With Jerusalem Design Week firmly embedded in the city’s June creative calendar, this is an apt time to visit the ultimate meeting-point of cultures, whether for design, food, art or down-time
Where to stay: Mamilla Hotel
Sitting between the walled and new cities, the Mamilla neighbourhood has flourished since a late-noughties plan came to fruition to create a central mixed-use district. This hotel reflects the old-meets-new vibe of the area, with architects Safdie, working in collaboration with Piero Lissoni, inserting a dramatically top-lit, angular steel staircase into the warm stone entrance lobby. Lissoni’s hand is especially evident in the minimal yet welcoming rooms, and there’s a spa, a pretty courtyard terrace, and a rooftop bar and restaurant.
Cultural highlight: Jerusalem Design Week
With a theme of “lies and falsehoods”, the 12th edition of Jerusalem Design Week (22–29 June 2023) will explore concepts of trust, authenticity and truth; expect illusory installations, and projects, exhibitions and events that explore alternative realities. The event has a reputation for being conceptual and experimental rather than overtly commercial, and the charismatic venue is the historic Hansen House Center for Design, Media and Technology, a former leper asylum built in the late 19th century that’s now a cultural hub.
At the show, you can get lost in the laser projections and thick fog that Barcelona-based MEATS Elisava plan to fill one of the courtyards with, or view graphic design group Typomania’s ensemble show of black and white posters. The Matchmaker initiative, a recurring collaborative feature of Design Week, this year puts together Jerusalem-based designers with tour guides and storytellers, to come up with new objects that reinterpret the city’s buildings and the urban myths that they carry. The show’s theme further comes to life via a series of “prophets and prophecy-generator booths” that will divine the truths and lies of your past and predict your future.
Best for slow food: Ofaimme
While you’re visiting Hansen House, make time to eat at its farm-to-fork cafe, Ofaimme. Its organic ingredients originate from the cafe’s own farm in the Negev Desert; the menu includes eggs, cheese platters, salads and freshly baked goods (it’s also open from 8am for breakfast). The attached farm shop, selling olive oil, jams, biscuits, cheeses and other delicious treats, may also tempt you to take away some of this wholesome goodness. Look out for Ofaimme’s other branches dotted around the city, including at the Israel Museum, which is decorated with mid-20th-century Israeli furniture, and in upscale Beit HaKerem, housed in a former pharmacy.
For cultural commentary: Museum on the Seam
Emphasising art’s ability to draw people together, rather than keep them apart, Museum on the Seam tackles subjects such as equality, human rights and diversity through its roster of temporary exhibitions. Summer 2023’s show, Vox Populi (from 9 June) is a photography survey that tackles protest and freedom of speech in Israel, and includes imagery of the so-called Pink Front, protestors against prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and blindfolded animal rights activists. After the show, head up to the rooftop cafe, which offers 360-degree views of the city.
Discover local artists: HaMiffal
An example of Jerusalem’s dissenting arts scene, this alternative cultural hub has its origins in a group of artists – the so-called “Empty House” group – who in 2016 started taking over and renovating abandoned buildings and turning them into temporary exhibition space. This 19th-century building is now the group’s permanent home (the name translates as “the factory”) and includes a second-floor non-profit gallery focusing on Jerusalem-based artists: since there are few submission barriers, you never know what you might find (and depending on the show, pieces may also be for sale). The on-site cafe-bar is a popular spot for laptop-accompanied nomadic workers.
Where to eat: Mona
Sitting inside the Artist’s House (home of the Association for Jerusalem Artists, itself a compelling reason to visit), Mona mixes Mediterranean, European and local influences to create one of the city’s best fine-dining experiences. The handmade pasta is always a good idea, while raw food – sashimi and tartare – also make regular appearances; the wine list is also highly regarded. A tree trunk twists through the dining room, adding to the rustic ambience that contrasts with the polished presentation of the food.
Masterful modern sculpture: the Israel Museum
The Israel Museum is the city’s big-hitter, a sprawling complex showing everything from ancient artefacts to the Dead Sea Scrolls (housed in its own repository, the Shrine of the Book) to leading names in European modern art such as Van Gogh and Cezanne. For a moment of repose, though, head to the the Billy Rose Art Garden, designed by Isamu Noguchi in the mid-1960s. From Henry Moore to Anish Kapoor and the recent acquisition of a Tracey Emin bronze, The Mother, this is a wonderful way to experience sculpture, with panoramic views of the city as the backdrop. Don’t miss American artist James Turrell’s Space That Sees – a square aperture cut into the ceiling of a specially designed room, where visitors can meditate on the cloudless Jerusalem sky.
For cocktails: HaSadna – The Culinary Workshop
The Machneyuda Group has put Jerusalem’s food on the map internationally in recent years (as well as several venues in the city, it runs London’s much-loved Palomar and Coal Office). This factory-turned-restaurant near the German Colony neighbourhood is particularly strong on cocktails, with inventive twists on the classics, such as celery daiquiri and a Mexico mule that pairs tequila with passion fruit and ginger beer. Perch at the bar and watch the chefs at work preparing dishes such as mushroom risotto with portobello ragout, smoked brisket, and roasted aubergine tortellini.