Fancy a visit to a city with both ancient treasures and modern delights? Look no further than Amman, Jordan. With its diverse terrain, long history, and tribes of cool millennials, Amman offers a little something for nearly everybody. Curious? Take a look at our 7 things to do in Amman and see for yourself.
1: Make your own perfume in El Abalad.
Now here’s a souvenir idea. Aside from the legions of shops, restaurants, cafés, and bars in the area, Amman’s old downtown district, al Balad, is known for its clutch of small perfume shops. Forget the likes of Dior, Chanel, or Hugo Boss and select from the hundreds of scents available to concoct your own signature smell. Yeah, this is a thing here. Floral, musk, spicy – you name it. Friendly perfumers are on hand to do the mixing and provide guidance if you can’t decide between the lilac-rose whisper or the orange blossom infused with lily. To top it off, bring the new fragrance home in one of the beautiful glass bottles available at the shop.
2: Visit Amman’s exquisite mosques.
Amman includes some of the most beautiful mosques in the Islamic world and, luckily, at least a few are open to western travelers. Start with the Abu Darwish Mosque (Jebel al-Ashrafiyeh). Perched on one of the seven hills overlooking Amman, the mosque can be seen for miles thanks to its exquisite façade of alternating layers of black and white stone. Built in 1961, it draws on classic Levantine architectural styles and is well worth a gander. Bear in mind: It’s a mighty climb to the top of the hill, so we would recommend taking a taxi up.
Head half a mile north to the Grand Al-Husseini Mosque in central Amman at King Talal Street. Two soaring minarets stand proudly around the exquisite Ottoman-styled, pink-and-white stone mosque built in 1924 by King Abdallah I, the current King’s great-grandfather.
A mile east (on Sulayman al Nabulsi) is the equally impressive King Abdullah Mosque with its massive octagonal prayer hall (accommodating 7,000 worshippers) capped by a stunning turquoise dome, adorned with ornate Quranic inscriptions. Completed in 1989 as a tribute by the late King Hussein to his grandfather, King Abdullah I, the Mosque includes a small museum with a collection of photographs and personal items from the King. Tours are available for this mosque here.
Pro tips: When visiting a mosque, always use the visitors’ entrance and leave your shoes in the entrance area. Modest dress is the norm for all and women are required to wear a headscarf. Afternoons are preferable to mornings for visitors and mosques are usually open an hour before prayers begin. Check with the Jordan tourism website or your hotel concierge for up-to-date visiting hours.
3: Shop ’til you drop in Amman’s fabulous souks.
Originally named for the trading merchants from Bukhara, Uzbekistan who brought their goods to Amman centuries ago, the Souk al-Bukhara (al Balad) is one of the oldest and best souks for authentic wares in Amman. Feast your eyes on lanterns, carpets, jewelry, antiques, and more as you zigzag your way through tightly-tucked stands and shops overflowing with merch.
If you’re keen on finding gold jewelry in particular, a quick 6-minute jaunt north to King Faisal Square will get you to Souk el-Sagha; yes, go ahead and pinch yourself, it’s a souk dedicated to bling. There are shops upon shops of shiny bangles, earrings, pendants, necklaces, and rings in smooth and hammered gold, while others focus on traditional ornate motifs and designs.
There are many great deals to be had at el-Sagha, so it’s important to know what to look for. High-quality gold (22-carat) will be shiny and more yellow in color, versus the more robust 18-carat gold which is less vivid and used in items with inlaid gemstones. Also, beware of the “Russian” gold of lower quality. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is. Pieces will be priced by weight rather than by their artistic value.
Since haggling is common at both souks, we recommend a peruse of our top haggling tips to get you primed and ready.
4: Enjoy top Jordanian falafel at Hashem.
Dig in to some of Amman’s best falafel at Hashem, a favorite among just about everyone. Don’t let the modest outdoor bistro setup fool you; saddle up to enjoy a feast of onions and tomatoes with lemon and fresh mint, creamy hummus with green chili topping, spicy moutabel dip, crispy falafel, and warm Taboon flatbread. Wash it down with mint tea or sparkling water. It may sound basic, but it’s utter perfection.
5: See a performance at the Roman Theater.
Combine two treats in one by attending a musical performance at one of the city’s most impressive Roman ruins. Built in the 2nd century BCE when the Romans were in charge, the 6,000-seat, semi-circular theater hosted plays, choral concerts, orations, and commercial gatherings. Today, the theater (in al Balad) is part of a broader cultural complex that includes two stroll-worthy museums, the Jordan Folklore Museum and the Jordanian Museum of Popular Traditions.
The theater itself is a magical venue with a dramatically steep rake and amazing acoustics. It’s no surprise, then, that it’s the theater of choice for various cultural events and concerts throughout the summer. Check the your hotel for details on upcoming events.
Pro tip: If you’re aiming to catch an evening performance, go early for spectacular views of the sunset over the city. In our experience, it’s one of the best things to do in Amman.
6: Check out the royal wheels at the Royal Automobile Museum.
You don’t have to be a car nerd to enjoy Amman’s Royal Automobile Museum (adjacent to the al Hussein Public Parks). The current King Abdullah II established the museum in 2003 to house a handful of notables from the collection owned by his father, the late King Hussein. Little wonder, then, that there are plenty of stories here involving presidential visits, Hollywood royalty, and Middle Eastern politics to keep you interested. Oh, and there are cars, too, of course – Rolls Royce limousines, Packards, Mercedes-Benzes, vintage motor bikes, and a 1956 armored Cadillac given to King Hussein by President Eisenhower.
The entrance fee is 4 JD ($6) and an excellent audio guide is available for an additional 2 JD ($2.80).
7: Explore Amman’s Cave of Seven Sleepers in Ar Rajib.
According to Biblical and Quranic texts – and widely referenced outside of both – seven youths hid inside a cave outside of Ephesus in Turkey around 250 CE to escape religious persecution. They emerged, miraculously, some 300 years later. Though there is a catacomb near Mount Pion in Turkey that is associated with the legend, a site about 10 miles outside of Amman in Ar Rajib purports to be the sacred site as well.
The main cave in Rajib (aka Ahl Al Kahf) includes several small-ish sealed tombs behind a glass wall. One of the sarcophagi, however, has a hole through which you can view human bones. While the area itself is quite small, it’s impressive in its significance. There is a small fee for entering and guides onsite to lead you through the display. The cave is also adjacent to a mosque and is considered a holy site. Women should expect to cover their heads and wear a full-length covering (abaya) available onsite.