Traveler: Danielle Gervalis
When: September 2018
While planning a trip to Petra, I did a lot of googling on which cities to visit in Jordan. Amman came up as one of those overlooked cities that deserves a second chance. So I gave it a try! After spending two days in the city, I’m still on the fence. Don’t get me wrong, I had a wonderful time exploring the archeological sites and snuffing out the places that served alcohol but if I had the option to spend more time in in Istanbul, I would’ve chose that option. That being said, if you are heading to Amman, don’t be dismayed! There are still tons of cool things to see and tasty places to eat! Here’s our best recommendations.
A two and a half hour flight from Istanbul, I arrived at the dope Queen Alia International Airport (QAIA). I mean even the abbreviation is sophisticated. This airport is modern and all of the surfaces shine. After getting through customs rather quickly, I attempted to get a Uber. I was thwarted by airport security who informed me Uber was illegal at the airport. This time I heeded their warning and dealt with the taxi drivers who only accept local currency. The cab driver we ended up with was an animated fellow who stopped at his friend’s shop to pick up ahot tea, smoked like a chimney and littered. Even with all that, he was still friendly and enjoyed telling us about the city.
Unfortunately, Amman does not have a high walkability score as it has hills on hills on steroids and barely a cohesive sidewalk, so you are dependent on cabs and public transportation to get around. Additionally, crossing the street can be a little tricky. You basically lock eyes with the driver, stick your hand out and hope for the best. I found that tagging behind a local was the most effective way to get across the street.
We stayed at the Toledo Amman Hotel located on the outer edges of the old city, just a few blocks from the King Abdullah I Mosque. The neighborhood seemed to be surrounded by auto body shops on the back entrance and a residential neighborhood in the front. While the rooms are a little dated, they are large and contain all of the necessary creature comforts. The lobby areas channel the Moorish influence and are quiet beautiful! The staff is very kind and helpful and were great with arranging taxis and providing suggestions.
Things to Do:
Right in the center of downtown Amman is the famous Rainbow Street. It’s basically a bunch of ice cream shops, cafes, hookah spots, and restaurants. You’ll see lots of teens walking around, hanging out and snapchatting their friends. They drive down the strip blasting music and wave at the people walking through. I was expecting it to have a much more lively vibe, but it was a tame evening out on Rainbow during my visit!
The Amman Citadel is an amazing archeological site and thrilling to explore! The hilltop fortress overlooks the entire city providing 360 degree views to visitors. This area has a long history of human occupation dating back to 1650 BC! Great civilizations, including the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and Romans, have all wrestled control over the Citadel. It was conquered by the Greeks in 331 BC and renamed to the city of Philadelphia.
The three main remnants are the Temple of Hercules, a Byzantine Church and the Umayyad Palace, with a restored dome. The site supported ancient royal rulers and their subjects. You’ll see outlines of small buildings and highly sophisticated cisterns.
Additionally, there is a small museums with relics from the site including anthropoid coffins and the oldest figurines of any human civilization, the Anh Gazal statues which date back to 8,000 BC.
Once you are finished with the Citadel, stroll down the hill to the old Roman Theater. It takes about 30 minutes to fully visit the theater if you climb to the top row. I recommend you do because the views looking down are wonderful. Constructed in the 2nd century, this Roman Theater seats 6,000 people and is oriented to the north to keep the sun off of the attendees. There are still shows conducted here today, including the Al-Balad Music Festival which showcases emerging Arab bands.
Mosque Abu Darwish
I’ve never seen a mosque quite like the Abu Darwish Mosque. It sits atop one of the city’s seven hills and is uniquely black and white checkered. It’s certainly eye-catching. We took a cab from the Roman Theater for 3 JD and our cab driver waited for us while we checked if we could go inside but unfortunately it was closed. Either way, I was happy to walk around the building and enjoy the design.
King Abdullah I Mosque
This stunning mosque was completed in 1989 as a memorial from King Hussein to his late grandfather, King Abdullah I who was asasinated in 1951 in Jerusalem by a Palestinian man who feared the King was going to make peace with Israel. His death was a terrible tragedy. In his younger days, he was a key participant of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Emperor. The mosque’s blue bright dome is 35 meters in diameter and is covered in Quranic inscriptions. The complex can hold 10,000 worshippers and encourages non-muslim visitors to come and check it out! They provide complimentary cover ups for your visit and there is a small museum which displays the King’s personal belongings.
