This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)

Petra is an ancient rock city known as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It’s located in the southwestern desert region of Jordan and one of the country’s symbols.

With countless tombs, palaces and temples carved in stone and a history dating back to the 4th century BC, Petra is one of the most ancient and breathtaking archaelogical sites to see in a lifetime.

In this post, I’ll introduce you to the best sights in Petra, things to see and do in the ancient city and how to prepare for your trip.

What is Petra?

To understand why Petra is so special, it is important to know a little about its history. Petra was founded by the Nabateans, a nomadic Arab tribe, in the 4th century BC. The Nabatean Kingdom amassed wealth from the trading business, and Petra was the capital and economic heartbeat during this dynasty. The city continued to flourish until the early 1st century AD, with famous buildings such as the Treasury being built.

After the Nabateans were defeated by the Romans, Petra was home to numerous dynasties but continuously lost significance over the centuries. Various earthquakes as well as Muslims conquering the region in the 7th century made Petra fall into oblivion, leaving behind monuments of the Nabateans, Romans and Byzantines.

Myths among European historians about a “legendary city carved in stone” led to Petra being rediscovered in the late 19th century. Extensive archaeological excavations started and Petra has been revealed as one of the most precious cultural heritages worldwide.

Things to See in Petra

There are countless things to see in a city with such a rich history! The sights date back to various centuries and dynasties. Many of the sights were built by the Nabateans, and later remodeled or expanded by the Romans and Byzantines.

Today, there are countless ancient structures spread across the vast area. Some of Petra’s sights are close to the Visitor’s Center, the entrance to the archaelogical site, which are easily accessible for people with disabilities or those who don’t like walking much. Other monuments are hidden deep inside the ancient city and require some hiking (more on hiking trails below). These are the most popular things to see in Petra:

  • Siq
  • Treasury
  • Royal Tombs (Street of Facades)
  • Nabatean Theater
  • High Place of Sacrifice
  • Colonnaded Street
  • Petra Church
  • Nabatean Temples e.g. Great Temple
  • Monastery (Ad Deir)

By the way, you’ll find a handy map of Petra with all sights, hiking trails and much more useful information to self-organize a trip to Petra in the Welcome2Jordan travel guide.

Siq

The Siq is the first highlight on your visit to Petra. Siq literally translates as shaft in Arabic. It’s in fact a narrow gorge surrounded by massive stone formations, seperating ancient Petra from the outside world. You can either walk down the Siq or get on board of a horse-drawn carriage. Although the Siq might appear quite small when compared to the massive stones that surround it, it’s actually wide enough for everyone to pass comfortably (3 meters / 9.8 ft on its narrowest point).

The best part of the Siq awaits you at its end, from where you’ll get to see the famous Treasury!

Treasury

The most impressive thing about Petra is its architecture, with monuments carved in stone. The Treasury (Al Khazneh) is the most iconic building in Petra. Its name is based on the legend that it contained precious treasures. Although excavations have found that it was in fact a mausoleum built for the Nabatean King, Aretas IV Pilopatris in the 1st century BC, it has still kept its name Treasury. Today it is known as one of the symbols of Jordan.

The iconic Treasury in Petra
The iconic Treasury in Petra

Nabatean Theater

While many people visit Petra to see the world famous Treasury, the ancient Nabatean city has so much more to offer. You might be familiar with Roman theaters, which you’ll find in cities such as Jerash or Amman in Jordan. However, the theater in Petra was not built by the Romans, but the Nabateans. However, if you recognize the typical Roman architectural signiture here, you’re not completely wrong. In fact, the Nabateans built the theater in its original form around 4 B.C., and the Romans expanded on the existing construction during the 2nd century A.D.

Royal Tombs

Another range of archaelogical masterpieces await you in the former city center of the ancient town. The so-called Street of Facades consists of 13 massive tombs carved in stone. These impressive constructions served as burial places for high-ranked personalities, from which the name Royal Tombs derivates.

The Palace Tomb measures an incredible 45 meters (148 ft) in height and is one of the tallest buildings in Petra.

Royal Tombs of Petra
Royal Tombs of Petra

High Place of Sacrifice

Would you like to (literally) walk into the footsteps of the Nabateans? Then the High Place of Sacrifice is the place to visit. It’s located on a mountain, reason for which you can expect much less tourists up here than in front of the Treasury, for example.

The history and importance of this sight is actually quite interesting. There are two rock formations (measuring about 7 meters / 23 feet) opposite to each other. Its believed that their position was chosen intentionally and meant to represent the two main Nabatean deities Dushara and Al Uzza.

Be prepared for some walking to get to the High Place of Sacrifice. You’ll agree that it’s totally worth it once you enjoy the fantastic view on the surrounding sights in Petra from here.

Colonnaded Street

The Colonnaded Street runs through the city center of ancient Petra. It used to be an important trade route for centuries, from the Nabateans to the Byzantines. In Roman times, this street represented the Cardo Maximus, which is the name for the main street in any Roman city. As such, the layout of the street was adapted to match the typical Roman city layout.

There aren’t any remains of Nabatean houses at this place till date. However, excavations are ongoing and it’s believed that there are countless treasures to be discovered in that specific area.

