A Day in Amman: Walk, Eat, Shop!
Although Amman is the capital of Jordan, and most visitors arrive at its international airport, most go straight to Petra and Wadi Rum. If you have a little time, Amman is a great Middle Eastern city to stroll, eat great meals, and do a bit of shopping. Visit if you can – even if you just spend a day in Amman!
You can also reach other destinations like the Dead Sea, Desert Castles, Jerash, Salt and Ajloun from Amman or Madaba in a day trip. Madaba is a great small town alternative, because you avoid the legendary Amman traffic but it can’t compete with Amman for vibrancy, great food and shopping.
Here I show you my own (short) day in Amman. Which got curtailed by a flight delay and subsequent night bus journey. It marked the start of a week’s visit to Jordan in January. Read about the pros and cons of travelling to Jordan in low season.
Arriving in Amman
It went completely differently than planned. Instead or arriving in Aqaba at 13.30 and taking a leisurely taxi to the JETT Bus for the 15:30 VIP service to 7th Circle, and strolling over to the Mulberry Hostel nearby on arrival, we landed in Aqaba just before midnight. The reason? A medical emergency and an unscheduled landing and 10-hour layover in Antalya Airport.
Once we set foot into Aqaba Airport, I’d never been stamped into a country so fast. Literally – there were three officials in astonishingly good mood for this time of the night, smashing (free) visa stamps into passengers passports, no questions asked. I rushed to the ATM, then into a taxi. My seat neighbour was lovely and had taken care of our onward journey to Amman. Her sister had booked us tickets on the night bus. By 1am, I was on a nightbus in a strange country, having just seen the airport and a coffee stall. Not my usual travel style! After the routine Customs check on leaving the free trade zone of Aqaba, we moved fast.
By 6:00, we were in Amman, and picked up by the sister. She insisted we must eat right now, and took us to Hashem Resraurant. Falafel and hummus at 6am? Why not? It was a delayed but excellent start of my day in Amman. Then the lovely ladies delivered me to my hostel. There, I just fell into bed, then woke up at noon, freshened up and took a taxi to Downtown.
After this, a more orderly exploration of town followed once I had managed to tell the taxi driver where I wanted to go and guiding him to my guesthouse using my Map App, him speaking no English and me no Arabic. An hour later, we arrived at my not-really-hard-to find address in Downtown Amman.
I checked into my guesthouse, dropped my stuff and set out, still somewhat bleary-eyes to explore Downtown. First, a big coffee. There were takeaway stalls making huge cups of strong sugary Arabic coffee everywhere.
A Day in Amman
My guesthouse was just metres from the famous Hashem Restaurant – picked out by the green lighting here. Go and eat there! It’s open 24 hours. We went there at 6am. Downtown was really quiet but there were guests already!
I’m not sure they have an English menu. But hummusfalalfelchai is the default option and a really good one! If you want to steer away from the standard, you can ask for moutabal (roasted aubergine dip) , fattah (fluffy hummus) or foul( broad bean dip).
King Faisal Street – the commercial heart of Downtown Amman
So… coffee in hand, I began taking in the crazily busy main Downtown Street (Kind Faisal Street). It is full of shops! Heavy on textiles, perfumes and mobile phone accessories, with a few tourist souvenir shops thrown in. I didn’t see a load of tourists though.
One thing you will see for sale are the keffiyeh. They are a traditional Arab headdress. The black and white ones have become a symbol for Palestinian nationalism since the Great Arab Revolt in the 1930’s. The red and white ones were traditionally worn by local Bedouins although the red and white is the most common pattern you’ll find in Jordan. They come in really variable qualities. The ones I saw in Amman were not so great – mostly thin and made in China. Just go by the look and feel and buy what you like. I bought two in Madaba in a local shop later. The thinner one cost 2JOD and I think is made form polycotton. The higher quality one cost 9JOD and is cotton. At this price, do not expect hand embroidery – be prepared to part with 60-100JOD for a hand embroidered one.
