While the idea of travelling to the Middle East may be concerning to some, these worries are likely to evaporate as soon as you step foot in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Despite its geographic location (bordered by Iraq, Syria and Lebanon), Jordan is extremely peaceful and safe, yet its locals retain the warm hospitality that the Middle East is famous for.
Jordan is certainly not short of things to do, with Petra being the jewel in its tourism crown. However, a trip to Jordan’s lively and historical capital, Amman, is also a must do. Packing in beautiful shopping, scrumptious cuisine and friendly people, set amongst a beautiful historic backdrop, it really is a great place to visit.
Of course, like any city, Amman has its downsides. The pollution can be quite bad here, and the city is straining under not only the weight of its own population, but also those from abroad who have sought safety in Jordan’s capital. Therefore, it is good to bring a healthy dose of patience – the roads are crowded (crossing is a challenge), and it can be noisy and dirty. Nonetheless, Amman remains a wonderful place for travellers to visit.
Amman is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and it is amazing to think of all that this city has seen. Perhaps one of the best places to get an idea of this is the Roman Citadel, perched atop a hill and overlooking the entire city.
These ruins are reflective of Jordan’s past, with Roman, Byzantine and Islamic influence. It’s a great place to start a tour of Jordan, and the contrast between old and new Amman is really fascinating. Nearby is the Jordan Archaeological Museum which houses a modest but interesting number of artifacts from ancient times up until the 15th century.
Also in the historic city is the Roman Amphitheatre, an expansive and impressive complex dating back almost 2,000 years. At the time, Amman was known as ‘Philadelphia’ and the amphitheatre could house up to 6,000 cheering fans. Today, it is far quieter, but still plays host to various events such as the Amman International Book Fair.
Speaking of books, a nice stop in Amman is at ‘the downtown book store’, also Jordan’s oldest book seller. The store (which is really more of a stand) has been selling books since 1951, and is still in the same family. Word is this stand is frequented by Jordan’s beloved royal family, so it is well worth having a look. Rumour is that they can get in any book you want, although it takes up to 3 weeks so perhaps not ideal for a traveller.
Not far from the book stand is another Amman treasure, Habibah. This dessert stall is well loved throughout the city and all of Jordan due to its delicious knafeh, a mouthwatering Jordanian pastry. This stall is known to hold up traffic, and police are sometimes there directing cars – pretty impressive for a humble dessert store!
Within easy walking distance of the Amphitheatre are many bustling shops and market stalls. If nothing else, this provides a great opportunity to stop and chat with Jordanians; some of the friendliest and wittiest people you’d hope to meet.
Some of the best things to buy in this area include the beautiful kohl eyeliners worn by stylish Jordanian women, and beautiful shawls and scarfs. If you’re lucky, you can even take a peak at some of the beautiful flowing dresses worn by the most stylish Jordanian women – however, they don’t come cheap, often costing upwards of thousands of dollars with real gold thread.
More shopping can be done at the central market in downtown Amman. This bustling place can be a little overwhelming at first, but spending a little while meandering through and tasting the dried fruits and nuts is a great way to pass the time! A cup of mint tea is also highly recommended.
A great place to stop in for a more hearty meal is on Rainbow Street, a trendy strip of cafés and restaurants. Although they do sell Western food here, this is Jordan so it’s worth trying something a bit different, whether it’s a main meal or a smaller snack. Even if you don’t like it, at least it’s a story! So if you rather mingle with the locals to have some real authentic dishes than try the Al Quds Restaurant. A perfect place to taste Jordanian dishes for budget price!
Although Amman is brimming with history, one of the most lovable things about the city is its lively nightlife. Being predominantly Islamic, alcohol is not readily available in Jordan, however if anything that only adds to how enjoyable it is to see the night away in Amman.
Visit one of the city’s lively streets and enjoy shisha and snacks well into the night, over good conversation and the warm hospitality the Kingdom is so known for. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for a glimpse of charismatic Queen Rania, who is known to make her own way through the streets of Amman chatting with her people.
Author: Georgie McRae