Experiencing the Rich Culture and Religious Diversity of Jerusalem, Israel

Seven years ago Matt and I went to Israel on a Holy Land Tour.  It was life changing for us and, 42 countries later, we still claim that visiting Israel was our favorite trip.  The people, food, history, and religious ties are just a few of the reasons why we loved it so much.  But I think the main reason why we are so fascinated with Israel is because of how it affected our Christian faith and changed the way we read the Bible.  Actually walking and seeing the landscapes and places where Jesus walked was so meaningful for us and it really made the Bible come to life.  We have been wanting to take the boys there for a while now, even though they are young to understand everything, we decided now was the time to go.

Looking at yearly temperatures in Israel, November actually looked pretty amazing- 60s-70sF, which is in my opinion, the perfect city vacation weather.  We had the best weather and such an amazing experience there!

Getting to Jerusalem
We took an 11 hour flight out of Toronto into Tel Aviv.  When we arrived at the Tel Aviv airport, we took a bus 45 minutes to get to Jerusalem (around $15 per person, kids are free).  The bus dropped us off at the central bus station which was about two miles from the old city.  Of course, Matt convinced me that we would be fine walking the two miles to our hotel from the bus station with the boys and all our luggage.  It would have been easy to catch a taxi to our hotel, as there were cab drivers everywhere; but it was nice to get some fresh air and exercise after our long flight and see a part of the city we normally wouldn't have visited. :)

Our Hotels
We stayed at two hotels while in Jerusalem.  We love staying at different hotels in the same city when we travel.  There are advantages and disadvantages to this.  I like that we get to experience multiple places and eat a different breakfast at each place, however it can be a pain to pack everything up and move in the middle of your stay.  For us, it's worth it, and we always welcome the change of scenery and the ability to explore a different part of the city.

Notre Dame Guest House
We were really excited about staying at the Notre Dame Guest House because the location seemed amazing!  It is literally right across from the New Gate into the Old City Jerusalem, so it was super easy to get around from the hotel.  Our room was fairly small, however we had a huge patio with an amazing view.  This was definitely my favorite part. :)  Breakfast was big, however, there were so many tour groups staying at the hotel, it felt more like mass produced cafeteria food than what specialized boutique hotels would offer.   But yes, hummus was available for breakfast, and we totally ate as much of it as we could!

YMCA Three Arches
We loved the YMCA Three Arches Hotel!  We were really excited about staying at this hotel because it was the original YMCA in Jerusalem, built in 1933.  Of course, being a YMCA exercise instructor in Buffalo, Matt didn't have to convince me to stay there. ;-)  The building was breath-taking; beautiful arches and intricate detail; designed by the same guy who designed the Empire State Building in New York City.  We were welcomed with yummy drinks and a beautiful fruit plate for the boys when we arrived at our spacious room.  After we settled in, the manager offered a tour of the newly renovated hotel.  It was really interesting to learn about how the YMCA mission is to provide peace between the three religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.  Inside their auditorium, there is intricate detail which symbolizes all three religions.  Our favorite part of the YMCA Three Arches Hotel was the next morning as we enjoyed a delicious breakfast on their gorgeous, peaceful, patio.  They provided the most beautiful spread of ethnic food, made to order eggs, and other dishes as well. We would highly recommend the YMCA Three Arches hotel.