The highlight of our stay in Amman was just a 45 minute drive north to the ancient city of Jerash. I have no idea how Jerash has not yet made the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, it was founded as a Greek city in the 4th century under Alexander the Great and flourished under the Romans for over 300 years! In my opinion it rivals the Acropolis and is well-known as the best preserved Roman city outside of Italy. Honestly, the site is incredible, the size is overwhelming and the structures are striking. I can’t imagine anyone not being in awe by a visit exploring here!
We paid about $18 for a Uber from downtown Amman. The good news was that the site was pretty much empty. The bad news was that it was hot as hell and there is barely any shade but we pressed on and spent about four hours wandering the site. We chose to do it without a guide, as I had my trusty guidebook with me, but you can easily hire one for around 20JD. When we needed a break, we took advantage of the buffet restaurant with traditional dishes on site and refueled for 10JD a person. It’s a delicious bargain.
The Roman city sets the stage at the south entrance as you walk through Hadrian’s Arch, built in 129AD in honor of said emperor, and continues to amaze from there with the massive Hippodrome, where they still recreate Roman races!
The Cardo Maximus was my favorite section. It’s a half mile stretch of a colonnaded street that leads to the North Gate. The tall columns line both sides and you can see chariot divets in the stones! Along the street is the stunning Nymphaeum, which served as the main fountain of the city. Continue up the hill to the intact theater which had seating for 5,000 spectators! As you walk through the Temple of Zeus, the fallen broken column reminded me so much of the Temple of Zeus in Athens! The views from this temple encompass the ruins and modern city. It’s bewildering in the best possible way!
To get home, there are a few options as it’s difficult to get a Uber. You can negotiate an expensive rate with the cabs in the parking area. There are shared rides for 2 JD or you can the take the bus for 1 JD, so bring cash! We chose the bus, it was comfortable but still turned out to be a little tricky, as we had to switch buses once we got in the city. Fortunately, there was a friendly traveler who spoke English and was able to help us getting back to our hotel. Either way, there are cheap options to get in and out of Amman so don’t feel pressured to spend a lot of money on a tour group.
Places to Eat and Drink:
Sufra has the most gorgeous courtyard I’ve ever seen. Even though it’s on the popular Rainbow street and you can see planes flying overhead, the ambiance feels like you are dining in a secret garden complete with bubbling fountain. The service is first class and happy to offer recommendations from the traditional Arabic menu. They don’t serve alcohol and it’s more expensive then other local places but it is definitely worth the dining experience! Be sure to make a reservation!
This hip younger locale sits on First Circle and has a cool outdoor area to have a cocktail! Copas Central’s menu is tapas themed and the food is quite tasty, an upgrade from a typical bar menu. We tried the avocado shrimp and mushroom plate and felt full. They have a happy hour until 8pm which has buy one, get one specials. All of the patrons seemed to be in a celebratory mood, we were even witness to a surprise engagement!
Next door to Copas Central, Amigos is a darker, divey, smoke-filled version of your neighborhood bar. The decor is all music based with album covers lining the walls. The drinks are cheap and they also have a large pool table where you can challenge the locals!
The Corner’s Pub
I’ve never been to a city that didn’t have an Irish bar and Amman is no different. Head to The Corner’s Pub to rub elbows with the expat and local crowds. The pub has a huge outdoor deck even though it seems to be a fancy residential area near Second Circle. The bar wraps around so we had no problem getting a seat or quick service. Finally, they often feature live music so it’s worth checking out for some nightlife!
- Purchase the Jordan Pass. There are three options ranging from $100 to $113. It’s the most economical way to see the sights (over 40 are included) throughout the country and it includes the cost of the visa if you stay in Jordan for 3 nights.
- Amman is very safe. You don’t need to worry about any serious crimes here. Obviously, keep an eye on your bag to avoid any pickpocketing.
- We basically got raked over the coals in cab fares. It cost $4 one way and $10 to get back to the hotel. Make sure to ask how much it costs before you get in.
When getting a Uber, you will sit up front.
Bring your hotel address card/map with you. This was indispensable in getting around with taxis. We were able to hand it over and the driver took it from there.
Many places in Amman only accept cash, so it’s helpful to have small bills.
Pingback: Petra | World Travelers Union
Pingback: The Dead Sea | World Travelers Union