When you think of travel to Jordan, you might think of the ancient city of Petra—and you're not the only one. In 2017, more than a half a million people visited this ancient Nabatean city and UNESCO World Heritage Site, and numbers are expected to continue climbing.
While Petra is more than worth a visit on your next trip to Jordan, you shouldn't look past the treasures on offer in the country's underrated capital Amman. From ancient Roman architecture, to bustling markets and one of the world's most interesting falafel sandwiches, Amman is more than just a crash pad for the rest of Jordan.
Look Out on the City—and Back in Time
One thing many would-be visitors to Jordan might not realize is that while the country is currently under the rule of the Arab Hashemite royal family, it was once a busy metropolis in the Roman Far East. Evidence of this can be seen not only at the Amman Citadel, whose hilltop location allows you to enjoy a very good view of the city (but not the very best—more on that later), but at sites throughout the city such as the Roman Theatre and Temple of Hercules.
Hone Your Bargaining Skills
Like many places throughout the Middle East and North Africa, Amman is home to many open-air markets, where you can shop for all sorts of goods, from local spices and textiles to ordinary electronics and household items. Regardless of what shopping centers you visit such as Al-Balad Market, Souk Jarah and Bukhariyeh Market, be prepared to haggle for the best price, since prices here are almost never fixed.
Eat Falafel on a Baguette
Jordanian food, like that you find throughout the Levant region, is comprised of items that are claimed by many and owned by none—delightful falafel, deep-fried balls of chickpea flour, is a key example. One Amman establishment that makes a falafel sandwich all its own is Al-Quds on Amman's trendy Rainbow Street, where you can get a version of the popular sandwich served on a pressed french baguette.
Eat Your Way Through Rainbow Street
Speaking of Rainbow Street, it is indeed one of the coolest places in central Amman, and has become popular not only among tourists, but the young, hip crowd of Amman locals. From coffee shops like Books@cafe to a smattering of cute boutiques, smokey shisha joints and eateries that are just as delicious as the aforementioned Al-Quds, Rainbow Street is certainly one of Amman's most colorful locales.
Look Into the Future
Much of Amman is comprised of one- or two-story buildings, with the in-development Al-Abdali business district a notable exception. The skyscrapers you find here are neither as tall nor as numerous as those you find in regional cities like Tel Aviv and Cairo, and many are plagued by construction delays that can seem to go on forever. However, seeing sleek edifices such as Amman Rotana Hotel rises above Amman's dusty cityscape creates an aesthetic that's difficult to find most other places on the planet.
Live the Glamorous Life
If you disregard the remarkable building that houses it, Amman Rotana is one of many increasingly luxurious hotels in Amman. Properties like The Boulevard Arjaan, Four Seasons Hotel Amman and The Conroy Boutique Hotel prove that cities like Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha aren't the only game in the region when it comes to enjoy luxurious experiences. What's more is that even if you lack the budget or the desire to sleep someplace so opulent, you can enjoy a cup of Arabic coffee or a plate of dates at the cafes in many of these properties, allowing you to get a quick taste of Jordanian luxury.
See Amman's Artsy Side
Some people argue that Amman's old city is like a living museum, but there are actual museums you can visit if you want a more explicit presentation of art and history. The Jordan Museum, for example, tells the history of the country from the Nabatean (i.e. Petra) period all the way up to the modern day. At the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, on the other hand, you'll find an impressive permanent collection of local and international paintings, sculptures and other visual arts, as well as rotating special exhibits that will surprise and delight you.
Appreciate Amman's Islamic Architecture
Jordan is known as being a relatively moderate Muslim country, but the vast majority of Jordanians remain faithful observers of the religion. One of the most beautiful manifestations of their faith is the mosques you find throughout Amman. Many tourists simply visit the famous King Abdullah I Mosque, whose turquoise accents contrast with the sandy colors of the rest of the city, and call it a day. If you have a deeper interest in Islamic architecture, you might visit other mosques such as Grand Husseini Mosque and Mosque Abu Darwish.
See Another Side of Jordan's Royal Family
Jordan's royal family are among the world's most beloved monarchs, and although King Abdullah II and his wife Raina have charmed the world with their youthfulness and hipness to the issues of the day, many foreigners still associate Jordan's monarchy with the stateliness of the late King Hussein and his predecessors. One Amman sightseeing spot that presents a more lighthearted look at Jordan's royal family is the Royal Automobile Museum, whose classic cars seem delightfully out of place in Amman.
Cool Off (Within the City Limits)
There are several places within day trip distance of Amman where you can cool off from the heat that tends to plague this city year-round—more on those in a few paragraphs. However, if you want to take a dip but don't have the time or transport to reach the Dead or Red Seas, head instead to Amman Waves Waterpark. A massive waterpark built to international standards less than 20 minutes from the city center, Amman Waves will make you forget you're in the middle of the desert, at least for an afternoon.
Enjoy the Ultimate Panorama
Amman citadel offers a great view, but it's nothing compared to what you see from the precipice of Mount Nebo. Not only can you get a 360-degree view of Amman's cityscape, but on clear days you can see the valley of the River Jordan. Interestingly, Mount Nebo is mentioned in the Bible, which like Jordan's Roman heritage shows that this modern Muslim city has an incredibly rich, diverse history.
Take Amman Day Trips—And Not Just to Petra
As wonderful as Petra is, adventurous things to do in Jordan transcend it. The historical city of Jerash, just north of Amman, takes you back about 2,000 years to the time of the early Christian Roman Empire. You can alternatively head to the Jordan River, though it won't cool you off unless you plan to be baptized. For that, you should head to the shores of the Dead Sea or the port of Aqaba, where some of the Red Sea's best scuba diving can be found. Scenic Wadi Rum, meanwhile, will make you feel like you're in "Lawrence of Arabia" — if you can take the heat.