This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)
Petra is the famous ancient rock city in Jordan. It’s the most popular sight in Jordan that attracts thousands of tourists from all over the world every year. Petra is known to be one of the world’s oldest and richest archaeological sites. As one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, it’s truly a place to see in a lifetime.
As a local expert, I was lucky enough to visit Petra many times over the past decade. In this article, I’ll share with you the best things to see in Petra, along with some useful tips to help you plan your stay. I’m sure you’re going to love Petra as much as I do, so let’s dive right in!
What is Petra?
To understand what makes Petra so special, it’s 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 that dynasty.
As the Nabatean kingdom flourished over several centuries, Petra was consistently expanded. Until the early 1st century AD, many impressive buildings such as the Treasury and the Royal Tombs were built.
When the Romans gained control of the region, the Nabateans were defeated and the Romans took over Petra. In the following centuries, Petra was inhabited by the Romans and several other dynasties who expanded and remodeled the city.
After various earthquakes in the 7th century, Petra fell into oblivion. Countless monuments of the Nabateans, Romans and Byzantines were abandoned and slowly started to deteriorate.
Centuries later, there was a myth among European historians about a “legendary city carved in stone”. This led to Petra being rediscovered in 1812. Extensive archeological excavations started and Petra has been revealed as one of the most precious cultural heritages worldwide.
Today, Petra is one of the Seven New Wonders of the World and attracts over a million tourists every year. It’s truly one of the most impressive cultural treasures of the world that you shouldn’t miss out on.
Things to See in Petra
There are countless things to see in a city with a rich history like Petra! What’s special is the fact that the sights in Petra 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.
The ancient sights are spread across a vast area. Think of Petra as a large open air museum. There are over 500 buildings to see in Petra today! Each of them has its own story, so there’s a lot to see and to learn. Some sights in Petra are relatively close to the Visitor’s Center, the entrance to the archeological site. Other monuments are hidden deep inside the ancient city, some of which on hilltops.
These are the best things to see in Petra:
- Obelisk Tomb
- Caves (Jinn blocks)
- Street of Facades
- Royal Tombs
- Nabatean Theater
- Colonnaded Street (ancient Roman city center)
- Petra Church
- Nabatean Temples (e.g. Great Temple)
- Monastery (Ad Deir)
- High Place of Sacrifice
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.
Obelisk Tomb and Caves
Once you enter the site through the Visitor’s Center, a long gravel path will lead you downhill towards the heart of Petra. I often see visitors who are very impatient to get to the main sights of Petra and almost “rush down” without looking left or right. Don’t be one of those.
In fact, there is already so much to see on your way from the entrance until the Treasury. The first notable sight in Petra is the Obelisk Tomb. That’s a two-story tomb carved into the rocks with four pyramid-shaped pillars on the top.
On the other side (to your right), you’ll see several giant rocks that look like caves. The purpose of them has remained a mystery. There are several legends about them, one of which says that there were jinns living inside whose purpose was to protect the ancient city. A jinn is an invisible genie (a smart ghost) in pre-Islamic Arabian mythology. For that reason, these caves are referred to as jinn blocks. Whatever the true purpose of those caves, they are one of the interesting mysteries of Petra.
At the end of the gravel path, you’ll reach the so-called Siq. Siq literally translates to shaft in Arabic. It’s a narrow gorge surrounded by massive stone formations, separating ancient Petra from the outside world. Although the Siq might appear quite small when compared to the massive stones that surround it, it’s actually wide enough for everyone to walk comfortably (3 meters / 9.8 ft on its narrowest point).
Again, don’t be impatient here. Have a little look at the rocks at the entrance of the Siq. You can see the remains of the ancient gate. As you walk down the Siq, have a close look at the walls that surround you. The ancient Nabatean water system can be seen till date. Besides, there are some beautiful rock formations along the Siq.
The best part of the Siq awaits you at its end, from where you’ll get to see the famous Treasury!
One of the most impressive things about Petra is its architecture, with monuments carved in stone. The Treasury (Al Khazneh) is the most iconic building in Petra. It’s too beautiful to put into words. It’s rightly the symbol of Petra, and even of Jordan as a country.
