Amman travel guide
Originally spread over seven hills, or jabals, the capital of the Hashemite kingdom now sprawls over 19 hills and is home to over a million people, almost half of Jordan's population. Known as the White City, the hills are covered in a jumble of light-coloured stone houses, consistently box-like in shape with flat roofs characteristic of a typical desert city. Faded minarets, pavement markets, Arabian sweet shops and the crumbling remains of ancient civilisations contrast wonderfully with the contemporary edifices, fashionable boutiques and international restaurants. This blend of the old and the new combines in the noisy and chaotic downtown area where the city's extraordinarily friendly residents go about their business.
At the heart of downtown is the Ottoman-style King Hussein Mosque, around which the buzz and bustle is at its most interesting. Even busier at prayer times, the surrounding streets are filled with the essence of Arabia, exotic smells and rows of glittering treasures in the souq (market) amid the noise of frenetic haggling.
Just as overwhelming is Amman's sense of history, dating back 5,500 years to its position as the ancient capital of the Ammonites, Rabbath-Ammon of the Old Testament, and later as Philadelphia, the Roman city that became part of the Decapolis. Overlooking the city from atop Jabal al-Qala'a is the Citadel, the site of the ancient Rabbath-Ammon, and at its foot lies the impressive Roman amphitheatre that is the most remarkable remnant of ancient Philadelphia.
Amman is one of the oldest, continuously inhabited cities in the world, and today functions as a thriving commercial and administrative centre with modern facilities, historical attractions and a longstanding tradition of hospitality. It is an excellent base from which to explore the surrounds, even the rest of the country, being no more than five hours drive from anywhere, and is surprisingly agreeable for a capital city.
From its position on top of a hill overlooking the city, the
Citadel (known locally as Jabal al-Qal'a) stands testament to the
history of Amman, with its ancient ruins and excavated relics,
alongside those from throughout the country, housed in the Jordan
Archaeological Museum. It is the site of the ancient capital
Rabbath-Ammon and numerous excavations have revealed Stone Age
remains as well as those from the Roman to the Islamic periods.
The site contains several structures including the impressive Omayyad Palace (al-Qasr), a small Byzantine basilica and what was once the Temple of Hercules, the Great Temple of Amman. Also on the site is the Jordan Archaeological Museum, which has an excellent collection of artefacts from Jordan dating back to the earliest settlement in the region over 700,000 years ago. The Dead Sea Scrolls, Iron Age sarcophagi and a copy of the Mesha Stele are its most important exhibits.
Below the Citadel is the magnificent Roman amphitheatre, an
impressive relic from ancient Philadelphia that is cut into the
hill and can seat up to 6,000 people. The theatre is still used
occasionally for events today. Two cultural museums form part of
the complex: the Jordan Folklore Museum, which has exhibits on
traditional life, and the Museum of Popular Traditions with
traditional costumes and mosaics from 4th to 6th century Jordan
The theatre was built during the reign of Antonius Pius (138-161 CE) and is today a famous landmark in Amman and of course the ancient Roman city Philadelphia. It surrounds the Hashemite Plaza, Odeon theatre and the Nymphaeum.
Address: Quraysh Street, Downtown
Desert Castle Loop
Stretching to the east of Amman towards Saudi Arabia and Iraq is
the vast desert plain where a cluster of historic ruins such as
castles, forts, baths and palaces have been preserved and are
collectively known as desert castles. Their purpose is largely
unknown, but most are thought to have been built as recreational
retreats by the Umayyad caliphs during the early Islamic Period
(7th to 8th centuries AD).
Qasr Mushatta is the biggest and most elaborate of the castles, a fine example of Umayyad architecture although it was never completed. The best preserved and most enchanting is the luxurious bathhouse of Qusayr 'Amra, with its domed ceiling and colourful interior frescoes and mosaics, and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Other desert castles include the black rock fortress at Azraq, which was the desert headquarters of Lawrence of Arabia during the Great Arab Revolt in 1917, the mysterious Qasr al-Kharrana, Qasr al-Hallabat's crumbling remains and the well-preserved complex at Qastal.
