Three ways to see the city

Be it on foot, by bus or upright on two wheels, a professional guided tour of Jerusalem can be an enjoyable and eye-opening experience.

Segwayz_521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As Jerusalem Day approaches and Israelis prepare to celebrate 44 years since their capital’s reunification, this is the ideal time to explore Jerusalem. The means to do so range from the traditional to the offbeat. I recently had the pleasure of participating in not only walking and bus tours but also a tour by Segway. I never thought I would ever glide along Jerusalem’s promenades on a two-wheel scooter, but ahead of Jerusalem Day, I saw the city in a new way.
Below are descriptions of the three tours in which I participated, which are available to all who want to see the city from a historical – and scenic – perspective.
Bus 99 When I first boarded the 99 bus across the street from the entrance to the Central Bus Station, the double-decker vehicle made me feel like I had been transported to London or New York City. Climbing to the upper level and taking a seat in the front row, I saw my first bird’s-eye view of Jaffa Road.
The tour lasted two hours and took us from Romema to Gilo. Eighty-five sites around Jerusalem were pointed out by the recorded commentary, which is available in eight languages – Hebrew, English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Russian and Arabic. Each seat is has a stereo, for which personal earphones are provided.
In between commentary points, one can listen to Israeli songs about Jerusalem, such as Izhar Cohen’s rendition of “Yerushalayim Shel Shalom,” which never ceases to move me.
Pulling away from the Central Bus Station, I learned that Jaffa Road has been in use for a lot longer than it has been paved. According to the commentary, it was part of the road that used to run from Jaffa to Jerusalem.
As we passed the Mahaneh Yehuda market, the shuk somehow seemed less crowded and more peaceful from my bird’s-eye vantage point. And I learned that Mahaneh Yehuda has been serving Jerusalemites and tourists since the period of Ottoman rule.
When construction began in 1949 on Binyenei Ha’uma, which has hosted many Zionist congresses, ancient artifacts were discovered while digging its foundations.
The 99, run by Egged in conjunction with City- Tour, doesn’t drive past and point out only the usual tourist-oriented sites, such as the Knesset, the King David Hotel, the Supreme Court and the Israel Museum. Passengers are also informed about the history behind Davidka Square (named for the Israeli weapon that caused little damage but made a lot of noise during the War of Independence), see both the old and new campuses of Hadassah Medical Center and learn about the Bikur Cholim Hospital buildings.
The 99 tour buses are too wide to drive through the Old City, but they can drive past the Old City gates, giving one an impressive view of Jaffa Gate and David’s Tower. The bus also drives through the neighborhood of Gilo.
Riding through Jerusalem with a panoramic view of the city was a marvelous way to see the capital. And from every vantage point, such as the top of Mount Scopus, I could see neighborhoods that we had passed through earlier on the tour, which brought home just how small Jerusalem is, despite its stature. The tour commentary discussed Jerusalem’s size in relation to other well-known cities in the world: Jerusalem has only 650,000 residents, two-thirds of whom are Jewish.
For more information about the 99 bus route and timetable, visit: or call 050-842-2473 or *2800. Tickets can be purchased from the drivers or at hotels located along the route. Call to reserve tickets for groups of 50 people or more. A single bus ride costs NIS 60 per person. A day excursion ticket, where people can get on and off to visit the various sites, costs NIS 80. Note that the bus runs only every two hours. Tickets valid for 24 and 48 hours are also available.
Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel
Jerusalem and Israel’s other cities are full of greenery, an achievement that fills Israelis and their supporters with pride. The Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel (SPNI), which protects Israeli vegetation and wildlife, also arranges tours that combine history with natural beauty.
Last week, I joined SPNI on a walking tour of Yemin Moshe, one of Jerusalem’s most colorful neighborhoods, thanks to the many house plants and gardens in the area. The group met at the old railway station across from the Khan Theater near the German Colony.
Upon arriving in Yemin Moshe, I was struck by the high concentration of vegetation in such a relatively small area. Yemin Moshe was one of the first neighborhoods built outside the walls of the Old City and, as such, the cobblestones and narrow streets distinguish it from other areas of newer Jerusalem.
The plants in front of houses and hanging from windows are enormous, and the spacious public park in the neighborhood reminded me of those in my native New Jersey (nicknamed the Garden State). Yemin Moshe’s location also provides an exquisite view of the Old City whenever one looks to the east.
Looking at a neighborhood so full of life, it was hard to imagine the reality that existed in Yemin Moshe between 1948 and 1967. Due to its proximity to the former border, Yemin Moshe was mostly deserted until after the Six Day War.
We passed the simple but dignified Beit Yisrael Synagogue, an Ashkenazi shul dedicated at the end of the 19th century. Services continued to be held there after the War of Independence, despite the danger of sniper fire from the other side of the border.
The life of Avraham Michael Kirschenbaum, a War of Independence hero, played a prominent role on the tour (Kirschenbaum died at age 22 while defending Yemin Moshe during the war). We passed the spot where Kirschenbaum was wounded, and we went to the place where he was evacuated to Bikur Cholim Hospital, where he died.
For more information about SPNI tours in Jerusalem, call 625-2357, e-mail or visit

