Roaming the deserted streets of Jerusalem’s Old City in the early morning is an experience you can’t miss.
When your early morning bus from Tel Aviv enters the outskirts of Jerusalem on its way to the Central Bus Station, you’re most likely to be overwhelmed with a heap of mixed messages.
Modernity clashes with tradition. Glass-and-metal buildings mingle together with sandstone terraced houses, men in orthodox Jewish attire ride electric bicycles, full-armored military vehicles parked on the side of the street, …
Into Jerusalem’s Old City Through Jaffa Gate
The tram ride from the Central Bus Station to Jaffa Gate adds to the confusion. However, at this point, as excitement kicks in, this cultural mayhem becomes more bearable.
As you enter the walls through Jaffa Gate with the first rays of the sun, time seems to stop.
These stones have been here since the 1500s and have seen so much. Now, however, no one is around, let alone the hordes of guided tours that regularly meet at this very same point a bit later every day.
The Citadel of Jerusalem
Once you’re through the gate, the first imposing structure you will see is the Tower of David, or the Citadel of Jerusalem.
This is the last building of these dimensions you will find until you reach the Western Wall, this is if you don’t get lost in the labyrinth ahead.
Getting Lost in the Old city
Getting lost in Jerusalem’s Old Town is not difficult. And in fact, it’s quite an adventure on its own. Kilometres of staired streets, souks, winding backstreets and narrow alleyways are waiting for you.
For thousands of years, this city has been conquered, lost, and reconquered for many. Persians, Babylonians, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Egyptians, Islamists… the list goes on and on.
And footprints of these cultures can be found still today everywhere in any of the quarters within the walls of the Old City.
As Jerusalem’s Old City Awakens
As the Old City awakens, parents take kids to school; men of any faith walk to morning prayer; shop owners are preparing to receive their patrons. There is too much going on at once.
The Western Wall, Finally
One would think the Western Wall is deserted so early in the morning, judging from the few people on the streets.
Well, it is not.
The two sections of the compound (one for men, the other for women) are now bustling with activity. And they have already been for hours.
Back to Jaffa Gate
When you’re ready to head back to Jaffa Gate, you’ll see the streets coming to life.
Souvenir shops will already be open for business and loads of pilgrims will be already flooding the narrow streets following the Via Dolorosa, anxious to start their processional recreation (and hungry for some of those souvenirs).
Let’s Wrap Up
So, here is the bad news, this is the only way to avoid the crowds and genuinely experience life in Jerusalem’s Old City. For those of us not used to getting up early, this will come as a shock.
Good news though, if you make an effort, you’ll be rewarded with a rare glimpse of the everyday life in each of the four quarters of Jerusalem’s Old City. And not only that, you might be compensated with the occasional greeting in Hebrew (Shalom) or Arabic (Salam Alaikum) on your way back.
How To Do It
- The day trip from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is better done by bus, it will set you back NIS 18 for a single ticket or NIS 30 for a return ticket.
- There are two convenient options by the company Egged, bus 405 (runs from the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station) and bus 480 (from Tel Aviv’s Arlozoroff Bus Terminal).
- For an early arrival in Jerusalem, you should aim at taking any of these buses at around 6 am from Tel Aviv (make sure you check schedules here and avoid travelling during the Shabbat)
- Once in Jerusalem, you can take either a taxi to Jaffa Gate or the very convenient and affordable Light Rail (tram) right outside Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station.
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