Amman, located in the Northern part of Jordan, is its capital. A number of travel advice suggested that I skip Amman when visiting Jordan, and I am very glad that I didn’t listen! While perhaps less exciting than some of Jordan’s other heavy hitters (Petra, Dead Sea, Wadi Rum, etc.), Amman is a gorgeous city that is often referred to as the “white city” due to the many, many white homes filling its hills; very picturesque and photographic, especially in Spring with all its flowers in bloom. Also, a great entrance or end to Jordan! In addition to its gorgeous white structures, Jordan is a fairly modern city, especially for the Middle East, with lots of Instagrammable spots! We spent 3 nights and 2 days in Amman, with a half-day trip to Jerash. We thought this was a perfect amount of time, but you could definitely squeeze it into 1 day. Here are the highlights from our time Amman!
HISTORY AND SIGHTSEEING
Since most tourists come to Amman for its history (or because its home to Jordan’s largest airport), I will start with the main sights in Jordan, most of which are historic! Amman is an ancient city, dating all the way back to 7250 BC. Since it’s been around forever, Amman has loads of history, of which we only scratched the surface. It’s also gone by many different names, from Ammon to Philadelphia (who knew?!). History buffs and archeology fans will go wild. That being said, even if you just have a day in Amman, or even a half day, you can scratch the surface like we did! We started our tour of Amman with Amman’s most famous historic site, the Amman Citadel! The Amman Citadel is on the very top of one of the hills in Old Amman surrounding Downtown Amman. You can visit the Citadel on your own, but a tour guide will help explain what you’re seeing (signage is lacking). We spent about an hour here.
We next visited Amman’s second most famous site, its extremely well preserved Roman Amphitheater! While the best views are arguably from the Citadel, the amphitheater is very cool up close and well worth the small entrance fee. Visitors can climb the amphitheater and walk around (wear sturdy shoes). Small museums are attached to each side of the amphitheater, which are each worth a 5 minute stroll through (one is a clothing museum, one is a Jordanian artifact museum). Old school hookahs on display were the highlight for us. We walked between the Citadel and the Amphitheater, which took about 15 minutes downhill, but if stairs are not your thing, you should probably take a car.
We walked from the Amphitheater through Downtown Amman, which is a chaotic mess of stores, cafes, markets, and people mixed with some upscale spots that are popular with the social media crowd! It reminded me a lot of Cairo, but a bit cleaner and more modern. Downtown Amman is the heart of the old city, and it deserves a quick walk around. We started with a juice from a street vendor and then a walk through the hectic Amman Market. The Market is interesting but very local and buying food will probably prove difficult for most tourists. We also stopped for a few snacks and coffee downtown, as described below. We spent about 20 minutes walking around downtown, exclusive of our time eating and drinking.
Our last stop on our whirlwind tour of Downtown Amman was a stroll down Rainbow Road. Rainbow Road is a popular thoroughfare lined with shops, cafes, shisha bars, restaurants, ice cream stands, etc., many of which are branches (or knock offs) of Western chains. Rainbow Road is more exciting in the evening when people are out and about for those interested in a visit.
In addition to its history, the food was definitely a highlight of Amman! I was not familiar with Jordanian food prior to our trip, and its very, very good! On our walk through Downtown Amman, we had lunch at one of Jordan’s most popular restaurants, with both tourists and locals, Hasheem Restaurant Downtown. At Hasheem, we ordered a selection of local dishes and ate right off the table a la locals! Hasheem is known for its falafel, but everything was quite good. Tourists should be prepared to wait for a table, but the line moves quick.
Our walk in Downtown Amman also took us to Habibah Sweets (open since 1951!), for what must be Amman’s most famous dessert: kunafa. I describe kunafa as a hot dessert cheese topped with pistachio nuts. Its an odd combination, but good and super popular with the locals. There was a line out of the building. If hot dessert is not your speed, there is an authentic Syrian ice cream shop just across the street!
All of these foods that I have mentioned are quite inexpensive and “to go” type foods. And on that same note, I give you our favorite cheap eat in Amman (if not anywhere): Reem Shawarma! Reem Shawarma is a literal hole-in-the-wall shawarma stand very close to where we stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel. Reem whips out $1.42 beef shawarma sandwiches complete with onion, tomato, and the most delicious white sauce. Bring cash and be prepared to wait a few minutes at any hour of the day (open 24 hours!). These were delicious. Dan and I went back everyday.
