I’ll admit, Jordan was never on my travel wish list. For someone who has lived in the Middle East all her life, what new experiences could Jordan possibly offer? A whole load apparently, as I found out for myself 10 days ago.
From walking the many hills of Amman and taking in the limestone-clad buildings, to floating on the Dead Sea which is this mind blowing natural phenomena, to exploring hidden caves in Petra – I didn’t realise I could pack in so many first time experiences in just 3 days. And the best part was that it was less than 3 hours away from Dubai by flight. Helloo long weekend!
Jordan as a country is rich in history and hospitality. I found that people are friendly, that there is loads to see and do, and the cuisine is a wonderful combination of foods that the country shares its borders with: Palestine, Syria, Iraq. I’ve recently become close friends with fellow bloggers Sally and Carla and having heard so much about their home/ second home, I was so intrigued. Then an email alert popped up recently with a smashing deal to Amman on FlyDubai. Sign that I had to go? I think so too.
I’ve just returned from a wonderful 3 day trip to Jordan – a long weekend, if you will – and would love to share my itinerary with you. I put it together with assistance and recommendations from Sally, Carla, and two colleagues who’ve lived there. So here you have it, let me know if you have any questions and I’d love to answer them!
Start your day with breakfast at Shams El Balad, one of Amman’s first farm to table concept restaurants. The space combines a design house, exhibition space and café, complete with a high ceiling and lots of light. Head upstairs to the terrace where you can enjoy a view of the rolling hills of Amman while you indulge in a glorious breakfast.
We ordered half a zaatar flatbread, cauliflower fritter, carrot mouttabel and a date molasses and tahini spread – all incredible! I also ordered a fig and walnut smoothie; wouldn’t recommend it but suggest instead that you get a pot of tea and soak in the ambience.
LOCATION: 69 Muath Bin Jabal Street, near the First Circle in Jabal Amman
Next, take a cab to the Citadel, which is a historical site in the centre of downtown. It sits on top of one of Amman’s seven hills with beautiful panoramic views. It has a long history and parts of the buildings from the Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad periods are still visible like the Temple of Hercules, a Byzantine church, and the Umayyad Palace.
Next, head down to the Roman Amphitheatre which is a 25 minute walk, mostly downhill. You’ll pass by the commercial centre of the old city, filled with hardware shops, traditional dressmakers, carpenters, curtain shops and the like.
The Roman theatre is a 6,000 seater built 2000 years ago. The climb to the top is steep so go as high as you can, take a seat, and imagine the crowds, the emperors who sat down below, and the bloody fights that would’ve taken place. It truly is a sight to behold.
As you come back down the steps, the Jordan Museum of Popular Traditions is located on your right, showcasing tribal wear costumes, coin jewellery, guns, mosaics, and little trinkets from the past.
You’ll be famished after all that sightseeing so head to Hashem, one of the oldest and most-popular restaurants in Amman. It’s known to have the best falafels in the city and while I can’t say I tried any others, I do agree that they were pretty darned special. Crunchy with every bite. We sat right next to where a machine was churning out little bite-sized falafels and dropping them into a vat of hot oil. Who knew! Gone are the days of manual labour.
We made the mistake of asking if they served kebabs. Nope. They don’t. Hashem is all vegetarian.
In addition to a plate of falafel, we also got a hummus and mouttabel. The server lined our table with a plastic sheet and placed two pieces of warm bread on top alongside our mezze. We finished off the meal with a round of black tea.
When you’re done with lunch, exit Hashem and take a left and then a right. As soon as you pass Arab Bank, take a left at the next alley and there you’ll find Habibah Sweets. Much like Hashem, Habibah is an Amman staple, loved by locals and tourists alike. Join the queue for a plate of their famous kunafa. When we arrived 20 minutes to 4pm, they were closed for cleaning so asked us to go to another location (literally few meters away from Hashem). It’s a proper restaurant where you can sit down and get table service. Umm. No thanks. We’d rather join a queue and sit in an alley and eat our kunafa. Tastes so much better this way! 🙂
LOCATION: Hashem, Complex No 6, Mamdouh Al Sarayrah St 6, Amman 11151
LOCATION: Habibah Sweets, Marwan Madi Complex, Al Hazar St 2, Amman
I didn’t get to go here but another place that’s popular (and is close to Hashem) is Al Quds. Here you can try traditional Jordanian dishes like Mansaf and Maqloube. Mansaf is the national dish of Jordan and is a must try when you’re here. I saved it for dinner that night… more on that later.
