10 Must-Visit Museums in Jerusalem [2023 UPDATE]
Jerusalem is a truly unique city - home to three world religions, it’s got a charm all of its own and to walk its streets is an experience everyone should have at least once in their lifetime.
But Jerusalem’s more than just the two-thousand-year-old Old City, packed full of historical and religious sites - it’s also home to some incredible museums, at which you can easily idle away your time. Here’s ten of the museums we think you shouldn’t miss when visiting the capital of Israel!
1. The Israel Museum
The Israel Museum in Jerusalem doesn’t have a reputation for world-class exhibits for nothing: it’s a must-see on any visit to Jerusalem and you could easily spend a full day here because there really is so much to see. Along with the fine art section, Jewish art and life wing, sculpture garden, and miniature model of the Second Temple, its most unique feature is the Shrine of the Book.
An ancient statue piece, next to the Shrine of the Book
This is a building not just with a unique design (a white dome, with a reflecting pool, and two-thirds of its space under the ground) but housing something incredible - the Dead Sea Scrolls. Accidentally discovered in 1947 by a shepherd, these ancient manuscripts date back to the time of Jesus, and walking through long dark tunnels to see the display is a highlight of any visit.
The Israel Museum also boasts a fantastic children’s section, which is very interactive and includes story hour, films, and workshops, all of which are tremendous fun for youngsters.
2. Yad Vashem
No visitor to Jerusalem should skip Yad Vashem Museum - whilst it’s certainly not a ‘feel good’ experience, Israel’s national holocaust museum, which is dedicated to the six million Jews murdered in the Second World War, isn’t just educational and informative but moving and emotional.
The Hall of Names in the Yad Vashem Museum
Completely renovated in 2005, Yad Vashem is a series of galleries through which you walk, tracing the roots of the holocaust beginning in 1930's Germany. It’s an astonishing exhibition, in which you will have the opportunity to read letters, see films, gaze at personal items of Jews from the camps (suitcases, watches, diaries), and listen to the testimony of survivors.
As well as the museum itself, you should not miss the ‘Hall of Names’, a circular memorial containing over three million names of those who died. With no tombs or gravestones, this is their monument. This is a hard museum to walk through but imperative to visit, to understand the history of the Jewish people.
3. Tower of David Museum
Located a stone’s throw from the Jaffa Gate, in the Old City, you’ll find the Tower of David - an ancient citadel dating back to Ottoman times but actually built over the remains of ancient fortifications dating back to the time of King Herod. This is a museum that tells the story of Jerusalem - a timeline that uses displays, models, and interactive media that make the history of the Holy Land’s capital truly come to life.
The tour offered will explain to you why Jerusalem is so holy to three religions, allowing you the chance to see fascinating archaeological artifacts, enjoy interactive screens and movies then take you to the highest observation point in the Old City - perfect for those who love photography.
Moreover, if you’re there once dusk has fallen, don’t miss the impressive ‘Night Spectacular’ - a show that uses sound and light to enchant visitors with breathtaking displays. (Just remember to take a sweater, since Jerusalem is in the mountains so it can get chilly!)
4. The Museum for Islamic Art
Situated in the beautiful Katamon neighborhood, the Museum for Islamic Art was founded by Vera Salomans and is an excellent introduction to the history of Islam and Arab culture in this part of the world. Here you can find artifacts from Iran, Morocco, Uzbekistan, and Yemen (to name a few countries) as well as exhibits that explain the history of the Prophet Mohammed, the Sunni-Shia divide, the idea of a Caliphate, and the extraordinary contributions of Islam made in fields such as astronomy, philosophy, and mathematics.
The Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem
The splendid collection of watches and clocks is a must-see - it includes a priceless collection donated by Lionel Salomons including the famous ‘Marie Antoinette’ watch (which took 20 years to make!) History buffs will be fascinated by the story of a break-in at the museum in 1983 when over 100 watches were stolen. It took twenty years before a break in the case led to the retrieval of 88 - the others are unaccounted for.
5. The Bloomfield Science Museum
If you’re looking for children’s activities in Jerusalem, then head to the Bloomfield Science Museum, which offers all kinds of exhibits in a fun and interactive environment. It’s a very hands-on environment, where kids can touch and manipulate the exhibits and watch live science shows.
Family fun in the science museum!
Spots the kids will really love include the Electricity Hall, Illusions, and Levers. They will learn why buildings don’t fall, how we can use gadgets for all different purposes, and even visit a Teddy Bear hospital! Even better, there’s a chance to go ‘behind the scenes’ at some of their workshops, so they can see up close and personal where all the magic happens. If you're visiting Israel with children, check out this guide to make the most of your family trip to Israel.
6. Bible Lands Museum
Devoted to telling the story of the history of humanity through rare artifacts from the lands of the ancient Near East, the Bible Lands Museum is a must-visit museum for anyone curious about the people of ancient times.
The Bible Lands Museum
From permanent exhibits of hunter-gatherers and the land of Egypt to special exhibits on themes such as frescos and Greek gods, you’ll be able to learn more about the ancient cultures that laid the groundwork for Western civilization - including Babylon, Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Rome.
The museum is packed full of artworks, sculptures, frescoes, ceramics, and beautiful hand-made jewelry and with twenty galleries to wander through, there’s plenty to see and it's a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the worlds that women and men of the Near East lived in Biblical times.
7. The Museum on the Seam
If you’re interested in the socio-political situation in Israel, then you should visit the Museum on the Seam (so named because it’s on the ‘seam’ or ‘border’ between east and west Jerusalem (traditionally and historically, Arabs have lived in the east and Jews in the west).
The Museum on the Seam
Even the location speaks volumes - this was the spot where the border between Israel and Jordan existed, between 1948 and 1967, after the establishment of Israel but before the Six Day War.
It’s a small museum, which gives it an intimate feel and has intriguing exhibitions about modern art, contemporary politics, and fractured society, which really force you to stop and think. Its spiral staircase leads to a rooftop, on which you can sip coffee and admire panoramic views. If its purpose is to stimulate discussion, then it has succeeded.
8. The Rockefeller Archaeological Museum
Opened in 1938, and set in an impressive limestone building in east Jerusalem, close to Herod’s Gate in the Old City, the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum houses an impressive collection of antiquities that were discovered in excavations at the time of the British Mandate In Israel (1914-1948).
An ancient arch in the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum
Thousands of artefacts are arranged in chronological order which ranges from prehistoric times up until the Ottoman Empire. You can gaze at a 9,000-year-old statue from Jericho, utensils from the Stone Age, and even the remains of a man found on Mount Carmel, ten thousand years ago.
There are also interesting photographs, documenting all of the work carried out by archaeologists. Don’t miss the partially reconstructed chamber from Hisham’s Palace and the central courtyard, which has some lovely examples of Armenian ceramics.
9. Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art
This European community dates back 2,000 years and has a rich history - and when you see the synagogue that was brought over to Jerusalem in its entirety and placed in this building, you’ll understand why.