Tips to avoid queues at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Go early to beat the crowds. That’s the only way to avoid losing time and get a more intimate experience. The Church gets more and more crowded with every hour, and afternoons are particularly busy. Early means very early, surely before 7 AM. The doors open at 4 AM from October till March and at 5 AM from April till September. Going at 6 AM is recommended.
In winter months another time slot you could opt for is about an hour before the closing time (except for religious holidays).
Choose a weekday for your visit. Fridays are however very busy, while the calmest days are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Being an important place of worship and pilgrimage, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre attracts thousands of devotees during the major Christian holidays. Easter week is the busiest period of the year. Christmas, Ascension, Assumption of the Virgin are other crowds-attracting holidays to keep in mind.
An hour of queuing in high season is common, but it’s not the worst thing: the crowds inside can turn your visit into a real nightmare: loud cryings, different services at the same time, sweaty rude tourists all around… You’ve made such a long way here, and losing the spiritual state of mind in one of the most holy sites in the world may give you sorrow at the most. Make en effort to get up early, and remember to keep patience.
If you’re not a very religious person and are mostly thinking about the photos you’ll make inside - you should know that it’s quite dark in the church, and it’s better to visit it around midday, when the light will stream inside at maximum.
You’re expected to dress appropriately (shoulders and knees should be covered).
Photo credits to Christian Haugen via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Best time of the year for your visit
Winter months (except for Christmas holidays period) is the low season in Jerusalem, especially the month of January. Though it may be cold and wet, there are no crowds at all at the main touristic sites and the hotels offer their cheapest rates.
March is a good time for the trip, but before the Easter starts. Christian Easter and Jewish Passover are important religious holidays that attract masses of tourists to Jerusalem. Israeli, as for them, have a two-week vacation in April, travel a lot, and the prices rise generally everywhere in the country at this period.
While we advise to avoid visiting the Church during the busy Easter period - keep in mind that Catholic and Orthodox Easter’s dates are not the same, and both Easter weeks will be crowded (05/04 for Catholic Easter, 12/04 for Orthodox Easter in 2015).
May is a great compromise between crowds and weather, just be aware of the Jewish festival of Shavout (Pentecost), which may result in bigger crowds.
June is similar to May, with not yet so many tourists and warm weather.
July and August is the peak season, when queues will be annoyingly long and the weather too hot to stay long outside. High rates and flocks of tourists, better to avoid!
Autumn is in general another shoulder season with still nice weather and no more crowds on place. The main thing to consider here is the period of Jewish holidays: Rosh Hashanah (The Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur (the holiest day of the year for Jews) and Sukkot (Feast of Booths). The dates shift each year and usually fall on late September or October. Be sure to check the dates and not to arrive on the eve of Yom Kippur, as the whole country grinds to a halt. Yom Kippur will take place in:
- 2015: September 23 and 24,
- 2016: October 12 and 13,
- 2017: September 30 and October 1.
December marks the start of the cool and rainy winter, and crowds are not common except for the Christmas period.
Photo credits to Ran Yaniv Hartstein via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)