Now setting aside Amman’s cheap eats, I must mention Fakhreldin Restaurant, which was so amazing! In fact, it was so good, Dan and I went twice. Fakhreldin actually serves Lebanese fare and is one of the most popular upscale restaurants in Amman. Fakhreldin has its own post drafted, but as a sneak picture, my very favorite dish were these tomatoes!
In short, while our food in Amman was limited and touristy, you definitely will not starve in Amman! Also, everywhere we went to eat (and drink, below) spoke enough English for us to order. And honestly, most servers spoke fluent English.
DRINKS IN JORDAN.
Despite Jordan being a largely Muslim country, alcohol is available and bars are not difficult to find in Amman. Jordan is even home to two wineries: Jordan River and St. George! This being said, many restaurants do not serve alcohol (check the menu to confirm) and bars that do serve alcohol often book up, particularly during happy hour (meaning you need a reservation).
On the alcohol front, I absolutely needed to visit one of Jordan’s only two wineries when we were there. Unfortunately, the winery tours were closed due to COVID, but Jordan River winery’s tasting room was open, and we paid it a visit! Jordan River’s “tasting experience” is in the new part town in The Boulevard, which as a Western style open-air mall, that was packed with locals when we visited. In addition to offering tastings, Jordan River’s tasting room also a good Western-style restaurant. We did a tasting of three wines, which guests pick (Viognier, Tempranillo, and Cab Sauv for us) and then opened one of the fancier reds for dinner. Jordan River’s upscale wines are much better than the standard fare that we found served throughout Jordan.
On the wine front, I found that St. George wine was more refined and delicious, but it was tougher to find; we only found it in Amman. St. George does have a shop, The Winemaker, in Amman but when we visited, its tasting room was not yet open to the public. Hopefully it will be open when you visit, because the wines are good!
In addition to wine, we noticed several bars near our hotel, so we decided to stop into one for pre-dinner drinks. Well, surprise, surprise, these places were packed and booked solid. We finally found two spots indoors at Brix Pub, which was having a 2-for-1 happy hour! We had Gin and Tonics that were pretty good. Almost all bars have a substantial mocktail list that is often just as fancy, if not fancier, than the regular cocktail list. So certainly do not feel that you need to drink alcohol at these places.
While booze is easy enough to find, coffee may be Amman’s most popular social beverage! We passed Starbucks several times and it looked like a legit date bar. We skipped Starbucks, but we did stop at one of Amman’s oldest and most famous coffee houses, Jaffe. Jaffe is a coffee and shisha house right in Downtown Amman amongst a row of other similar style coffee houses on the second level of the shops. The architecture of these coffee shops was really cool. We enjoyed real Jordanian coffee in a very cool setting at Jaffe.
Similar to coffee, hot tea is super popular, despite the heat. You can find hot tea almost everywhere in Amman.
I very much enjoyed shopping in Jordan, and I wish I had more time for it! For high street and luxury shopping, head to the new part of town. We spent a few hours in The Boulevard, which is basically a modern outdoor mall with numerous Western chains. The Boulevard is very popular and a place to “be seen.”
For Jordan souvenirs, trinkets, and Jordanian things, Downtown Amman has plenty. You can often haggle a bit at souvenir stands, small souks, etc. geared toward tourists. Bring cash. I would also note that there is an amazing local artists shop on the stairs coming down from the Citadel to the Roman Amphitheater, featuring living local Amman artists who actually work in the shop. It’s called Amman Panorama Art Gallery (linked below). We bought several items, including an original painting from one of the artists on site! Prices were very reasonable and the store even delivered our purchases to our hotel for us so we did not have to carry around our new treasures.
I also have to mention Trinitae, the most beautiful and lovely soap miller in Amman! The gorgeous shop is located on Rainbow Street. Trinitae sells soaps and other bath products at, honestly, a reasonable price; don’t be deterred by the prim and proper atmosphere. These products also make excellent gifts to bring home.