Petra Churches

The churches are one of the youngest sights in Petra. These constructions date back to the Byzantines, a Christian dynasty that inhabited Petra in the 5th century. Following the Nabateans and Romans who created the major part of Petra, Byzantine constructions are mainly remodeling of existing sites. The Byzantines built two churches in Petra. The main church was constructed on the remains of a Nabatean tomb and carefully designed with mosaics and marble.

Did you know? Christianity plays an important role in the history of the region. In fact, the area of modern Jordan is full of ancient Christian monuments, and important biblical events such as the baptism of Jesus Christ took place in Jordan!

Hiking Trails

Petra is huge in size and is a true paradise for those who love hiking. There are eight official trails leading through the ancient city. The following three are the most popular hiking trails in Petra.

Main Trail

The most popular hiking trail in Petra is the Main Trail. It starts at the Visitors’ Center, passing by the Siq and the Treasury, leading to the Colonnaded Street. The Main Trail is about 4.3 km (2.6 miles) long and incorporates the highlights of Petra. The trail is mainly flat and takes about 1 – 1.5 hours. Allow some time to take pictures!

Treasury Viewpoint Trail

Another popular trail is the Al Khubtha Trail a.k.a. Treasury Viewpoint Trail. Reaching the Street of Facades, the trail will lead you uphill onto the Jabal Al Khubtha. Although all trails involve some hiking, you will be rewarded with an amazing view of Petra’s Treasury.

Hiking Trails in Petra

Monastery Trail

Once you have completed the Main Trail (end of the Colonnaded Street), you can choose to hike the Monastery Trail (1 – 1.5 hours one way + time on Main Trail). Its 850 stairs lead you to the impressive Monastery which is a replica of the Treasury and the tallest monument of Petra.

Being an avid hiker myself, I’ve complied an overview of all hiking trails in Petra, as well as information on further hiking destinations in Jordan. Check out the Welcome2Jordan Travel Guide.

Hiking on the Monastery Trail in Petra
The End of the Monastery Trail in Petra

Petra by Night

In addition to your daytime visit, don’t miss out on Petra by Night. Over 1,800 candles are placed along the Siq and the Treasury, offering a magical experience accompanied by Bedouin music and tea. The event takes place every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 8.30 p.m. Tickets cost JOD 17 and must be purchased before 4 p.m. the same day.

Petra by Night
Petra by Night

Prepare your Stay

How to Get to Petra?

Ancient Petra is located in the Wadi Musa area of Southern Jordan.

Flights to Petra

There is no airport in Petra. The main airport in Jordan is Queen Alia International Airport (Amman airport). A second (smaller) airport in Jordan is located in Aqaba at the Red Sea. Most travelers arrive at one of these airports and visit Petra as part of a roundtrip through Jordan.

Rental Car

My recommendation is to get a rental car to get around in Jordan. Self-driving is both fun and safe, if you take into account a few basic tips for driving in Jordan. It is approximately a 3-hour-drive from the capital Amman or a 2-hour-drive from Aqaba (Red Sea).

Public transport is pretty unreliable. However, there is an alternative for those who don’t drive. The company JETT bus which offers one-way and roundtrips from Amman to Petra, as well as to some other tourist sites in Jordan. Tickets are affordable (currently JOD 22 for a roundtrip Amman-Petra). Note however, that there might be additional costs for a taxi in Amman to get from your hotel to the JETT office from where the bus departs.

Tours to Petra

There are also various tour operators offering one-day-trips from Amman or Aqaba. These usually include the transfer with pick-up and drop-off at your hotel in Amman. Some day tours also offer a guide in Petra.

If you’d like to visit Jordan from Jerusalem, it’s best to join a pre-arranged tour, as taking a rental car from/to Israel is stricly prohibited and bus services near the border crossings are rather poor.

How long is the walk into Petra?

From the Visitors’ Center, walk downhill until you reach a large square (Bab al Siq). Then you will walk through a gorge in between massive rock formations known as the Siq. The Treasury is located at the end of the Siq, being the first and most iconic part of your visit. The walk from the Visitors’ Center to the Treasury takes around 20-30 minutes (downhill).

From the Treasury, you can explore the remaining part of the ancient city. Head towards the former city center of the Nabateans, passing a large theater on your left. Walking further (direction North-East), you will reach the Royal Tombs with 13 imposing tombs carved in stone. From the Treasury to the ancient city center, the walk is about 30-45 minutes.

When at the Colonnaded Street you can decide to walk back or hike towards the Monastery, a less known building that looks similar to the iconic Treasury. For the adventurous travelers there are various hiking trails to choose from.

Tired of walking inside Petra? There are plenty of horses and horse-drawn carriages on-site that you can use to make your way through Petra or back uphill towards the Visitors’ Center. Please avoid the donkeys as they are not supposed to carry the weight of an adult.

How many days in Petra?

Whether you should stay half a day, one day or several days depends on how much you would like to see of the ancient city. In fact, if you are only keen to see the iconic Treasury and head back, this will take you no more than 2-3 hours.

However, I strongly recommend exploring Petra beyond the Treasury! Make sure to see the Royal Tombs along the Colonnaded Street. Head to the temples, the High Place of Sacrifice or even to the Monastery. Therefore, plan at least one full day or two days for Petra.

Are there Camels in Petra?

Usually you’ll encounter a few camels in front of the Treasury, which make for a great photo. If you would like to ride a camel though, I recommend doing so in Wadi Rum.

You might also enjoy: