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Amman Travel Guide
As city-dwellers, we often get more excited about visiting rural destinations, and when we travel are usually focused on trying to get out of large cities as quickly as we can. And it seems we’re not the only ones.
Although Jordan is one of the most popular countries in the Middle East for tourism, not so many visitors spend more than a few hours in Amman as they pass through to Petra, the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum. Leaving it something of a treasure to discover!
If you have the time, we highly recommend setting aside 2-3 days to explore Amman – not only are there some great things to do in Amman, from history to culture, to shopping and cafe culture, but we found it’s also a friendly city with plenty of charm, too. During our time in Jordan we came back to Amman on 3 different occasions, giving us a different taster of the city each time.
So without further ado, here are our recommendations for where to stay in Amman and what the best things to do in Amman are!
Got a suggestion we should add to our list? Let us know in the comments below!
The Best Things to do in Amman
Even if you don’t have 2-3 days to spare, there are still plenty of things to do in Amman when you’re tight on time. Amman’s main airport is around 40 minutes drive from Amman downtown, making it easily accessible. See more about getting around Amman in our Practicalities section below!
Jabal is Arabic for ‘hill”. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, Amman is the city of hills (17 of them to be precise, although the city was originally founded on seven of them). Other than giving your calf muscles a good workout, they help to ensure that wherever you are, there’s always a view to be had. Jabal Amman is one of the first hills of Amman and has been inhabited since the Neolithic period.
Today, Jabal Amman is considered part of downtown Amman, located near the first circle. Although the whole of downtown Amman is far too big to walk, Jabal Amman is a manageable size to explore on foot to give you a flavour of the city and explore Rainbow Street (see below). Jabal Amman is home to a number of historic homes, and on Fridays in the summer you can peruse the Souk Jara flea market.
Stop by the Jordan River Foundation which features products from worthy causes. This upmarket store sells handmade and hand-crafted specialities from Palestinian style embroidery to natural Dead Sea products. Be warned: A visit will lighten your wallet (but will have supported worthwhile causes!).
TOP TIP: Don’t miss the Wild Jordan Center and cafe which serves up tasty organic lunches. The centre is part of the wider Wild Jordan initiative which is present at all of Jordan’s national parks, and is run by the Royal Society for nature conservation.
Officially part of the Jabal Amman area, Rainbow Street is entertainment central in Amman, and is where you’ll find trendy cafes, bars, clubs, art galleries and more; for both Ammanis and visitors alike. Rainbow Street is best explored by foot as the traffic gets easily blocked along the narrow road. Some of our favourite pit stops include:
Al Quds Falafel – an institution in its own right, this hole-in-the-wall shop (it’s been in business for 50 years) on rainbow street sells some of the city’s tastiest falafel at bargain prices. Perfect for munchies or a late night snack!
Suffra – This high end restaurant is set in a delightful old villa with terraced garden; we recommend you call ahead for reservations or else go early (before 19.30) when it’s still too early for dinner for locals. Traditional Bedouin dish Mensaf is one of the favourites here!
Cantaloupe – A cocktail bar and gastropub, Cantaloupe attracts expats, tourists as well as a few locals, and here it’s all about the view. Climb up to the first or second floor terrace for panoramic views of the city, the pricey drinks are worth it!
TOP TIP: Head to Cantaloupe just before sundown to hear the sounds of the evening call to prayer rise all around you.
Rainbow street is also home to plenty of (upmarket) shopping opportunities; from Vegan supplies to dead sea soap maker Trinitae. This is not the place for bargain shopping, but is handy if you’re browsing for souvenirs.
The Citadel & Roman Theatre
The heart of Amman, you can’t miss the Citadel. The Temple of Hercules towers high above the city on the Jabal Al Qala’a, which at 850m above sea level is the highest hill in Amman. Occupied since the Bronze Age, the Citadel is one of the most striking sights of old Amman, with the famous twin pillars forming part of the Temple of Hercules date from around 161AD and were once connected to the Forum. The Citadel site is also home to the Ummayad Palace (dating from 720 AD) and the Byzantine Basilica – both of which remain more in tact than the Temple of Hercules itself.