I admired the beautiful embroidered traditional dresses for sale everywhere. I think the style is traditional Palestinian. The patterns are absolutely stunning. I did check some of them gingerly. Unfortunately, the base material is man made so I steered well clear. It’s quite sad because the pattern of embroidery and the quality of the embroidery itself were really stunning.
Palestinian embroidery is actually famous in the Middle East! From what I was told, the traditional pattern are geometrical cross-stitch. They include stylized botanical and floral designs and are still practised throughout Palestine. The cloth should be linen, wool or thick cotton.
But if you’re in the market for everyday clothes, you will sure find something. I bought a really nice bonnet and scarf for about 4JOD.
The Roman Amphitheatre
After walking down King Faisal Street, I came to a T-junction and turned left to view the amphitheatre, smack in the middle of Downtown! Winter ist low season – the site was really quiet.
The amphitheatre is a wonderfully preserved example of Roman Empire architecture built in the 2nd Century under Emperor Antoninus. He is known as one of the “five good emperors” in a relatively prosperous and stable period of the Roman Empire – or that’s the European view! Just a few decades earlier the Jewish-Roman Wars ended with the destruction of the Second Temple under future emperors Titus and Vespasian. The amphitheatre has seating for 6000 and some really great acoustics – try climbing up into the gods to experience them.
From the amphitheatre, you can easily walk up to the Citadel on the opposite hill. Its a short but strenuous walk. I had a dinner invitation and wanted to look at Rainbow Street so I skipped it.
There’s some rather stark modernist Art Deco-Style architecture in Downtown Amman. This is a hotel. It’s in a great location, right opposite the amphitheatre but it looks like it could so with a renovation. Most buildings in Amman seemed in better nick than this.
Walking back, I continued straight instead of turning right onto King Faisal Street, past the Grand Husseini Mosque, onto King Talal Street.
It’s near impossible to visit the Grand Husseini Mosque as a non-Muslim, and access to women, no matter how modestly you are dressed, is restricted. It looks quite nice in its slightly modernist deco 1920’s style, and the plaza in front is buzzing.
On King Talal Street ever more labyrinthine little shops and passageways await. Mostly textiles and accessories. I turned into the first little street to the right. To be distracted by this stack of Aleppo Soap. I know they’re no lookers but they did look really attractive to me. Are they made in Aleppo? The vendor said so, but I have no idea.
Walking up to Rainbow Street
And then the exercise started for good! Amman is at nearly 100m height and really hilly. You bring the good shoes and a decent level of fitness. Stairways like these are quite common all over central Amman.
About three flights of such stairs and a bit of huffing and puffing later, I was at the Downtown end of Rainbow Street! It takes a further incline from here, but not much. You get a fairly nice view, and the area is altogehter pleasant, with nice low stone houses and well tended gardens. There were already the first pretty cafes, with their blackboards invitingly on the side walk!
I just wanted some fancy soap from Trinitae! I had read about this high-end soap and cosmetics store. They make all their products from local natural ingredients. And the little shop, tucked away in a Rainbwo Street Courtyard, is a sight to behold!
Really peaceful. The views were not to bad on this little terrace. All that was missing was a coffee stall. But if you continue on Rainbow Street, you’ll find plenty of coffee shops. I’m now somewhat annoyed I didn’t take any pictures from insude the shop because it’s so beautiful.
Laden with handmade soaps and some essential oil, I wandered steeply downhill again, to return downtown. If you have more time, you can continue on Rainbow Street and turn right/downhill by the Tourist Police to walk back in a bigger loop for some more cafe and shopping in Rainbow Street. But I didn’t have the time and returned via quiet Al-Kabariti Street to King Faisal Street. Al-Kabariti Street has some really classy looking tailors, specialising in hijab fashions.
And back to King Faisal Street, the main and usually traffic/-choked Downtown throughfare. I backtracked to take a look at the small block of gold shops, also known as the gold souk. Imseeh Jewellery is one of the larger, well-known one, but nearby there is shop after shop selling gold jewellery if you are in the market for that. I heard that Jordan has some of the lowest gold prices and on-site jewellers can make pieces to your own designs.
