Amman, the capital of Jordan, is a city of hills and windy streets. It looks just like I’d imagined it. Off-white stone buildings with small windows, plenty of construction, and the sound of the Muslim call to prayer every few hours. Amman is a city that demands a lot of your time to fully understand.
For most people, Amman is a stepping point to somewhere else. With fewer tourist attractions than other places in Jordan, the main attractions are people watching, Jordanian food, cafes, and real local culture. History buffs will love the architecture and museums. There are also endless opportunities for city photography.
I’ll admit that I had high hopes for the Jordanian capital, but the city didn’t quite live up to my expectations. However, there are some gems in the rough. This is one of the most westernized cities in the Middle East. You can find nightclubs, bars, and all the Western chains here.
One of the best things to so in Amman is just walk. It requires a certain level of fitness, but the hilly nature of the city reveals vistas on every street corner. This is a bustling, working city, and the administrative capital of Jordan. It’s also one of the most visited Arab cities in the world, especially for other Arab nations.
Amman is a modern city with cafes, lounges and nightclubs that serve shisha and alcohol. Many luxury hotels also have bars but be aware that alcohol is expensive. These hotels are also the venues for most of the nightclubs in Amman. Hookah bars are a popular hangout for locals.
The Blue Mosque of Amman is stunning. Officially called the King Hussein Mosque ( Al-Sha’b St), the building has a capacity for over 5000 people and is the largest in the country. (The actual number of worshippers varies. Wikipedia says 3000 people and the same page also claims a capacity of 10000. Other sources on the web claim 7000 as the capacity. Either way, it’s a big place and a lot of people can pray there at the same time. Watching people pray is welcomed and is definitely a spiritual experience, even for the unspiritual)
You can visit and walk in the prayer area outside the prayer times. The interior reminds me of the blue mosque in Istanbul, but on a slightly smaller scale.
I’m not not religious, mosques (more than churches) give me a small sense of peace. I’m not sure why this is but it most likely has to do with the sense of calm and purpose. People are focused and serious in mosques.
Right across the street it an orthodox Christian church. The two places of worship of the two largest religions are almost within arm’s reach of each other. The photo below shows just how close. I enjoyed the fact that peaceful coexistence of religions happens almost everywhere in the world. The news and a tiny percentage of radicals in certain areas create tensions and a warped sense of what’s actually happening. The truth is that most people of religion respect other beliefs.
The Citadel of Amman (Jabal al-Qal’a) is well worth visiting if not just for the views over the city, which looks a lot prettier from up there.
The grounds contain a 6th century Byzantine church, an 8th century (ruined) palace, and the Temple of Hercules (that’s the one you see on most of the photos, including the photo below). The temple is a Roman structure
There’s a small museum which has a couple of interesting artefacts. The most rewarding part of visiting the citadel is to walk around and imagine yourself standing there thousands of years ago. Like many places in Jordan, there are millennia of history in the walls of buildings. Not to mention the huge amounts of unexcavated buildings believed to be located on the site. Excavations started 100 years ago but there’s plenty more to do (it’s a slow job)
Your Jordan Pass gives you free access to the Citadel.
Gates open at 8am. I just happened to arrive at that exact time. Plenty of websites mention an opening time of 9 or 10am, especially in the winter. I wanted to go for a walk anyway so took the chance. In Jordan, websites are unreliable and outdated. Asking people might not get you the right answer either. Sometimes you get lucky by just turning up, as I did.
Apart from one large German tour group, I had the place to myself. And at that time of the morning, the citadel grounds and the entire city look very pretty.
The amphitheatre is interesting more for the fact that it’s saturated right in the centre of the city. If you fancy a bit of exercise, hike up to the top row of seats. It will make you appreciate how fit and flexible people must have been back when the amphitheatre was constructed. It’s hard work climbing to the top, even for fit people.
Getting Around Amman
Amman directions often include the location of the “circles” around the city. These are roundabouts for traffic. A taxi driver might ask which circle your hotel is near? First circle, the second circle, etc. Use them as landmarks to find your way.
The most interesting parts of the city for the casual day-tripper are found near the first circle.
I don’t want to get into gender identification issues so let’s keep it simple here: If you’re a guy, sit in the front, beside the driver. Women should sit in the back seat.
Uber is illegal so if you grab an Uber and have to pass through a checkpoint like the one at the airport, the drive will ask you to sit in the front.
On my last day in Amman, I asked a couple of people for the taxi rates to the airport. (There’s a bus, but it’s slow and you need to get to the south of the city – by taxi – to take it. In the end, a taxi is the only real way unless you’ve got all day).
$25-35 seemed to be the going rate. Expensive. So I fired up Uber on my phone and checked the going rate there. $17 was the quoted price. I’ll admit that’s not a huge saving, and I’m not a big fan of Uber, but I’d had enough of regular Jordanian taxi drivers. And I was curious to see how drivers working for rideshare companies were faring in the country.