The monument’s name is based on the legend that it contained precious treasures. Later, excavations have found that it wasn’t a treasury, but a mausoleum (=grave). It was built for the Nabataean King, Aretas IV Pilopatris in the 1st century BC. Nevertheless, the name Treasury has remained till date.
Carved into a massive rock, the Treasury is definitely an archaeological masterpiece. What’s most spectacular is the outside of the building. The facade consists of countless impressive details: pillars on all levels, the gate, the statues and ornaments. The building was carefully restored and is in excellent condition. Note that the inside of the building isn’t open to visitors (it’s just an empty building).
The Treasury is located at a large square at the end of the Siq, which is known as the centerpiece of Petra today. It’s certainly the busiest part of Petra, as many people take a moment to enjoy the magnificent sight. There is a large souvenir shop and several benches here if you’d like to have a little break.
There are also several great photo spots at the Treasury. One that is very easily accessible is to the right. From the corner of a rock, you’ll be able to get a beautiful picture of yourself with the treasury in the background and the rocks around you. Local Bedouins usually keep some traditional carpets there to make for a great photo. If you’d like to make use of them, you’re expected to pay JD 1 (a bit more than a dollar/euro).
By the way, there’s also a hiking trail to see the Treasury from above.
Like I said earlier, Petra has so much more to offer than just the Treasury! Be sure to continue your journey from the Treasury towards the ancient center of the city. After a few minutes, you’ll get to a theater on your left side.
You might already be familiar with Roman theaters, which you’ll find in cities such as Jerash or Amman in Jordan. Interestingly, the theater in Petra was not built by the Romans, but the Nabateans. However, if you recognize the typical Roman architectural signature here, you’re not completely wrong. In fact, the Nabateans built the theater in its original form around 4 BC, and the Romans expanded on the existing construction during the 2nd century AD.
Street of Facades
When you wander downhill from the Nabatean theater, you’ll see several buildings on the right side. The first part is the so-called Street of Facades. Depending on how much time you have, you can go up here, or just continue your walk.
After the Street of Facades comes a series of truly impressive artwork. The so-called Royal Tombs 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 derives.
And with great influence came a great tomb. The Royal Tombs are archaeological masterpieces. The outer facade is unique to each of them and naturally the highlight of the tombs.
Make sure to climb up the stairs that lead to the tombs to have a closer look at the detailed ornaments. Some of the tombs come with impressive fresco paintings on the ceiling. You can visit these tombs from the inside, and it’s definitely worth doing so.
Continue your walk from the Royal Tombs to get into the ancient city center of Petra. That part is known as Colonnaded Street today as it has Roman pillars on each side.
But let’s start from the beginning. In fact, this part of the city has always had great importance. The Nabateans (who initially built Petra) used it as their major trade route. In Roman times, it became 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.
Today, it will require this knowledge and a little imagination to understand the importance and use of this area. Due to its importance, the area is quite vast. After all, it had to be larger than modern day shopping streets to fit Roman horse chariots and pedestrians. Notably on the left hand side (when coming from the Royal Tombs), you can see the structures of the former shops. Some of them are used by locals today to sell souvenirs.
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.
Nabateans didn’t believe in one God, as it’s the concept in Christianity and Islam. Instead, they worshiped several gods, with their main god being Dushara. Temples were built for worshiping and other religious purposes. Their temples were carefully designed and decorated places, spread across ancient Petra.
One of the main temples to see is the so-called Great Temple. You’ll find it to your left when you walk down the Colonnaded Street. The temple is quite large in size (about 7,560 m² or 81,375 sq ft). It’s accessible by stairs and consists of several stories.
You should definitely climb up the stairs to visit the Great Temple. It wasn’t only the most important one, but it’s also the best preserved. Besides, you find a few more smaller temples and worshiping sites at Petra.
By the way, shortly after the Great Temple comes the end of the Colonnaded Street, which marks the end of the Main Trail (read more on hiking trails in Petra here).
