the city center with onsite parking.
- Arthur Hotel, 13 Dorot Rishonim
The 54-room Arthur Hotel, named after Lord Balfour, is decorated in an early 20th century theme complete with photos from that era, Turkish rugs, tiled floors and handcrafted Armenian plates hung in the bathrooms.
- Ben Hillel Boutique Hotel, 3 Ben-Hillel
Tucked among a row of small shops on a central side street off Ben-Yehuda, the privately owned two-year-old Ben Hillel Boutique Hotel offers 10 guest rooms and an onsite bar.
- Eyal Hotel Jerusalem, 21 Shamai
In addition to 68 rooms, Eyal Hotel has event and dining halls, a solarium with a “green” wall, an ecologically advanced heating system and sublevel parking.
Eyal is part of the Smart Hotels boutique chain, whose name implies not just smart technology but also smart location. The other Smart properties are not far from Ben-Yehuda Street: the 48-room Hotel Montefiore (7 Shatz Street) and the 25-room Jerusalem Inn (7 Horkanos Street).
- Harmony Hotel, 6 Yoel Moshe Salomon
The 50-room Harmony, close to Zion Square on an historic pedestrian alley, coincidentally “harmonizes” with the theme of the new Music Square complex recently opened there. Harmony hosts a complimentary happy hour for guests each evening in its English club-style business lounge.
- Herbert Samuel, 25 Shamai
Located on Zion Square above the iconic Bank Hapoalim, this Orchid chain hotel opened in 2016. Herbert Samuel’s 137 guest rooms, two meeting rooms, spa, gym and indoor pool are topped by an 11th-floor rooftop restaurant with panoramic views over Jerusalem. Guests may borrow bicycles to tour the city.
- Ibis City Center, 1 Elisar
Scheduled to open in July with 124 rooms as part of the international Accor Hospitality chain, Ibis is a mix of a renovation and new construction on a side street across Jaffa Road from Zion Square.
- Shamai Suites, 15 Ben-Hillel
Billed as an apartment boutique hotel, Shamai Suites is in a new building on the corner of Ben Hillel and Shamai Streets, adjacent to the Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall. Its 18 suites range from studio to two-bedroom with salon.
- Shani Luxury Boutique Hotel, 6 Shamai
The 50-room Shani, opened in April 2015, boasts spacious rooms, mahogany furniture and wooden floors. On the walls are paintings by contemporary Jerusalem artist Silvia Bar-Am.
- City Center Hotel, 17 King George and 2 HaHistadrut
Four types of rooms are available among the two wings of this boutique hotel adjacent to the Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall, from 18-square-meter studios to 55-square-meter one-bedroom suites for up to six guests. There are seven rooms in the HaHistadrut wing and 28 in the newer King George wing.
What’s your favorite city-center boutique hotel in Jerusalem? Tell us in the comments section below.