Expat Advice from an Expat Mom Living in Jerusalem

August 10, 2019
By: Joanna Shebson

Whether you’ve just arrived for a short stay or have been placed in Jerusalem for a few years working for an embassy or consulate or foreign office – the city can be daunting. Once you learn your way around you will see that its a great place for foreign families to spend a few years.

We asked Kirsty Le Grice to share her experience as a new expat in Jerusalem, especially from a mom’s perspective and to share her Fun In Jerusalem experience.

Here is what Kirsty had to say…

If like me, you have recently moved to Jerusalem with kids in tow, or are planning a trip here, you will no doubt be asking yourself how family friendly the city is and how best to entertain your children here. When I moved here 8 weeks ago, the prospect of entertaining my 4 ½ year old son and 2 year old daughter full-time was fairly daunting. Scratch the surface of the city however, and there are treasures to be found all over.

Let’s start with the good news. Children of all ages will be warmly welcomed by the locals and often fawned over.

This makes dining out an easy and relaxed affair. The food is excellent and very child friendly with great bakery shops, fresh juice and fruit vendors and mountains of hummus readily available across the city.

Here are some parent tips to keep in mind.

  • My one note of caution is that many of the museums and places you would expect to have big cafes (like the zoo) only really do drinks and ice-creams so it’s always worth bringing some food with you.
  • Most cafes and restaurants will refill water bottles for free with tap water which is perfectly safe to drink.
  • Other good news is that there are lots of free and clean public toilets where you would least expect them (including in public parks and the Old City)
  • English is widely spoken across the city.
  • Importantly, despite the high security presence, I’ve also felt very safe here.

BEST 4 ACTIVITIES FOR UNDER 5’s

The best things to do depends on the age of your child/children but the following have been the biggest hits with my two under 5s:

1) The fantastic Bloomfield Science Museum is spread across several floors with many interactive displays to please all ages. It has a good outdoor area with a treehouse and building blocks which my kids loved. Under 5s are free and I got an annual membership card for less than the price of 4 tickets. Museum exhibits are translated into English, Hebrew and Arabic.

2) The Old City can be a great adventure playground for kids of all ages if you pitch it right. My two loved exploring Zedekiah’s cave near Damascus Gate which was cool and quiet when we visited. It’s also an example of good toilets in unexpected places! Other highlights have included clambering around the walls of the Tower of David Citadel and climbing the tower at the Lutheran Church which offers amazing views over the city.

3) The Aquarium is the lesser known neighbor of the Biblical Zoo (also a good day out). It pips the zoo in my view for being a cool and dark escape from the heat. It is nicely presented with plenty of information in English. Tickets are required in advance and must be purchased on their website.

4) Soft play is normally a last resort in my opinion, but I was pleasantly surprised that the one at Yes Planet was clean and fairly quiet when I visited on a Friday morning.

Now for the more difficult aspects.

The heat can be oppressive in Jerusalem during the summer and this reduces the distances kids can be expected to walk so needs to be factored in. Travel can also be tricky depending on where you are staying and both driving and the public transport network have their own quirks to be navigated. You’ll want to plan this carefully to avoid any long walks in the heat.

The Old City and busy areas like Machane Yehuda are not well suited for buggies and a baby carrier/backpack is easier if you have one.

Finally, the rhythm of life here is totally different to anywhere else I’ve experienced. There are frequent public holidays and dates of religious significance on top of the usual differences in the working week between Jewish, Muslim and Christian areas. This can result in unexpected closures and congestion.

Come ‘expecting the unexpected’ and you will have a great time.

After 8 weeks, I’m only starting to peel back the first layer of the onion skin that is this fascinating city and I’m eager to keep exploring.

Please comment and share your tips and experiences!

About Joanna Shebson

Joanna is the Founder and FUN Expert at Fun In Jerusalem. What started out as a mommy blog has grown into a successful tourism website. Joanna is married with three kids and lives in Katamon, Jerusalem. She loves to inspire family fun in Jerusalem.

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