Food and Drink
Avoid the touristy food places near the amphitheatre. The quality is low and the prices are high.
Hashem restaurant in the downtown Amman area is not only a major landmark but a very popular and historic cafe. With over 6000 Google Maps reviews, this place has earned the reputation as the most popular restaurant in the city.
Located on King Faisal street, Hashem can get very busy. In fact, I tried twice to get a table but there was a queue out the door. Be prepared for a long wait or go at a random hour of the day for food. Beeing a big meat eater, I wasn’t too disappointed (Hashem is a vegetarian restaurant)
This is a typical local Jordanian food place and has been around for years. Royal family members dine here. You might expect swanky decor. But the beauty of the restaurant is that it’s still an airy, alleyway style eatery.
They serve street food, on the street. Flying in the face of modern trends.
Oh, and there’s no menu. Most people know what they want.
For falafel, a great choice in Jordan, check out Al-Quds (Al-Rainbow Street), apparently the oldest falafel place in Amman. It’s a hole-in-the-wall type place so don’t expect a sit-down experience. There are benches right beside the counter so if you’re lucky you can find a spot to sit and enjoy your falafel sandwich. Al-Quds is great value and perfect for the solo traveller who just wants a bite to eat on the run.
And surprise: Amman residents and Jordanians drink alcohol. Not everyone, mind you, and it’s forbidden by Islamic law, but there are plenty of liquor stores around town and they’re all doing roaring trade as far as I can see. I asked the locals about it and everyone seems to be quite open about the use of alcohol. You won’t see people drinking in public and shows of public drunkenness are taboo, but people drink privately at home.
Coffee and Cafes
Western-style cafes are not common, but a few are dotted around the place. I recommend the following for a decent cup of coffee:
Books@cafe (Omar Bin Al-Khattab St 12) is where you’ll find the greatest concentration of Westerners during the day (apart from the touristic sights). The interior reminds me of some kind of New Zealand beach town cafe for some reason. There’s a balcony, with plenty of space and bit of a view. Nobody was using it in November.
The coffee is good and the service is excellent. And best of all, the downstairs area is filled with one of my favourite items, books.
There’s no real reason to stock up on paperbacks though. Prices are higher than in Europe or the US, for example. But if you’re in desperate need of a good read, this is the place to go. There are also many local books (and guidebooks) for the curious-minded.
Caffé Strada is the best cafe in the city. This is a modern, clean, and airy cafe serving tasty coffee and Western-style snacks, just off Rainbow Street.
Opening at 7 am, Strada is one of the first places you can get your caffeine hit. And the coffee is delicious, prepared by a professional barista. You’ll find Caffé Strada close to the first circle (intersection of Rainbow & Muhammad Rashid Reda streets) and not more than a 25-minute walk to the citadel. The place is huge so there’s plenty of choices of seating.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I wear in Amman?
Jordan is a muslim country and although it’s a relatively progressive society, local people don’t generally wear short pants. Male tourists may wear shorts outside of religious and government buildings but female travellers in Amman should prepare for travel in Jordan as they would in any Muslim country. Respect for local tradition and custom by covering skin where possible. In the summer, bring clothing with light, breathable material. In the winter, a heavy sweater and jacket is recommended. Hats and gloves might be needed if you venture outside of the city.
Can I do a day tour from Amman to Petra?
Petra tours from Amman take around 12 hours and will cost somewhere between US$150 and $200, depending on the service provider. Day tours to Petra from Amman are only recommended for people who have very little time to spend in Jordan.
Can I do Petra and Wadi Rum tours from Amman?
Yes, it is possible to do a tour of both Petra and Wadi Rum from Amman, but a multi-day trip is better. It’s hard to cover both locations properly in the same day from the capital and it’s not recommended to try. However, many tour operators offers day trips to both sites.
How much is a taxi from Amman airport to Amman?
A regular taxi costs around US$30. An Uber costs between US$15 and $20
Is there an Amman airport bus?
Buses from Queen Alia Airport depart every 40 minutes during working hours. There are no buses between the hours of midnight and 6:30 am. The journey takes around 60 minutes to the North Bus Station. From there you will need to take a taxi to your hotel or destination in Amman.
How long does it take to get from Amman to Jerash?
Jerash is relatively close to Amman and can be reached by private car in just over an hour. Buses leave regularly from the North Terminal Bus Station and are very cheap. A taxi costs around US$60 for a return trip. Uber one-way costs around US$25
How can I get from Amman to Aqaba?
Aqaba is at a distance of 330 km from Amman and can be travelled by bus in about 5 hours. It’s also possible to fly from Queen Alia Airport in Amman to King Hussein International Airport in Aqaba. The journey time is 1 hour.