Most travelers arrive to Amman when visiting Jordan. Some take a flight to Aqaba and go straight to Petra and Wadi Rum Desert maybe but the reality is they should start in Amman and stay a bit. The city has a ton to offer and it is a great base to do a chunk of wonderful day trips. Yes, Petra and Wadi Rum are obviously worth a visit too but neither should ever be done as just a day trip…yet they are, often done in one day. From Amman you can take trips and check off your list a day trip float on the Dead Sea; a visit the the largest Roman city outside of Italy in Jerash; the peaceful Unesco site of As-Salt; mosaics, churches (both Greek Orthodox and Catholic), and the holy site of Mount Nebo all near Madaba and this is not to mention the plethora of activities within the City of Amman itself. More ideas for your Amman trips below!
While maybe not everyone´s cup of tea the experience of floating at the Dead Sea for me was my favorite.
I always thought I would experience this in Israel which splits the Dead Sea with Jordan but I guess one never knows where life takes you. By far one of the coolest experiences I have ever had. It also happens to be the lowest point on Earth.
The Dead Sea is formed by the Jordan River which empties into it but the water in this sea only exits via evaporation, leaving the Dead Sea to become very salty over time. Due to this, the Dead Sea is slowly disappearing, it gets lower every year and it is very noticeable at hotels as they keep adding layers to their property to get closer to the water. The salinity at the Dead Sea is 9.6 times saltier than the ocean…so dense you literally float and no plants or animals can survive here (well, maybe occasionally when the river floods). This is so salty that when you touch the water it feels and even looks like oil. Oceanic salt is approximately 85% sodium chloride but the Dead Sea is only 30.5%. The Dead Sea salt also contains Magnesium, Calcium, Potassium and Bromide all of which help make it an excellent mixture for hydrating your skin, relieving muscle soreness and other benefits.
Not only is it an entertaining and a necessary experience to float but the salt in addition to the mud at the bottom of the lake is very, very good for your skin. After floating we rubbed mud on our skin, then salt and left it to dry before one last dip to rub it all off and finally wash everything off with fresh water. We left here feeling super soft, glowing and happy. They say, it makes you look 10 years younger! Most get in and get out, not because it is at all cold (except dead of winter) but because it feels weird. I mean, think about jumping into clear oil that is dense and therefore makes you float. Plus you don´t want to enter with any cuts or get it anywhere near an orifice, such as your eyes or mouth. Check for cuts before hand an don´t shave. If you have cuts I recommend putting Vaseline or petroleum jelly on it, which worked for me.
There are public beaches which are free or hotels that offer Swim + Lunch for a decent price. We did the latter for 35 JOD at the Crown Plaza Hotel (supposedly the cheapest option) and we were very happy. There was more food than we could eat, tons of pools to swim in and the experience at the sea was simply awesome! Also, if interested, Jesus´s baptism site and the border with Israel is near here. If you do the public beach make sure you have water as you will need it to wash off after and have handy in case you get any water in your eye (it needs to be flushed out immediately). Also be careful getting in at a public beach as crystallized salt, if any there, is very sharp.
FYI: Although a Muslim country and normally you would go in the water fully clothed, you may use a regular swimsuit or bikini here as it is a touristy spot and locals have learned to anticipate more skin being shown at this hotel targeted to foreigners.
Most probably arrive here by car (as we did) or tour but you could take a bus from Amman at the Majaharin bus station to Rame then a taxi to Amman Beach.
The second most popular spot in Jordan to visit after Petra is Jerash and I totally see why.
I guess I knew the Roman Empire was vast and nearly everywhere around the Mediterranean but I somehow forgot how extensive it was or what could possibly have been left over from their empire. Well turns out there are Roman and Greek ruins all over Jordan but the biggest site is found in Jerash just an hour North of Amman.
Jerash will blow your mind with the sheer size, detail and magnitude of preservation found here. It is the largest Roman city outside of Italy! At one time 20,000 people lived in Gerasa (original town name was Garshu). It grew in the 4th century BC and then had a steady decline caused by multiple invasions and a large earthquake which lead to it´s abandonment. It remained hidden in sand until 1806 and it´s size is evident from the three Roman theater´s built and the long main road found there. In fact, if you climb all the stairs of the South Theater you will be rewarded with a spectacular view of the whole site. Stunning, plus sometimes they play music and sing in the theater!
