Amman: Complete Guide to Jordan’s Capital

Amman is the capital of Jordan and both economically and culturally the most important city of the country. As one of the most ancient civilizations in the region, Amman has grown into a vibrant city offering the perfect blend of old and new. In addition to its historical sites, Amman is the perfect place to dive into Jordan’s diverse culture and food.

In this article, I’ll show you the best things to see and do in Amman. You’ll get some useful tips to help you plan your stay, written by a local expert.

Amman Jordan Travel Blog
Amman, the vibrant capital of Jordan

Things to See and Do in Amman

When planning your sightseeing in Amman, it’s good to know that the city consists of two parts. The modern West, which is mainly residential, and the traditional East, where most ancient sites are located.

Amman’s best sights are located in the downtown area as well as in the adjacent neighborhoods. Downtown is a neighborhood in the Eastern part of the city.

1. Roman Theater

The Roman Theater is one of the most iconic sites in Amman. Located in the heart of Amman Downtown, most visitors start their sightseeing here.

Once you get through the ticket office, you’ll walk through a large square. This was once the Roman forum and thus one of the central places of the city. The area was carefully restored over the past years. There are a few ancient Roman columns remaining on the square.

Walk straight to get to the theater. With a capacity of 6,000 seats, it used to be the largest Roman theater in the entire country. The theater dates back to the 1st century AD, the heyday of the Roman empire in the Middle East.

You should definitely climb the 44 rows all the way to the top. That might be a bit tiring, for which reason I recommend that you visit the Roman theater either in the early morning or in the late afternoon. Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with a great view of the Roman theater, its forecourt and surroundings.

On a side note, you’ll have some shadow in the theater in the morning hours, thus if you’re looking for the best moment to take pictures, you’d better visit in the late afternoon / early evening hours.

Amman Roman Theater
Inside the Roman Theater in Amman

Are you interested in history? Have a quick look at the Museum of Folklore and the Museum of Popular Traditions. These are located on either side of the theater (free of charge).

If you have some time left, visit the smaller Odeon Theater which is located right next to the big theater.

Amman Odeon Theater
The small Odeon Theater located next to the large Roman Theater

2. Amman Citadel

You’ll surely spot Amman’s second best attraction while you’re in the Roman theater. Amman Citadel is located on the hilltop opposite to the theater.

It makes sense to visit the citadel after you visit the theater, as they are very close to each other. You can walk uphill (takes about 20 minutes) or just take a taxi (1 JD). If you have planned a long day, you can best take a taxi to go up and just walk back towards downtown afterwards. That will save you some time and effort.

Amman Citadel, also known as Jabal al Qala’a, is the hill with the most ancient traces of settlement in Amman. It used to be the center of civilization from the Bronze Age until the Umayyad period. As such, Amman Citadel is not just a single sight, it’s rather a large historical complex that incorporates multiple ruins of different eras.

The most significant structure of the Citadel is the Temple of Hercules, built by the Romans in the same period as the nearby Roman theater (around 166 AD).

Amman Citadel Temple of Hercules
Temple of Hercules at Amman Citadel

The site also features an impressive Umayyad palace. Look out for a square-shaped building with a blue cupola, the so-called Qasr, which used to be the entrance to the palace. Built around 720 AD on top of the 750 m (2,460 ft) hill, the Qasr used to be the highest building of the area until modern Jordan. While the Qasr is in good condition, there are just a few ruins remaining of the actual palace.

Amman Citadel Qasr
Al Qasr – the entrance to the Umayyad Palace at Amman Citadel

Another small site on the site which is often overlooked is the Byzantine church. Same as for the palace, there are just a few ruins left (wall and floor structures). However, what I really love about the Byzantine church is that you can still see its original structure, such as the altar. So don’t miss out on the details during your visit.

By the way, you can read more about the Citadel (and many other sights and travel tips for Jordan) in the Welcome2Jordan travel guide.

3. Souqs and Shopping

The scent of spices, huge baskets of vegetables and a vibrant atmosphere… Welcome to Amman’s markets. Souqs (which is Arabic for markets) are an integral part of Arabic culture. You’ll find them all over the Middle East, especially in larger cities like Amman.

