Hanukkah, Christmas in Jerusalem: Fun family activities for the holidays

This year, Hanukkah and Christmas overlap, so we are looking forward to welcoming visitors of all faiths to celebrate the two holidays.

 HANUKKAH AT the Tower of David. (photo credit: RICKY RACHMAN)
HANUKKAH AT the Tower of David.
(photo credit: RICKY RACHMAN)

Hanukkah is a magical time in Jerusalem. The capital comes alive, and there’s a feeling of hope, excitement and fun in the air as the Festival of Lights nears.

This year, Hanukkah and Christmas overlap, so we are looking forward to welcoming visitors of all faiths to celebrate the two holidays. 

Jerusalem will be packed, so whatever you do, plan ahead and make reservations in advance. Event details can be found at www.funinjerusalem.com/events

 THE MUSEUM Guy in action. (credit: Tamar Mayorkes) THE MUSEUM Guy in action. (credit: Tamar Mayorkes)

City-Sponsored Events

Candle-lighting Ceremony at the Western Wall

The lighting of the hanukkiah at the Western Wall is a truly memorable experience. It takes place every evening during Hanukkah, in the presence of public figures. 

When: December 18-25. Daily at 4:30 p.m., Friday 3:30 p.m., Saturday night 7:30 p.m. Price: FREE

Hanukalaim

The Old City will come alive with attractions and activities for the whole family. Live performances, street theater, interactive experiences, musical ensembles, tours, donuts and more.

When: December 20, 21, 22, from 5 p.m.Price: FREE

The Hasmonean Experience 

Roman Square is the backdrop for this year’s Hasmonean Experience. Think Indiana Jones meets Game of Thrones. A Hanukkah happening for the whole family that includes activity stations, games and championship challenges. Archery, riddle-writing, walking the beam, Hasmonean pendant-making, and the chance to operate a siege machine. You can take a selfie on the ramparts of the Northern Walls, overlooking the Temple Mount.

When: December 21-25, 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.Price: Children (from age 5) NIS 30. Adults NIS 35 

Christmas Market

Held in the Christian Quarter at the New Gate, the streets will be decorated with festive lighting. A Winter Food Fair with special delicacies and drinks, souvenir and gift stands, holiday displays, live performances, tours and other surprises. 

When: December 15-25, from 5 p.m. Price: NIS 30 per person (tours and concerts)Details: Free parking in Safra Square lot from 7 p.m.

Winter Lights Festival 

The annual Winter Lights Festival is back at the Botanical Gardens, in collaboration with the Ministry of Jerusalem & Heritage and the Jerusalem Development Authority. Meander along a 700-meter track and enjoy breathtaking lighting displays, designed by lighting artist Gil Teichman and his team. There are over 2.5 million small LEDs, with over 25 kilometers of cables throughout the garden. 

When: December 12-January 31, 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m. (Sunday-Thursday), 6 p.m.-9:30 p.m. (Saturday)Price: Adults NIS 50. Children (ages 5-12) & soldiers NIS 35. Members of the Botanical Gardens FREE.Details: www.funinjerusalem.com/events/winter-lights-festival/ 

Hanukkah Shows & Festivals

‘‘Oliver!’ by Beit Hillel

It’s a Hanukkah tradition to take the kids to Beit Hillel Theatre’s annual English-language production on the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus. Tickets are still available for this year’s musical, Oliver! There are nine shows over seven days, including matinees and evening performances. It’s a must-see for the whole family. 

When: December 19-26, 2 p.m. (some days) and 7 p.m. Price: NIS 100 per person (reserved seating)Details: [email protected] Free parking.

Al HaNissim Interactive Pop-Up Exhibition

Kol HaOt has produced a wonderful pop-up exhibit of eight colorful, Instagrammable interactive displays that show the miracles in our everyday lives. Visitors are invited to touch, think, draw, photograph and admire the diverse artwork by eight young artists at the Kol HaOt Gallery in the Artists’ Colony. 