The hill up to Jabal Qala’a is a steep one, so we recommend you take taxi up (you can walk down into downtown).
Clearly visible below from the Citadel, the Roman Theatre dates from the 2nd century AD and has been beautifully restored; it can’t fail to impress. Concerts are sometimes put on here in the summer, bringing the old theatre to life once again. Check with Jordan Tourism for more info / dates.
King Abdullah Mosque
With its impressive blue down towering over the low rise rooftops of Amman, the King Abdullah Mosque is hard to miss. Located on the edges of Lweibdeh, the mosque was completed in 1989 by the late King Hussein in honour of his grandfather. The mosque is huge, accommodating up to 10,000 people, and the dome is 35m in diameter.
Visit any day except Friday (prayer day), and female visitors will need to cover their heads with a headscarf, and any uncovered limbs.
We stayed in the Lweibdeh (sometimes written as Jabal Al Weibdeh) area and fell in love with its quiet sunny streets, cafes, restaurants and bookshops, as well as views of downtown Amman. This is a great place to explore a little away from the city hustle but still within easy reach of the main sights.
The Paris Circle is home to a number of cafes and eateries, our favourite of which was the Rumi Cafe – which offers a very good Latte, or lots of teas from around the region including from Lebanon and Iraq as well as the local brew. It’s a great spot for soaking up the Lweibdeh scene. For those craving something other than local fare, Lweibdeh has plenty of international options, including Joz Hind and Jasmine House for Italian, as well as Rosa Damascena for tastes from Syria. Maestro Bar, adjoining La Locanda Boutique hotel where we stayed, is great for pizza and a drink.
The Jordan National Gallery of Fine arts on Hosni Fareez St in Lweibdeh is well worth a visit.
Set in a beautiful house on a hill in the Lweibdeh area, is Beit Sitti (which literally means “Grandmothers House”) – one of our favourite experiences in Amman. Set up and run by the impressive Sherin and her three daughters, the mission behind Beit Sitti is to share Ammani culture and their love of Jordanian food with the world. They work with refugee women from Syria, Iraq and Palestine to show the many regional influences on Jordanian food, too.
They offer cooking classes for lunch, breakfast and dinner. Menus are a mix of classic dishes and lesser known treats. Beit Sitti also arranges trips to nearby organic farms outside of Amman for a real farm-to-table experince.
Cooking takes place in the beautiful courtyard which is perfect on a summer’s evening and offers distracting views of the city!
Want to support local women while you travel to Jordan? You can read about Iraq al Amir womens’ cooperative and women empowerment in Jordan here.
Experience a Turkish Bath
If walking around the hills of Amman leaves your legs in need of some TLC, a Hammam in Amman (sorry) may be just the answer! Marrakech Hamman and Al Pasha Turkish Bath are two of the best known in the city. If you’re a couple you may be able to book a couples session in advance, otherwise the general rule is women in the day; men in the evenings. Modest swimwear is advised for women.
Where to Stay in Amman
We stayed at the La Locanda Boutique hotel in the Lweibdeh area. This small boutique hotel is run by a charming Ammani lady who has lived in various countries around the world, and ensures that this unique hotel is spotless. Each of the rooms is named after a Jordanian artist or singer, the beds are big and comfortable, the wifi fast and the rooms bright and airy. The breakfast was disappointing however so we suggest strolling down the street to cafe Rumi for your morning caffeine hit.
The W Hotel in Abdali is in the centre of one of Amman’s hippest new neighbourhoods (Abdali), where there are plenty of high end shopping, eating and drinking options. With trendy decor, a three-floor destination bar and in house SPA, if you’re seeking some comfort and luxury, you can’t go wrong with the W. As one of the tallest hotels in Amman, the rooms have stunning views too!
For those on a budget, Nomads House in Jabal Amman is a great option with both dormitory and private rooms, right in the heart of downtown Amman. The hostel is steps away from Rainbow street and offers shared kitchen, lounge, bar and luggage storage for its guests.