Transport: Most of the castles can be visited on a day trip from Amman via Azraq by using a variety of public buses and minibuses combined with hitching or walking, although it is easier and less time consuming to hire a car or a taxi for the day; hotels can arrange drivers who know the way and speak English
The hilly capital of Amman is packed with wonderful sightseeing opportunities and fantastic activities for all types of travellers. One favourite route for tourists is the Desert Castle Loop, which spans east and west of the city and has numerous sights to visit on the way and makes for an intriguing day out for the whole family, visiting different castles and exploring the scenic desert landscape. Within the city of Amman there is also plenty to do, including a tour of the spectacular Roman Amphitheatre and a stroll up the Citadel Hill to take in an eagle eye's view of the city. And when your feet are tired, sitting in one of the bustling street cafes is one of the best ways to see what the city is all about. Whether it's talking to people around your or simply watching the routines and traditions of those around you, make sure you find a spot to hang out for an hour and simply enjoy your surroundings.
Not far from the city, one can experience many great day excursions from Amman, to sights such as the Jaresh, Madaba and Mount Nebo, each with their own specific cultural significance and each with their own special charm. Also, not to be missed, is the short trip from the capital to the shores of the Dead Sea. Here the northern hills, rich with olive trees, teeter over the rift of the Jordan Valley, which in turn runs down to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. It is a spectacular sight and an experience not to be missed when visiting Amman, something that can truly be appreciated by all visitors to this exciting desert city.
Situated about 31 miles (50km) north of Amman is one of the top
attractions in Jordan: the ancient city of Jerash, considered to be
one of the best-preserved Roman sites in the world. Its exceptional
preservation is due to it being buried in sand for centuries and
the magnificent baths, theatres, temples, arches, columns and stone
chariot-rutted streets have long attracted scholars and tourists
from across the world to admire the most complete city in the Roman
Excavations dating to the Neolithic Age have indicated that Jerash was continuously occupied for more than 6,500 years. Today visitors can marvel as the ancient amphitheatre comes to life at the annual Jerash festival of Culture and Arts, where artists from around the globe sing, dance, act and play music on stage in a celebration of Jordanian and international culture.
The Dead Sea
Situated about 28 miles (45km) from Amman, lies the famous
attraction of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth at 1,335 feet
(407m) below sea level. Devoid of plant or animal life due to the
high salt concentration (four times saltier than normal), it is the
incredible mineral rich water that has made it an internationally
sought-after destination since ancient times, popular for its
curative properties as well as for the experience of floating
effortlessly on its surface.
Most holidaymakers go to the main resort area on the northern shore at Sweimeh, where the Government Rest House provides showers, a restaurant, a beach and the opportunity to smother oneself in the mineral-rich black mud. Accommodation is available at the Dead Sea Spa Hotel where various medical treatments are also on offer.
Transport: Buses leave from Muhajrin station to the Government Rest House at Sweimeh.
The most sacred site in Jordan, Mt Nebo is believed to be the
burial site of Moses who climbed the hill in order to survey the
Promised Land that he would never enter. Situated on the edge of a
plateau about six miles (10km) from Madaba, Mt Nebo affords
spectacular views towards Jerusalem, whose spires are visible on a
clear day, and across the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea.
A modern day shrine sits on the ruins of a 6th-century Byzantine monastery, and affords protection to the original floor mosaics, while in the grounds stands the symbolic Serpentine Cross.
The Medeba of the Bible is today Madaba, 'the City of Mosaics',
most famous for its spectacular Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics from
the 5th to 7th centuries, which are scattered throughout the town's
homes and churches. Located just 19 miles (30km) south of Amman,
Madaba is also home to the famous 6th-century mosaic map of the
Holy Land, in which Jerusalem and its surrounding regions are
One of the town's most beautiful mosaics covers the floor of the Byzantine Church of the Apostles, and the Archaeological Park features an impressive collection of mosaic collages, where a series of ramps has been built over excavated mosaics to allow people to view them from above. The Greek Orthodox Church of St George is home to Madaba's main attraction and most famous mosaic, the celebrated 6th-century mosaic map of the Holy Land.
Millions of pieces of coloured stone embedded on the church floor create a vivid picture of Jerusalem and its holy sites, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dead Sea, Jericho and the Jordan River. It is the earliest surviving original map of the region and was laid around 560 AD. Madaba is also known for its hand-woven carpets and tapestries and it is possible to see them being made in several shops around town.