When: December 18-26, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.Price: NIS 50 per person (discounts for groups)Details: [email protected] 

Hanukkah Festival at Ein Yael

Ein Yael is holding its annual Hanukkah Festival. The ticket price covers all the activities and workshops, such as pressing your own olive oil, making wax candles, pita-baking, and tea-making using natural herbs. There’s also archery, theatrical tours and performances for families. Recommended for families with kids ages 3-12. 

When: December 20, 21, 22. Tours every 45 minutes from 9 a.m.-12 noon. Price: NIS 35 per personDetails: [email protected] 

Kakadu Art Festival

Choose from a variety of wooden art pieces to decorate, and artist Reut Shachar at Kakadu will make sure you take something special home this Hanukkah, painted in the unique, bold Kakadu colors. They have holiday-themed pieces and loads of new products for you to choose from. It’s a great all-weather activity. Reservations are required.

When: Throughout Hanukkah, 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. (larger groups)Price: NIS 50 per personDetails: [email protected] 

Holiday-Themed Tours

Hanukkiah and Sufganiyot Tour of Nahlaot & the Shuk

Tourist Israel is offering a Sufganiyot and Sfenj (Maghrebi doughnut) tour of Mahaneh Yehuda, Jerusalem’s famous outdoor market, and a walking tour through the alleyways of Nahlaot by candle-light to see how the locals celebrate Hanukkah. The tour ends at the YMCA, where you’ll see Jerusalem’s largest display of Christmas trees.

When: December 22 & 25, 5 p.m.-7.30 p.m.Price: $49 per personDetails: funinjerusalem.info/donuttour

Explore Jerusalem’s Citadel – Discover Jerusalem’s History

Explore the ancient citadel at the Tower of David on a guided tour in English for all the family. Walk through thousands of years of history by exploring Jerusalem’s iconic citadel, its passageways and the archaeological garden and discover the towers and walls that were built during the time of the Hasmoneans and Maccabees in Jerusalem.

When: December 22, 23, 25, 26, 10 a.m.Price: Tickets are included in museum entrance fee. You’ll need to pre-book. Adults NIS 38. Children NIS 18. Seniors, soldiers, disabled NIS 20. Students NIS 30.Details: [email protected]

Family Hanukkah Tours in the Jewish Quarter

The Tower of David is giving guided walking tours of the Jewish Quarter in English during Hanukkah. Wander through its alleys and courtyards, guided by the light of the hanukkiot in the windows and doorways. Learn about the customs and miracles of Hanukkah. Enjoy the holiday atmosphere, and end with a memorable view of the Western Wall. Recommended for families with kids ages 6+.

When: December 21, 4 p.m.Price: NIS 55 per personDetails: [email protected]

A Hanukkah Historical Mystery Tour (in Hebrew)

The Tower of David has a fabulous theatrical tour called The Hasmonean Secret. Meet amusing and interesting personalities who have disappeared over time. Through a series of conversations and challenges, help uncover clues that will help break the centuries-old curse of the Hermoni family. Recommended for families with kids ages 6+.

When: December 20, 21, 25, 26, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. (on the hour)Price: Kids NIS 40. Adults NIS 30. Family deal NIS 120 (2 adults, 2 kids; or 1 adult, 3 kids)Details: [email protected]

Holiday-Themed Tours (cont.)

Christmas Day in the Christian Quarter

Visit the alleyways of the Christian Quarter on Christmas Day on the Tower of David’s guided tour in English. Learn about the holiday and its origins, and understand the connection to the holidays of light in other cultures. Visit the stores and stands, examine the different customs of the holiday, from Santa Claus to Christmas trees, and taste decadent Christmas sweets. Recommended for families with kids aged 12+. You’ll need to pre-book.

