Insider's Guide to Amman: Exploring Jordan Beyond Petra and Wadi Rum
When you talk about visiting Jordan, most people immediately think of Petra and Wadi Rum. Both experiences are absolute musts while in Jordan. However, the small country of about 9 million people has so much more to offer, especially the capital city! If you're interested in visiting Jordan or planning a trip, the below guide is for you. After living in and exploring Jordan for 2+ years, I've put together some of the best places to explore in and around Amman to make your visit one of a kind.
Before hopping into other stops and sights in Jordan, I'll give the two big sites their 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 take home from 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 run about $200/night and look like space tents. For a much cheaper and more engaging experience, stay in one of the plethora 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/person, per night.
Now what should you do besides the above? Take at least a couple days to explore Amman!
In Amman, Jordan
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 foodie scene and unique experiences, as well as almost half of Jordan's total population. There's no shortage of things to do!
There are of course the staples, which I won't cover much as they appear in almost every travel guide/blog. Make a point to hit Shawerma Reem for hot and delicious Shawerma, Hashem's in the old city for a super affordable spread of local foods like hummus and falafel, Shams ElBalad for brunch on a beautiful patio with some of the best locally sourced dishes around, and finally the Citadel for incredible views and photos (also a great place to let kids run around and get some energy out). In addition to those options, no visit to Amman would be complete without the below:
Brunch & Shopping at Daimeh: Relatively new to the restaurant scene in Amman, this eatery quickly became a favorite for it's gorgeous interior, impeccable food, and outstanding service. In fact, in my mind it's tied with the longstanding favorite -- Shams ElBalad -- for the best place to get local flavors with a fresh twist. Even better, the restaurant is located inside the Jordan River Foundation building, a nonprofit focused on community enterprise and empowerment. After eating be sure to browse locally goods and products for sale in the attached showroom. Make sure to take a look at the gorgeous rugs! Given that so many shops offer mass produced souvenirs that are often imported, this is one of your best bets for snagging authentic local goods.
BYOB & Learn to Make Local Dishes at Beit Sitti: This local business 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. Did I mention it's BYOB? Don't forget to bring a bottle of wine to sip while you cook!
Taste Authentic Hui Cuisine at The Islamic Chinese Restaurant: This super casual, astonishingly affordable restaurant located in an old shopping mall is well worth the taxi ride from the city center. Fresh hand pulled noodles are served in heaping plates and you won't find any pretense as people slurp and laugh their way through a great meal. Islamic Chinese serves up traditional Hui (a Chinese Muslim minority group) food that you won't find anywhere else in Jordan.
Meander Rainbow Street & More: Rainbow street is a highly recommended stop while in Amman. However the popular street lined with shops and restaurants can be overwhelming and disappointing 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 explore 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: 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 and body products, getting your fix of high quality body products that use local ingredients. Then enjoy a break at Old View Cafe, sipping a tea or coffee as you look out over an amazing view of the old city. From there meander over to Duke's Diwan for a glimpse of the past, the restored 1924 house is quite charming and open to the public. Finally, walk over to Darat AlFunun, a contemporary art gallery house in a complex built on the ruins of a 6th century church.
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. This site offers up 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 offers up 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.
As you can probably tell from the length of this post, 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 shoot me a message. I'm happy to answer any questions and provide some insiders tips to my fellow travelers. Good luck!