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Jerusalem Neighborhoods

The dozens of neighborhoods in the capital city of Jerusalem open up dozens of different worlds and culture before visitors. The Old City of Jerusalem is encircled by the walls built by the Turkish in 1538 and is divided into the four quarters; the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter and the Armenian Quarter. Seven gates lead into these very different areas with the two most popular being the Jaffa Gate to the west of the Old City and Damascus Gate from the east.

South-west of the Old City is the modern area of the city with residential, commercial and industrial development, high-rise hotels and office towers. There you'll find the quaint Ein Kerem neighborhood, a popular Christian pilgrimage site as well as the beautiful Mishkenot Sha'ananim neighborhood, the quaint Nahalat HaShiva with it's many leisure sites, the bustling German Colony neighborhood that is always full of English-speaking tourists and the eclectic, artistic Nachlaot neighborhood in downtown Jerusalem. Bordering the center of the city are the Haredi Meah Shearim and Geula neighborhoods that allow visitors into a world of Judaism as it was in the shtetl.

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Sandwiched between the elegant Rechavia neighborhood and the quintessentially Middle Eastern  Machane Yehuda Shuk, is Nachlaot, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Jerusalem and home to the tension between the old and new, antique and modern and rich and poor.

Sir Moses Montefiore, the much-beloved philanthropist was behind the construction of the neighborhood in the 1800s. Nachlaot was built for the Ashkenazi and Sephardi religious communities of the Old City as well as European and Ottoman Empire immigrants. Many of these houses stand until today and bear plaques that carry the pictures and histories of their earliest residents when modern Jerusalem was being born.

The neighborhood was once dominated by religious old-timers. In recent years Nachlaot has become a haven for artists, musicians and hippy young American Jews, resulting in a Torah-inflected commune effect in the neighborhood. Gentrification of the neighborhood has resulted in English-speaking immigrants buying Nachlaot real-estate and replacing the aged buildings with luxurious Jerusalem-stone houses.

The old Nachlaot still echoes through the neighborhood with Yiddish-speaking enclaves touching hippie havens and melodies drafting out of the dozens of synagogues that are peppered around the neighborhood.

Meah Shearim & Geulah
Bordering the city centre are the neighborhoods Meah Shearim and Geulah; physically close to the city centre but culturally worlds apart these neighborhoods are enclaves of the Old World. Other neighborhoods in Jerusalem have historical significance that is limited to architecture and sites that remain; in the neighborhoods of Meah Shearim and Geulah the people and their way of life embodies their history.

Meah Shearim means "one hundred gates" and the name is derived from the Torah portion that was read the week the settlement was founded. Meah Shearim is the core of present-day Geulah and was built in 1874, the second neighborhood to be built outside of the Old City's walls.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews, both Hasidic and non-Hasidic populate the neighborhood wearing strikingly different clothing such as the long black coats, black hats or shtreimels (black fur hats that are a mark of prestige in the Hasidic communities) for the men and thick stockings, dark mid-calf length skirts, buttoned-down shirts and flat shoes for the women.

Modesty is a tenet that is very central in ultra-Orthodoxy and this is the reason that signs are posted at the entrances to the neighborhood requesting that those who do so wear modest clothing. It is both respectful and advisable to adhere to these requests so as not to spark altercations. Additionally, make sure not to drive through the neighborhood on Saturday-the residents like to ensure that the Sabbath day is observed as required according to Jewish law and driving a car is forbidden for Jewish people on the Sabbath day and doing so has been known to cause altercations in the past.

Mishkenot Sha'ananim
Sir Moses Montefiore was essentially responsible for every single stone of modern west Jerusalem because it was his urging that caused the Jewish Jerusalemites to dare to step out of the protectiveness of the Old City Walls and to start to rebuild their capital.

The wellspring of west Jerusalem was the combined neighborhood of Yemin Moshe and Mishkenot Sha'ananim which are located a stone-throw away from the westerly Old City Walls which were established in 1891. Montefiore, using means he had gathered in business dealings in London, built up the entire neighborhood that flourished over the once-barren hills.

Yemin Moshe and it's later outgrowth Mishkenot Sha'ananim remain aesthetically the same as they were at the turn of last century but the people populating the neighborhood changed significantly from poor former residents of the Old City to one of Jerusalem's wealthiest groups with many foreign owners who keep residences as holidays homes. The empty residences in the off-season make the stroll through the neighborhood even more pleasant and peaceful.

Nahalat Shiv'a
The third Jerusalem neighborhood to be built outside of the Old City walls Nahalat HaShiv'a spans from Hillel Road down south to Jaffa Road up north. The name of the neighborhood, which translates in English to mean "the estate of the seven," was coined due to the seven settlers who established it in 1869. They divided the land between them into seven strips facing Jaffa Road and legend has it that due to the complete isolation of the place, at least one of the settler's wives wouldn't leave the safety of the Old City in order to join her husband in their new home.

With time the neighborhood deteriorated and plans were suggested to tear it down and build high-rise office buildings in it's stead. However, in the eighties a new plan to restore the neighborhood won over and in the last two decades the neighborhood has undergone dramatic changes with most residents moving out and businesses moving in.

Nahalat HaShiv'a is today a quaint island in the centre of Jerusalem that is filled with popular cafés, pubs and small galleries.

The German Colony
The bustling German Colony is today one of the most popular and prominent neighborhoods in Jerusalem, lined with cafés, restaurants and places of interest.

The German Colony was founded by the Templars, a splinter group of German Protestants who arrived in the Holy Land in the mid-1800s, anticipating the imminent return of Jesus and when Jesus failed to re-emerge, set about establishing a thriving community in the Biblical Emek Refaim (Hebrew for "Valley of Ghosts") that was designed to imitate a typical German neighborhood. The Templars decided to support Hitler in the thirties and were consequently sent back to Germany by the British authorities who had no tolerance for Nazi supporters in the German and Arab communities.

The German Colony's Arab population fled during the 1948 War of Independence and soon after new Jewish immigrants moved in but Americanization and gentrification have been the two forces that have shaped the neighborhood into what it is today. The stunning landscaping and magnificent manors attracted the wealthier elements in the population, turning Emek Refaim into one of the foremost upscale restaurant and shopping districts in the city. The high quality of life especially attracted American and English-speaking Westerners, resulting in the upper-class Israeli and American concentration that exists today in the German Colony.

The German Colony is a lovely neighborhood to stroll through, shop in, catch a bite and even watch a film at the small art-house cinema, Smadar.

The Ein Kerem neighborhood is nestled in a stunning valley between Jerusalem's hills and mountains. Ein Kerem has quaint stone houses with arches, churches with bells that chime gaily and cobbled pathways.

Ein Kerem is a popular Christian pilgrimage site due to many Christian legends that are believed to have taken place here. Mary's Well is a Christian site of interest around which the village grew. The waters of Miriam's Well are considered holy by Christians and many pilgrims who visit take holy water away with them in bottles.

Since the Byzantine period several churches have been built in Ein Kerem. There are several active churches and monasteries in Ein Kerem. Modern development has not yet touched this beautiful neighborhood and it remains pastoral and cut off from the bustling city. 


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