When: December 25, 8:30 p.m.Price: NIS 80 includes tastings (not kosher)Details: [email protected]

Hanukkah Tours at the Israel Museum & Bible Lands Museum

Affectionately known as The Museum Guy, Nachliel Selavan is guiding a series of public and private tours, in English and Hebrew, giving Hanukkah a new spin. A Culture Clash explores how Athens and Jerusalem have shaped the world (at the Bible Lands Museum). The Third Side of the Coin explores the history and politics of money (at the Israel Museum). Recommended for families with kids ages 6+. 

When: December 21, 12 noon & 2:30 p.m., December 22, 10 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. The Third Side of the Coin is available as a private family tour.Price: Public tours are NIS 65-55, with a 10% discount for families with four or more children. Private family tours are NIS 580–NIS 1,600 (depending on the size of the group)Details: [email protected]

Family Scavenger Hunts 

Take a family challenge this Hanukkah. Choose from a variety of Israel ScaVentures scavenger hunts and games – Nahlaot, The Old City or Emek Refaim. It’s a great multi-generational activity, fun, interactive and outdoors. Participants are divided into small groups, and each person is given a role – photographer, scribe, guide and more.

When: You book at a time of your choice. Price: NIS 1,520 (up to 15 participants). NIS 2,400 (up to 35 participants)Details: [email protected] 

Outside Jerusalem

Jerusalem Mountains Hanukkah Jeep Tour

If you’d like to escape the crowds and breathe the fresh clean air, take the family on an amazing off-road jeep tour through the Jerusalem Mountains with Hidden Valley Jeeping. At this time of year, there is the most beautiful blossoming as the mountain springs overflow, the winter flowers are in bloom, and you might even see an incredible bird migration. If it rains, you’ll get a flash-flood tour instead.

When: Book your private reservation Price: NIS 1,000 per closed jeep (6-8 people)Details: [email protected]

Horseback Riding & Pony Trails

Get out into the great outdoors this Hanukkah and ride horseback in the Jerusalem Hills.

King David Riding Stables has 45-minute magical guided trail through the magnificent hills surrounding the capital (plus a 15-minute tutorial before setting out). Horseback riding is for ages 9+. There are pony rides for younger kids (ages 6+)

Reservations and prices via phone (Anthony or Arik): 053-739-8866 or 053-747-1681.

Details: [email protected] 

Yvel Factory Tour

Yvel invites you to enjoy a special tour of the world-renowned jewelry factory. Explore the Megemeria Craft Center with artistry demonstrations. Enjoy guided tours in English of the Megemeria School of Jewelry & Art and Yvel Design Center, and visit their factory store – a great place to find the perfect Hanukkah gift for a loved one.

When: Daily, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Booking required in advancePrice: Free for tourists with passports. NIS 25 for locals.Details: [email protected]

Holiday-Themed Activities & Workshops

Excavations from the Maccabee Era

This Hanukkah, you can participate in an actual excavation in underground caves from the time of the Maccabees and tour the ancient subterranean city of Maresha with Dig For A Day. It’s a fantastic family activity that brings history to life, and a great way to connect your kids to the Land of Israel. Public and private digs are available in English & Hebrew.

When: Throughout Hanukkah.Price: Public dig: Adult NIS 95. Child (5-18) NIS 72. Mixed group (minimum 20) NIS 67. Private Dig: NIS 1,300 (10 people). NIS 2,200 (20 people). NIS 1,800 (10 people with restoration).Details: [email protected]

Maccabean Battle

Reenact the ancient Maccabean battle with the Greeks with a modern-day laser tag war for all the family. Falcon Laser Tag can set up a special course for you in your local park or inside a building. Choose from classic Laser Tag, Gelly Ball (a friendlier version of laser tag, which is perfect for families with younger kids) or an Army Day. There’s a 10% discount on all off-site bookings made through to the end of January 2023. 