They say the hippodromo (horse race track) is the best preserved of the entire Roman empire although it is smaller than most. I started at the South with Hadrian´s Arch which I think is the better end to begin but many will start from the Visitor´s Center in the middle. The hippodromo is just past this gate and really why I started here. If you time it right, they do re-enactments of chariot races but I didn´t witness this (maybe due to the pandemic). Shortly after walking from here you arrive to another gate and then it seems never ending ruins starting with Zeus´s temple to your left just next to the South Theater and overlooking my favorite plaza, the Forum…a huge oval shaped plaza that is super preserved and so Roman you can´t help but be excited!
Once the excitement of these wear off you still have the whole length of the main street (called the Cardo)! Which is completely lined with these huge columns, fully paved road with sidewalks (a hem, Roman style stone blocks), remnants of old stores, ancient churches, massive fountains, Latin words inscribed and soo much more. Don´t forget to go up the stairs and search around higher up. I did that and found yet another great view and the world’s oldest machine! A water powered stone cutting machine (essentially a saw) from 550 AD…so random yet very, very cool to stumble upon. This main street ends near the North Theater and yet another arch this time domed (only visible up close).
Simply a spectacular place to visit. My jaw dropped several times is sheer disbelief of what I could still see of this city the Romans and some Greeks had created here so long ago.
Expect a visit to Jerash to be at least a half day trip. You need at least 2 hours but likely more to see all the main stuff without feeling extremely rushed. I spent 2.5 hours and still felt rushed but mainly because I had an evening flight to catch and knew traffic into Amman can be so slow. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen it is hot and there is very little shade.
If you have time you can also go from here to Ajloun castle which is quite close. If with an extra day I highly recommend a trip out to Umm Qais (aka Gadara) another 1.5 hours North of here, although similar to Jerash it is smaller in scale with different columns and the unique view of Lake Tiberias in the near distance. Lake Tiberias, as you might know, in Israel is called the Sea of Galilee (a biblical reference)!
I got here by mini bus but again many arrive by car, tour bus or even shared taxi from the same bus terminal I left from. The mini bus leaves the North Terminal (Tabarbour) in Amman when it is full (which took an hour for me, early am might be best, like 7 or 8 am) and costs 1.50 JOD. The ride out is around an hour to 1.5 hours. If headed to Ajloun or farther North you need to go to the North bus terminal of Jerash…aka at the far end of the ruins where there is no exit. To head back to Amman you catch the bus at the main intersection South of Hadrian´s Arch.
Now, if you want peaceful, off the beaten path, historical and charming then don´t miss As-Salt.
A lesser visited town just 40 minutes from Amman is As-Salt, or simply Salt. It is actually the newest UNESCO site in the country, established in July of 2021 to preserve and help restore the many rich architectural buildings from this historic Middle Eastern trading route city. In fact, Salt was so important that it was the past capital of the region during the Ottoman period.
Salt is a truly off the beaten path city being made attractive for tourists and there is a lot of preservation of buildings and areas within Salt going on currently. Having less tourists, Salt makes you feel relaxed as you wander it´s hilly streets and explore it´s cute corners with many stairs and amazing views. In fact, when I was there a few local influencers seemed to be promoting it and making videos. Hopefully this promotion doesn´t draw masses here because tons of people is something that could push the soul of the city onto the backburner. Instead, I hope those tourists truly interested in the history and relaxing environment come because that is the real draw of Salt. I would even suggest an overnight if you really want to get the full relax feel.
Salt was a main stop on the trading route through the Middle East from the 1860s to 1920s which brought a lot of wealth to the city. This wealth can easily be seen through the architecture (many Art Nouveau and Neo-Colonial styles) and type of buildings in town. The trade route brought the rich migrants and those riches in turn brought skilled craftsmen. The community thrived and was hospitable to everyone which also provided an environment for religious freedom as well. What is truly nice is that this calmness, respect and hospitality is still felt today on it´s streets.
