Shopping in Jordan and how to find the best souvenirs
Shopping in Jordan is good for your purse!
But does it mean there is nothing for the casual traveller to buy, or are things so cheap that you barely spend any money? Well…. a bit of both! I don’t want to knock the shopping in Jordan. But for serious shopping sprees, you may be better off in Istanbul, Cairo or Dubai. Jordan does not have the century-long artisanal tradition of some of its neighbours, but worry not, there are still great things you can bring home from Jordan as a memento of your trip.
Buy sustainably, useful and beautiful!
This post is for you if you are interested in sustainable, well-made useful items for your home, or quality food. You will find in Jordan the sand bottles, the ubiquitous colourful pottery bowls and some other knick-knacks that may look nice.
However… I have enough stuff as it is and I just tend to buy things I actually need. Small affordable pieces of jewellery are an exception and a particular weakness. But my general rule is it’s not beautiful AND useful (or consumable) I don’t bother.
Natural Soaps and Cosmetics
I am putting this first because the quality and choice of soaps are amazing, and you should definitely make room for a few when shopping in Jordan. The humblest little grocery store may have square pieces of all-natural Nablus soap made from olive oil and sodium hydroxide. Some of it is actually still produced in Nablus, while the cheaper bars are produced in Jordan. This is not a Jordanian product, strictly speaking, but you may be more likely to visit Jordan than the Palestinian Territories and natural soaps from Nablus and Aleppo are widely used in Jordan. They all have traditional white wax paper wrapping bearing the factory stamp. These traditional soaps have almost no scent.
The Muftahein Nablus soap (“Cross Keys”) is still made in the West Bank in the factory of Hafez and Abdul Toukan in central Nablus. It was also the hardest to find. I bought mine in a small herbs shop in Amman.
The Jamal Nablus soap (“Camel”) is also made in central Nablus by Abu Hasan Al Shaka’a.
Jordanian Nablus soap (“Ostrich”) is the cheapest and easiest to find. Expect to pay as little as 0.35JOD for a piece of natural soap in a supermarket; slightly less in small shops.
If you look carefully, you may also find bars of Aleppo Soap at very reasonable prices (about 2-3JOD) in small herb shops in Amman. So far, each Aleppo Soap I have purchased bears a different stamp.
Trinitae Soap and Cosmetics
If you want something smelling gorgeous, open your purse a little more and climb up to Rainbow Street to a well-hidden beautiful old stone villa. Enter a world of fine soaps lovingly produced by a clever soap-making family who use organic ingredients and plenty Dead Sea minerals to produce super fragrant soaps, essential oils and cosmetics.
I sniffed my way through the elegant shop and first put these gorgeous citrus scented soaps in my basket.
I also liked these loofah soaps, embedded in a slice of natural loofah. They smell amazing, too.
Last not least, because I love all citrus scent, I purchased a small bottle of organic grapefruit essential oil.
The store is beautiful, and I am slightly annoyed I didn’t take pictures! Pared-down elegance with super products. Sure, a little more expensive, but with handcrafted soaps starting at about 3JOD, essential oils starting at 5JOD and nothing costing much more than 10JOD, this is affordable luxury, and a high quality product.
They have a website and even offer online shopping but online shop is a ton more expensive than buying in Amman.
Now, what do I need so much soap for? Well. I use these soaps for literally everything, from hands to body to getting rid of stains on clothes. I have previously used Aleppo soap to wash my hair. It takes some getting used to, but my thine fine hair suddenly had volume and looked good. The Aleppo soap has a somewhat medicinal smell from the laurel oil.
The Nablus soap is practically odourless. I’m replacing all liquid soaps in my house by bars now, so I always have about 4 pieces on the go. The smelly soaps will go straight in a clothes drawer until I remember them and put them into use in the shower. Oh, and last not least, I also give a lot of soaps away in my mission to reduce waste in the house and to steer away from big brand products full of artificial ingredients.
In fact, I am in love with natural soaps, and while it may be somewhat difficult to visit Aleppo now, I could visit Nablus. Or can’t I?
If you want Dead Sea products, you will find them in herb shops and pharmacies all over the country. There are plenty of shop sin Downtown Amman or in Aqaba that will sell spices, tea, perfumes and Dead Sea products in little one-stop shops – clearly aimed at tourists.
And the humble loofah can really be found anywhere, too. A whole loofah shouldn’t cost more than 1-2JOD.