When: You book at a time of your choice.Price: Laser Tag (up to 20 people) NIS 2,000 for 1 hour. NIS 2,500 for 1.5 hours, each additional person NIS 65. Gelly Ball NIS 2,500 (up to 50 people). NIS 4,000 (up to 100 people). Army Day NIS 3,500 for 3 hours (1.5 hours martial arts, 1.5 hours laser tag); or NIS 250 per person (minimum 15 people).Details: [email protected]

Holiday-Themed Activities & Workshops (cont.)

Sun-Printed Dreidels

Liana, the owner of Studio Kliche, is offering a unique workshop this Hanukkah, uncovering the mystery and magic of sun printing and dreidel making using UV lamps. She will teach you how to use cyanotype, a beautiful blue dye that is sensitive to sunlight. After experimenting a bit with a variety of tools and materials, Liana will help you make your own unique blueprints, and you’ll create your own sun print on paper for your own dreidel.

When: Private workshops at a time of your choice.Private: NIS 250 per person (3 people minimum) Details: [email protected]

Blown-glass Dreidels

Make your own glass dreidel in honor of the holidays at a glassblowing and flame working workshop in Jerusalem. Learn about the art of glassblowing and flame working from Yael, a Bezalel graduate. Pre-book the workshop – it’s really popular.

When: Private workshops at a time of your choice.Price: NIS 600 per couple. Each additional participant is NIS 190.Details: [email protected]

Sculptural Menorahs, Clay Menorahs & Dreidels

Kiyor Ceramics has three holiday-themed workshops this Hanukkah. Dreidel making, where you get to make dreidels from clay culled from the Land of Israel, and then decorate and glaze them in your own unique style. Paint your own sculptural menorah, where you choose from a fabulous range of bisque-fired menorahs of different styles, shapes and sizes, select your colors and start painting. Or make a unique and beautiful menorah from the clay of Israel’s Negev Desert, not far from where the miracle of Hanukkah took place. Decorate and glaze it using stamps, tools, letters, and a wide range of colored underglazes.

When: Private workshops at a time of your choice.Price: Dreidel making NIS 200 per person (4-18 people). Menorah painting NIS 250-950 (depending on what you choose). Menorah making NIS 375 per person.Details: [email protected] 

Real Wood Candle Holders & Dreidels

The Workshop Gush Etzion owners Jeremy and Mandy Broder offer a really unique family experience. They will teach you how to take wood in its raw form and turn it into a unique piece of Judaica, walking you through all aspects of the process along the way. They have some wonderful holiday-themed pieces such as candle-holders and dreidels plus a big selection of classic Judaica.

When: Private workshops at a time of your choice.Price: NIS 1,800 Details: [email protected]

Wax Hand Souvenirs & Decorative Candles

Creative Crafts Café in Gush Etzion has some wonderful holiday-themed workshops for the whole family or as a date night. They are offering special wax workshops this Hanukkah, where they’ll guide you through the process of making candles in the shape of a cocoa mug, cupcake or beer. Dana and the team are also offering glass fusing and mosaics workshops.

When: Throughout HanukkahPrice: Wax workshop from NIS 60 (depending on the piece). Date Night NIS 150 per person; NIS 280 per couple. Glass Fusing from NIS 100 per project. Family Mosaics NIS 750 (up to 5 people)Details: [email protected]

Now it’s up to you to choose which activities your family will enjoy. Whatever you decide to do, you’ll be sure to have fun in Jerusalem this Hanukkah! ❖

For a full listing of Jerusalem events, visit the Fun In Jerusalem Calendar: www.funinjerusalem.com/events/ev/hanukka/ 

For a listing of favorite activities that require advanced reservations: www.funinjerusalem.com/fun-favorite/

Joanna Shebson is the founder of Fun In Jerusalem (www.funinjerusalem.com). She lives in Jerusalem with her husband and three kids and loves to inspire family fun. [email protected]

Ronit Ansbacher is the content & sales manager at Fun In Jerusalem. She lives in Efrat with her husband and two kids and loves promoting all the fun stuff going on in and around Jerusalem. [email protected]