The historic, holy city of Jerusalem has plenty of quirks making it unique. For starters, the oldest part is split into four distinct quarters by religion and ethnicity. After a few thousand years of history, there have got to be some strange things to see, right?
You can find plenty of articles on the top things to see in Jerusalem. Heck, you could probably find them as soon as the first printing presses started working. A recent international Travel Bloggers Exchange conference (TBEX) hosted in the city resulted in a few hundred new articles on Jerusalem’s greatest hits. So we’re not going to tell you about the Tower of David, the Wailing Wall, or the church filled with holy monks who hate each other and may or may not be in the place where Jesus was buried. (Different types of Christians can’t even agree on that.)
When you’ve had enough of history and dogma, here’s where to go to get those photos you haven’t seen 100 times already.
The Montefiore Windmill
You could be forgiven for thinking this structure is from Holland or somewhere else in Europe but no, it has been sitting in Israel since 1857. English Jewish philanthropist Moses Montefiore meant it to be kind of an industry magnet, drawing people out of the walls of the old city to relocate. There’s was just one tiny problem with the scheme: there wasn’t enough wind to turn the blades consistently. If you’re trying to turn wheat into flour on a regular basis, you kind of need consistent mill action.
So the windmill only ran for 18 years. According to Atlas Obscura, it serves as a watchtower during the Israeli War of Independence, when “British forces actually blew the top off of the disused tower in an action known as, ‘Operation Don Quixote.'” During Israel’s 60th anniversary in 2012, the windmill was restored again and if there’s a stiff breeze, you’ll see it spinning again.
HaMifletzet – The Monster Playground
What if you were supposed to commission a working playground sculpture for children and the commissioners rejected it because it was too scary? That’s what happened originally, but thankfully the artist Niki de Saint Phalle got the mayor on her side and got them to reconsider. The winning argument was that children will get stronger when they learn to overcome their fears. Now thousands have played on it with presumably no long-term damage to their psyches.
Amid a sea of brown in Jerusalem this spot definitely stands out. (Just try to get a girl to come along if you’re a guy taking photos if it’s crowded because, well, it is a playground.) In Rabinovich Park in the Kiryat HaYovel neighborhood.
Zedekiah’s Cave (Solomon’s Quarries)
Pictures of this man-made quarry are not exactly going to light up your Instagram feed, but if you’ve walked in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem you may have been just nine meters above it. This is one of those “If walls could talk” sites with enough historic twists to fill a Dan Brown novel. It even has ancient graffiti in four languages. It may go back to the time of King Solomon–of “King Solomon’s mines” fame. Herod the Great used its stone for temple reconstruction, including “the wailing wall.” Its last use was for the Turkish clock tower installed over Jaffa Gate in 1907.
In between, Suleiman the Magnificent used it then sealed it. The mysterious Freemasons held their first Masonic Lodge meeting here in 1868. Not long after that, a German religious sect made their home there before they got kicked out.
Go with a guide to hear all the good stories and if your experience is typical, it won’t be very crowded.
The Kishle: Palace to Prison in Layers
How many places can you visit in the world that span 2,700 years of man-made history in layers? Archaeologists weren’t expecting much when they started digging just outside of the Tower of David. What they found, however, were artifacts and stonework stretching from the 6th century B.C. Quite a few groups passed through and controlled the area since. Starting with Jewish King Hezekiah, following were Hasmoneans, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Ottomans (who used it as a prison), British… If that’s not enough, it may have even been the spot where Pontius Pilate sentenced Jesus.
There’s nothing secret about this spot and it’s easy to get to, but since it only opened in 2014, it’s not in every “things to do in Jerusalem” article yet.
* We’re tempted to direct you to The Elvis Inn too, but that’s actually off the highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Where to Stay in Jerusalem
You won’t be hurting for choice in this city. There are hostels inside the walls that look the same as when I was first there 20 years ago and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re using the same pots and pans in the communal kitchen. There are probably 100 hotels where tour buses drop off the crowds. If you’ve had some success in life though and are looking for an excuse to splurge, you might as well stay in a hotel fit for heads of state and celebrities. The best Jerusalem hotel is the King David, with a view of the old city from just outside it. Take in the panoramic view and just imagine who has been in that spot since the 1920s: kings of multiple countries, Jimmy Carter to Barak Obama, Winston Churchill to Tony Blair and the Price of Wales.