Updated: Jun 20, 2019
The sea of limestone buildings makes Amman’s seven hills seem more like 70. Jordan’s capital city—and home to almost half of the country’s residents—is considered one of the most liberal in the Arab world. Divided by a downtown valley, city life is split between east and west; old and new. Veins pulsate in every direction, highways delivering newcomers, visitors and refugees alike. You can see why so many are drawn there; why some arrive and never leave.
Where to stay
Highrises spiral skyward in the new Amman. Among them is the one-of-a-kind Amman Rotana, where we experienced Jordan’s hospitality on the grandest scale. From Rotana, we were easy walking distance to the city’s newest developments, or a quick ride to nearby restaurants and shops. And if we didn’t want to leave the premises, we had modern amenities at the touch of an elevator button: a 5-star breakfast buffet, a bar-lounge, and even a rooftop bar (which would open for the season soon after we left).
How to get around
One word: Uber. Yes, there are cabs. Yes, there are buses. But when you receive unsolicited advice from a local to stick with Uber, you take it.
And here’s why—ride shares offer a variety of safety-related benefits that other modes of transport don’t: (1) your location is tracked, a feature that’s especially beneficial when riding at night, (2) you can share your location with someone you trust right in the app, (3) the price of your ride is fixed, so there’s no haggling, and (4) there’s no need for any exchange of paper currency. All factors that mitigate the potential for trouble, IMO.
What to see & do
While many of Jordan’s more popular sights are located outside Amman, like the mysterious city of Petra and red desert sands of Wadi Rum, there’s plenty of history and culture within the city limits, too. First, head to the Amman Citadel. The hilltop fortress offers incredible views to the surrounding hills. The grounds feature the Temple of Hercules, an Umayyad palace, and the modest (yet informative!) Jordan Archaeological Museum.
From the Citadel, head down the hill towards Amman’s Roman ampitheatre. The theatre dates back to the 2nd Century—a time when the city was called Philadelphia. Really!
From Amman, you can easily take day trips to the cities of Um Qais and Jerash. From the basalt-black ruins of Um Qais, you can see the Sea of Galilee. And Jerash, with its impressive Greco-Roman colonnaded streets, temples, and hippodrome, was once a member of the Decapolis league of cities. Equal reminders that you’re standing close to the earliest days of civilization.
After your history fix, head to Rainbow Street for shopping, lunch, and more picturesque views of Amman. There, you can also do as the locals do and have flavored shisha at one of the outdoor cafes. We made our way along Rainbow Street to Old View Cafe to do just that.
Where to eat
Rainbow Street is also home to the best meal we had on our trip: Sufra Restaurant. I went into this meal expecting to love the hummus; I left forever a fan of mutabal. The hummus, served as part of the traditional mezze in Jordan, was of course delicious—I’ve just never had mutabal before. It’s similar to, but not the same as, baba ganoush. It became the dish I looked forward to each mezze.
Tip: Make dinner reservations as early as you can, and for everywhere you can, or risk not getting into a popular spot like Sufra. The first time we tried for a resv, they were booked for the evening. On second attempt, we could only sit in the smoking section. As it’s a sizeable, high-ceilinged space, I never would have known we were seated in the smoking section.
Elsewhere, we had a memorable lunch at Al-Quds Restaurant in downtown Amman. For one, Google Maps had a challenging time pointing us in the right direction. We climbed this charming set of stairs in the process—alas, the entrance to Al-Quds is located across the street from said stairs. FYI.
The meal was also memorable because the food was outstanding. When locals filled the seats around us, we knew we’d come to the right place, despite initial appearances.
Following lunch, we treated ourselves to Habibah Kunafa, located right next door to Al-Quds. Here, we ordered the traditional Middle Eastern sweet, kunafa—think thin strands of filo dough, cheese, sweet syrup, and pistachios. Yum. While kunafa doesn’t travel well (aka, I wouldn’t plan to take any home with you), the shop also sells a variety of other traditional sweets in take-home tins.
Where to drink
While I’d describe the city of Amman as modern, you’re still not going to see a wine list at traditional restaurants. You will, however, find alcohol served at hotels and restaurants geared towards tourists. Our hotel, for instance, had a lovely bar-lounge that served a variety of Jordanian wines, among others. And fortunately for us, we stayed just across the street from Amman’s outdoor shopping mall, The Boulevard, where Jordan River Wines’ tasting room is located. JR The Wine Experience, as it’s called, offers a variety of sampling options, including flights, wine by the glass, and bottle. As of publication, the best of the bunch—the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon—awaits cracking open. Wine always makes the best souvenir, amirite?
What to pack
Likewise, a modern-yet-conservative wardrobe is the way to go as you’re planning your trip to Jordan. Ladies, that means staying covered up ‘from elbow to knee’—as I read somewhere during my own trip planning. I’m a big fan of the jumpsuit for easy, comfy, all-in-one outfit planning. Throw a scarf on to cover up any V-neck showage, and you’re good to go.
Also, wear comfy shoes. Toms, Allbirds, [enter trendy millennial brand name here]—I wouldn’t recommend packing anything with a heel. Although, in West Amman (that’s the new Amman), you’ll definitely see stylish women rocking heels. *Cue an Uber.*
Finally, pack for all sorts of weather. Ahead of our trip, we expected dry, 70 to 80 degree days—aka, typical weather for April. I brought my lightweight, packable winter jacket, thinking I’d need it for our night in the desert. I, in fact, did not need it then, but I wore it for the 50 degree days we saw at the start of our trip. Also, I brought a rain jacket on a whim—and was grateful I had that during the freak thunder/hail storm we experienced in Jerash. We did finally see the sun—and feel the heat—during our stay at the Dead Sea. I caught a sweet sunburn from all of one hour of sun exposure. My point? Bring sunscreen. Bring your winter coat. Go prepared for any weather.
The fine print: AWCity guides are not meant to be your comprehensive guide to a city. Treat these guides as if you asked me for my personal recommendations for where to stay, eat, drink, and play. Also, I've received no compensation for recommending these places, and I'll always let you know if that changes.