Surviving the Hustle and Bustle in Jerusalem's Old City
The Old City of Jerusalem stimulates the senses with colourful locally made tapestries and pottery; sweet-smelling incense; a clash of world music and bustling people going about their day; and of course, piles and piles of different foods to taste.
The Old City truly has something for everyone and every sense. But this magical experience like-no-other does come with its difficulties. The narrow winding streets can be tough to navigate. The store owners can seem pushy to a western traveller. The delicious treats can cost more than you expected. And all the steps can make you feel like you have climbed Mt Kilimanjaro!
But don't worry, here are some simple tips to follow that will help you get the best experience out of your adventures in the Old City.
Get lost. The Old City is filled with hidden gems, and secret alleyways, most of which you'll only find if you stumble upon them by accident. So don't be afraid to explore wherever your feet take you. But always remember the name of the gate you need to get to - these can easily be found with street signs (usually placed up high) or by asking someone.
Say NO. We always want to be polite when we travel. But remember, what may seem rude in one culture may not in another, and the same goes for rudeness. Jerusalemites are blunt and will take no offence to being told that you don't want to buy anything from them, so don't be afraid to say no. They do, however, love to share stories, and so do engage in conversation with shopkeepers, even if you don't want to buy anything from them. Most of them will be happy for the experience.
Haggle. It is built into Israeli culture to negotiate prices, and this is especially true in the Old City. You are not being rude if you haggle, it is expected of you! The general rule is to hear the price, suggest a price 50% lower, and then negotiate somewhere in the middle. And remember, you will see a lot of similar items in numerous places, and shop-owners are always looking to make that last sale at the end of the day, so it's always a good idea to look around, and come back to your favorites after you've "shopped around" (if you can find your way back to them). If you know what you want to buy before you head out, ask the people you are staying with where they would go, and how much they would pay.
Be Prepared. No matter what time of year it is, you should always wear comfortable shoes, and take a bottle of water. Even though the Old City is small, you will be walking around a lot, and so you will want to be comfortable and hydrated. It's a good idea to take a map with public toilets clearly marked, but they are not very common, so do go before you head out. And take cash! Many venders do take card, but cash is best, and the ATM's in the Old City have higher commissions, so take shekels with you.
And most importantly - have fun!
About the writer, Mykel Elledge:
Mykel Elledge is from Zambia, and first came to Jerusalem in 2015 when he fell in love with the culture, history, and people. He now lives in Jerusalem and works with travellers every day.