We invited our fellow blogger Erez Speiser of the blog Hike Israel to convince us why visiting Jerusalem in Winter is a good idea and show us the best things to do in Jerusalem in Winter. We are convinced, what about you?
I live in Israel, so I may be biased, but for me, Jerusalem is one of the most extraordinary cities a person could visit. I visited many of the greatest cities around the globe, but each time I return to Jerusalem (and I had been there dozens of times), I find new things to see and do and come home with a bucket-full of experiences.
Why Should You Visit Jerusalem In Winter?
Israel is a warm Mediterranean country, and during winter weather is mostly friendly and not too cold. Jerusalem is at an altitude of 800 m above sea level and inland, making it relatively cool and dry. Winter in Israel is from December until March, and typical daytime temperatures are 12-15 C°, dropping at night to 8-12 C°. The average of rainy days per month is about 10, giving us almost 70% of dry days.
You will find plenty of resources on the web for the “Best things to do in Jerusalem”. Due to the mild weather, all of them are also suitable during a winter break. In addition to that, there are several advantages to “doing” Jerusalem during the winter:
- This city is much less crowded.
- Some of the most popular things to do in Jerusalem involve day trips to the Judean Desert. (Masada for example). While most of the year it is boiling hot in the desert, the winter months are by far the best period to enjoy these trips.
- There are several cool festivals during the winter.
The famous sites like the Old City, Mount of Olives and Machane Yehuda market, are listed in every post on “Things to do in Jerusalem”, and should be on your bucket list also in winter, especially if it is your first visit to the city. In this guide, I am giving you the stuff that you can find only in winter, or where winter is the best time of year to enjoy it!
10 Things to Do in Jerusalem In Winter
Get underground in Jerusalem
Nothing is better than to hide from nasty weather under the ground. Thankfully, Jerusalem has a few exceptional underground sites.
#1 Shrine of the Book
In 1946, a Bedouin teenager accidentally found seven ancient scrolls housed in jars in a cave near Qumran. He had no idea that this was the beginning of such a significant discovery. This discovery was the beginning of a long archaeological journey that eventually revealed a total of 20 complete scrolls and 16,000 fragments of scrolls.
Out of these fragments, researchers have assembled a total of 981 manuscripts. Most of them are books of the Torah (Old Testament) written in Hebrew by our ancestors. In 1965, the Shrine of the Book was built as a repository for the first seven scrolls discovered at Qumran. The unique white dome resembles the lids of the jars in which the first scrolls were found. The remaining two-thirds of the structure is below the ground, where the treasure is on display in a controlled atmosphere. It is recommended to visit also the Qumran site, which is a perfect stop location along the way to Masada.
#2 Western wall tunnels
The length of the western wall, as most people know it, is about 60 meters. However, this is only a small part of the original wall, which was almost 500 meters long. The Western Wall Tunnels follow the open-air wall north, under the houses of the Muslim quarter of the old city. The tunnel exposes an additional 300 m of the wall, revealing the construction methods and the various activities in the vicinity of the Temple Mount.
The largest stone in the Western Wall is also unveiled within the tunnel and ranks as one of the heaviest objects ever lifted by a human (Without powered machinery).
#3 The Pilgrims road
The City of David is one of Jerusalem’s most popular attractions. This year another significant archeological discovery had been opened to the public.
The main street of ancient Jerusalem, that was used by the pilgrims to access Jerusalem 2000 years ago. It is a huge street – 8 meters wide and 600 meters long, connecting the Shiloah Pool to the Temple Mount. The great road is paved with large stone slabs – as was customary in monumental construction throughout the Roman Empire.
Following 6 years of archeological excavations, a 350 m long section was exposed. Two thousand years after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans, one can march again in the ancient street. Because the old street passes under the modern streets of Silwan village, it is excavated in the form of a tunnel that passes under the village.
Go outdoors in Winter in Jerusalem
Jerusalem is surrounded by natural beauty from all directions. To the east starts the Judean Desert. With a short 30 minutes’ drive, you will find yourself in the middle of the wilderness. The impressive natural scenery is a hiker’s paradise and a perfect setting for several iconic archeological sites.
In the summer, the temperatures are over 40 C°, but in winter, the weather is pleasant, with temperatures around 20 C°. The desert side is a sharp contrast to the western slopes of the Judean Mountains, which are lashing green during the winter season and full of colorful wildflowers.