The traditional souqs are located in Amman Downtown. Even if you’re not looking for a shopping experience, don’t miss out on the cultural experience. You’ll find various souqs in the downtown area, although in reality, they are all connected to each other so you don’t have to pick one.

The streets of Amman downtown are full of small shops selling everything from traditional clothing, homeware, perfumes, jewelry, and much more. You’ll also find a few great souvenir shops here.

In the side streets (for example next to the nymphaeum), there are small market halls where they sell mostly vegetables and spices. Again, don’t miss out on them, as the huge buckets full of colorful vegetables and spices are a feast for all senses!

Souks in Amman Jordan
Souq al Khodra, a popular vegetable market in Amman

Another part of the downtown area is called Gold Souq. This is an area where the jewelry shops are located. You can find exquisite gold and silver jewelry here at a good deal (if you know how to bargain). If you aren’t looking to buy anything and don’t have much time, you can skip the Gold Souq.

If you’re looking for a rather quiet moment to visit, it’s best to go here after your visit to the theater and the citadel. You can walk from either one to the souqs in Downtown (about 20-25 minutes from the Citadel). In the evening hours, the area is very well frequented which offers a whole different experience than during the day.

Looking for a more quiet and not so traditional shopping experience? Head to Western Amman where the contemporary malls are located. Malls in Jordan are huge and contain everything from shops, restaurants to cinemas. My personal favorite is the Abdali Boulevard is a relatively newly built complex consisting of a mall and several cozy cafés and restaurants.

4. Jordan Museum

One of the things that makes Amman so special is the city’s cultural heritage. The sights and artifacts reflect the diversity of the dynasties that inhabited the area over thousands of years.

The first settlements who lived in the area around 7250 BC, created one of the first large-scale human figures in history. The famous Ain Ghazal statues can be seen in the Jordan Museum, along with hundreds of other artifacts, such as the popular Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Jordan Museum lets you wander through ten thousand years of history in just one day. Even if you’re not a big fan of museums in general, the Jordan Museum is really the one museum that you should absolutely not miss when in Jordan.

If you’re planning a one-day tour in Amman, you can best head here after visiting the attractions in Amman downtown.

5. King Abdullah Mosque

You might have heard that Jordan is a great place to explore biblical sites. While that’s absolutely true, don’t miss out on the wonderful Islamic architecture though.

Today, the main religion in Jordan is Islam, same as for (most) other countries in the Middle East. There are countless mosques in the entire country, ranging from small to large.

The King Abdullah Mosque is the large blue-domed mosque which really stands out from its surroundings. It’s the second largest mosque in Jordan and the mosque in the city that is open for tourists. It’s beautiful from the outside as well as inside and absolutely worth visiting. Built in 1989, the King Abdullah Mosque covers about 18,000 m² (193,750 sq ft) and consists of numerous prayer rooms that fit up to 10,000 people. The inside is carefully decorated with Quranic inscriptions and also features a few ancient artifacts as well as a souvenir shop.

Women need to wear a scarf to enter the mosque which is provided free of charge at the entrance.

You can perfectly visit the King Abdullah Mosque after your visit to the Downtown area (in combination with the Jordan Museum).

King Abdullah Mosque Amman
King Abdallah Mosque Amman

By the way: The largest mosque in Jordan is the King Hussein Mosque, situated next to the Royal Automobile Museum. While non-Muslim visitors are not allowed to enter inside this mosque, the square-shaped construction is a true architectural masterpiece even from its outside. If you spend some more time in Amman, you should definitely drive by the beautiful building.

6. Amman Street Art

So far, I’ve introduced you to the ancient site of Amman. The Roman heritage, traditional souqs, impressive history and architecture.

One thing that you probably didn’t expect of Amman is the city’s street art scene. Street art is something that doesn’t belong to the traditional cultural understanding. It’s a trend that has slowly evolved over the past decade. There are several very talented artists in the capital who have created some truly beautiful and meaningful graffiti!

Most of the street artwork (graffiti) can be found in the areas near downtown (starting from the vibrant Rainbow Street until the district Al Weibdeh).

