How to get to the Mount of Olives on Foot
My 2017 post on visiting the Mount of Olives is one of the most read articles on this site, and an question that turns up again and again is whether you can get there on foot. Technically, you can, quite easily (with a bit of energy, as its a short steep uphill walk on tarmac ground), but the most leisurely way would be to take the bus up, then walk back down. So, here is a short guide on how to get to the Mount of Olives on Foot!
I advise you check the current security situation in Jerusalem before setting off, for example on the UK Foreign Office Website or you home country’s foreign office website. Also, the Temple Mount being open to visitors is usually a pretty good indicator for tourist safety in Jerusalem.
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What is the Mount of Olives, and where is it?
The Mount of Olives is a low mountain ridge adjacent to the Old City of Jerusalem, and part of today’s West Bank. It is engulfed in the urban sprawl of Jerusalem and situated between West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem (West Bank), with a urban motorway dividing the two. It marks the site of the Return of the Messiah, the site where Jesus paused and wept as he gazed over Jerusalem, and as the site of his ascension into Heaven.
A short walking tour of the Mount of Olives
As the Mount of Olives is part of Jerusalems urban sprawl, there is only really one nice and peaceful walking route. I therefore recommend using public transport one-way. Since I hate uphill walking, I took a public bus up the hill first before meandering back down.
Take the bus for a nice downhill wander
I took a bus from the East Jerusalem Bus Company Station just off Damascus Gate. Bus No. 75 goes to Mount of Olives. It goes along the Old City Walls, passing Herod’s Gate, before climbing into East Jerusalem proper, then turning into a seemingly wrong direction to serve Augusta Victoria Hospital. Then it makes a U-turn and goes to Makassed Hospital. Get off one stop after Makassed Hospital at the Chapel of the Ascension/Rabi’a Al-Adawiya Bus Stop (usually not displayed or announced), Google Maps Public Transport Navigation didn’t work in this part of town. It takes 10-15min from East Jerusalem Bus station. Across the Bus Stop you should see this very modest chapel.
It’s the Chapel of the Ascension, bare except for a small stone plate allegedly carrying the foot print of Jesus where he concluded his earthly presence and ascended into Heaven. It has been a mosque as long as it has been a chapel, and is one of the nine sites the Status Quo applies to – this one between Christian and Islamic denominations – most others are between Christian denominations. It should be open daily from 8:00 to 17:00.
The Mount of Olives viewpoint
From here, walk along the road a few hundred metres, until you come to this – there are always cars and buses here, you won’t miss it. There are several viewing terraces overlooking the Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock as well as the very large Jewish Cemetery built into the Mount of Olives.
In terms of funerary real estate, this is one of the most important Jewish Cemeteries due to its proximity to the Mount of Olives, where Resurrection shall begin once the Messiah returns. All this despite it being technically in East Jerusalem and there have been security issues and tales of vandalism, especially during conflict times. In peaceful times, it is well visited and no one will stop you from entering as long as you behave respectfully.
After taking in the views, bear right and follow the perimeter wall of the cemetery down hill along a tarmac path. It is really steep, and no fun to walk up in high summer. It will lead all the way down to the Garden of Gethsemane, passing two interesting little churches on the way. Unfortunately, their opening hours can be a bit hit-and-miss, but the walk itself is, if steep, pleasant, as there will be very few people once you leave the viewing platform behind.
The walk to Gethsemane
First one, is the interestingly-shaped tiny Church of Dominus Flevit, built in the early 201th Century on a Byzantine Foundation, of which a mosaic and and some tombs remain. This is the site where Jesus wept, overwhelmed by the views of the Second Temple (today’s Temple Mount) and foreseeing its destruction. Mornings are the best times to visit as its usually open then.
Finally, you will pass the pretty Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene. Its best appreciated in full from the Western site, for example the viewing platforms above the Western Wall in the Old City, and has the most restricted opening hours, for two hours every Tuesday and Thursday. Compared to the stunning exterior in traditional Russian style, it’s comparatively simple inside.
And then just 200 metres on, you’ll come to a T-junction onto a now fairly busy small road, make a turn left and you’re in the rather small Garden of Gethsemane with its ancient olive trees.
Next to it stands the 1920’s Church of All Nations, technically a Catholic Church, but visited by people of all denominations.
Across it, if you still have the energy, you can explore the Orthodox Tomb of the Virgin Church. There is a bit of debate where the tombs of both Jesus Christ and his Mother are. According to the Eastern Orthodox Church this is believed to be the Virgin Mary’s burial site. Most Christian churches agree that the Virgin Mary’s tomb is “somewhere in Jerusalem, whereas ancient Christian traditions have placed it as far afield as Pakistan and Turkmenistan.
After crossing the busy Jericho Road, you’ll come to the Lion Gate which leads you into the Old City and onto the Via Dolorosa.
Best time to visit the Mount of Olives and what to take
Mornings and Evenings are best regarding light. The view of the Temple Mount and Old City is towards the West, you you have the sun behind you in the mornings. Avoid when the sun is high and in the middle of the day as there is very little shade. You should get a lovely view of the sun setting behind the Old City, although I would not attempt walking back down after dark – unlit, and maybe not entirely safe.
