Jerusalem is for lovers: The city's best date night spots

Hunting for the perfect dating place in the city of David.

Tmol Shilshom  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Tmol Shilshom
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Where to go for Jerusalem’s most romantic nights – and days – out What makes the perfect date? I asked many people this question and two resounding themes emerged: somewhere comfortable but classy, where you can get to know each other in an environment that feels like you’re having a night out on the town; and somewhere private, where you are not going to run into your friends. I spoke to both men and women. Some are seasoned daters, others less so; some married, others engaged, others single.
The opinions I gathered run the gamut, and what came from them is a selection of Jerusalem’s best date places: from restaurants to hikes to live music venues.
No need to venture to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem truly has it all.
Tmol Shilshom
This cafe in the city center is a tried-and-true date spot. Named after a book by Nobel Prize laureate S.Y. Agnon, the name translates to “only yesterday” in English.
The restaurant/cafe, at 5 Yoel Moshe Salomon Street, is steeped in a nostalgia that certainly lives up to its moniker. The ambiance is cozy, comfortable and unique; with Jerusalem stone and curved archways, alongside shelves of books and the occasional typewriter.
The food is also good, with an array of coffees and teas, as well as pasta dishes and their signature shakshuka. They also frequently have events like author talks, poetry readings, and even live music. Tmol Shilshom is such a popular venue for dates, that they published a book in 2008 called The Love Book of Tmol Shilshom to capture some of the experiences of couples who met and fell in love there.
“Tmol Shilshom is a pretty safe bet,” says Jerusalem resident Rachel Soussan, happily married and still going on dates with her husband. “It’s not too quiet and not too loud. It’s also good in any season. I like that it’s stowed away and private, but still relatively central so you can get away if the date isn’t everything you hoped it would be.
Or if it is, there is a lot to do in the surrounding area.”
Holzer Books
For a less conventional date idea, especially effective if you are dating a writer, poet, or any kind of literary aficionado, there is Holzer Books, at 91 Jaffa Road. If you and your date are English speakers, you will want to journey up to the second floor, where shelves and shelves of novels, short stories, and poetry await. There is even a reading nook with cushions and a vinyl record player. The bookstore also hosts various classes throughout the week.
The couple that learns together, stays together.
Nestled in an alleyway between Agrippas Street and Jaffa Road sits Nagila, a vegan and vegetarian oasis that boasts fresh and healthy ingredients. The menu features delicacies such as Caribbean Sambusac; curry- flavored dough stuffed with spicy vegetables; and vegan moussaka, a play on the traditional Greek dish made from baked eggplant pockets stuffed with tofu and green lentils and smothered with a flavorful tomato sauce. The building dates back to the 19th century and is typical of the surrounding neighborhood, with curved arches and high ceilings.
“Nagila is great because it’s quiet and tucked away,” states Yaakov Silber*, a single resident of Jerusalem.
“There aren’t many restaurants in Jerusalem that offer high quality vegan options in addition to vegetarian dishes. I like that you have the choice of sitting outside or inside, depending on what kind of vibe you want for the date. Outside tends to be a little more private. Either way, taking someone to Nagila shows that you’re conscious about what you put into your body and both you and your date are guaranteed to leave feeling full and still energized.”
Nocturno Cafe and Nocturno Live
Nocturno Cafe, at 7 Bezalel Street, is the essence of cool. It attracts young, hip Israelis and Americans alike with great coffee and food, including salads, sandwiches and pasta dishes. Even the photography and the art on the walls rotates because it’s too cool to stay stagnant. But at the end of the day, it’s a cafe and maybe you want to up the ante on your date. Nocturno recently expanded; adding a downstairs level with a bar and a stage. It’s called Nocturno Live, and as the name suggests, the venue hosts live music almost every night. You and your date can start at the cafe and then make your way downstairs to one of Jerusalem’s newest and most intimate live music venues.
Mahaneh Yehuda
Market The list would be incomplete without including shuk Mahaneh Yehuda. With its ever-changing array of bars and unique restaurant offerings, the shuk is a staple of Jerusalem nightlife. Not every place is suitable for a date, but with so much variety of cuisine and ambiance, you would be hard-pressed to not find a venue to suit whatever your (or your date’s) taste may be.
“You can go to the shuk any night of the week and it’s full of people,” exclaims Nicole Grubner, an engaged Jerusalem resident. “There’s just this cool energy going on there. It’s a spot I’d recommend to locals and to people visiting Israel. Tourists usually come to the shuk during the day and see chaos, but at night, it totally turns around. You’ve got music, great food, tons of young people having a beer and some street food. The shuk gives a real cross-section of Jerusalem that I feel really represents the culture of the city in a huge way and I love feeling a part of that. We love going out to Beer Bazaar, Crave, or Tap & Tail.”
