From Roman ruins to contemporary cafés, abundant art galleries to eco-focussed luxury hotels, the Jordanian capital has a lot to offer
Ssummer may be peak tourist season in Jordan but winter offers a fresher spin on life in the country’s capital. Out come the gas fires as people huddle on café terraces to sip warm drinks and smoke shisha while inside they order steaming vats of meaty stew to keep out the cold.
Food, as any visitor will quickly discover, is a way of welcoming guests in Jordan so prepare to indulge in an endless round of delicious dishes in this most hospitable of Arab nations. There are plenty of ways to walk it off too, whether exploring the backstreets of leafy Jabal Webdieh, browsing boutiques in the new Abdali district or delving into the maze of Roman ruins at the historic Citadel.
Amman through the ages
Amman has some of the oldest roots in the region, with evidence of human occupation dating back to 7250 BC. During the Roman era, it was known as Philadelphia – one of the 10 Decapolis cities that formed a strategic string of settlements stretching across the Levant. The Jordan Museum is the perfect place to gain insight into Amman’s antique heritage as well as an update on more recent events exploring the capital in modern times.
Dinner and dialogue
Set up to provide a place for people of all cultures to share their views and discuss timely topics over home-cooked food, Shams Community always makes for an interesting evening out. Master classic Jordanian dishes in the kitchen with friendly strangers or go on one of the international nights and sample different cuisines, cooked and served at a long table in this bohemian space.
Amman’s art scene is populated by hole-in-the-wall venues tucked away down sleepy side streets. Often, it takes a bit of hunting to find them but the effort is well rewarded, particularly around the arty hotspots of Jabal Amman and Jabal Weibdeh.
Street art abounds in Amman and various initiatives encourage the city’s artists to display their talent on a number of blank walls. Spot some of the best examples in Jabal Weibdeh, Al Balad and Shmeisani.
Hike a section of the picturesque Jordan Trail, which runs from the top of the country to the bottom, and stop off in rural villages to glimpse everyday local life
The former Philadelphia
Evidence of Amman’s illustrious Roman past can be seen in abundance at The Citadel, with highlights such as the Temple of Hercules, which dates from 162-166 AD, as well as other structures from periods, including a Byzantine church, an Umayyad mosque and an Ayyubid watchtower. Leave a good three hours to explore this site properly and take in all its treasures.
The Duke’s Diwan
For a personal perspective on Amman, drop in on The Duke at his Diwan for coffee and an illuminating chat. Housed in the city’s oldest residence – a beautiful old building dating back to 1924, this stately time warp was purchased in 2001 by Mamdouh Bisharat, known locally as the ‘Duke of Mukheiheh’, who welcomes visitors curious to learn more about the colour, culture and character of his beloved city.
Really an art gallery, but also a much-frequented café, this fantastic venue sprawls down a hillside in Jabal Weibdeh and houses one of the city’s most intriguing archaeological sites in a pretty garden set back from the road.
WHERE TO SHOP
The home of local brand Trinitae, Soap House sells exquisite-smelling bath and beauty products that make the perfect gift to take home. The olive soap in particular is irresistible and, like all the brand’s products, is made from natural ingredients.
No Amman shopping experience would be complete without a visit to one of the city’s traditional Arabian marketplaces. For deals on second-hand designer ware, head to the late-night Friday market in Downtown, still called the Abdali market after its former location. To stock up on Middle Eastern herbs and spices, browse the stands at the Fruit and Vegetable souq in Al Balad (Downtown) or to pick up some traditional trinkets, head to the pop-up Souq el Sodfeh in Jebel Webideh at the weekend.
Best of the malls
Amman has its fair share of shopping centres, including TAJ Mall in the affluent Abdoun district, City Mall and Mecca Mall. These all offer a typical range of high-street and designer brands with food courts, cinemas and restaurants for a rainy day. There’s also the shiny new Abdali Boulevard complete with high-end boutiques and five-star restaurants.
If you’ve never tried Yemeni food then now is the time to sample this aromatic Arabian cuisine. Head to Bab Al Yemen and be sure to order plenty of traditional bread served hot from the oven
A taste of tradition
Using dishes reproduced from her grandmother’s recipe book, Nivin Karam has created a paean to Jordanian cooking with her menu of classic dishes prepared to perfection. Open for lunch (and on request for large private bookings in the evening), this charming spot has been lovingly decorated to capture the essence of old and new Amman.
Cooking and culture
A cross between a café, art gallery and cultural meeting space, Jasmine House draws a crowd of creatives who come to enjoy excellent Italian food in one of Amman’s prettiest settings. Set up to inspire open dialogue and discussion in a convivial environment, this is the ideal spot to tap into the city’s cultural community while tucking into delicious Italian fare.
Fakhreldin is arguably the city’s finest Arabic restaurant. Housed in the former abode of the late H.E. Mr. Fawzi Al-Mulki the first Prime Minister of Jordan, it is frequented by the city’s elite and offers an elegant spin on popular dishes, with over 100 options to choose from on the ample menu.
For exquisite handicrafts, jewellery and foodie products made in Jordan’s nature reserves, including silver jewellery, organic herbs, teas and jams, check out the Wild Jordan Nature Shop
Cabin in the woods
Those expecting Jordan to be all arid desert and dry wadis will be pleasantly surprised by the abundance of greenery in the forested hills of Ajloun where log cabins look out over verdant valleys. Spend the night in the Ajloun Forest Reserve for the ultimate ecotourism experience complete with hiking, a tour of the medieval castle and a visit to local craft centres.
There are several cities within easy driving distance for a day trip from Amman. Salt and Madaba, both about 40 minutes away, feature architectural gems and the mosaics of Madaba, one of which depicts the oldest map of the Middle East. It’s must-see.
More Roman ruins
Just half an hour from Amman, Jerash contains some of the best-preserved Roman ruins outside of Rome, including several magnificent ampitheatres and a spectacular street lined with columns where the grooves of the chariots that once rumbled this way can still be faintly discerned.
Book an overnight stay at the Feynan EcoLodge in the Dana Biosphere and explore some of Jordan’s most beautiful Wadis with an experienced Bedouin guide
WHERE TO STAY
Four Seasons Hotel Amman
This five-star hotel has a spa, rooftop pool and several excellent dining options, including the recently opened La Capitale, which serves French fare.
Grand Hyatt Amman
Conveniently located within easy reach of the city’s major leisure area, this luxury hotel has all the facilities needed for a comfortable stay.
Sheraton Amman Al Nabil
With all the grandeur of an old colonial hotel, this is the perfect base to explore the city and return each night to five-star comfort.
Inspired to go? Click here for the latest offers