Perfume and Incense
And while we’re talking about cosmetics, scents are never far behind! What struck me on my first walk in Amman was the sheer number of perfume shops everywhere. They displayed diffusers outside in the street, with wonderful smells wafting from them. Being more of a citrus girl myself, I was somewhat hesitant to try the rich heavy scents on offer. I admit some of the perfume oils didn’t do it for me. But browsing was such fun!
You find these street stalls with perfume oils and incense in all bigger towns.
If you take a closer look, you’ll find ready-mixed incense but also myrrh and frankincense as well as incense sticks.
Some of the perfume shops look very sophisticated and high-end.
I did buy some base notes: A bag of frankincense, and a bag of myrrh. You will get mixed incense as well. This is very classic incense burning, with coal and burners. I also looked for a nice burner, but didn’t find anything I liked.
The other bagged resin is gum arabic, by the way. And if you’re wondering… I had no trouble whatsoever getting them out of the country. It’s a complex polysaccharide and used as an antidiabetic in traditional medicine. It is also used to bind watercolour.
Also, I bought some more ultra chap Perfume Jamid. You can buy it everywhere for 1JOD or less. It is a synthetic scent and most of it is produced in Pakistan. The amber scent loosely describes a warm scent made up from benzoin and labdanum resins and sometimes other ingredients. It is not to be confused with ambergris (digestive by-product from sperm whales).
You can buy Perfume Jamid online with the usual foreigner mark-up, but it is still a great buy! It will last years and if you like musk, this will make a great alcohol-free everyday perfume. I first came across it in Morocco many years ago where it was sold to me as “amber” at a somewhat higher price than you can buy it all over the Middle East!
Food and Drink
Hmmmmmm, the Middle Eastern food in Jordan is lovely but hardly portable. Random cafes and falafel places dishing up the most tasty “hummus-falafel” combo for little money. And there will always be a patisserie serving good kunefe, a cheese desert topped with pastry noodles and honey.
However… Jordan is a great place to stock up on all sorts of roasted nuts, and they really are of exceptional quality. I bought smoke roasted flavour cashed nuts n random places, and all were good. My favourite is Al Shaeb Nuts in Aqaba. A friend recommended it, and surely as soon as I arrived in town, I saw loads of people walking around with the distinctive red and yellow Al-Shaeb plastic bags.
Al-Shaeb have outlets in many parts of Aqaba. The best and most central place to buy is in narrow Zahran Street in the souk, where they have about five (!) outlets in the same street. Look for a red logo with white Arabic writing and a bit of yellow in orange and a shop full of sweets and nuts, and shop assistants in red shirts! They may not always speak English, but usually it’s not a big problem – try from the shovels full of nuts offered to you and pick your favourites.
I brought 2kg back and risked a huge excess baggage fee but at the airports they just smiled at my large nut bag and waved me through. They will the bags and roughly three weeks later, they still taste like freshly roasted and anyway they are so tasty, they will be finished soon!
Interior of one of the Al-Shaeb shops in Aqaba. So many types of nuts to choose from!
They also have two outlets in Amman, but nowhere central.
I like Middle Eastern Cooking, and often make quick veggie meals and salads using some basic recipes. I love to bring back spices that are somewhat hard to find at home, like za’atar and sumac.
You can buy tons of them in local supermarkets or spice shops. I went to a local supermarket, Carrefour and a spice shop. In spice shops, you will get English-speaking service and pay a little more, in supermarkets you get low low prices. They also sell a great deal of spice mixtures and about any powdered spice you might want. I hate these tiny tourist spice packages. Here is my haul, very cheap as you can see, and unceremoniously stuffed in plastic bags. You cannot see the price tags but… they were between 0,50 to 1 JOD for about 200 grams.
If you want to try these traditional spices but are far from the Middle East, you can find them in Middle East supermarkets.
Also, there are lots of teas, both green and black. I was somewhat inclined to get a tea mixture but then spent my last change on a bag of natural henna – another good purchase!
Oh, the high hopes I had for this! Almost immediately when I set foot in Downtown Amman, I noticed the beautiful embroidered Palestinian dresses. Sadly, when I took a closer look at them, all were poorly sewn from man-made fabric. Really, why bother with this incredible embroidery when the base is such poor quality? Eventually, I gave up. I really wanted a blouse with a little embroidered bordered not the full-on costume, or a small embroidered piece to incorporate into my sewing, but nothing.
A propos sewing: I found lots of fabric shops! They were in Downtown Amman, a few along King Faisal Streets, some further back in the tiny passageways off King Faisal Street. A lot were man-made fabrics, though – so I didn’t buy any.