Responsible Travel in Amman
Amman is a modern city and you may easily feel at home here, however there are a few environmental and social points to be aware of, to make sure that your trip to Amman (and the rest of Jordan) does not have a damaging impact:
- Water is extremely scarce in Jordan. Some reports (scarily) predict that Jordan may run out of water by the year 2020, so your water use really matters. Tourists are thought to use 7x the amount of water that locals do so make sure you take short showers, turn taps off while brushing teeth, shampooing, etc.
- Don’t use plastic. There’s no recycling in Jordan (at all) regardless of recycling bins that may have been put in hotels. Avoid plastic water bottles and cutlery. For water, tap water is not ideal to drink, so we suggest bringing a refillable water bottle and steripen UV filter (this is what we used in Jordan). Eating in vs taking away helps removes the need for plastic cutlery/containers, too. Coffee lovers, bring a Stojo with you.
- Although you’ll find Alcohol available in high end hotels, bars and clubs on Rainbow Street and elsewhere in Amman, Alcohol is still a sensitive topic in this predominantly Muslim country, and many people don’t drink. Respect that choice and don’t drink in public.
- What to wear – As usual, this applies more to ladies, guys can wear jeans and t-shirt to fit in, shorts are also ok in most places. Ladies don’t need to cover their hair or arms in Amman (short sleeves or even shoulders showing are fine) but avoid shorts and short dresses, cover your legs if possible, and definitely no skimpy camisole/vest-tops or anything showing your cleavage. In general, in downtown Amman people wear more revealing clothing, but you’ll want to cover up if going to someones’ house or in more conservative areas.
- Try to Support Local and buy your souvenirs from artisan focused shops that bring benefit to local communities (the Wild Jordan centre and Jordan River Foundation are great choices). A lot of the souvenirs at Petra are mass produced and low quality. Eat at locally owned restaurants and enjoy the local cuisine (where ingredients can be sourced locally vs flown in from outside) as much as you can.
- Show respect. Most locals you meet will go out of their way to make you feel at home and welcome you to Jordan, as in the Arab world people believe that guests are sent from god. Do your part to return the favour by being friendly and gracious. Learning a few basic words of Arabic such as Salaam Aleikhum (hello, muslim greeting); Merhaba (hello/welcome, general greeting) and Shokran (thank you); Afwan (you’re welcome) help too!
- Politics of the region / in the region are complicated at best: Jordan is surrounded (geographically and politically) by disagreements and wars, and has to do a refined balancing act. Politics (for example the neighbouring Israeli-Arab conflict) are emotional and difficult subjects for Jordanians, so do not bring them up in conversation unless invited to and be reserved in your opinions.
Travel in Amman: Safety & Practicalities
Weather in Amman. Contrary to what some might think, Amman has four seasons. It gets cold in winter (it has been known to snow) and summer (when we went) is very hot. That said, if you want to avoid the crowds, summer and winter can be good options for visiting as many of the visitors and tourist crowds come during spring and autumn (fall). In winter you’ll need a light coat and warm layers, in summer you’ll just need a light sweater in case the evenings are cool. In spring and autumn light layers are best, as weather can change suddenly.
Safe Travel in Amman. Jordan is a very safe country (especially compared to its neighbours) and most locals that you’ll meet will be intent on welcoming you to their country. Amman is a safe city too and you don’t need to be more on your guard than you would be at home. Ladies travelling alone should probably avoid being out alone very late (if you are out late take an Uber home), and exercise common sense with what you are wearing.
Getting around Amman. Unfortunately getting around Amman is a bit of a mission – public transport extends to buses only which are a bit of an enigma and hard work for most travellers. If you’re here for a short time the most practical options are walking (short distances) or Uber or Careem (the Middle Eastern version of Uber). We had the odd issue with drivers from Uber wanting us to pay more money than the listed fare: if that happens to you then cancel the ride and take another. Uber drivers in Amman that we had spoke a few words of English at least; Careem drivers less so. Careem is more expensive than Uber, perhaps explaining why the Uber drivers were unhappy..
Have you been to Amman? What were your favourite things to do? Let us know in the comments below!
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