The Sites
Jerusalem is full of rich culture and so many things to see.  We really enjoyed just getting (literally) lost in the old city Jerusalem.  Shop after shop with a number of souvenirs to bring home.  We were super excited to find another dish similar to one we had bought seven years ago but had broken.  I loved the storekeeper we bought from, he was the sweetest man!!!  He was so kind with the boys and offered Dylan candy and talked to us for a really long time.  It is normal to haggle the price of items, so we ended up buying a ceramic bowl and plate for a pretty good price.  Unfortunately, when we got home, the plate had already broken in my luggage. :(
We love Jerusalem because you can see so many traces of biblical landmarks.  The Garden of Gethsemane, the Western (Wailing) Wall, Temple Mount (where Solomon built the temple), Old City gates such as the Golden Gate, the Via Dolorosa, where they claim Jesus carried the cross, Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection sites, Hezekiah's tunnel, the city of David, etc.  The Bible becomes so real to me walking along grounds that Jesus walked.  It was especially significant for us to bring our two boys with us.  Although, Dylan is only 3 years old and Christopher, 1, we still explained to the boys about every place we went.  We had a lot of conversations with Dylan about Jesus carrying the cross, healing people sitting outside the gates of the city wall, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, etc.  Of course, the only story that Dylan really LOVED and wanted us to repeat over and over again was when we were talking about how wise King Solomon was and when the two women were fighting over the same baby, King Solomon said that to solve their problem, he would cut the baby in half.  lol!

Probably one of the most memorable spots we visited was Temple Mount where you will find the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic Shrine.  I am so intrigued with that area because it is so highly contested by the Jews and Muslims and very few people are permitted to enter.  We weren't even sure if they would let us in this time (we had gone 7 years ago), especially after talking to a Jewish security guard down at the Western Wall, and he said that he has never even been up there.  We figured we'd try, so one morning we got dressed: Matt in long pants and I put on a long dress and long sleeved sweater.  I remembered the last time we went they wouldn't let me in because my sleeves were too short (oops!) and a man on our tour had to take off his button down shirt for me to wear and he just wore his undershirt.  I thought I looked pretty conservative this time. (Of course, I still got "in trouble" when bending over to pick up one of the boys because my top was too low.  😞)  When we got to the gate, we were asked what religion we were: we said Christian, and they let us enter.

As a Christian, Temple Mount is significant to us because we believe it is where God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Issac as well as where King Solomon built the temple.  This spot was where the presence of God dwelled in the temple.  I kept saying to Dylan as we were walking around "This is where God used to live".  It was so neat for him to experience this and it really did feel like we were walking on "holy ground".

Temple Mount is also extremely significant to Judaism and Islam.  The Jewish religion still believes that the presence of God dwells there, which is why the Western Wall, right below Temple Mount, is so significant to their faith.  However, since 1967, the area has remained under control of the Muslim community.  They refer to the site as a Noble Sanctuary claiming that this site is where Muhammad last visited before ascending into heaven.  As you can see, this area is significant to all three religions and is known as one of the most contested areas in the world.

The Culture
We also had a lot of interesting conversations about the different cultures and religious groups of  the people in Israel.  Dylan is still young, but he definitely noticed that people dressed and looked different from his mommy and daddy.  He would see Islamic women with their heads covered and long dresses, or a Jewish man wearing a hat and long side burns.  I loved explaining to him, as best I could, what different religions were and why certain dress was significant to their religion.  Or why Dylan had to wear a yamaka on his head before approaching the wailing wall and why everyone was praying there.  We also loved trying new and different foods and spices!!!  I have to say, hummus is one of my absolute favorite dishes so we generally ate some at every meal... even breakfast. :)

Matt and I joked that we came back seven years after our first trip and we will return in another seven years.  We love Jerusalem and really feel that the next time we return it will be even more special for our boys as they understand more about the Bible and our Christian faith.



  1. One of the many places my fiance and I plan to visit after wedding is Israel. Would be good to walk where Jesus walks. So thanks for these tips. Merry Christmas!

    1. Congratulations on your engagement! Matt and I went to Israel when we were first married and it was amazing for us AND our marriage! I hope you can go there, you won't regret it!

  2. The Holy Land looks amazing, thanks for sharing!

    1. It really is amazing!!! One of the best trips we've ever been on!!!

    2. I hope you get back to Israel one day - such an inspiring place! It’s great that you could take your family there and experience it together.

    3. Thank you! We plan to go back every 7 years :)


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