This week we’re shining a light on Amman, the capital of Jordan. My good mate Fraser Balaam who is a fantastic writer recently returned from a trip that involved Roman ruins, meandering through markets and floating in the Dead Sea.
He was champing at the bit to wax lyrical on this peaceful, Middle Eastern gem so he’s provided this fantastic guest post to help you plan 48 hours in Amman.
Amman is a city that doesn’t seem to get much attention from travellers as a single destination, instead often being seen as an access point to Jordan as a whole. Though it is a perfect place to begin a tour of the Middle East, the favourable flight options from the UK and a simmering city atmosphere make it a place that you can find yourself quickly hooked on.
Things to See and Do
Standing authoritatively over the city, the ruins at Jebel al-Qala’a are fertile ground for exploration, and something that should feature in any visit to Amman. The easiest way to get there would be to hop in a taxi for the short drive from Downtown, though, if you’re feeling adventurous, the steep climb up several staircases is a rewarding one.
The ruins of The Temple of Hercules are an impressive sight that tower over the cityscape and make for a dramatic place to watch the sun slide down. There are plenty of ruins to keep your curiosity high, from the citadel that dominates the complex, to fragmented remains of a statue that would have once been a monumental picture.
Jebel al-Qala’a also serves as an ideal place to enjoy a panorama of the jagged, sandy buildings that stretch across the city.
The winding avenues of Downtown make for an interesting afternoon amble and it’s a good place to familiarise yourself with the feel of Amman. The hurried business of the souks around King Faisal Street and the King Hussein Mosque are intriguing for shoppers and observers alike.
It would be difficult to visit Amman without spending some time immersing in the sights and smells of the markets of Downtown.
One of the more serene places to stroll in the city is up and down Rainbow Street, which is a short walk from Downtown and home to many an attractive coffee house and trinket shop.
The view that opens up across the city from Rainbow Street is a good spot to view the enormous Hashemite flag that flaps gently on the horizon. Many of the better places to relax over a coffee and an argileh pipe are to be found on Rainbow Street.
The Amphitheatre creates quite an impression when viewed from Jebel al-Qala’a. The steep ascent to the top of the theatre is well worth the climb if only to spend a while eavesdropping on the conversations of those below.
Entry is only 1JD, and that ticket also grants you access to the two endearing on-site museums, The Jordan Folklore Museum and the Museum of Popular Tradition. Work is well underway in renovating the square immediately opposite the amphitheatre, and on completion there should be quite a buzz around the area.
The Dead Sea
Amman is situated in close proximity to some staggeringly impressive towns, all of which would compete for your attention over the course of a week (towns such as Jerash and Salt). However, with only 48 hours to play with it could be logistically possible to shoehorn in an afternoon at the Dead Sea, which is approximately 45 minutes in a taxi from central Amman (a taxi with waiting time tends to come at in around 30JD). Spending an hour floating around aimlessly in the Dead Sea – the lowest point on earth – is an experience that is undeniably memorable.
Entry to Amman Beach is 15JD, but is well worth the expense for the access to fresh showers as you’ll want to wash off the thick Dead Sea salt afterwards. The sea tingles, so prepare to wince if you jump in with a cut on your leg, and it’d be a good idea to avoid getting it anywhere near your mouth and eyes (and that’s coming from someone who unwittingly put that to the test).
Food and Drink
The taste and texture of steaming fresh falafel will quickly have you hooked. Al-Kuds on Rainbow Street dishes up some of the best (and most addictive) in town. It’s a small over-the-counter joint next to the British Council, and is well worth paying a visit to during an afternoon stroll along Rainbow Street.
Another place to pick up cheap and flavoursome falafel dishes is Hashem, a restaurant that takes over an alley in the heart of Downtown. It’s a staple traveller hangout but one that feels very authentic, and the spread of falafel and hummus will keep you fuelled for hours.
