Guest post by Darya Short
The City of David, considered by many to be the birthplace of the holy city of Jerusalem, is an archeological park detailing the city’s historical past.
Families can tour ancient houses and the watch towers used to defend the water well during numerous enemy sieges as well as a 533-meter long tunnel carved through solid rock that connects the city to the pools of Shiloh.
From the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem, visitors can take the 1, 1A, 2 and 38 Egged buses to the Western Wall.The closest parking to the Tunnel Tour is in the Karta Western Wall parking lot. Most of the parking in and near the Old City requires a fee.
We came from out of town by car and parked underground in Jerusalem’s Mamilla Mall. We walked through the outdoor promenade of the Mall which might be a future shopping outing one day!
Then, we went past the King David Citadel, followed the signs to the Western Wall, known as The Kotel in Hebrew, all the way to the Tunnel tours on the Northern side.
When to go
The only way to go on this tour is by making reservations ahead of time through the Western Wall Generation Centre.
In our experience, it is extremely busy regardless of the time of day or week, so there is no advantage to booking an early in the morning versus a late in the afternoon tour.
When we arrived, we saw that there were groups scheduled for every 10 minutes and each group was full.We found that they were punctual and organized so make sure you arrive before your scheduled time slot to avoid a chance of missing your tour.
The tour runs Sunday through Thursday from 7 AM to 8 PM. On Fridays and on the eve of the celebration Biblical festivals, they are shorter from 7 AM to midday.On Shabbat (Saturday) and the somber Biblical festivals as well as the day before Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, and on Tisha B’av – the day the Jewish Temple was destroyed, the venue is closed.
During the week-long holidays like The Feast of Tabernacles, Chanukah and Passover, except for the first and last days of these festivals, the site is open as usual.
Make sure to choose the language you want your tour to be conducted in, at booking since it is impossible to switch later.
The tours are in English and Hebrew but in August, there are also tours in French.
We began our tour by going underground down some stone stairs. Without lights, it would be pitch dark, but it was well lit and smelled like a cave which added to the whole experience.
All the low arches were padded, so we felt safe and secure. We were shown into a room where our guide gave us a brief overview with a visual display condensing a few thousand years of history in fifteen minutes. It was incredibly fascinating!
As it was a bit disorientating being underground, it was good to be shown where we were and in which direction we were going to be walking. Bear in mind that what you see on the outside is nothing like what you experience inside!
The whole tour lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes, and we went through eons of time with history, archeology, geography thrown in; enthralled with everything we heard and saw.
We passed narrow passages, high archways and large rooms that were used to hold drinking water for the city’s population. The guide pointed out how every part of the tunnel looked different, because of the various functions each part fulfilled over the different centuries. Some ceilings even had chimneys and trap doors in places which added to the mystery and fun. On the way, our son even noticed a few stalactites clinging to the ceiling rock that were beautiful.
Much care has been done to make sure that tourists are safe, so there are railings along the whole route of the tour, which includes the stone stairs visitors use to climb and down. Our guide did an excellent job of warning our group that steps were uneven in places and that we should all be careful; a fact we thought was great especially for special needs travelers. We all liked the individual glass panels on the ground in several places where guests could see deep down all the way to the bedrock.
The tour ended in the section of the Wall directly under the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.We climbed the stairs and came into the market area which is famous for dining as well as bargain shopping. We wandered into the Armenian Quarter and Jewish Quarter before making our way back to our car.
Overall, we had a fantastic day and our child with sensory needs mentioned how he didn’t feel claustrophobic and asked when we could come back which made us all very happy.
Autism Travel Tips
- Jerusalem is a very densely populated city with over 3 million tourists visiting each year.Respecting personal space doesn’t always get a chance to feature. There are ongoing archeological excavations, drilling and building all over the city, including underground, so there is a higher decibel of noise. This adds to the incredible atmosphere that is Jerusalem but can be hard for a traveler with noise sensitivities. Make sure you pack noise canceling headphones if needed
- The stairs are uneven and slippery when wet.Wear non-slip, comfortable walking shoes when you visit the Old City of Jerusalem
- The Old City with its narrow streets and alleys can be quite confusing, so I recommend having a map of the Old City to avoid getting lost.
- Depending on the time of year, one can make this into a day trip. No matter how long you are planning to stay for, ensure that you have drinking water with you at all times.
Darya Short lives in Jaffa, one of the oldest still-functioning port cities of the world. Her husband, Antony, is the Headmaster of Tabeetha School, established in 1863. Together with their two teenaged children, one of whom has Sensory Integration issues, they try to see as much of the Israeli countryside as possible, visiting National Parks, museums, and historical sites.