Updated: Sep 3
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When you talk about visiting Jordan, most people immediately think of Petra and Wadi Rum. Both experiences are absolute musts while in Jordan. However, Jordan has so much to offer beyond these famed sites.
Don't make the mistake that many visitors do and only use the capital city of Amman as a quick stopping point on your way to other destinations. Instead, I'd recommend spending at least a couple of days in the city to explore the array of food, history, and cultural sites Amman has to offer. More than a third of Jordan's population lives in the capital, so yes, there's a lot going on there!
Ok, but what about Petra and Wadi Rum?
Before hopping into Amman, Jordan, I'll give the two big sites theirs just due. Petra is one of the New Wonders of the World, an ancient Nabatean city dating back to the 4th century that is absolutely wondrous and worth the attention it receives. I won't cover much of the logistics of visiting Petra as those tips abound elsewhere, but I will say this: bring your hiking shoes, prepare for a long day on your feet, and charge your phone or camera battery. Petra is absolutely exhausting and beautiful. You'll want to be as comfortable as you can AND plan for some amazing photos to make the most of your visit.
As for Wadi Rum, most travelers camp there either the night before or after their visit to Petra since the two sites are only about an hour and a half apart by car.
My advice for Wadi Rum? Unless you're absolutely committed to a luxury experience, skip the expensive bubble camping that runs about $200/night and looks like space tents. For a much cheaper experience, stay in any of the plethoras of small family-run camps that operate in the desert of Wadi Rum. You'll be treated to traditional food, music, and relaxing by a campfire at night, simple but clean tents (usually made of goat hair), and the same gorgeous sunrise and sunset that the bubble camps see, all for about $35 per person per night.
But Don't Forget To Explore Amman, Jordan!
Now, what should you do besides the above? Take at least a couple of days to explore Amman!
I'll start with activities and eats within Amman first since the city itself offers a plethora of opportunities for food and fun. I think it's a shame that many travelers I met in Jordan only intended to spend one quick night in Amman. They missed out. The city hosts a fast-growing food scene and unique experiences. There's no shortage of things to do!
Don't Miss The Staples
I won't cover these essentials much, as they appear in almost every travel guide/blog, but they are well worth visiting in Amman!
The Citadel - Explore this site in the center of the city with Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad ruins for incredible views and photos. It's also a great place to let kids run around and get some energy out.
Shawerma Reem - Stop at this popular stand for hot and delicious shawarma, a popular street food consisting of roasted meat thinly sliced and served in a wrap.
Hashem's - This bustling restaurant in the old city is great, has a super affordable spread of local foods, and offers even better people-watching.
Al Quds - This falafel shop is a must-stop while exploring Rainbow Street.
Fahkreldin - This popular Levantine restaurant in a historic home is a long-standing favorite. Get a selection of appetizers and sides to taste the full range of the menu.
Bab AlYemen AlSaeed - Okay, this is not Levantine food, but this multi-level spot on Abdullah Ghosheh Street is a longtime favorite for Yemeni food.
Shams ElBalad - This is a favorite restaurant for vegetarians and meat eaters alike. The setting is beautiful, and the takes on local food are seasonal, fresh, and delicious.
Hit Alee For Dinner & Then Souvenir Shopping Right Below
Alee is a newer fine dining spot close to Rainbow Street in Amman by Top Chef MENA winner chef Ali Ghazzawi. Named one of the 50 Best Restaurants in the Middle East and North Africa, Alee is a great spot to experience creative takes on local cuisine. The service is excellent, the dining room has a beautiful view of the city, the cocktails are well-balanced and fun, and the food truly standout. For reference, my dinner there with a group cost about 60 Jordanian dinars per person (about $85 USD), including tip, and we ordered multiple rounds of drinks plus enough food to truly stuff ourselves. See a bit of my dinner experience at Alee.
Underneath Alee in the same building, you'll find Urdon Shop, which sells locally produced goods perfect for gift and souvenir shopping. Urdon Shop stays open late, so should be available to shop before or after your dinner at Alee.