Keffiyeh AKA traditional headdress
The Keffiyeh or Kufiyah (كُوفِيَّة in Arabic) is the traditional Arab headdress. The red and white colour is usually associated with the Kingdom of Jordan, although the style was worn by local bedouins much earlier than that. The black and white pattern traditionally from Palestine, especially since the Great Arab Revolt. You will find them in many different colours all over Palestine.
I spent a bit of time looking for a really cosy one with big tassels to keep me warm in the cold! But all I could find were really cheap man made fibre ones, or in one souvenir shop, I was quoted a ridiculous price.
They are for sale in all colours literally everywhere, but it is hard to find good quality. Here is a shop in Aqaba selling them. But again, the quality isn’t overwhelming.
I finally found two nice keffiyeh in a local shop in Madaba when I walked back to my hotel. They were crammed into a tiny shop that looked like a dry cleaners. Anyway… the cheaper one was 2JOD. The other one, with a thick red woolly weave, was 9JOD but neither have tassels. And yes, there is the subject of cultural appropriation. I still love the keffiyeh and will probably wear mine anyway.
Scarves and headscarves
However, in my opinion, Istanbul is still my top place to buy scarves and ready-made garments. You find very reasonably priced Western fashion and modest/hijab styles. The quality is often exceptional. Downtown Amman is brimming with little accessories and clothes shops and I picked this pretty bonnet and scarf combo.
Here and there (in my case, Madaba) there were some nice glass items for sale. I bought two thick glass Christmas baubles pained with camels… because, why not? The Holy Land is their natural habitat. You might also come across some marbled glass from Hebron. After all, you can see Jordan from Mount Nebo on a clear day. You can even buy Hebron glass online.
I love vintage brass Arabic coffee pots. I looked out for one as well as for another ibrik. These items are for sale, but I could not quite find what I was looking for.
These items are still in use, but most often in their modern reincarnations. You can buy them quite cheaply in supermarkets. They will be made from stainless steel, and the coffee pots are usually of the thermos variety.
On the other spectrum, you will find old-looking ones in souvenir shops. I saw only very thin and battered looking coffee pots and I wouldn’t really comfortable to heat them up really high for coffee brewing. However…. if you want some, you get some really nice vintage ones on Etsy I just discovered…
My Rough Guide emphasized how reasonably priced gold in Jordan is. Especially 18-carat and 21-carat gold is very popular in Jordan. So it is a great shame that styles are somewhat universal and not the most inspired. A lot of them have a touch of Indian style about them, and this might well be where they are manufactured.
If you really want to buy gold, I would recommend trying the gold souk in Downtown Amman. It’s not a souk in the traditional sense but a block of jeweller shops between King Faisal and King Ghazi Streets.
Less of an investment is silver Bedouin Jewellery. Especially in the more touristed areas, you will find a lot of silver shops, or plenty of silver in souvenir shops. Many styles look very much like what you find in big wwholesale shops in Jaipur or Istanbul. But often there will also be very ornate and very hefty Bedouin jewellery. I looked at a few pieces, but found the silver price+markup a bit too high for a fun purchase.
This is my fun purchase. It’s not silver, but I like these pretty fossils. There are tons of stalls inside the ancient city of Petra selling souvenirs including fossils and minerals. The prices? Very dependent on season and on negotiation. I ended up paying 5JOD for these two, without much haggling.
And I got this sweet mother of pearl brooch in Madaba. 10JOD seemed a little high, but I really loved it. The shop owner was friendly and non-pushy so I just smiled and paid up.
Best places for shopping in Jordan
You cannot beat a day in Amman. Be it for sightseeing, eating or shopping, the capital might be busy but its Downtown, Rainbow Street or Paris Circle areas are full of character and unique shopping experiences. I recommend staying in one of these areas as public transport is literally nonexistent and taxis are cheap, but drivers will not always speak English or understand where you want to go.
My second-favourite place to shop was Aqaba. It is a somewhat booking little resort town, with high-end resorts springing up in its outskirts. Again, there are the ubiquitous souvenir shops, especially if you look in the Western part of town near An-Nadah Street. The more interesting bit is the Souk stretching from central Ayla Circle the south, running parallel to the Corniche. Plenty of shops here cater for cruise tourists, but you will find lots of interesting pharmacies, spice and nuts shops and a number of jewellers.
