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Petra is an ancient rock city located in Jordan, known as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Its unique architecture of ancient monuments carved in stone makes Petra one of the most impressive places to see in a lifetime. Read more about things to do in and around Petra 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.
Petra Treasury and Beyond
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.
While many people visit Petra to see the world famous Treasury, the ancient Nabatean city has more to offer. Here are other sites that you should not miss during your visit:
- Nabatean Theater
- Royal Tombs
- High Place of Sacrifice
- Colonnaded Street
- Petra Church
- Nabatean Temples e.g. Great Temple
- Monastery (Ad Deir)
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 most popular one 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, mainly flat and takes about 1 – 1.5 hours. Allow some time to take pictures!
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 biggest monument of Petra. 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 most beautiful sites.
More information on hiking in Petra, a map of Petra and all trails are included in the Welcome2Jordan Travel Guide.
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.
Prepare your Stay
How to get to Petra?
Ancient Petra is located in the Wadi Musa area of Southern Jordan. It is approximately a 3-hour-drive from the capital Amman or a 2-hour-drive from Aqaba (Red Sea). You can easily get there by car (e.g. rental car) or by bus (e.g. JETT bus). There are also various tour operators offering one-day-trips from Amman or Aqaba. Cars and coaches will park at the car park near the Visitors’ Center, as Petra itself is not accessible by car.
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 there, you will be able to 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. Usually you will also see a few camels in front of the Treasury, which makes for a great photo. If you would like to ride a camel though, I recommend doing so in Wadi Rum.
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.