Learn To Make Local Dishes At Beit Sitti
Beit Sitti's cooking school stands out for a few reasons. You'll learn a TON about local ingredients and flavors; a local woman hosts each cooking class and teaches you how to make her favorite dish, and the setting is sublime. Located in a historic family home in the old city, the patio and kitchen where Beit Sitti hosts cooking classes is the perfect place to spend an evening. After cooking, you'll feast on the meal you prepared together and can enjoy a nice glass of wine or two on the patio. This is also a great place to purchase spices and local foodie staples such as pomegranate molasses. Be sure to browse their offerings after your class.
Meander Rainbow Street
Rainbow street is a highly recommended stop while in Amman. However, the popular street lined with shops and restaurants can be overwhelming for the uninitiated. To make the most of your Rainbow Street experience, begin at "First Circle" (Amman is organized around a series of traffic circles). From First Circle, begin to walk down Rainbow Street, which is best explored on foot. Meander as you like and stop along the way, but the following route offers up some of the best the old city has to offer.
First stop at Flour & Fire to try a manousheh, a local flatbread available with a variety of toppings. I highly recommend getting the za'atar and cheese blend, where a slightly salty melted cheese is balanced out by the blend of wild thyme and toasted sesame seeds found in za'atar. Then meander down to Al Quds Falafel for an outstanding Falafel sandwich on fresh bread. From there, continue down Rainbow Street, hitting Trinitae Soap House towards the bottom. Inside the gorgeous old villa that houses Trinitae, stock up on soaps, body products, and candles. After Trinitae, continue down Rainbow Street to find Jeld, a handmade leather goods store, Beit AlBawadi, a ceramics shop with incredible locally made products, and even a little spot for tea all in a row at the bottom as you walk towards the old city.
Take A Walking Tour!
While Amman is not the most walkable city, there are a couple of walking tours that offer an excellent chance to learn more about the city on foot.
For art lovers, check out local street art on a tour with Underground Amman. Underground Amman's tours are donation based, and as you walk through the city, you'll learn about the history of street art, women's roles in the local art scene, the politics of water, and more. Take a peek at the tour I took with Underground Amman.
For foodies, check out the Eat Like A Local Tour hosted by 3J Gallery and Experiences. This tour will take you from Rainbow Street onto less trafficked streets to try local foods ranging from kanafeh, a dessert made with cheese and sweet syrup, to stuffed falafel! This three-hour tour costs 30 Jordanian dinars, about $43 USD. Check out this tour from my recent trip to Jordan!
Day Trips from Amman, Jordan
While exploring Amman, keep in mind that both Mt. Nebo and Jerash, two sites I absolutely recommend, are both easy day trips by car from the city.
Visit the Jerash Archaeological site
About an hour's drive from Amman, Jerash offers some of the best-preserved Roman ruins in the world and is a great stop for history buffs, photographers, or those looking for an easy hike/walk after the more punishing hikes at Petra. In fact, Jerash is my favorite site in all of Jordan; it even tops Petra in my mind. It's easier to access, less crowded, and in the spring and fall, surrounded by rolling green hillsides that you'd never expect in a desertous country like Jordan. Be sure to stop at Lebanese Um Khalil along the way, a fine dining restaurant on the hillside close to the ruins that offer impeccable food and service.
Explore Mt. Nebo
While small, the stunning vista where Moses is believed to have seen the Promised Land provides a panorama view of Jericho and Jerusalem (on clear days). The site houses the Moses Memorial Church, a gorgeous church with stunning ancient mosaics that evoked audible gasps from every single visitor I took there.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time living in Jordan. Amman is an underrated capital city home to an incredible array of adventures, only a few of which I've documented here. While Petra and Wadi Rum are absolutely worth exploring, don't forget to budget a few extra days for the pleasures of Amman!
If you're planning a trip to Jordan, feel free to drop any questions you have below! It's an amazing country to explore, and I know you'll love your visit.
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