The churches are one of the youngest sights in Petra. They 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 were mainly expansions and remodelings of existing Nabatean and Roman 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. It’s located opposite to the Great Temple, a little uphill as you walk down the Colonnaded Street.
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!
Monastery (Ad Deir)
The last building in the list of best things to see in Petra is the Monastery, or Ad Deir in Arabic. I’m not putting this last because it’s the least impressive, but because it’s the one that requires the longest walk. Carry on reading, as the Monastery is definitely something not to miss out on.
The Monastery looks very similar to the Treasury, the most iconic building of Petra. However, their purpose was very different. While the Treasury was a tomb, the Monastery was used for religious gatherings. Later, it was converted into a Christian chapel from where the name Ad Deir (Monastery in English) derived. At 48 meters (157 ft) high, the Monastery is the tallest building of Petra.
To get there, you need to be prepared for some hiking. But trust me, it will be well worth the effort. Once you reach the end of the Colonnaded Street, a path of 850 stairs will lead you through the winding mountains all the way up to the Monastery. You’ll be rewarded with a beautifully preserved structure in the midst of the rocks.
High Place of Sacrifice
Would you like to (literally) walk into the footsteps of the Nabateans AND enjoy a great view of Petra? 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. It’s 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 of the surrounding sights in Petra from here.
Petra by Night
In addition to your daytime visit, you can visit Petra in the evening hours, too. There’s an event called Petra by Night which takes place every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at 8.30 pm.
Petra by Night can be a nice addition to your day time visit. During the event, you’ll walk down from the Visitor’s Center, through the Siq until the Treasury. The path and the square in front of the Treasury are lit with over 1,800 candles which creates a beautiful atmosphere. At the Treasury, there’s a small performance with local Bedouin music and you’ll get a cup of Bedouin tea. The Treasury itself is lit into various colors during the event.
Tickets cost JOD 17 (per person). You need to have a regular ticket for Petra too (or the Jordan Pass), as the ticket for Petra by Night doesn’t substitute the regular ticket.
Plan your Stay
Best Time to Visit Petra
The best time to visit Petra is from March to May and from September to November. During those months, temperatures are pleasantly warm and not too hot or cold.
In summer (June-August) temperatures get very hot in Jordan, and visiting Petra would be very exhausting. Surprisingly, winters can get pretty cold. Rain is also not uncommon, especially in the months of January and February.
As you’ll most likely visit Petra as part of a roundtrip to Jordan, be sure to check my article on the best time to visit Jordan to get a complete picture.
How to Get to Petra?
Petra is located in the Wadi Musa area in Jordan. The best way to travel to Petra is by car or bus. Most travelers visit Petra as part of a roundtrip in Jordan. You can perfectly combine a visit to Petra with Amman (the capital of Jordan), the Dead Sea, Wadi Rum (the famous desert in Jordan) or Aqaba.
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.
My recommendation is to hire a rental car to get around in Jordan. Driving in Jordan is fun and safe, if you take into account a few basic tips. 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).
There are also various tour operators offering one-day-trips from Amman or Aqaba. These usually include 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 guided tour. That’s because taking a rental car from/to Israel is strictly prohibited and there are no good bus services near the border crossings on the Jordanian side.
Where to Stay in Petra?
Due to its popularity, there are many hotels in Petra. Accommodation ranges from local bed & breakfast, the famous Bubble hotel to large hotel chains. I’ve reviewed the most popular hotels in Petra, check out my detailed review and recommendations for hotels in Petra.
How long is the walk into Petra?
Petra is like a large open air museum with hundreds of buildings to be explored. If you’d like to explore Petra thoroughly, there is quite some walking involved. You can easily wander around Petra for two to three full days.
I always recommend that you plan at least one full day for Petra (start in the early morning until sunset). If you have more time, or prefer to take it easy with the hiking, plan a second day.