The tiny Habibah Sweets is conveniently located just a few metres from the gold souk in an alley off King Faisal Street. You will find it by looking our for people sitting on benches on the side walk eating kunefe, the traditional Palestinan pastry that Habibah is famous for. It’s takeaway only, and 1 JOD will buy you a humongous portion. It was also the best kunefe I had in one week in Jordan. If you have room in your stomach, don’t miss it.
As it got dark, I strolled back. Now that I had seen what I wanted to see Downtown in a relatively short amount of time, I stopped and looked a bit closer.
If you like Oriental perfumes, Amman is a good place to come! I bought some frankincense and myrrh in one of these small shops. I also wanted to buy one of these pretty little scent bottles (they are porous and are used to scent rooms) but stupidly, I forgot.
Last not least, the piece de resistance, the nut and spice stall!
You can almost eat a full meal by trying everything offered to you. It also reminds me to really learn to read Arabic numerals.
And with that, it got dark and my little Amman came to an end I went back to my guesthouse and got ready for dinner! I was invited for a family dinner which went well into the wee hours and this concluded my day in Amman really nicely!
Here is a little map of my walking route. Its about 3-4km and can easily be done in an hour. I recommend, if you have time, to stop often and check out the shops, Habibah Sweets and the numerous coffee and juice stalls. Conclude your walk with food at Hashem! It is a basic-looking restaurant, but the food is really great. If you have a whole day, I recommend the following:
- Walk up to Amman Citadel. Another steep walk, but you can also take a taxi
- Continue on Rainbow Street until it ends at First Cicle and make a sharp right to return Downtown, or shorten the walk by returning via Shukri Sha’abasha Street.
- Explore the leafy area around Paris Circle, another pretty area full of cafes and restaurants.
- Check out the Art Galleries. Many are in Downtown and Rainbow Street areas. The Architectural Digest has some recommendations.
- The Jordan Museum is the national Cultural Museum of Jordan. It’s a rather longish walk south of Downtown.
Is Jordan safe?
Hard question to answer! After reading Foreign Office advice and travelling the country independently for a week, I can say yes, I felt completely safe. Walking in Downtown Amman, even after dark, felt completely fine to me. No cat calling, no hassle, only an occasionally friendly “Hallo” often with the offer of spices/chocolates or the usual “where are you from? and what are you doing in Jordan” small talk. All very friendly and respectful.
I have heard that the Jordanian government really values tourism and that therefore any crimes towards tourists are heavily punished. I think there is definitely a higher rate of pickpocketing in Paris or Barcelona! You are likely to be charged higher prices than locals but then… if something isn’t worth the quoted price, don’t buy it. The only hazard is traffic and in some places, unlit streets, uneven pavements and the danger of stumbling and falling.
Getting to Amman
Most visitors to Jordan will arrive at the Queen Alia International Airport about 35km away. Madaba is much closer to the airport, so if you prefer a smaller town, consider staying there and go into Amman for a day trip.
I flew to the Red Sea resort of Aqaba. Most budget airlines fly there. It is, in my opinion, a smarter choice, as Aqaba is really nice, and only 1.5 hours from Petra instead of over 3 hours from Amman. Also… at present, the visa fee of 40JOD is waived if you arrive in Aqaba by air. There are at least twenty departures from Aqaba to Amman a day on Jordan Express Tourist Transport (JETT). You can find the bus schedules here. Online booking is very temperamental and may not always work. Unless you need to depart a certain time, best turn up at their office and buy the ticket in person.
The journey from Aqaba to Amman takes about five hours. I took the night JETT Bus because our flight was delayed by almost 12 hours. It was quite uncomfortable but too late for the VIP Bus, so it meant either spending the night in Aqaba and spending five hours of the next day on the bus, or just suck it up and sit on the night bus.
You can also get local buses from most towns in Jordan to Amman. Usually they are new-ish coaster buses and they’re okay for a 2-3hour journey. They will arrive at different bus stations. The advantage is that some will pick you up at the hotel! I took a local bus from Petra to Aqaba, and just asked the hotel staff to book it for me. There appear no fixed prices, so ask when booking what the price bracket should be.
