Moderately priced hotels are in short supply, especially in Jerusalem. And the pricing system is something of a joke. Official “rack rates” (aka published rates; it’s what this chapter lists) for hotel rooms are fantasies—except during important Jewish holidays. So look for discounts wherever you can! The 11th commandment now reads: You shall not pay full price at a hotel.
So when are the important, rate-raising holidays? Jerusalem’s hotels are busiest at Passover and Easter, in September or October during the Jewish high holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Succot, and Simchat Torah), and at Christmas. Many hotels consider July and August to be the regular season.
Note: All official hotel prices in Israel are quoted in U.S. dollars. Foreign travelers are expected to pay by credit card or foreign cash; if you pay the equivalent amount in shekels, you must also pay an additional value-added tax (VAT) of 18 percent.
Christian hospices or guesthouses are a good alternative to hotels—Jerusalem abounds with them, and guests of all faiths are welcome. Guesthouses were originally built to accommodate the pilgrims who began to arrive in great numbers in the 1880s. Many are housed in atmospheric 19th-century complexes with evocative Jerusalem architecture and style. The atmosphere is, of course, sedate; better hospices are like extremely well-run small hotels, with comfortable private rooms with bathrooms. Depending on denomination, decor may include a crucifix over the bed, a Byzantine-style icon, or a framed photo of the pope. St. George’s, Jerusalem’s Anglican guesthouse, has a bar, but most do not. Tip: Unmarried couples can forget about sharing a room at most Christian guesthouses. You might be able to fudge separate last names on passports, but no visible wedding ring means no double room.
Bed-and-breakfast accommodations in a private home or apartment are an interesting alternative to hotel stays. Prices are considerably lower than hotels, and hosts are often senior citizens with lovely, spacious (by Israeli standards) homes and a genuine interest in meeting visitors from abroad.
A room in an apartment that has its own private bathroom could be about $80 for a single and $130 for a double, with breakfast and service included. A small studio or private flat would start about $120 for two people; long-term rates are available. Unique places with private entrances, gardens, views, and especially nice decor, or accommodations for families, could be much more.
Good Morning Jerusalem, 17 Ezrat Israel St., Jerusalem (tel. 02/623-3459; www.accommodation.co.il), is a bed-and-breakfast and holiday apartment rental agency. With listings all over Israel, including in Jerusalem, it will reserve accommodations for you and try to match your requirements. (The office cannot vouch for the kashrut standards of any particular household and accepts the claims of its participating hosts.) The office is open Sunday to Thursday from 9am to 5pm and Friday from 9am to 1:30pm. With advance notice, the office can make arrangements to meet travelers or facilitate nighttime arrivals.
Home Accommodation Association of Israel (www.bnb.co.il) is an affiliation of 24 homeowners, many with distinctive properties and locations. You deal directly with the property owners: The website includes contact information, photos, and descriptions for each property.
A final resource for private B&B stays (and entire apartment rentals): the massive, international website AirBnB.com. It offers a number of choices in Jerusalem, and the hosts tend to be younger than those who work with the agencies listed above.
The Old City
Old City Attractions & Accommodations
The advantage to staying in the Old City is that you feel the rhythms and hear the sounds of this extraordinary (and largely car-free) place—the calls to prayer from the minarets, the medley of bells from the city’s ancient churches. You’ll watch the bazaars come to life in the morning and slowly close down for the night. You won’t come across any high-rise (or even low-rise) luxury hotels in the Old City, just a few inexpensive-to-moderately priced hotels, hospices, and hostels.
The crime rate in the Old City, as in all of Jerusalem, is low, but the streets here (except for parts of the Jewish Quarter) are deserted at night and can seem intimidating. So you’ll need a spirit of adventure and an enjoyment of labyrinths and casbahlike alleyways for this to be the right part of town for your base. You’ll also need a good pair of walking shoes, because it will most likely be a trek from your hotel to the nearest gate, where you’ll be able to catch taxis and trams to the rest of the city. Tip: Wi-Fi and cellphone connections are not always dependable inside the Old City.
Hotel Rates in Israel Quoted in Dollars
Israeli hotel rates have officially been quoted in U.S. dollars for decades, although this policy may change if the dollar remains unstable. Hotel bills paid in foreign currency or with foreign credit cards by non-Israelis are not subject to the 18 percent VAT; if possible, always pay for your room and meals charged to your room with a credit card. If you pay in shekels, the VAT will be added to your bill. A few B&Bs and small hotels may post a shekel price list. If they do, ask whether paying in foreign currency will allow them to eliminate your VAT.
Zion Square, Jaffa Road & Ben-Yehuda Mall
Step out of your hotel and it’s a short walk to the Old City and the heart of the New City’s downtown shopping-and-restaurant district. The area is noisy, and in summer, discos add to the roar of traffic.
Traveling with kids in tow? Try the following hotels, which either offer savings for families or swell amenities for the little ones.
David Citadel Hotel-This is the luxury choice for families, as it boasts both a heated, outdoor pool (open year-round) and a whimsical children’s playroom that your kids will find difficult to leave. The Citadel’s super-size rooms are perfect for large groups, and the staff is particularly attentive to the needs of young guests.
King David and Dan Jerusalem-Members of the same chain, each allows up to two children to stay free in a room with their parents; the only charge is for breakfast.
Ramat Rachel-The Rachel not only offers a large swimming pool but also has playground facilities on the property, plus basketball and tennis courts. When school is out, the staff here offer specialized kids’ activities.
The Mount Zion Hotel-You’re likely to meet local families, always a plus, at this hotel’s roomy, in-season pool area, which also includes a children’s pool. A number of its rooms are extra-large and can easily accommodate families.
This area is also central, although a bit farther from the Light Rail line on Jaffa Road. You can easily walk from here to the Old City.South Jerusalem
South of the King David Street area, it’s about a 30-minute walk or short bus ride from the city center. The area is convenient to the many cafes, shops, and restaurants in the German Colony. You are also close to the dramatic Cinematheque complex and the renovated First Train Station in Abu Tor.
East Jerusalem & the East/West Jerusalem Seam
The atmosphere in East Jerusalem is Palestinian, and the genuine helpfulness and hospitality found in many of East Jerusalem’s hotels are well known. As a rule, East Jerusalem hotels are somewhat less expensive than those in the western part of town. Be forewarned, however, that the area is relatively dead at night and that many of the cheaper East Jerusalem hotels, not listed here, can be run-down and smoky.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.