On June 1 (Jerusalem Day), SPNI will hold a free tour starting at Jaffa Gate at 4 p.m. The walking tour will follow in the footsteps of Israeli soldiers along the former border between Israel and Jordan.

The following day, SPNI will hold a tour at 5:30 p.m. that will focus on the Sergei Courtyard and the Russian Compound, Jerusalem stone, Jaffa Road historical sites, and stories of Jewish underground fighters. The tour will be followed by a “Story & Song” concert in the Sergei Courtyard. The tour costs NIS 40 per person (SPNI members receive a NIS 10 discount), and registration is mandatory. Both tours are in Hebrew.
By far the most unusual tour I have ever taken of Jerusalem, or anywhere for that matter, was when I glided along the Armon Hanatziv promenades on a Segway, an electric two-wheel scooter that responds to body motions.
The tour was organized by Israeli company Segwayz, which also offers Segway tours of other parts of Jerusalem.
The Segway is an environmentally friendly way to cover large distances while touring, but no one becomes accustomed to the machine right away. The scooters do not move simply by turning a wheel, and there is no brake. You have to start and stop the machine and make it move in different directions and at different speeds by controlling your body and shifting your weight.
Everyone in my group, except our guide, was new to the Segway. We needed about 15 minutes to practice starting, stopping, turning and getting on and off before we could begin the tour. It is for this reason that Segwayz advises participants to arrive early.
Armon Hanatziv (the High Commissioner’s Residence) gets its name from the mansion built to house the British high commissioner during the British Mandate period. That mansion, later known as Government House, later became the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping forces along the border after the War of Independence. The UN still occupies the building, which accounts for the large number of UN vehicles in the area.
The tour group met on the Haas Promenade, which affords a breathtaking view of Jerusalem, including the Old City. On the Segways, we proceeded to glide through the beautiful gardens below. The gardens and the views were incredible to see, such as the Mount of Olives, Mount Scopus and the Temple Mount.
Our guide explained that, according to the Bible, Abraham first saw Mount Moriah, where he later bound Isaac, from the ridge we were standing on.
The ridge also overlooked the Dead Sea and the West Bank.
While looking over Abu Tor, our guide pointed to part of a green fence that runs along the road, which served as the border until the Six Day War.
It was eye-opening to see how small this territory is and how close Israeli communities are to the country’s neighbors. As we continued with our Segways, we passed remains of aqueduct systems constructed by Herod, whose Herodium fortress was visible from a distance.
At the end of the tour, I found myself longing for more time on my Segway.
For more information, visit or call 052-811- 9996. Tours are available in English and Hebrew. Pregnant women and those under the age of 16 are prohibited from taking the tour.