When you think of the Middle East, I am sure that adjectives such as “quirky”, “artsy”, or “cultural melting pot” are not the first that will pop into your mind but they are certainly terms which can be used to describe Amman. To those who venture here, exploring the Jordanian capital can feel like uncovering hidden treasure. The city is as rich in history and archaeological sites as Cairo, and as unique and inspiring as Tel Aviv, but simply does not get the attention it deserves. Amman is undoubtedly one of The Middle East’s best kept secrets. Within this article, I’ve explored 10 of the best things to do in Amman to help you discover Jordan’s fascinating history, and the very best authentic local experiences.
Perfect as a “jumping off” point for wider Jordan exploration, or simply as an alternative weekend city break destination, Amman is packed with culture, history, and incredibly friendly locals. Here are 10 of the best things to do in Amman.
10 Things To Do In Amman
Enjoy Quirky Independent Shopping
If you’re lucky enough to be travelling in Jordan during the Summer months, you can have the pleasure of exploring the canvased stalls of Souk Jara, Amman’s open air craft market where local vendors and artisans sell their handmade art works, handicrafts, and edible goods.
Of equal quirkiness are the boutique stalls and independent coffee shops that line upper Jabbal Amman’s “Rainbow Street”, and the market located at Fawzi Malouf street corner which sells woven rugs, textiles, and home furnishings.
Haggle Your Way Through Bustling Souks
Those who are looking for a more authentic Middle Eastern market will enjoy the bustling atmosphere of the local food markets. Check out Souk El-Atareen for a spice and apothecary market that provides an attack on all of the senses, and Souk El-Khoudra, a local vegetable market to see locals put their haggling powers in action.
The Amman bazaar, located close to the King Hussein Mosque features on most tourist’s “must see in Amman” lists. It’s more catered to international tourists than to locals, but is a great place to pick up souvenirs, and Jordanian products to take home nonetheless.
Visit The Citadel of Amman
Famed for being one of the oldest continually inhabited sites on Earth ( since the Neolithic period, i.e. somewhere between 10,000 to 2,000 BC!), Amman’s citadel has passed hands throughout the years to be occupied by Nabateans, Romans, Greeks, and numerous other civilizations. A giant stone hand protruding from the ground marks the Roman temple of Hercules, and the Byzantine basilica contains a few fading mosaics.
Visit The King Abdullah Mosque
It’s rare to stumble across a mosque that allows non Muslims to enter, but fortunately Amman’s beautiful blue domed King Abdullah mosque is an exception to that rule. Built by the late King Hussein in memorial of his father, the mosque is an impressive structure and a beautiful site to behold no matter what your religion.
Admire The Art & Culture Scene
Keep your eyes peeled as you explore the streets of the Jordanian capital. Street artists like Yara Hindawi have emerged in recent years as an eccentric underground art scene has developed. At the occasional twist and turn, you will be greeted with obscure, cartoon like graffiti and depictions of peculiar creatures and monsters.
Jabal Al Weibdeh is the quiet, eloquent hub of “intellectual Amman” whose book store cum artisan coffee houses are frequented by local young professionals and entrepreneurs. For the perfect place to relax and unwind with a book and a slice of cake, head to Al-Shariah street.
The Jordan Times national newspaper proclaimed Amman as being Jordan’s centre for culture and arts and the city’s Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts showcases the very best of contemporary Middle Eastern artwork.
See The Roman Amphitheatre
The restored Roman amphitheatre held 6,000 spectators back in its day and still hosts the occasional traditional weekend or evening performance to this day. The ampitheatre is situated at the foot of the hill close to the Amman citadel making it easy to tie in a visit to the two together.
Visit The Archaeological Museum
I know that people are divided when it comes to visiting museums. Personally I love to explore them and to uncover a little more detail about the ruins and archaeological sites that I’ve been exploring. Jordan has had a fascinating history, which has seen control of the country exchange hands numerous times. The museum contains relics that have been gathered from ruins and historic sites across the country.
Enjoy Jordanian Cuisine
Jordan is a food lover’s paradise and as a massive foodie myself, the cuisine was certainly one of the highlights of my trip. Arguably the most famous local dish is Mansaf – a traditional lamb dish served in fermented yoghurt (genuinely nicer than it sounds!), and served with rice or bulgur so if you’re looking to experiment with the local cuisine. This is definitely a good starting point. Al Quds restaurant on King Al Hussein street is frequently referred to as the best in town. For falafel, check out ‘Hashem falafel’ Amman’s best falafel joint.
Wandering around the markets and the streets of downtown Amman (Al Balad) serve up plenty of opportunity to try out Jordanian street food which can be bought for a few dollars. If you prefer a more “hands on” approach, then you can consider taking an Arabic cooking class. Beit Sitti comes highly recommended.
Uncover The Mystery of Qasr al-Abad
Located just west of Amman’s city limits, Qasr al-Abad is the ruins of a Hellenistic palace from around 200 BC. Little is known about the palace and there are many speculative stories about its purpose and who actually built it which I find incredibly fascinating. The neighboring burial caves of Iraq al Amir feature several carvings of lions and other predators in the rock face but no-one knows entirely who made them or what their meaning is. Fascinating!
Explore The Cave of Seven Sleepers
Similar to Qasr-al Abad, there is a lot of mystery surrounding the cave of the seven sleepers which for me personally makes a place all the more fascinating! The legend has that 7 Christian boys were persecuted by a Roman Emperor and fled here where they slept for over 300 years. The cave is like something straight out of Tomb Raider and consists of a series of sealed tombs with peep holes through which you can see a spooky collection of human bones, though no-one is entirely sure about the history of this site. The ruins of several ancient mosques surround the cave.
Whether you visit Amman for a few days as part of a wider Jordan itinerary (see a suggested 10 day itinerary here), or you prefer to take a more relaxed pace, you’ll certainly find plenty to occupy your time. I think that I could happily spend a week here just enjoying the different foods, checking out local art exhibitions, and hanging out at the various coffee shops on Shariah Street.
Have you been to Amman? Do you have any questions on travelling to Jordan, or perhaps some suggestions on things to do for other travelers? Let me know in the comments below!
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