Tips & Advice for Traveling to Masjid Al-Aqsa
Travelling to Masjid Al Aqsa in the near future? Here are some tips and information on common questions we get asked about.
If you have a British Passport you do not need to apply for a VISA in advance. A VISA will be issued on arrival in Tel Aviv and will be given to you as a separate card to keep on your person. They WILL NOT STAMP your passport.
For us from the UK it is perfectly safe. You may encounter security checkpoints along the journey, so keep your passport and VISA (landing card) on you at all times. Avoid antagonizing any locals and co-operate fully with any procedures.
Absolutely! Families and children are encouraged to come and child friendly activities such as quizzes and treasure hunts have been previously arranged, with prize ceremonies then conducted for the children. In the past we have had Imams of Aqsa give out the awards (see gallery!).
You will proceed as signposted towards immigration/passport control where you will receive your visa. From here you proceed onwards to collect your luggage. If you are travelling as part of a larger group then usually a coach will have been arranged to transfer you from the airport to the hotel. If you are travelling alone or in a small group then there are various options of getting to the hotel as are outlined in the questions below.
If you are part of a large/main group then a coach will be provided to transfer you from the airport to the hotel. After collecting baggage, proceed to Gate 24 (signposted) where the coach will wait for all the group members to leave together.
For those travelling on their own or in a smaller group, there are a number of options. The popular option is to take the airport shuttle service to Jerusalem, which can be found at Gate 2; directly in front of you as you leave the baggage area. The shuttle is like a minibus, taking 10-12 passengers at a time and departs only when full (so you may wait 10-15 mins). It costs 64 Shekels per person and is the most practical option. The driver will drop you off to wherever you request. Golden Walls is a very famous hotel which all the drivers are familiar with. If for any reason they are unaware of the hotel, ask for Damascus Gate; the hotel is directly opposite.
Alternatively you can take a taxi; the taxi rank is just beside the shuttle pick-up point. Taxis are fast and private but very expensive, costing around 300 shekels, plus a few extra for luggage. The journey from Tel Aviv is 40 miles and takes roughly an hour. Taxis work best for small groups of 5-6 people and are then more cost effective than the shuttle; ask for a 6 seater taxi at the Taxi Rank.
The cheapest option is the 485 Bus which leaves the airport every hour, on the hour, 24 hours a day from Sunday-Thursday, from 12am to 2pm on Fridays, and 12am to 7pm on Saturdays. It costs 16 Shekels per person and drops you off at the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem. However you’ll then need to take a taxi from the Bus Station to the hotel (3 mile journey).
The newest and cheapest option is the Train from Terminal 3 (there’s a free airport shuttle from all terminals to terminal 3) at Ben Gurion Airport to Yitzhak Navon Station in Jerusalem. The earliest train leaves at 06.31am, and runs every 30 mins; the last train leaves at 19:31. The journey lasts approximately 25 mins. It costs approximately 5 shekels. Once you arrive at the Station in Jerusalem, catch a tram (approximately 10 shekels) from outside the station to Damascus Gate; from here the hotel is opposite. Alternatively take a taxi (approximately 20-30 shekels) to the hotel.
Golden Walls hotel is just outside the old city walls at the Damascus Gate. It’s a very famous hotel and known by all the locals and drivers. It is roughly a 10-13 minute walk to Masjid Al-Aqsa from the hotel via Herod’s Gate (shorter and more direct but more stairs) or Damascus Gate (slightly longer but flatter, much busier and livelier with shops/stalls etc). Check out the hotel here
When waiting for your visa, you may get asked to wait on the side (designated area) for further checks and questioning. Whilst waiting here, you are very rarely asked any actual questions, just simply made to sit and wait for your visa. Be patient during this period and co-operate with the officials. You can eat and drink here so make yourself comfortable and settled, as you may be made to wait a while. On rare occasions, you may be called by an official for some further questions such as your line of work, email address and phone number. For information on these questions, please email [email protected]
The hotel has a buffet with a daily sign-up list that you can request. It costs around £20 per person though the price can be decreased, sometimes to £15 per person, depending on the amount of people taking it (if 20 or more). You must select Half Board on the booking form. Alternatively, there are halal restaurants, take-aways and food stands next to the hotel, as well as in the old city, where you can buy your lunch or dinner. Be wary that most places close shortly after Eisha, and that food prices in general are much higher in Jerusalem than you are used to at home; a burger and chips that costs you £3 at home will cost £6-£10 there.
Men and women can all do Iitikaaf in Masjid Al-Aqsa, although we do not recommend women to do so, as there is no set sleeping place for them; previously when women travelling with us tried Iitikaaf in Al Aqsa, they had a very unsettled and difficult experience.
As the entire compound is Al Aqsa, you may wander anywhere within the grounds and still be in Iitikaaf! Men generally sleep in the Marwaani Masjid (one of the 5 masjids within Al Masjid Al Aqsa.
There is no registration process for Iitikaaf, just make your way to Aqsa with your necessary belongings and bags after Asar on the 20th fast, as this will be the 21st night of Ramadhan, the 1st night of Iitikaaf.
A sleeping bag and mat, pillow, clothes and underwear, miswaak, toothbrush and paste, towel, medication/first aid supplies, books/kitaabs, musallah (if you pray outdoors within the grounds of Aqsa), phone charger, power bank, 2 pin adaptor, refillable bottle, Sehri provisions (Sehri items are also distributed around Al Aqsa after Qiyaam prayer) and snacks. As well as money, passport and Visa, and a phone.
Food is distributed by volunteers within Al Aqsa after Qiyaam (Tahajjud) and usually includes bread, yoghurt, cucumber, dates and water. However this is not always easily available and we would advised you bring provisions of your own. Recommended items include cereal, cereal bars, fruit such as bananas (can be bought from the Old City before Iitikaaf), flapjack, nuts, dried fruit, Tea Sachets, biscuits etc. Long life (UHT) milk can be bought locally and doesn’t need to be kept in the fridge – you can buy a few cartons between a group of a few people as they’ll only last a day or 2 after opening.
You will need a European 2 pin plug adaptor for your devices.
All rooms have kettles and tea/coffee satchets for you to make as needed. There is also a very small fridge in each room (can store a few drink cans or 2 small food containers).
The hotel provides a laundry service though it can be pricey if you’ve a few items. There are laundry shops around the hotel which are cheaper, though we can’t personally vouch for any.
The hotel does not accept card payments by members of the group, cash only. If you pay by card they will not give you our group discount, making the stay much more expensive. Some shops accept card payments though you may be subject to card charges or worse, at risk of fraud. As a rule we recommend to stick to cash for all shopping and payments.
Throughout the year it is generally warm. Summer trips can be quite hot, upto 35 degrees. Weather in December is usually mild (around 10 degrees) during the day, though extremely cold between Eisha till Fajr.
We advise you to exchange around £50 per person in the UK before the trip; most money exchanges will take around 3-5 working days to order your shekels, M&S is usually the only shop which stocks them. Rates are much better in Jerusalem so it is advised to change the rest there. There are many exchanges near the hotel and in the Old City along the way to Al Aqsa. The Hotel reception also offers money exchange at a competitive rate and is a quick and convenient place to exchange, especially the first day before you’ve had a chance to explore.
The hotel has a couple irons that can be requested at the reception desk. Please ensure you return it as soon as possible for others to use.