Dead Sea Ultra Marathon
The objectives of Dead Sea Ultra Marathon are to promote
athleticism, particularly among youth; to encourage tourism to
Jordan; and to promote athletic cooperation across countries of the
Middle East and the world. One of the most gruelling races on earth
takes the brave from Amman, some 2,953 feet (900m) above sea level,
to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. The shade-less tarmac
provides the surface and only the fittest dare attempt it due to
The race is hosted on behalf of the Society for the Care of Neurological Patients headed by HRH Prince Firas Bin Raad and also in aid of increasing awareness of neurological diseases and traumas.
Venue: Amman to the Dead Sea; Date:Race postponed until April 2017; Website: deadsea.runjordan.com
Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts
Visitors to Jerash in July are in for a special treat, when the
Jerash Festival transforms the ancient city into one of the World's
liveliest and most spectacular cultural events. Two thousand years
ago, the great urban trading cities of the Middle East were born
when Middle Eastern and Western societies came together in a
tremendous synthesis of commerce, art, and culture.
Their legacy shines today in the splendid cities of the Greco-Roman and Arab East, such as Petra, Jerash, Gadara, and Palmyra. The full power and glory of that ancient drama is revived in Jordan every summer in the form of the two-week Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts bringing together local folklore dancers and troupes from all over the World.
Date:June and July 2017;
Jordan International Rally
Motorsport has been a part of the country's DNA for 60 years
since it was first introduced by by King Hussein in 1955. Since
then Jordan has become established as a major motorsporting hub and
in particular, are proud to host the Jordan International
The Jordan leg of the World Rally Championship takes place in May around the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea area - the lowest point on earth. The route has been built specifically for the rally and top racers and spectators alike rate this as one of most enjoyable rally events on the global circuit.
Venue: Jordan Valley; Date:May 2017 TBC; Website: www.jordanrally.com
Queen Alia International Airport
Location: The airport is situated 20 miles (32km) south of Amman.
Time: Local time is GMT +2 (GMT +3, from the last Friday in March to the last Friday in October)
Contacts: Tel: +962 (0)6 445 1739.
Getting to the city: There is a public bus service to and from Amman leaving every 30 minutes between 6.30am and 5pm, and every 60 minutes between 5pm and 12pm. Tickets costs fluctuate, but average around JOD 3,250 per person.
Car rental: Car rental is available and includes major companies such as Budget and Sixt.
Airport Taxis: Airport taxis are available at both terminals. Prices are fixed.
Facilities: Facilities include banks and bureaux de change, duty-free shopping, bars and restaurants, and a medical centre. There are also VIP and business lounges. A tourist help desk is also available. Facilities for the disabled are good.
Parking: Costs will vary depending on the parking lot, starting from JOD 1.75 for each hour or part thereof, rising to as much as JOD 26 for the first hour and JOD 39 per hour thereafter. The best daily rate is in the long-term parking lot, which charges a total of JOD 11 for every 24-hour period and JOD 1 for every additional hour.
Departure tax: JOD 5 (typically pre-paid in the fare)
Amman is a relatively small city and is thus easy to navigate. Metered private taxis are available at reasonable prices, and white shared taxis cover fixed routes. Locals are usually very friendly and helpful regarding directions and drivers are usually forthcoming about route information. Municipal buses travel along most routes in Amman; although they are efficient and safe to use, most routes are only written in Arabic and they are not popular with visitors. Car hire is available and offers a viable means of exploring the city; it's a good idea to hire a vehicle with a driver, which usually comes at an extra cost.
Amman has a semiarid climate, with hot summers and cold winters. Summers last from June to September and are dry and hot with high temperatures averaging 86°F (32°C). There is also low humidity and frequent breezes that provide some relief from the heat. Rain is uncommon during the day, but at night there is often fog and drizzle. Spring is brief, lasting from April to May, with rain sometimes falling during the morning and the afternoons. Winters last from December to April, and are wet and cold. Temperatures in winter drop below 24°F (-5°C), with snowfall and heavy fog. It can snow anytime between November and March. The best time to visit Amman is during the warmer months between June and September.
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