Sweet’n Karem
This unique date destination offers a mouth-watering array of handmade chocolates of every conceivable (and inconceivable) type, color, shape and filling.
It is also a coffee shop, so you and your date can experiment with different chocolate/espresso pairings. They offer workshops for couples in chocolate making, for those more DIY dates. If this weren’t enough to put Sweet’n Karem at the top of the list, the fact that it is located in picturesque Ein Kerem certainly secures its spot. With lush green all around, you can take your chocolate to go and enjoy it outside.
“Probably the best date idea is going to the chocolate place in Ein Kerem and then walking to Beit Zayit to get coffee at the cafe there, Derech Hagefen,” adds Sam Schubert, a single resident of Jerusalem and fan of the more unconventional dating experience.
“You park your car in the Ein Kerem lot, then you walk through nature to Beit Zayit, have lunch, and then walk back. It’s a nice hike and you can even hop in the ma’ayan [spring] along the way. For the date to be good, you want it to be unique.”
Zuta Cocktail
Bar Zuta is where you take a first date if you want to be classy. The ambiance is elegant without being stuffy.
Besides the ample cocktail menu, which offers a large variety of drinks created by a mixologist, Zuta, 10 King David Street, also has a sophisticated take on bar food that is easily devoured, such as homemade charcuterie and red tuna tartare.
“I’ve taken every one of my first dates to Zuta,” states Ori Klein*, an engaged Jerusalem resident. “It’s really nice, and connected to 1868, which is a high-end meat restaurant. So you have the option of starting at Zuta for drinks and then heading over to 1868. Zuta is quiet and intimate, with great cocktails. It also has very good food. I live in Nahlaot, so for me, it’s important that I won’t run into friends there.”
1868 Restaurant Next to Zuta (and part of the same restaurant group) is the chef restaurant, 1868. This is a place you probably want to save for a later date; until you are certain that this is someone whose company you enjoy.
Chef Yankale Turjman will give your palette a foodie’s dream and a true night to remember, with dishes such as roast duck breast with quince and Japanese squash in plum sauce, alongside rib-eye steak grilled on charcoal with crispy potatoes, mustard and apple sauce. Be prepared to shell out some shekels, but the price is well worth it for those who appreciate quality meat dishes.
JLM Local Sushi
Next door, and also under the same owner, is the newest kid on the 1868 block, JLM Local Sushi. The decor is minimal and chic, as is the menu. You choose your fish and the sushi chef decides which vegetables to add. There are also steamed bao buns with options like miso salmon and veal short ribs inside. This is a standout sushi experience in Jerusalem and a date night here is guaranteed to be memorable.
Hahatzer (The Courtyard)
Mediterranean restaurant Hahatzer is a classic date spot that, although not as well known as some of the others on this list, has all the makings of a great night out: delicious food, good location, at 7 Bethlehem Road, and sophisticated atmosphere. With options like filet mignon and goose liver en croute, and beef cheek, neither you nor your date will be leaving hungry. A date at Hahatzer shows a love for Jerusalem’s culinary scene and an appreciation of the finer things in life.
“The first date that my husband took me on was at Hahatzer,” shares newlywed Jordana Rabinowitz. “It’s a really nice restaurant by the First Station. We went on a carousel ride first and then took the kids’ train down to the restaurant. It was really cute. The service is really good, so you feel taken care of and it was just a good first date because we already knew each other since we were friends. It’s a really quiet and classy ambiance and it feels private, which is important for a date. The food is amazing. There are also things to do in the area and nice places to walk afterwards.”
Another heavy hitter of the Jerusalem dating scene is French patisserie and restaurant Kadosh, 6 Shlomzion Hamalka Street. The decor is charming, with seating outside and inside. The menu is fairly simple but well executed, with soups, salads and pasta dishes. The standouts, however, are the brunch and dessert offerings.
“I think the best date spots are the ones where you can feel you’re in nice surroundings but also comfortable, so you can actually get to know each other,” shares Esther Eckman, a married Jerusalem resident.
“That’s the most important thing. Also the desserts are delicious. It’s romantic to linger over dessert and espresso.”
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Mamilla Mall
With a place like Mamilla, the date can go in many directions, depending on what you choose to do.
There are a plethora of nice restaurant and cafe options amidst the bustle of the high-end, outdoor shopping mall.
“I love dates in Mamilla,” says Sarah Schwartz*, a single Jerusalem resident.
“There is a great view of the Old City for the price of a coffee. It feels authentic and reminds me of my purpose in life as I’m meeting my potential life partner.
Also there are a lot of cafés to choose from and you want to wander through the Old City after, you can.”
*Names with asterisks were changed at the request of the interviewee for privacy’s sake.