If you’re disabled or simply can’t walk much, there are golf cars available to drive you from the Visitor’s Center to the Treasury and back. These golf cars have replaced the horse-drawn carriages in Petra. Yep, no horse-drawn carriages anymore. What’s left are the horses at the entrance (available for a ride until the Siq). Besides, there are many donkeys in Petra. To be honest, that’s something I do not encourage though. Donkeys are not supposed to carry the weight of an adult. Besides, I don’t consider it a safe thing to do either. I regularly see exhausted donkeys slip on the stairs.
How many days in Petra?
Whether you should stay half a day, one day or several days depends on how much of the ancient city you would like to see. 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 head to the Royal Tombs and the Colonnaded Street. Ideally, you’ll also walk up to the Monastery. That can be done in one day (if you start early) or spread over two days.
If you’re an avid hiker and would like to explore Petra thoroughly, there are more places to be explored. You could do one of the less frequented trails, for example to the High Place of Sacrifice from where you get a truly unforgettable view of Petra.
Petra Opening Hours
Petra is open year-round, 7 days a week. The site opens daily at 6 a.m. In summer, it’s open until 6 p.m. (even during Ramadan). During winter months, it’s open until 4 p.m.
I’ve compiled a table with all opening hours depending on the season.
Tickets & Admission
Tickets cannot be purchased online ahead of time. You’ll buy your ticket at the Visitor’s Center on the day of your visit.
A one-day pass to Petra is JD 50 (€ 67 / USD 70). You’ll get the best value for money with a multi-day pass. A two-day pass is JD 55 (approx. € 75 / USD 77) and a three-day pass is JD 60 (approx. € 82 / USD 85).
Nationalities that are available for a visa upon arrival can purchase the Jordan Pass. That includes citizens from the US, Canada, the UK, all EU countries and many more. The Jordan Pass waives the visa fee and includes free entrance to Petra and many other attractions in Jordan!
What to Wear in Petra?
You’ll definitely walk a lot in Petra! Some paths are in great condition, while others are sandy and rocky. The number one rule is to wear comfortable hiking shoes. Besides, I recommend wearing sports pants and a t-shirt made of breathable fabric.
Women should dress modestly in Jordan as the country is rather conservative. However, that’s less important in Petra because locals are very used to tourists here. As a rule of thumb, wear clothes that cover everything between your shoulders and knees.
You can definitely wear a nice dress in Petra. If you do so, be sure to wear short pants below your dress (you’ll sweat, and legs sticking together in the warm weather doesn’t feel good). If you don’t want to wear a dress but still want to look elegant in your pictures, you could wear a tunica, or simply bring an additional dress for the pictures.
Adjust the clothes to the season in which you travel. It can get pretty cold in Petra during winter (notably in January and February). Check out Jordan’s climate here.
What to Pack for Petra?
Packing light is key, as you’ll be walking a lot in Petra. Keep your luggage at the hotel and carry a small lightweight daypack when exploring Petra. Due to the hot weather (especially during summer months), you should bring along enough water. Two liters are perfect, as they will keep you hydrated without being too heavy. Since food on site is a little expensive, I recommend that you pack a lunch box and some snacks for the day.
Besides, pack a few things to protect yourself against the sun. Sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat (or a scarf) are perfect. Depending on the season and weather conditions, pack a light jacket or hoodie.
If you aren’t using your smartphone to take pictures, don’t forget your camera! Make sure to carry spare batteries and have enough space on your memory card. Petra is a truly photogenic place!
Are there Camels in Petra?
Usually you’ll encounter a few camels in front of the Treasury, which make for a great photo (with or without you). If you would like to ride a camel in the sense of doing a camel safari, I recommend doing so in Wadi Rum, the desert of Jordan and another place not to miss during your visit.
Any Questions or Feedback?
Have you ever been to Petra or are you planning to visit soon? Share your experience and questions in the comments section down the page.
Get my Jordan Travel Guide
✓ Travel planning essentials
✓ Best sights and activities
✓ Getting around in Jordan
✓ Over 150 photos and maps
✓ 3 sample itineraries
✓ FAQ from other travelers
✓ Introduction to Jordan’s food
✓ Arabic vocabulary for Jordan
… and much more!