When I visited Israel in late November, it was still nice and warm, with the sun burning quite relentlessly. There is very little shade, so sun protection and water are essential, as there is nowhere to buy food or drinks until you’re back in the Old City, and, honestly, the Old City doesn’t exactly hold a plethora of culinary highlights.
For a meal, I recommend the simple but very tasty Lina Cafe on the Via Dolorosa. I have marked it on the map downstairs. While loads of people will go to Abu Shukri, this one has a larger variety of foods yet stays quite close to the standard hummus-falafel offerings, it is more comfy, and you can recharge your phone, too.
Is it safe to visit the Mount of Olives?
I visited in November 2017 at a relatively quiet time, and never felt unsafe any time in Israel. This included walking around the Christian Quarter of the Old City after dark but, changing buses at motorway junctions in the middle of nowhere and visiting Bethlehem, the Temple Mount, and Rachel’s Tomb.
It may be advisable to avoid East Jerusalem after dark, and stick to well-trodden roads. The only time I slightly went off the tourist track in the West Bank was with a local taxi driver, and I felt totally safe, too. For the Mount of Olives and its churches, modest dressing should be worn in order to enter some of its monuments and Jewish, Christian and Muslim sites.
Conservative Jewish customs will forbid trousers for women, and short trousers for men, and these laws are relatively strictly observed in Ultra Orthodox neigbourhoods and somewhat less so at Rachels Tomb, at the Mount of Olives you should be fine with attire covering knees and shoulders and a scarf to cover your head in some of the Orthodox churches. If you wish to enter an Ultra Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood, it may be better to wear a long skirt and cover your head, for example with a beret or a headscarf (“tichel”) – just check out the numerous accessory shops on and off Jaffa Street for inspiration.
I heard some tales of pickpockets on the viewing platforms, which allegedly target bus tours (if which there can be many depending on time of the day). So apply the usual caution – I did not see anyone suspicious looking, but where there’s tourists you can encounter pickpockets. In general, I think Israel doesn’t have a big pickpocket problem.
Viewpoint Alternatives to the Mount of Olives?
Sometimes the current security situation is uncertain and volatile, in which case it may not be considered safe to visit the Mount of Olives. If it’s a view of Jerusalem you are after, you could easily visit Mount Scopus in West Jerusalem instead – further North, it offers a different view of the Old City and Temple Mount.
To get there, either take the tram to Giv’at Hatahmoshet then take Bus 34 to the Hebrew University, or if you’re travelling from Central Station, Bus 68 goes there, too.
Are there any tours?
Abraham Tours offers a three-hour guided tour of the Mount of Olives for a reasonable 31EURO five days a week. This appears the most reasonably priced, most accessible tour should you wish to book ahead of your journey. There are plenty of small travel agents in the Old City, especially the Christian part, which will offer day trips including Bethlehem and the Mount of Olives.
Alternatively, the shortest way to get there if you don’t want to use public transport is by taxi from the Lions Gate at the end of Via Dolorosa. Taxis will be relatively expensive, so haggle hard.
Jerusalem Hotel Recommendations
Israel can be expensive when it comes to accommodation, while street food and public transport are cheaper than in Western Europe. Also, consider booking your Jerusalem accommodation well ahead, as the best places fill up very quickly. If you cannot find accommodation you like in Jerusalem, consider staying in Tel Aviv, which, if traffic is good, is only one hour away, and with buses going at every half hour from various Tel Aviv Inter-City bus stations, you are in Jerusalem in no time. Interchange between Jerusalem bus station to to the tram takes less than two minutes. I stayed in private accommodation in the Kiriyat Moshe Area in Jerusalem, but I would consider staying in Tel Aviv – where I stayed in Florentin, a 5-minute bus ride from Tel Aviv Central Bus Station
The well-known Abraham Hostel, for example, is very centrally located by the Ha Davidtka Tram Stop, taking you to both bus station and Old City in less than five minutes, It is quite an institution in Jerusalem, and gets consistently good reviews and has its own travel agency offering very reasonably priced day trips, for example where independent travel might be more difficult, such as Hebron.
Another sweet hotel with simple but tasteful rooms in the new part of town right by the tram is the Kaplan Hotel. Double Rooms from about 80 Euro per night, which, for Jerusalem, is an absolute steal.
The YMCA Three Arches Hotel offers grandeur and greenery with a lot of history in its 1933 Deco-Byzantine purpose-built home. There are private rooms only, starting at around 100 Euro per night. For this you get extensive gardens and communal areas, some use of the pool and fitness centre and free classes! There is no tram, but plenty of buses, and the Old City is about a km away.
Every big city has its Grand Hotel, and in Jerusalem this is probably the King David Hotel. Staying here might well set you back 300Euro per night. Anyone who’s someone stayed here during their Jerusalem visits, and interestingly, it’s also been the home of several emigre royals. It’s right opposite the YMCA, in similar but even grander Deco style, and has the usual trappings of a modern five-star plus a whole lot of history. The kind of once-in-a-while splurge.
This trip was entirely self funded. I have received no monetary or non-monetary rewards for linking aside from some affiliate links. I will only review and recommend places that I have stayed in myself unless otherwise stated. You can trust me for the whole, unbiased truth. More details on my affiliate link policy are here.