WHERE WE STAYED
Visitors have two main options in visiting Amman: staying in Old Amman or New Amman. In my opinion, Old Amman is what you came to see, and there are numerous hotels in the area, from international chains to small, local accommodations. New Amman is a cluster of modern buildings with many, many international hotel chains and Western outlets. Either would make a fine choice, but know it takes a while to travel between the two parts of town. Below is a picture of the pool area at the Intercontinental. Very appreciated on hot days!
We stayed at the Intercontinental, in the old part of town. The location was great and allowed us to easily walk to Rainbow Street and lots of restaurants. The Intercontinental has a few on site restaurants and a large outdoor pool on site. I would stay there again, but it’s not my favorite Intercontinental Property.
Here are some notes for a trip to Amman:
We either walked or took a taxi everywhere in Amman. Walking is safe, but some streets that seem walkable on Google maps are sometimes legit highways, particularly heading toward the new part of town. If you are navigating yourself around, plan very well.
Following the above comment, Amman is large and it can take a while to get from place to place, even if it looks close on a map. I recommend using a guide if you are short on time, which is what we did (linked below). Otherwise, plan your itinerary very carefully to avoid disappointment.
Arabic is Jordan’s language. However, we found that most people that we encountered spoke well enough English to communicate with us, if not fluently. You shouldn’t have a problem if you speak English.
Amman is conservative and many locals dress conservatively with long dresses/pants and long-sleeve tops for women. I wore outfits that covered my knees and shoulders, but nothing too conservative and no one seemed to look twice at me. It seems like Westerns can wear whatever, unless you plan to enter a place of worship, such as a Mosque, which may have much stricter requirements.
Friday is the holy day in Amman and many things are closed on Friday or keep odd hours. Confirm hours/availability in advance on Fridays.
Credit cards are generally accepted in large stores, restaurants, and hotels, but smaller shops and food vendors, especially around tourists attractions, may not. We carried more local cash than we usually do abroad for this reason.
We found Amman quite safe. Locals can haggle you around tourist attractions, but a firm no will usually make them stop. Traffic is also a little crazy; take care crossing streets.
On thing you’ll notice, pictures of Jordan’s king are everywhere. It’s a thing in Jordan, not just Amman.
I would also note that we had a difficult time finding much information online about Jordan, aside from travel bloggers. It’s difficult to plan Jordan, so keep an open mind and be prepared to change your plans without notice.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Amman Citadel: K. Ali Ben Al-Hussein St. 146, Amman, Jordan. Open daily 8h – 19h, with shorter hours on Friday and in the Winter. Entry fee was approximately 2 JOD.
Roman Amphitheater: Taha Al-Hashemi St., Amman, Jordan. Small fee to enter. I think the Roman Amphitheater keeps similar hours to the Citadel.
Hasheem: Al-Amir Mohammed St. Downtown, Amman 11110 Jordan. No reservations. No alcohol. Open 24 hours.
Habibiah Sweets: We visited the Downtown locations, but there are several in Amman. Downtown location is take away only.
Reem: Al Kulliyah Al Elmiyah Al Eslamiyah St 54, Amman, Jordan. Open 24 hours. Take away only.
Fakhreldine Restaurant & Cafe: Taha Hussein St., Amman, Jordan. Open daily 13:00 – 00:00. Reservations highly recommended. Dress nicer than usual to avoid being embarrassed.
Jafra Cafe: Complex No 15, Prince Mohammad St 15, Amman, Jordan.
Jordan River Tasting Room a/k/a JR The Wine Experience: Inside The Boulevard.
Brix Cafe: Abdul Qader Keshk St., Amman, Jordan. Great outdoor space. Reservations during happy hour recommended.
Intercontinental Amman: Islamic College Street Amman, 11180, Jordan
Amman Panorama Art Gallery (no website): Located mid-way on the pedestiran stairs directly across from the Hashemite Plaza in front of the Roman Ampitheater. There is a small sign designating the shop. Everything is by local artists, who are often in the shop. I think its open daily from 10h – 19h, with the exception of Friday when it opens later.
Soap House – Trinitae: Rainbow St. 8b, Amman, Jordan. Prices listed on their online store if you’re curious.
Booking Jordan: We used this company to book a “food tour” of Amman (the “Guided Street Food Tour Amman”). While more historic tour than food tour, it was a great way to get around the city. I recommend this tour.