Besides architecture Salt is also known as an agricultural hub and the area surrounding the main hills in the city have plenty of farms with fresh produce and delicacies.
Don´t miss the Greek Orthodox Church (St. George) here as it is quite ancient (300 years old) and unique…well worth entering. The first hospital wasn´t worth entering but interesting to know it existed so early. There is however a nice terrace to grab a drink here and view the city. If you find any old houses open don´t hesitate to enter, especially the Qaqeesh House, to see the interior styling and more views. The street leading up to the Orthodox Church seemed to be the most renovated and filled with touristy things so be sure to stop by and learn from the locals selling craft items here (Al-Khader Street). Obviously, you can´t miss a walk through the simple Souq (market)…it is literally just one street and is accessible from the middle plaza with the tree.
I arrived by mini bus from the Northern Bus Terminal (Tabarbour). I waited until it was full (decently fast) and then we were off, nearly direct to Salt. Cost was 1.50 JOD and took about 1 hour. On the return I got on a different bus, the bigger local bus which only cost 50 piasters. It was full of students, got me back to the city and took nearly the same time (add traffic delays). You should catch the mini bus where it dropped you off otherwise enter the terminal farther down and catch the local bus. Not sure either of these buses needed to be full in order to leave, but rather near full since they seemed to be popular routes. Another option is taking the mini bus from Dakhelieh Circle/Swaileh Garden to Salt…which the mini bus I took stopped at and nearly reloaded.
Carakale Brewery – Fuhais, Jordan
Amman´s first ever and only micro brewery is situated in the hills outside of Amman (given Jordan is a Muslim country, alcohol is not ever present). If you are a beer lover or just want to chill while taking in an excellent view (especially at sunset), this is the spot to go. They started in 2010 and hope to be the national beer someday. I tried a few while in Jordan and they were unique and quite good brews. I did not make it out to the brewery itself but my boyfriend and his friends did so here is a photo from his trip out. Check them out here. My favorites were the classic Pale Ale and Red Sea-Rious (especially after visiting lol they also have a Dead Sea-Rious).
Carakale is located between Fuhais and As-Salt though it is best to arrive here by car, I have read that there is public transport to there but that returning is much harder. Might try to taxi down to Fuhais and then bus back into Amman. Taxis are all metered (you might need to remind them to start or even clear it) and fairly cheap.
Madaba is like the religious Christian capital of Jordan and it is full of Roman and Greek history that shouldn´t be missed.
Then an hour South of Amman is Madaba where you can see both Greek and Roman ruins or churches with wonderful mosaics and painted walls. A very Christian area within a 96% Islamic nation. You can easily roam from one church site to another. I believe there were four, not all were included with Jordan Pass but cheap to enter, 1 JD. The tower on a clear day and without fear of heights is a worthwhile climb at St. John the Baptist´s. The mosaic map on the floor of the Greek Orthodox church was worthy for sure but only understood if you read the description outside first because it was all in Greek and kind of turned around. Obviously, there were more things here to see but we narrowed it down to three because if you are like most tourists in Jordan, there is just too much to see and you can only pack in so much.
Plenty of mosaics here to see but my favorite lies outside town at Mt. Nebo. To me it seemed the most complete, most spectacular and largest one in Jordan (at least of the ones I saw). Mt. Nebo if you don´t already know is also a very religious site, again Madaba area is overall this way, but this time, Mt. Nebo, is not just relevant to Christianity but also Judaism and Islam among others. So even if you are not religious this site is quite historical from a regional aspect and worth a quick visit (30 minutes is enough). Mt. Nebo is where Moses, a prophet who received the 10 commandments and lead his people to the promised land, supposedly died and where he saw the promised land. Now on a clear day you can see the Dead Sea and beyond it said promised land (Bethlehem and Jerusalem)…however, no one knows where Moses is actually buried.
