To most people, Jerusalem is known as a travel destination because of the many holy sites located there. The Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock and other well-known historical sites are the biggest draws however there is also a thriving contemporary art scene in Jerusalem that is too often overlooked. We’ve compiled this 72 hour guide for those looking to explore another side of the holy city. Visit these insider haunts in real life with Oh So Arty guide and founder of Contemporary Art in Jerusalem Jenna Romano on an art tour.
The start to any good getaway is finding the right accommodations. If you’re in search of a more modern space check out Jerusalem’s latest boutique hotel Villa Brown. While staying at Villa Brown treat yourself to cocktails at the fashionable underground Cave Bar that was previously a water cistern in the 19th century. Jerusalem is full of chic boutique hotels and one of our current favorites is The American Colony Hotel which is located near the city center. It has a rich history with previous guests including Lawrence of Arabia, Winston Churchill and Bob Dylan. A stone’s throw from the walls of the Old City is the luxurious Mamilla Hotel which boasts an indoor swimming pool, a relaxing spa and a rooftop restaurant with breath-taking views of Jerusalem.
Nearby the Mamilla hotel is the cosmopolitan Alrov Mamilla Avenue which is lined with shops. This open air street mall has a lot of great retail options that are enjoyed by both tourists and locals. For an authentic shopping experience we also recommend the old city bazaar. The bazaar in the Arab Quarter has a really unique feel and sells objects equally special. Make sure you’re prepared to barter when shopping in these markets! Shatz Street is one of Jenna’s favorite destinations for shopping. It is located close to the city center and has a mix of European and Middle Eastern influence. We recommend visiting on Fridays when there is a outdoor design market and enjoying a coffee at Cafe Bezalel.
While the Old City is a wealth of history worth exploring it is also often congested with tourists. We prefer to explore off the beaten track in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Musrara. This is currently one of Jenna’s favorite neighborhoods in part because of its diverse demographic, she said the, “residents continue to be linchpins to the more diverse cultural dialogue in Jerusalem.” This unique cultural tapestry can be seen in the beautiful architecture of Musrara which still maintains original Arabic tiles, high ceilings and huge courtyards.
Just outside of Nachlaot is the cutting edge non-profit art space Barbur Gallery founded by a group of Bezalel Art School graduates in 2005. If you are travelling to Jerusalem it’s worth checking out the gallery for their monthly exhibition programs and frequent events such as screenings, workshops and lectures.If you’re interested in learning more about the gallery scene make sure to join local tours with Jenna who can provide insider access to studios, artists spaces and more.
You cannot fully experience the artistic side of Jerusalem without a visit to the largest cultural institution in Israel, The Israel Museum which was founded in 1965 and has unparalleled collections of art and archaeology. In addition to historic artifacts like the Dead Sea Scrolls the museum also hosts frequent exhibitions of modern and contemporary art including shows such as Ai Wei Wei and Zoya Cherkassky. One of the museum’s highlights is the stunning sculpture garden designed by famous Japanese sculptor Isamu Noguchi which features the work of international artists like Sol Lewitt, Donald Judd and Pablo Piccaso. After a long day of touring Jenna recommends grabbing some hummus at Hummus Lina and a drink at the chic Zuta Cocktail Bar.
In between visiting these arty destinations you can be sure to stay satiated with all the amazing culinary options available to you. The best destination to get a true taste of Jerusalem is the famous Mahane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem’s massive outdoor food market with all the best local fare. Jenna recommends venturing a few steps beyond the beaten path onto HaEshkol Street for the open market and a more authentic experience. She said, “Between HaEshkol St. and Beit Yaakov St., and every corner in between, this small area contains local gems—a variety of delicious street food, gourmet restaurants, dessert options and hip bars.”
Jenna’s insider tip is to visit Gan HaPaamon (Liberty Bell Park) that is often overlooked by tourists. While you’re enjoying the greenery look for the ten sculptures hidden throughout the park. You will find works by local and international artists such as Henry Moore, Igael Tumarkin, and Israel HaDany.
The best way to conclude your stay in Jerusalem is with an evening at the Jerusalem Artists’ House. It is located in a historic stone building that was formerly the home of the Bezalel Academy for Arts and Design. Since 1965 the Jerusalem Artists’ House has hosted exhibitions of both Israeli and international artists and other activities. Once you’ve had your fill of local and international artwork visit the on-site restaurant, Mona Restaurant. Explore it all with us on an Oh So Arty tour!