If you have multiple days in Amman, visiting for a second time or simply would like to experience something different, I recommend that you check out Amman’s street art. The best way to do so is by joining a guided tour, as the artwork is spread over multiple parts of the city. Furthermore, there’s a meaning behind each piece of art which makes the trip even more memorable.

Street Art Amman
Street Art in Amman

7. Visit a Hammam

Would you like to incorporate some wellness and relaxation to your trip? While the Dead Sea is the best place in Jordan for a wellness retreat, Amman is a good choice if you’d like to experience a traditional hammam.

A hammam is a steam bath based on the concept of the Roman bath. It’s the spa of the Middle East if you will. A visit to a hammam traditionally also consists of various components: the steam room, a body scrub and a massage. The complete treatment takes about 1 hour and provides wellbeing for body and soul.

The good thing about hammams in Amman is that the treatments follow Ottoman traditions which will give you a very different experience when compared to the saunas and spas beyond the Middle East.

Note that gender segregation is common in Jordan. Women are welcome during the day, but evenings are typically men only. Thus, a hammam isn’t the best idea for a couples spa day.

8. Enjoy Jordanian Food

You might have heard about the amazing Middle Eastern cuisine. Whether it’s falafel, hummus, pita bread or kebab – all those famous dishes originate in the region.

Food is an integral part of Jordan’s culture and you’ll find a lot of amazing restaurants all over the country. There are several iconic restaurants in Amman which you’ll find in almost every Jordan travel guide or blog. On the top of the list is Hashem restaurant in Amman for falafel and hummus. And rightly so, as Hashem is truly the most famous falafel restaurant in Amman. There is hardly any local who hasn’t been to Hashem at least once in their life.

Most dishes that you’ll encounter in Jordan originate from Levantine cuisine. They are popular not only in Jordan but also in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. This is the case for falafel and hummus and most other dishes.

Falafel Amman Jordan
Falafel, hummus, foul and fries at Hashem restaurant Amman

However, there are a number of dishes and cooking techniques unique to Jordan, such as the national dish Mansaf or the Bedouin barbecue za’arb which you can get in Wadi Rum desert. When in Amman, skip the hotel’s lunch/dinner options and go for one of the amazing local restaurants.

Make sure to check out my article on the best restaurants in Amman with my recommendations on where to eat what in the capital.

9. Rainbow Street

Rainbow Street is one of the symbols of nightlife in Amman. The popular street is about 1 km long and runs from the First Circle to Amman Downtown.

While Rainbow Street is rather unspectacular during daytime, it’s a great place to be in the late afternoon and evening hours. There are several cozy cafés and restaurants along Rainbow Streets and the various small site streets.

My personal favorite on Rainbow Streets are the rooftop bars, such as Vu’s Café. With Amman Downtown being only a stone’s throw away, you’ll enjoy a beautiful view of the citadel hilltop from here. The food in most of those cafés/bars is rather international (it’s tasty, but these aren’t the restaurants steeped in tradition). Those places are great for their relaxing atmosphere paired with impressive views.

View of Amman Downtown
A view from a rooftop terrace in Amman

In the mood for something traditional? Probably the best food option at Rainbow Street is Al Quds falafel, a small but traditional falafel shop (takeaway only).

If you visit Amman on a Friday during summer, make sure to check out Souk Jara. This outdoor market is located in one of the side streets at the Eastern end of Rainbow Street. They sell anything from traditional products like clothing, cosmetics or spices to beautiful handicrafts and unique souvenirs.

10. See Amman from Above

You’ll get a whole new perspective of a city once you see it from above. The same applies for Amman. In fact, Amman is the only city in Jordan where you find high-rise buildings. Despite Amman being a large city (over 4 million people live in greater Amman), the number of tall buildings is quite limited here.

In general, the city would like to maintain its uniform and unique charm. The old houses in areas such as Jabal Amman or Amman Downtown have the same color (sandstone) as the recent buildings that you’ll find in the modern districts such as Abdali. Residential homes are limited to four floors. Consequently, high rise buildings are either hotels or offices.

There are various options to enjoy a fantastic view of Amman, depending on your preference, time and budget.

Like I said, the high-rise buildings in the capital are often hotels. The easiest option is thus to book a room in one of those high-rise hotels and request a room in one of the upper floors. The most iconic hotels with an amazing view are Hotel Royal and the Amman Rotana Hotel (50 stories high). Note however, that these are among the most luxurious and therefore most expensive hotels in Amman.