We included a stop to Madaba twice while driving in Jordan. Once to Mt. Nebo on the way to the Dead Sea and a second time to Madaba, the city, which requires more time (few hours at least) then Mt. Nebo. Also good to know is that Madaba is very close to the airport (30 minutes maybe) so you could just do it first. It is possible to reach here by bus from Amman as well but this time from the Wahedat , Ragadan (near Roman Theater) or Muhajireen bus stations. Expect a price similar to the above stops 1.50 JOD and it probably leaves when full. I didn´t go by bus but in research this was information I found.
In Amman you must eat well, roam the safe streets, check out the street art, Roman Ruins at the Citadel at least and simply watch the street activity while drinking a juice, Arabic coffee or tea.
For touristy things to see in the City and Capital of Jordan, Amman, you definitely should at least visit the Citadel (with Hercules Temple) and Roman Theater. It is right in the city center prominently placed. If you can time your visit with one of the call to prayers (happens 5x a day) or even better if you can do call to prayer with sunset it will not disappoint!
You might also check out several neighborhoods in Amman such as Al Rainbow, Jabal Al L´weibdeh and the downtown (Al-Balad) at least. You might include in addition, if you have more time a visit to Abdoun or Dabouq to understand the high end side of Amman. Abdoun has the embassies, a cool bridge and plenty of expats and Dabouq has the largest mosque and the King´s Palace. Sweifieh (near 7th Circle) was also enjoyable and good for getting a book (Readers Bookshop) and yummy pastries. There are lots of other neighborhood with charm too but at least start with these.
Food to try: Kanafa, Mansaf, fresh local juices, arabic coffee and a shwarma (be prepared for mayo) Al Reem´s is popular and recommended by the King (2nd Circle). Some stops that are a must for food are Hashem Falafel and Kanafa at Ravenna in Al-Balad.
Friends in Jordan recommended the Underground Amman Tour to see street art and now I am here to recommend you also do the same. I love street art and it is something I seek out when I travel. I will get lost for hours just trying to find a new or unique one. The tour although focused on street art is not only lead by a local artist who explains the background of the art and artists (like a docent would at a museum) but also shares some of Amman and Jordan´s history, points out important areas or attractions and even food options (including allowing for a stop to try). This highly local tour is not just about the art but then again it is and believe me all of the art here is well worth your time.
When I arrived in Amman I did not expect to encounter so much art. Especially because I did not encounter any on my first visit to the Middle East a few years ago in Oman. Jordan is different, it doesn´t seem as wealthy as Oman did, it lacks oil as a resource generally thought to be prevalent in the Middle East and instead it has tons of refugees. It´s economy is based on phosphate, tourism and foreign aid. It handles a lot of the region´s instability and has a major lack of water.
Why I mention this here is because these are all things street artists portray on the walls of at least Amman…the capital. Many artists are local or became local as refugees who grew up in Jordan, in fact our guide was one of many who walked through the forest from Palestine to Jordan. Street artists in Jordan are not allowed to portray any political, sexual or religious themes in their artwork and the approval of street art around the city came from an artist being jailed, convincing the police station that he could paint something beautiful for them, following through with it, being released from jail and was then asked by other stations to paint murals too. The art in Jordan is very well done, does need permission generally unless it is less visible and the majority of artists are female which is very rare in this art scene. Sign up for a tour here.
Running in Amman
It wouldn´t be fair to not add information about my passion, running, to this list. I run everywhere I go, it is my form of exploration, my anxiety-free addiction and a nice cultural immersion. Headed to run in a Muslim country is always nerve racking for me because they all seem to be hot countries where I´d prefer shorts and a tank top but in reality I need to cover up. In this case thanks to tourism anything goes but I still generally prefer as a female to cover at least shoulders and knees. If I was running in a group, maybe, but alone on the streets I saw just one runner (male) in shorts and it seemed odd given everyone else was fully covered.
Places to run include Sport City Park and Al Hussein Park. You can run wherever really but be aware that sidewalks don´t really exist and you will be in the street most of the time having to pay attention to cars but for me I enjoy this challenge and it really let´s me see a place. Basically, just avoid running the main streets and you will enjoy more. To find routes close to you when traveling I suggest using Strava App then clicking Maps, then Segments, and check where highlighted lines are near you which shows where others run most and you can just pick that area and go run there. Be aware that Amman and Jordan in general is hilly! You might also join a group run with Running Amman which happens a few times a week in various neighborhoods.