#4 Day trip to Masada
It is probably, the most popular day trip out of Jerusalem (or Tel Aviv). Dozens of organized day trips leave Jerusalem daily. They offer different variations, but in all of them, Masada is the focal point. This UNESCO heritage site has it all. Fantastic scenery, amazing archaeological findings, and a dramatic historical story. The drive to Masada takes about 1.5 hours, adding to that about 2 hours to visit the sight leaves plenty of time for additional activities in the area. Deciding what to do comes down to personal taste and the amount of time you have.
- Float on the Dead Sea – To chill out and take the perfect selfie cover with the black Dea Sea mud. (Duration: 1 hour to full day)
- Qumran national park – To see the place where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered. (An excellent coupling to the visit of the Shrine of the Book). (Duration: 0.5 – 1 Hour).
- Ein Gedi nature reserve – To take a short stroll in a desert oasis or a long desert hike. (1 Hour – Full day).
#5 Day trip to Ein Gedi
Ein Gedi is the name of a Kibbutz and its nearby Nature reserve. Ein Gedi can be joined to Masada or the Dead-Sea as a short side trip; however, it has plenty of highlights to keep you busy for a full day. The main attraction here is hiking. Ranging from an easy walk to see the David waterfall, up to a tough full day desert hike, and everything in-between. Round up the hike with a visit to the botanical garden in Kibbutz Ein Gedi, or relaxation in the Ein-Gedi SPA.
#6 Visit the Judean Desert monasteries
The Judean Desert monasteries were established in the 4th century. They reached their peak in the 6th century, a period in which hundreds of monks lived in the monasteries founded by Khariton and Theodosius. After the Muslim conquest, only a few monasteries and monks remained in the desert. During the Crusaders period, some of the monasteries that were destroyed or abandoned were re-established.
These monasteries stand out today also as a tourist attraction due to their dramatic setting. Most of them are hanging from a cliff and merge beautifully with the surrounding desert scenery. The most popular to visit are the St. George Monastery in Wadi Qelt and the Marsaba Monastery in Wadi Kidron.
#7 Explore wildflowers
An exceptional feature of Israel’s landscape is the richness and variety of its flora, especially wildflowers. Despite Israel’s tiny area, it has about 2500 species, compared with only 1500 species in the British Isles that are more than ten times larger in area. The blooming season is between December and May, with a strong peak between mid-February and mid-March.
During the peak period, the landscape is painted with a festival of colors. One of the best areas in the country to enjoy this phenomenon are the slopes of the Judean mountains and plains west to Jerusalem. There are plenty of different spots, and the “best one” changes according to what is currently blooming. Consult with a local or Google it.
Enjoy Winter Festivals in Jerusalem
#8 International Jazz Festival
The festival is running each year in December and hosts jazz artists from Israel and around the world in galleries, halls, and hidden corners of the Israel Museum, featuring original productions, first-time performers, new compositions, and classic songs.
It typically showcases unique original performances as well as feature surprising pop-up shows, masterclasses, professional workshops, jam sessions, and a few other exciting surprises.
Despite being relatively new, the International Jazz festival is one of the best festivals in Israel one of the best things to do in Jerusalem in Winter.
The festival is centered around the winter holiday of Christmas and Hanuka and is running on 4 consecutive weekends (Thursday to Saturday) around that period. The festival is home to a variety of events that include music, art, tours, and special exhibitions.
#10 Winter Noise Festival
The Shaon-horef (Winter Noise) usually runs during 4 consecutive weekends in February, the festival offers an incredible array of things from of events, shows, and tours from areas of art and culture, including, acting, music, comedy, performance, dance, and plastic arts.
So, if you are traveling to Jerusalem in February keep in mind that this festival offers (mostly free) activities spread through the city. Typically, each week is geared to a different downtown section using surprising and unconventional spaces and businesses – a sidewalk can become a creative space and a houseware store a stage.
Where to stay in Jerusalem in Winter?
Jerusalem has a vast variety of accommodations for you to choose from. Ranging between 5-star hotels, boutique hotels, apartments, and hostels.
Jerusalem is an expensive city, but in winter, prices are slightly lower, so you can save some money or pay the same and stay in higher-class accommodation.
Most tourists choose to stay in the city center, which is within walking distance to the old city and other major attractions.
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