Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives is a special place connected to many biblical events. It was here that Christ took his disciples to pray at the Garden of Gethsemane where he was arrested, and from here that the faithful believe he ascended into Heaven after his resurrection. The Garden of Gethsemane can still be visited today, as well as many churches that cover the slopes and which each commemorate different events in the life of Christ. The Mount of Olives is also special to Jews, who believe that when the Messiah comes, the dead will begin to rise from their graves starting on this mountain. For this reason, more then 150,000 Jews have chosen to be buried on the hill looking toward the Old City. It’s this view that is so often seen on postcards, because it’s the perfect vantage to see the city surrounding the Temple Mount, with the Dome of the Rock shining in the center.
The best way to visit the Mount of Olives is to take a taxi to the very top (30NIS from Lions Gate). Ask for the Seven Arches Hotel, where the lookout point is located. Then after visiting the churches at the top, you can walk down the hillside. This way you won’t wear yourself out before you even arrive! You can also take Arab bus (the blue and white ones) number 75 or 275 from the bus stop outside of Herod’s Gate, for 5NIS.
It’s best to visit in the morning hours, which offers the best light on the panoramic view. If you want to visit the three Russian Orthodox Churches, you’ll want to go on a Tuesday or Thursday as these are the only days they are open to visitors (and for limited hours, at that). Be sure to take a careful look at the opening hours of each church that you want to visit, and plan accordingly.
Tomb of the Virgin MaryApril–September: Open daily 5am–noon and 2:30pm–5pm
October–March: Open daily 6am–noon and 2:30pm–5pm
Mary’s tomb is located at the bottom of the hill, and within walking distance from Lions Gate. Stairs descend immediately from the entrance down into a grotto filled with dozens of hanging oil lamps and musty incense. At the bottom, the tomb is located on the right, and the holy icon of Our Lady of Jerusalem just to the left.
Church of Mary MagdaleneTuesday and Thursday 10am–noon
The golden domes of this church can be seen from all over, making it a good point of reference from the city’s many panoramic views. It is at the bottom of the Mount of Olives, near Mary’s tomb.
Russian Chapel of the AscensionApril–September: Tuesday and Thursday, 10am–1pm
October–March: Tuesday and Thursday, 9am–noon
At the top of the hill and near the Pater Noster is the Russian Chapel of the Ascension, which is a working monastery built where the Russian church believes to be the exact location of Christ’s ascension. Its steeple is the tallest structure on the Mount of Olives and can be seen in the photo above.
Chapel of the AscensionHours: irregular, but there is usually someone there in the mornings.
A very small and unassuming dome is built over what is traditionally, since Byzantine times, thought to be the exact location of Christ’s ascension. A mosque was built around it by Saladin in 1198, as Christ is revered also by Muslims as a holy prophet. Inside the dome is the right footprint of Christ (the left was taken to Al-Aqsa Mosque).
Church of the Pater NosterMonday–Saturday 8:30am–noon and 2:30pm–4:30pm
A cave located on this site is thought to be where Christ spoke to his disciples and taught them how to pray. Like most of the holy sites of Jerusalem, the cave was located by Helena, mother of Constantine, and the site was expanded by the Crusaders. The Lord’s Prayer is written in more than 160 languages here, painted on tiles which line the walls of the courtyard (and which are continually being added).
This was our personal favorite site on the Mount of Olives. It was especially touching to see the Lord’s Prayer written in the native languages of our own North American tribes, which are spoken by so few people, but are given equal importance. The courtyard garden was a stark contrast to the golden domes of the more holy sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It seemed just like the kind of place Jesus would have liked—a peaceful place outdoors, where all are welcome.
Dominus FlevitOpen daily 8am–11:45am and 2:30pm-5pm
From the Seven Arches Hotel, it’s quite easy to see the path just north of the cemetery that goes to the bottom of the hill. The Dominus Flevit Church will be located about halfway down. This Roman Catholic Church is shaped like a teardrop, and commemorates where Jesus wept.
Church of All Nations and the Garden of GethsemaneApril–September Open daily 8am–5:50pm
October–March Open daily 8am–4:50pm
This church is named for the many nations that came together to finance the building in 1919, and is centered around a piece of bedrock where Jesus is believed to have prayed. Just next to the church is a fenced off garden with olive trees that have been scientifically dated to be more than 2,000 years old—making them some of the oldest in the world—and meaning they bear witness to Christ’s arrest.
Church of the Ascension at Augusta Victoria HospitalMonday–Saturday 8am–1pm
This complex was built as a German hospice and church, and later converted to a hospital as it remains today. It is one of the stops on the #75 and #275 Arab bus routes, so it’s easy to get to from the bus stop outside of Herod’s Gate. If you’re unsure, you can ask for Mustafa Mutala, which is how the complex is known in Arabic.
How We Took a Three-Week Trip to the Holy Land for Less Than $300 Per Person
Itinerary and Price Breakdown: Christmas in the Holy Land
Jerusalem for Beginners
Walking in the Footsteps of Christ on the Via Dolorosa