Amman Bus stations
Abdali, Wehdat and 7th Circle are JETT terminals in Amman. Abdali is the JETT Bus Terminal close to Downtown. Wehdat is in Southern Amman and convenient for onward transport to the South. 7th Circle is the Western Amman Terminal. It take about half an hour by taxi in Amman traffic to get from 7th Circle to Downtown – so if you stay Downtown, go to Abdali, if you are moving on from Amman, go to 7th Circle. There is good accommodation in walking distance from 7th Circle, for example the Mulberry Guesthouse.
From Madaba, local buses and shared taxis run to Wehdat Station in Amman about every half hour.
Where to Stay
I stayed at the Gallery Guesthouse in Downtown Amman. It is in a great location, in easy walking distance to the Citadel, Downtown and the Roman Theatre as well as Rainbow Street, however, be prepared for some short steep climbs, including the street up to the hotel. The famous “Hashem” Restaurant with excellent Middle Eastern Staples for little money is 250m from the hotel. The Guesthouse is a tidy little residential buildings with just a few lovingly decorated rooms – large extremely comfortable beds, okay internet, a small desk – and functioning heating in winter! The breakfast was a bit of a let down, but you can always go to Hashem to fuel up. I paid about 32 Euros for a single, and they kindly gave me a double room.
I had planned to spend my first night in Amman at the Mulberry Hostel. It is located 2minutes from 7th Circle, an important transport stop for the JETT buses. It hadn’t quite gone as planned, but I spent a morning there catching up on sleep and liked it. It’s a really convenient place if you are planning to arrive or leave by JETT bus from 7th Circle. At about 12 Euros for a bed in a 4-bed female dorm, this will hardly break the bank!
Alternatives in Amman
While I did not stay at these hotels, I checked out their location, common areas and general friendliness!
The Art Hotel Downtown is right in the thick of things downtown, in an elegant modernist building. There is no climbing involved. Rooms are modern and simple, with large-scale murals. Rooms start at arpound 45 Euro per night.
Something rather more traditional and in a great location right by the amphitheatre is the Amman Pasha Hotel. A little walk uphill and with a roof terrace, this one has terrific views over downtown. It’s an older hotel. The rooms are on the small side and much more traditional and simple. For a two-star, it has a range of facilities, including an on-site pizza parlour, local restaurants, as well as tours, cooking classes and a hamam. If you are looking for onward transport, this is well the place to stay.
As I continued my trip, I based myself in Madaba for two days. Madaba is an excellent option especially if you have your own transport. A small friendly town, with plenty of accommodation and enough restaurants open even in low season. It has some excellent Roman and Byzantine mosaics and is a great starting point for trips to Mount Nebo and the Dead Sea, Petra and the North without having to brave Amman traffic.And if you just want to spend the day in Amman, you can easily go there by bus in about 40 minutes.
I stayed at the Tell Madaba Hotel – a little outside the tourist part of town, but all sights were in an easy 10 minutes walking distance. The hotel is run by a lovely couple, and they welcome you like you’re family. They just extended their house and added some new rooms, which are a good three-star standard, with huge beds, plenty of space, decent internet and sparkling clean bathrooms. There is also a large communal kitchen that guests can use. Breakfasts are huge feasts of Middle Eastern food, honestly, I did not see a restaurant from the inside after eating the humongous breakfast every day. There is also free parking. The hosts are wonderful and will assist you with any questions you might have. They can also help to arrange onward travel, including reasonably priced private taxi. I paid about 25 Euros for a double room.
The small print
I travelled to Jordan solo in January 2020, on a trip that I had organised and paid for using my private funds. This post contains some affiliate links to Booking.com. This means that if you make a booking through these links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to yourself. I have specified which hotels I actually stayed in and which ones I just visited for the purpose of research in the appropriate section. More information can be found under “Terms and Conditions” on this site.