Once you’ve freshened up at the hotel, head back out to Rainbow Street which is filled with cafes and little shops. It’s perfect for browsing, to pick a souvenir, or to have some tea or ice cream.
Then head to Cantaloupe for drinks. This gastro-pub on Rainbow Street has a tiny little terrace with sweeping views of Amman by night. You see lights all across the city and can even see the Citadel at a distance. If you’re lucky and it’s a full moon night, this is what you’ll be seeing!
LOCATION: Cantaloupe, Rainbow Street, Amman
Sufra should be your destination for dinner. Its literally steps away from Cantaloupe and reminds me of one of my favourite places in Dubai – Khan Murjan in Wafi – for its courtyard feels. Get a table downstairs in the garden and enjoy a selection of mezze with warm bread. Definitely order a plate of mansaf, and Fukharet Kufta which is minced meat with tahina sauce and potato. A wonderful meal to end your stay in Amman.
LOCATION – Sufra, Rainbow Street, Amman
Other options for dinner are:
- Fakhreldine which is a Lebanese fine dining restaurant. I hear it is the former home of Jordan’s first Prime Minister, HE Fawzi Al-Mulki, and there is a back garden planted with jasmine, fig, apricot and almond trees, perfect for alfresco dining in the summer months. Location: Jabal Amman, 2nd Circle
- I’ve heard that Levant is also lovely for dinner. It is an Armenian restaurant featuring the best of dishes from Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan – a true representation of Levantine cuisine. Location: Misgal Al Fayez Street, Jabal Amman
6AM. Check out of your hotel and head to Petra which is a three hour drive. Reason you want to leave early is so that you can get there for 9 / 930AM, before it gets too hot.
As soon as we got in the car, we asked our driver to stop by a cafeteria so we could pick up some breakfast. Love that he knew exactly what we were after: some cheese and zaatar manakish, and spinach fatayer for the win!
The drive is dull for the most part. We snoozed a bit, stopped along the highway for some Turkish coffee (Nescafe for me), and chatted with some local bedouins who were transporting some goats on a truck. The landscape is mainly desert and changes substantially as you get closer to Petra. There’s more greenery, you’ll see herds of goats, and you’ll pass by some colourful villages.
Petra is incredible, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. This rose city was once the capital of the Nabataean Arabs, and is filled with tombs, monuments, and sacred structures carved into the cliffs. It got its UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1985 and has since attracted millions of visitors from around the world, as well as served as the location for several Hollywood movies. Indiana Jones fan anyone?
You enter through the Siq (means “gorge”) and walk through the most dramatic path of twists and turns, with naturally eroded red cliffs as high as the eye can see. Its perfect because it blocks the harsh sunlight and the echo of oncoming horse carriages makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time.
The siq gets narrow and dark and looming at the end is the spectacular Khazaneh, the Treasury, carved into the cliff face. It stands 40 meters high and is intricately decorated with Corinthian capitals, figures and more. Legend has it that it conceals a pharaoh’s treasure but who knows!
We walked a little bit further to the High Place of Sacrifice but you can go on and explore the endless number of trails and caves, all the way up to the Monastery which could be a full day hike. It is a fascinating journey, a testament to the ancient civilisations and their skilled craftsmanship.
You’ll find a couple of food and drink stalls along the way and lots of vendors selling little trinkets.
We really wanted to get a drink at the Cave Bar which is a 2000 year old tomb now converted into a bar – but it only opens at 3PM. Next time!
A few people asked me about the Petra by night tour. Taking place after 7PM, the whole walkway is lit by candles and the stars above. I don’t recommend doing this tour though because the beauty of Petra is in the structures built into the walls, none of which will be visible at night. So if you have time for just one look at Petra, I recommend you do it during the day.