An alternative are the many rooftop bars in Amman. Again, you could just head to one of the above-mentioned hotels as they also have a rooftop bar which is open for everyone (e.g. The Deck Lounge at Rotana). These international hotels also serve alcoholic beverages, which isn’t the case for smaller cafés and bars in Amman (keep in mind that Jordan is an Islamic country). Prices in those bars are on the upper end.

Since Amman is built on hills, you can even enjoy a view from certain buildings that aren’t exceptionally high. The rooftop cafés on Rainbow Street aren’t particularly high, but they provide a beautiful view of Amman Downtown located in the valley between the hills of Jabal Amman and the citadel. There are a few more options in other parts of the city, such as Jubran restaurant at Abdali boulevard, providing a beautiful view of the surrounding area.

View of modern Amman
View of Amman Jordan

Last but not least, there is one way to get you even higher. With a helicopter tour, you can explore Amman from a bird’s-eye perspective. A helicopter flight is something I haven’t tried myself (yet), but I’ve gifted it to several of my friends and family members and they all loved it! A helicopter flight is something to try if you have several days in Amman and are not traveling on a tight budget (the flight experience is approx. 150 JOD). I’d consider it as a nice addition to your itinerary, but wouldn’t sacrifice other adventures such as the Wadi Rum desert, Petra or diving in Aqaba for it.

Plan Your Trip

Getting Around in Amman

You can cover many parts of your sightseeing tour on foot. Keep in mind that Amman is a hilly city. In many places, especially in the downtown area, you’ll find countless small side streets and stairs as a shortcut to get uphill (e.g. when going to the citadel).

I recommend that you cover the downtown area on foot, as it allows you to truly experience the sphere of this vibrant area.

If you’d like to go to other districts, it’s best to take a taxi. Taxis are quite affordable in Jordan. Popular districts like Abdali are only about 15 minutes from downtown, if you don’t travel during rush hour. The ride will be JD 2-3.

As convenient as they are, certain taxi drivers can be really annoying. Not only for the tourists, but also for many locals. Of course, many are honest, but there are just too many who aren’t. I recommend that you use Uber or Careem instead of the conventional yellow taxis. They are more reliable, friendly and you’ll see the approximate price of the ride before departure.

Where to Stay in Amman

The area of today’s Amman Downtown used to be the center of civilization for many centuries, be it during the Roman Empire or the Umayyad period. As the city expanded over the past century, the population spread over numerous districts.

People who don’t live in downtown or in the adjacent neighborhoods wouldn’t typically visit the area on a regular basis. That’s mainly because of the traffic, bad parking and the fact that downtown is quite vibrant. Many locals prefer going to malls or cozy restaurants in their neighborhood.

There is plenty of accommodation in Amman, so you can choose to stay in Amman downtown or a bit further away. What’s important to know is that the buildings in the downtown area are older, and therefore the hotels are (mostly) quite simple. Unlike in many cities, you’ll be very close to the sights and pay less! The modern hotels are located in the neighboring districts. They are a great option if you’re looking for more comfort and quietness. However, they are usually more expensive than the hotels in downtown Amman.

Day Trips from Amman

Most international visitors chose Amman as the starting point before embarking on a roundtrip through Jordan. That’s a great thing to do for those who self-drive (which by the way is very safe in Jordan).

Some people choose to spend more time in the capital, and do some day trips from Amman. Here are some places that you can easily visit as part of a day trip from Amman:

  • Madaba
  • Mount Nebo
  • Jerash
  • Ajloun
  • Desert Castles (e.g. Azraq)

Besides, there are some archaeological sites such as Umm al Jimal or The Cave of the Seven Sleepers which are possible to visit on a day trip. But these aren’t really on the top of the list for international travelers.

Places such as the Dead Sea and Petra can theoretically be visited on a day trip from Amman too. However, I strongly recommend that you plan in some more time for them, especially for Petra.

Any Questions or Feedback?

Have you ever been to Jordan or are you planning to visit soon? Share your experience and questions in the comments section down the page. I’d love to hear from you!

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