Jerusalem’s mayor Nir Barkat, now in his second term, has made enhancing Jerusalem’s status as a tourism friendly destination one of his primary objectives. His efforts can be felt throughout the city, with the light rail and regeneration of Jaffa St; the First Station project; and events such as the recent Formula 1 “Peace race”, as well as the Jerusalem marathon that has become an annual fixture in March.
You might wonder why such investment of time and money is needed in the first place – after all, with such history and recognition how could Jerusalem not be a tourism hub? Indeed massive and growing numbers of visitors do come to the city, but the problem that Jerusalem had was one of length of stay: people see Jerusalem as a place to spend a night or two at most. A typical touring itinerary for our own clients will often have far more days in Tel Aviv than in Jerusalem. Generally, when visitors get to Jerusalem, they want to explore the Old City for an afternoon, visit the Western Wall and perhaps tour ‘Ir David Archeological Dig’ or take a Tunnel Tour under the Western Wall. Then, after a night’s sleep they will normally visit Yad Vashem holocaust education center, and the ‘Shuk’ – they might perhaps add the Israel museum, but that’s generally it. What Mayor Barkat has set out to do is give visitors many more reasons to stay longer or even make Jerusalem their primary base in Israel, rather than the coast, and in that aim, he is definitely succeeding!
There has been particular focus on the area south of King David Street with the growth of Emek Refaim Street (German Colony) as a hub for restaurants and cafes. Next to ‘Emek’ is the Old Train Station, closed and boarded up for many years. This has recently undergone a remarkable transformation in order to reopen as a pedestrian tourism area, with the platform and station house converted into cafes and a small indoor market of gourmet foods and delicacies. Where the rails still sit, wooden decking has created a large area for daily craft fairs, farmers markets etc. In the evening there’s a range of entertainments that changes each night. The old track that winds South through Talpiot has been turned into a few miles of landscaped cycle / jogging track and cleverly, bikes can be rented at the station. The Train Station is one of the few places fully open on Shabbat, providing a bustling vibrant hang out for non-religious and non-Jewish residents and tourists.
The Isrotel chain is building a new Jerusalem hotel right next to where Emek and the Old Station meet and it really is the perfect spot to be based in Jerusalem: You are at the start of a long street of eateries, next to a wonderful new pedestrian area, easy walking distance to the old City and well served by public transport to the city center, museum area and Machane Yehuda Market.
Other recent developments has been the opening of a massive new cinema multiplex, the newly announced expansion of the lite rail system, and a variety of festivals, conventions and conferences that expand the tourist year far beyond the old June – September season. There are new 4 and 5 star hotel’s opening (including the much anticipated Waldorf Astoria which opens June 2014), a range of superb museums, the fantastic Jerusalem zoo, nightly light shows at the David’s Tower, Mamilla Mall and much more. Jerusalem really has a lot to offer today’s tourist and for both families and groups, there’s some very good reasons to add more time in Jerusalem into the itinerary.