The capital of Jordan, Amman is a cultural heavyweight with easy-going energy. It’s a sprawl of Roman ruins and bazaars where calls to prayer ring off sand-colored architecture.
Outside of the downtown/Al Balad district, Amman’s sidewalks are crammed with bars and restaurants. For a taste of local street food, head to the basic yet famous Hashem Restaurant for ful medames and hummus.
1. Citadel Hill
Jabel el Qala, or Citadel Hill, is one of the most striking landmarks in Amman. Visiting it leaves you with an amazing sense of history and awe from times gone by. There is a lot to see here including the Temple of Hercules (included with your Citadel ticket), lots of other ruins, and the Jordan Archaeological Museum.
The hill is believed to have been occupied from the Neolithic Age up through the Roman and early Islamic periods. The most impressive part of the hill is the huge Umayyad palace complex. This would have been larger than Rome’s coliseum, Pantheon and Forum.
2. King Abdullah Mosque
An icon of splendor in the city, this mosque is recognizable by its beautiful blue dome. The cavernous octagonal prayer hall is topped by a magnificent blue dome inscribed with Quranic verses and can accommodate 7000 worshippers. It is also one of the few Mosques that allow non-Muslims to enter.
It was built between 1982 and 1989 by the late King Hussein as a memorial to his grandfather. It is renowned for being the only mosque in Jordan that openly welcomes visitors of other religions and is one of the most prominent landmarks of Amman.
The mosque is open to non-Muslims all day long except during prayer time which is usually from around noon to 4 pm. Visitors should cover their hair with a headscarf and wear a full dress or abaya. Shoes should be removed prior to entry.
3. Souk Jara
As you stroll around this lively market, which is open on Fridays from May to September, you will find a mix of jewelry and clothing stores alongside perfume vendors and food stands. This marketplace is a great place to buy authentic Jordanian products and is also popular with locals.
The main purpose of this market is to promote the culture of traditional markets, while providing small businesses with a place where they can sell their products. It also hosts activities like concerts and film screenings to promote the souk-style culture.
The stalls in this market offer a wide variety of items, but the most popular items to buy are embroidered shawls and traditional Jordanian dresses. It is important to note that bargaining is an integral part of Arab culture and you should always haggle to get a better price.
4. Rainbow Street
Unlike the hilly capital’s other streets, which are often steep and crowded with cars, Rainbow Street is a pedestrian-friendly strip with a wide variety of cafes, restaurants, stores and clubs. It’s a popular hangout for local young people and serves as a hub for the city’s unique café culture.
You can sample a traditional Jordanian dish and enjoy the atmosphere of a family-run restaurant like Nabateh o Fatteh, where mains start at 10 JD for the national dish of lamb and yogurt called mansaf. Or dine at the luxury boutique Wild Jordan Center, which is home to a few restaurants, pubs and a hotel and raises money for some of the country’s nature reserves like Dana Biosphere and Mujib.
You can also browse the many shops, galleries and cafes. For a coffee break, head to Ayman Coffee Shop near Second Circle or dust Roof and Talet Al Jabal, two alcohol-free ageeleh (shisha bars) in the same area.
5. Hashem Restaurant
At lunchtime, Hashem Restaurant is a scene of frenetic energy. Awaiting diners crowd the haphazardly placed plastic tables – locals in families, teenagers flush with independence and tourists, wide-eyed and wrapped in long scarves.
Hashem serves only a handful of Jordanian favorites, including falafel, hummus and fuul (fava bean paste), plus fries, pita bread and fatteh, which is chickpeas in yogurt sauce. It has no menu and no prices; instead, servers size up their customers with a glance and know what to offer them.
Even a quick meal here is enough to fill you up for the rest of your day. This legendary eatery is open throughout the day for everyone from hungry hikers to late-night drinkers. It’s best to arrive early if you want to avoid queues for seats.