Entrance to Petra costs 50JD and includes a horse ride which we didn’t take because we wanted to tough it out and walk! Moreover, I’m always skeptical about these things and worry that there will be a lot of haggling for a big tip – so I just avoid it. I believe the horsemen will be happy with a 2JD tip though which isn’t a lot. So if you’re tired on your way back, definitely consider it.
By 2PM latest, you should be on your way to the Dead Sea. The drive again is approx. three hours so you will make it to your hotel in time to check in and go straight to the bar (or your balcony) for sunset.
We stayed at Kempinski Ishtar which was absolutely lovely. Room décor is a little bit dated but the bathroom and the entire property is proper luxury.
Because you’ve had an early start, no plans for the evening but to relax, have dinner, and enjoy soothing live music on the outdoor terrace.
After a big breakfast, it’s time to head to the sea!
At 423 metres (1,388 ft) below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth. It is also the deepest hyper saline lake in the world, containing significant concentrations of salt and other minerals with healing properties.
It is one of the most unique places on earth, and I found that floating in the Dead Sea is extremely peaceful and relaxing. Moreover, the mud is rich is minerals, said to improve blood circulation, alleviate allergies and skin conditions… my skin did feel extremely soft after! Apparently the air there is 15% more oxygenated and the sunshine is ultra-violet filtered – so spend as much time as you can there.
Its not a holiday if you don’t get to relax. So spend this day floating in the sea, get a nice long massage, afternoon snooze, drinks by the pool, live music on the terrace, dinner at one of the many restaurants in the hotel, or room service and telly! I definitely recommend staying at the Kempinski because it has nine outdoor swimming pools, and gardens and waterfalls inspired by the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. In addition, the spa is amazing, spread over three floors with some of the best facilities I’ve seen including an indoor Dead Sea pool.
If chilling in the hotel is not your scene, there are a few attractions near the Dead Sea that you can check out such as Mount Nebo, the Baptism site, and Ma’in Hot springs. We decided to skip these and just stay in.
OTHER INFO – If you’d like to fit in more in Amman, you can check out the Royal Automobile Museum which houses the private collection of late King Hussein from the early 1920s through to present day. Or you can drive to Jerash which is the largest Roman ruins site an hour away from Amman, or do a traditional cooking class at Beit Sitti.
If you have an extra night or two, I’d include a night stay in this bubble tent in Wadi Rum.
- Do not skip Amman. Many people think its fine to do so but I disagree. If you’d like to get a feel of the local scene plus enjoy some local food, head to bars and restaurants, walk around… you can only do this in Amman. Petra/ Dead Sea will be hotels and the food is no where close to good.
- As an Indian passport holder with GCC residence visa, we got visa on arrival (cost 40JD), entrance to Petra (cost 50JD), Roman theatre (cost 2JD), Citadel (cost 3JD)…. It all adds up. Instead buy a Jordan Pass online before you go. It costs 70JD and includes the cost of visit visa plus all attractions listed above (and more).
- Taxis are extremely cheap but use Uber or Careem which is just as reasonably priced but more reliable.
- If you think you might want to buy dead sea mud, salt etc. don’t buy it in the Dead Sea because it’ll be so much more expensive. Instead go to Trinitae Soap House which is located in a villa near Rainbow street, Amman. Look for it as you walk to Cantaloupe or Sufra. You can buy some dreamy spa like skincare products at a fraction of the price.
HOW TO GET THERE – We flew FlyDubai on Tuesday evening 18:50pm flight, back in Dubai on Saturday evening 5pm DWC. They have some great deals and the flight is less than 3 hours.
GETTING AROUND – Uber and Careem in Amman. For the longer drives, hire a driver online through a tour company or via your hotel concierge.
WHERE TO STAY – I stayed in Grand Hyatt Amman and Kempinski Ishtar Dead Sea. Recommend both!
I hope I’ve inspired you to visit Jordan. If you’ve found this post useful, do Pin it, Bookmark it, and Share.