Tourist Tip #180 / The Slow Train to Jerusalem

Cliff Savren
Cliff Savren
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Cliff Savren
Cliff Savren

They say it's about the journey, not the destination. And if you choose to forgo the car and bus options and instead take a train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, you might want to keep that adage in mind.

Israel is in the process of building a high-speed rain link from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but it won't be finished any time soon. Until then, you can have the pleasure of taking a slow train to Jerusalem. It takes longer than the bus, and goes through distinctly unattractive industrial sites only to deposit you at the southern edge of Jerusalem rather than in the center of town. But the devil is in the details, and despite the slowness of the crawl up to Israel's capital, the train traverses some wonderful mountainous terrain in the second half of the journey.

You will cut through the beautiful Judean Hills, including some rugged valleys that are almost inaccessible by car. And as the train lumbers, gradually climbing uphill, passengers really have time to savor the scenery. On the last leg of the journey, in the 45 minutes between Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem, expect the scenery to get especially interesting.

It's not for those with a tight travel itinerary, for sure. But for those with time to spare, it's a nice way to spend an afternoon.

Most passengers stay on the train all the way to the end of the line, where it stops at Jerusalem Malha station, a few blocks from the busy Malha mall. You can get off there and spend a few hours shopping, or take a taxi or bus for an easy ride to the center of the city.

But some of the trains departing earlier in the day also make a stop before Malha at city's Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, making the train an especially nice option for families with young children. If you present your same-day train ticket at the zoo, you will earn a small discount on admission.

Modest in size, but with a variety of animals, the 62-acre zoo, which opened in 1993, brings the fauna of ancient times to life, showcasing many creatures mentioned in the Bible. Today's Biblical Zoo is the successor to an earlier zoo location, but the new site features animal enclosures designed to mimic nature as much as possible. One reviewer describing the place on noted that the animals here, despite their captivity, even seem happy.

Jerusalem is one of the world's greatest cities, with many attractions of immense historical importance. But if you feel like getting on the train to go a bit off the beaten track, you can enjoy a view of the city and its surroundings that most tourists never see.

Train departures from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem are infrequent, so check the schedule before setting off.

Israeli Railways schedule information:
or by phone: (03)611-7000
One-way fare from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem: NIS 22.50. Children under 10: NIS 18. Trains and buses do not run on the Jewish Sabbath

Jerusalem Biblical Zoo information:
Telephone: (02) 675-0111
Zoo hours:
Sunday through Thursday: 9 A.M.-5 P.M.
Friday and on the eve of holidays: 9 A.M.-4:30 P.M.
Saturday and holidays: 10 A.M.-5 P.M.

Regular admission fees:
Adults (18 and over): NIS 50
Children ages 3-17: NIS 40
Children under 3: free
There is a 10% discount on presentation of a train ticket from the same day and cab and bus service are available to the center of the city.

Passengers boarding an Israel Railways train in Tel Aviv, Sept. 21, 2012.Credit: Daniel Bar-On
The elephant enclosure at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo and, in the background, the proposed construction zone for hundreds of new housing units.Credit: Michal Fattal

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