I also visited Petra and Madaba, but in terms of good shopping, these towns rather take a backseat. In Madaba, I found a “Tourist Street” full of rather uninspired souvenir shops. I also saw very few carpets that Madaba is so famous for. And Petra… well the village of Wadi Musa is a tourist place, with shops to match. Often, you see the same mosaic lamps and colourful pottery like in Turkey and other places of the Middle East. However, some of the Bedouin-run stalls in site of Petra had some nice Bedouin silver jewellery or semi -precious stones.
Where I stayed
I stayed at the Gallery Guesthouse in Downtown Amman. The location is super central, but expect some short steep climbs, including the street up to the hotel. The Guesthouse is a neat little residential buildings with just a few lovingly decorated rooms. You find large and 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. Due to an unscheduled stop in Antalya, followed by a rather uncomfortable night bus journey from Aqaba to Amman, followed by an unscheduled but much needed stop at Hashem, I turned up at the hostel at 8am. I liked the short time I spent there, despite the cold and being alone! I slept four hours, freshened up and checked out… they kindly let me check out at lunchtime at no extra charge, so thumbs up to the Mulberry! 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 around 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. Even on public transport you can easily reach Amman by bus in 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 should you require it. 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.
Not wanting to walk for miles after walking around the very spread-out site of Petra, I booked a private room at the Nomads Hostel Petra. What I didn’t take into account was the kick-ass hill the hostel is on, with very little in the way of eating or entertaining nearby! I still recommend the hostel.
It’s a quirky friendly little place – imagine a grey mini-Treasury with a colourful mural of Jack Sparrow on its side. My private double room was very good, at a bargain price of about 38Euro per night including breakfast. The weather was bitterly cold in Petra, but the heating worked, the room was spotlessly clean, the water was hot… the bed was very comfortable. The friendly staff will help with booking onward transport, and the local bus even picks up at the door. The breakfast will go down as one of the worst hotel breakfasts ever, with exception of the hummus.
I stayed in the more “local” part of town at the Amir Palace Hotel. Aqaba isn’t terribly expensive, but in this area, you find locals shops and cheap cafes galore. Overlooking a little square, you might spot a glimpse of the sea from the balcony of the well-appointed, tiled and sparkling clean rooms. The staff are very friendly and will give you lots of local tips. I paid approximately 32 Euros for a double.
I used the current edition of the Rough Guide to Jordan for my trip. It may be a little out of date on hotels and transport, but the restaurant information and detailed information on sights is what I mostly use the Rough Guide for – and it’s excellent for that!
I always like to take a bit of the local cuisine home with me. On this trip, I bought a years supply of sumac and different types of za’atar. Pomegranate molasses would have made it too, had it not been for the hand luggage liquid restriction. I like the Middle Eastern Cookbooks by Yotam Ottolenghi – my current favourite is “Plenty” a vegetable-heavy book of delicious Middle East-inspired recipes. I now have also “Jerusalem” which concentrates on the interwoven culinary traditions of the people of Jerusalem. It is better on Middle Eastern staples, but much more meat-heavy.
More Middle East?
The Middle East is a rather exciting and culturally diverse region for us living in Europe. There are now a number of frequent well-priced flights, including my favourite budget airline, Easyjet. It comes as no surprise that I have travelled the Middle East a few times. I feel the Middle East is really underrated as a holiday destination. This may be partially owed to the volatile security situation and perhaps the fact that many Middle Eastern countries are more conservative than Europe.
I personally have never been in any unsafe situation on my trips, most of which were solo and independently arranged. However, please do consult foreign office advice and use your own healthy judgement what you will feel comfortable with before you travel. If you want more information on travelling the Middle East safely, feel free to drop me a line or visit on of my other Middle East posts.
I visited Jordan for a week in January 2020 on a trip organised and funded by myself. Winter is perhaps the least popular season to visit Jordan.
Read about arriving in Amman and exploring Jordan’s capital!
And find out if you can enjoy Wadi Rum on a day trip!
Read some of my Middle East posts
Here’s my post on visiting Jerusalem for the first time.
I am fascinated by Holy Land sites, and have spent plenty of time walking the Via Dolorosa, Temple Mount and up the Mount of Olives. Very briefly, I gingerly stepped into Palestine to view the birthplace of Jesus Christ, next door to a huge separation wall and some rather good street art. I have also been to Rachels Tomb, not a tourist but revered by many believers of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith, and a painful reminder of the separation between the states of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The small print
Disclosure: This trip was entirely self funded. I purchased all items here from my own funds. Aside from some affiliate links to Booking.com, I have received no monetary or non-monetary rewards for linking. I will only review and recommend places that I have stayed in unless otherwise stated. You can trust me for the whole, unbiased truth. More details on my affiliate link policy are here.