Most of the trip a rental car was used but there were a few things I did using buses or taxi that are worth mentioning.
A few things to note here about taxis. Most speak no English so you either need to give them your phone to use your Google maps to arrive to the destination, be able to give them a very well known landmark such as a Circle or direct them in your basic Arabic (left: Shh-male right; Yeah-mean; here: Han; Straight Doe-Hurry). They run on meters (rates are cheap) although you may need to remind them to either restart it or use it. I did get kicked out of one because I asked him to restart the meter(before reset it was at 6 JOD, most rides will be 2-3 JOD) and he wasn´t happy with the fare he would receive …or maybe he really did have a brake problem but decided to leave me at the top of a hill? Any who, also know that smoking is very common in Jordan (think 2 packs a day) and taxi drivers are no exception, likely they will smoke with you in their car. Note, Uber does work here. Circles are common in Amman, there are 8 of them along the whole length of the city. They are good reference points, the 7th one is the closest to the airport and 1 is near the city center.
Driving was pretty easy here, they are generally slow drivers and kind of just go with the flow. For example, if someone enters your lane, just move over a bit and life goes on…it was more of a jostling for space in a non aggressive way type of driving. Slamming on the breaks was not common. As our friend explained it as “elbowing your way around”. You do need to be decisive about making a move instead of waiting around for a car to pass. Roads were in good condition but lanes were not usually well defined and you should consider the shoulder part of your lane in most instances. For example, when cars needed to pass. Know that there were not a ton of checkpoints, but every now and then they would wave you over so have the passport, drivers license and car registration within reach at all times.
For rentals there are several agencies to go with: Enterprise (we used this because we had a corporate discount though our friends), Avis, Rama, U-save, Arabesque, Al Salehin and Rent + Ride. If renting a car, know that it might smell of smoke (Jordanians smoke a lot) and be sure to check that the car registration (license) is in the car. We did not have ours and were pulled over at a checkpoint figuring it out in Arabic for over 20 minutes with a translator app.
I used the North Terminal (Tabarbour) to catch mini buses and local buses to Salt and Jerash. All mini buses costs 1.50 JOD but I did take a local bus back from Salt by accident and it as 50 piasters. I also caught the Airport bus round trip from the Amman airport. At the airport you get a ticket at the kiosk outside opposite the taxi stand for the big white bus operated by Sariyah. It costs 3.3 JOD, runs frequently and stops at most Circles and then ends at the North Bus Station (Tabarbour) in Amman. I think it took 1 hour to get me to 4th Circle. If going at an hour with traffic 8-10 am or 3-6 pm take an earlier bus, as they will run late. Weekdays are Sunday to Thursday as Friday is like Sunday for Muslims, this is when they all go to the mosque to pray and you can expect streets to be very empty almost all day.
Please note: Women on buses sit together and usually toward the front. Men are often asked to move or stand to accommodate women. This goes for husband and wife too. Only once did I see a local couple sit together and that was on the Jerash mini bus, which is pretty touristy, and he refused to move which meant the lady at a stop didn´t board.
Other: Qatar Stopover
If you by chance have a layover in Doha over 12 hours you can add a trip to Doha to your list for 24 hours, a few days, or even a week easily onto your flight and Qatar airline will set it up no problem including hotel (if you wish) within the price range you desire ($12 and up). If your layover is during the day there is also the option for a free city tour. As a traveler, this is something I highly recommend adding to your trip. Pay attention to these options, many Asian countries tend to provide sweet touristy extras on layover. Panama just added this option too in case you are in Central America on Copa Airlines. Read more here about the Qatar Stopover I mention. I wanted to do this but I forgot when I booked and chose an 8 hour layover (at night) instead so I just spent the night in the airport (on my camping pad)…which by the way is totally 24 hours (all shops were open, even the nail salon!).