The coffee shop scene in Amman thrives, and you could feasibly spend days casually drifting from one to another. You’ll find inviting coffee rooms on most streets, and some feel so tucked away that being in them feels like being trusted with a secret. The terrace of the peculiarly named Eco Tourism Cafe is the best place to watch the activity of Downtown, but some of the best are found along Jebel Amman, particularly Rainbow Street. Books@Cafe is slightly more expensive than the average, but fills up with a young, hip crowd and is worth a visit for the view across Amman as well as the general trendy ambience. For something a little more bohemian, Duinde, on Rainbow Street, does great Arabic Coffee and is decorated with walls of striking art. It might not have the draw of a terrace, but it’s a place that you could easily lose an afternoon in. Two others that are worth seeking out are Wild Jordan, off Rainbow Street, and the charmingly peaceful Darat Al-Funun, north of Downtown.
Drinking alcohol in Amman is a bit of a mixed bag. Bars range from smoky, dimly-lit haunts (Jordan Bar in Downtown) to more relaxed vibes of bars such as those on Rainbow Street. Generally, bars become lively on a Thursday, and it goes without saying that displaying drunken behaviour in public is downright insensitive.
How to get there
With an easyJet service from London Gatwick to Amman operating three times per week, getting to Jordan can be surprisingly inexpensive. The flight time works out at roughly five and half hours, and if you can stomach no-frills air travel for that long you could feasibly make the trip for around £150-£200. And that includes a checked bag (imagine that!).
Admittedly, sitting on a budget airline seat for over five hours isn’t going to be an attractive prospect to everyone, especially if you’re someone who doesn’t often feel the urge to buy expensive Mini Cheddars or smokeless cigarettes. In this case, Royal Jordanian Airlines fly in and out of London, as do bmi. The extra trimmings that mid-range carriers provide to make the flight more comfortable might be worth the investment.
If you’re flying into Amman at night it could be worth pinching a window seat. On a clear night, the lights of Istanbul and the Middle East as you descend can be quite spectacular.
Getting around in Amman
Although many streets aren’t named, walking around areas such as Downtown can be fun and revealing if you’re using a simple map and the guidance of locals. Getting across the city is as easy as jumping in a taxi. Arrange a price as you get in and you’ll pay minimal amounts, but be warned that the traffic is heaving at the best of times, and in rush hour it can take an hour to drive a relatively short distance.
Where to stay
Farah Hotel is possibly the best place to position yourself for two days in and around Downtown. Rooms vary from comfortable singles/doubles through to standard backpacker dorms. A dorm will set you back as low as 6JD, and a private room around 15JD. The staff are attentive and understand the needs of budget travellers and will happily join you for a drink. They might even suggest it.
If you’re looking for something more along the lines of a traditional mid-range hotel, the Palace Amman Hotel is worth looking into. It’s competitively priced, and being near the King Hussein Mosque it’s also set in a lively part of Downtown.
It’s definitely possible to enjoy the best of Amman without travelling on a luxury budget. A typical taxi ride could be around 2JD, while a bus between districts will cost a fraction of a Dinar. You can pick up falafel sandwiches on the street for less than one Dinar, and a meal in one of the tidier restaurants in Downtown will cost around 5-10JD.
The coffee shop prices vary, with Books@Cafe in particular being a couple of Dinars more expensive than elsewhere. In many places, spending an hour with an Arabic coffee and a glass of water won’t cost you more than 3JD.
Getting to and from Queen Alia International Airport is also flexible. Where a taxi will cost in the region of 30JD, if you’re willing to experiment by taking the bus you’ll only pay around 3JD.
Amman is an intoxicating sprawl of activity, noise and expression, a city that provides an intriguing taste of Middle Eastern culture. Perhaps the finest way to experience Amman is to stumble into an unknown coffee shop at night, sit on a terrace looking over the city and listen to the haunting sound of the call to prayer – a powerful, unmissable glimpse at how Amman is threaded together.
Many thanks to Fraser and Reine Gammoh from Visit Jordan for supplying the photos used in this post.