10 things you didn’t know about Jerusalem

From gazelles to snow, Jerusalem is a vibrant Middle Eastern city
Jerusalem's European-style pedestrian malls
Jerusalem's European-style pedestrian malls are lined with clothing stores and gourmet restaurants. (Photo: Noam Chen for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism)

Israel’s capital city of Jerusalem is a seamless blend of old and new. Just take a walk along its cobbled streets, soak up the natural sights, and indulge in a culinary experience like no other – it’s all in a day’s work on a trip to this incredible city.

Here are some things you might not already know about Jerusalem.

1. It’s greener than you think.

Independence Park, Jerusalem.
Independence Park, Jerusalem. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Surrounded by spectacular natural scenery – from forests to rolling hills – Jerusalem is more than its cobblestone streets. With its own version of New York City’s Central Park, an enormous collection of more than 10,000 plants at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, and numerous other green spaces, it’s an ideal destination for nature lovers.

A curious gazelle.
A curious gazelle makes eye contact with nature photographer Alex Geifman’s lens in this amazing shot taken in Ramot Forest. (Photo: Alex Geifman/Facebook)

Among the city’s wild residents are graceful gazelles and charismatic foxes. The city’s main park, Gazelle Valley, is the ideal home for wildlife – lush greenery dotted by ponds, crossed by streams and shaded by trees. Several lookout points encourage visitors to observe the animals and plants in the park.

2. The city hosts a spectacular light festival every year.

Lights are projected onto the walls of Jerusalem.
Lights are projected onto the walls of Jerusalem, creating an entirely different environment for visitors at night. (Photo: Noam Chen)

Jerusalem makes an incredible transformation, completely set aglow by lights and projections, every summer during the Jerusalem Festival of Light. Hundreds of thousands of visitors walk through the bright city streets, watching projected displays and examining light-themed works of art by artists from around the world.

3. It actually snows there. (Sometimes.)

A blanket of snow covers Jerusalem.
A blanket of snow covers Jerusalem. (Photo: Noam Chen)

Sure, Jerusalem boasts warm summers and mild winters, but every now and then, the snow comes. January is the coldest month in Israel, usually averaging around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, so a blanket of snow comes as quite the surprise. But we’re not complaining – there is nothing quite so beautiful as a snow day in the old city.

4. It’s a technology hub.

The uber-modern "Bridge of Strings."
The uber-modern “Bridge of Strings,” also known as “Chords Bridge,” carries the light rail across the city. Despite its age, Jerusalem is truly a tech-savvy place. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Though it may be ancient, Jerusalem is at the forefront of modern technology. Ranked by Entrepreneur Magazine among tech-savvy cities like Stockholm, Santa Monica and Buenos Aires, Jerusalem is catching up to its neighboring metropolis of Tel Aviv. The city’s universities are prolific in producing inspired young entrepreneurs and startups.

5. World class food scene

The Waffle Bar has elevated the Belgian waffle into an art form.
The Waffle Bar has elevated the Belgian waffle into an art form. With ice cream and whipped cream on the side, this powdered sugar-dusted confection makes for a decadent dessert. (Photo: mrlaerial/Flickr)

While Jerusalem offers the best of Mediterranean fare for any budget, you can absolutely still indulge in your favorite breakfast food – although the dish may be more suitable for dessert. Enter the best of both worlds: the Waffle Bar. With customizable Belgian waffles – who needs maple syrup when you can get Ben & Jerry’s ice cream as a topping? – and no fewer than three types of shakshouka, it’s a one-stop-shop of deliciousness.

Whether you’re in the mood for pizza, pasta, burgers or a gourmet spread, you’ll have no trouble finding a top-notch restaurant in Jerusalem to satisfy your hunger.

The bottom line? The culinary experience in Jerusalem does not stop at hummus. But trust us, the hummus is assuredly *amazing.*

6. Jerusalem is on top of its urban transit game.

A trail of light follows a light rail train flying through the streets of Jerusalem.
A trail of light follows a light rail train flying through the streets of Jerusalem. (Photo: Noam Chen)

With a light rail system and several biking paths and trails, it’s easy get around Jerusalem – and great for the environment, too. Jaffa Road alone has seen an 80 percent reduction in air pollution since it was dedicated solely to light rail.

As for biking, dedicated paths make it a much safer experience. There’s even a trail that takes you from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.

7. It’s a city built for art lovers.

'Turning the World Upside Down'
‘Turning the World Upside Down,’ a sculpture by Indian British Anish Kapoor displayed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Sporting several galleries, public art installations and even an artist’s colony, there’s no doubt that creative juices flow in Jerusalem. Year-round, festivals pop up dedicated to every craft, from performing arts to the beloved craft beer.

In the rare event of a gap between festivals, there are dozens of museums and outdoor exhibits to explore. The Israel Museum is the most prestigious in Israel, featuring fine art and archaeological findings – like the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit inside the fascinating architectural feat, the Shrine of the Book. Other museums in Jerusalem are more interactive, like the Bloomfield Science Museum that encourages visitors to participate in the exhibits.

Even a simple walk through the market is enough to inspire you. The Mahane Yehuda Market in particular is a bustling street full of fresh produce but also jewelry, clothing and nicknacks.

8. Jerusalem has 19 theaters – in one building.

Cinema City
Cinema City offers a plethora of activities aside from movie showings – there are plenty of places to shop and eat in this 215,000+ square-foot mall. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Cinema nerds rejoice! The epic Cinema City Jerusalem is the go-to place for movie lovers. Among this eight-story-tall mall’s many theaters, you can find one themed around practically every genre of film under the sun. Love-themed theaters come complete with couples’ seats, and the kid’s movies are played in rooms decorated with their favorite cartoon characters. Naturally, these theaters are accompanied by an extensively curated cinema museum. One of the coolest features at the Cinema City is the bar that also functions as a projection room – visitors can actually help set up movies to be played in the theater.

9. The fun doesn’t stop at sunset – there’s plenty to do at night.

One popular nighttime destination is Ben Yehuda Street, a pedestrian mall.
One popular nighttime destination is Ben Yehuda Street, a pedestrian mall. (Photo:Wikimedia Commons)

Whether you prefer a relaxing evening in a cafe, a neon-lit dance party or a hands-on art experience, there’s plenty to do after the sun goes down in Jerusalem. Read a book while at the Thmol Shilshom cafe, which hosts poetry readings and boasts a large selection of books for visitors to peruse; try a wine from the impressive cellar at the Moroccan-themed Darna Restaurant; dance the night away at the Toy Bar with local college students – or you can get it all in one place at the Uganda Bar, which is simultaneously a cafe, music venue and comic book store.

10. Jerusalem’s first train station doesn’t operate – but it’s a cultural hotspot!

The First Station in Jerusalem.
The First Station in Jerusalem has a beautiful exterior, complete with a mural that’s an optical illusion. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

This First Station is the destination itself, offering a true taste of Israel’s culture. With special events, tours and plenty of food, the centuries-old station has been completely transformed since it was built in 1892 – but keeps its historic exterior. Get the entire experience in one place – from yoga and pilates classes to art galleries and games, this train station doesn’t need a destination to take you on a journey.