Visiting Amman – A City Guide
Unlike other Middle Eastern capitals, Amman is a relatively modern city, but what it lacks in ancient history, it makes up for in energy and culture. Multi-cultural residents live side by side, and traditional mosques and souks stand alongside modern malls, art galleries, cafés and bars.
Amman city layout and top attractions
Like Rome, Amman is a city built on seven hills, and from various levels you can see the capital’s bustling splendour. Once a farming village, Amman became a commercial hub with a prime position along the Hejaz Railway. The Wadi Abdoun valley runs through the city, with modern Amman to the west and traditional Amman to the east, and districts are divided into eight circles that lead west from Downtown.
In the central 1st Circle is Downtown, Amman’s historical core. Beneath the towering Citadel, you’ll find the Husseini Mosque and al-Balad area with traditional open-air souks, charming cafés and a maze of alleyways. Rainbow Street has a European feel with café-lined streets, art galleries and antique shops. The upmarket areas of Abdali Boulevard and Wakalat Street in Sweifieh have hotels, rooftop bars, malls, designer boutiques and restaurants.
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Eating Out in Amman
Amman has many restaurants serving traditional Arabic dishes and western cuisine, and the city caters to all palates through street vendors, cafés and fine dining venues. Lebanese cuisine is a favourite, and mezzas prominently feature on menus. Mansaf is Jordan’s speciality, a lamb and rice dish usually eaten with your fingers.
You’ll find local produce at Souk Jara off Rainbow Street, where vendors offer free samples of fruity slushies and marshmallow biscuits. In al-Balad, street vendors sell traditional Arabic dishes like falafel. The historic Jabal el-weibdeh district above Downtown boasts some of Amman’s best restaurants in a tranquil setting.
Tip: A 10 per cent gratuity is often added to restaurant bills but rarely given to waiters. If service was good, leave another tip in cash.
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Shopping in Amman
There are plenty of places to haggle for traditional souvenirs in Amman, from open-air souks to shops dotted throughout Downtown. The city’s western influence has introduced several modern malls with high street and designer brands.
Gold and silver jewellery is measured in weight at Gold Souk off King Faisla Street, and handmade clothes and perfumes can be bought in King Talal Street. The Jordan River Foundation, Wild Jordan Centre and Al-Aydi district sell candles and woven goods made by Bedouin women, and Rainbow Street has art galleries and shops selling antiques and ceramics.
Upmarket Sweifieh has department stores and malls, and the pedestrianised Wakalat Street is lined with chic boutiques and luxury stores selling international brands. Mecca Mall on Mecca Street has over 400 shops selling women’s fashion, homeware and gifts, while City Mall on King Abdullah II Street has international stores like Nike, Topshop and Zara.
Culture & Nightlife in Amman
Due to its western influence, Amman has a thriving nightlife scene and a plethora of cultural offerings. These range from modern art galleries and cinemas to ancient buildings like the Husseini Mosque to craft centres where local Bedouin women make traditional clothing.
You’ll find laidback cafés and souks in the 1st Circle, while trendy Jabal Al Weibdeh has contemporary art galleries and the Makan Art Space with exhibitions and films. Theatre shows and concerts can be watched at the Royal Cultural Centre in Shmeisani, and international films are screened in Mecca Mall’s Cinema City.
For active nightlife, the city’s trendy bars and clubs in districts like Jebel Amman have live music or DJs until about 1am. There are also many Hookah shops with shisha pipes and coffee that stay open until late.
Best cultural spaces
Leisure in Amman
Amman boasts some beautiful ancient sites, and to get the best views you can climb to the ancient Citadel overlooking Downtown. Here, wander around the archaeological ruins of the Temple of Hercules, visit the Jordan Archaeological Museum or watch the sun set over the city.
No visit to Jordan is complete without a trip to the Dead Sea, a 30-minute drive from Amman, where you can bathe in mineral-rich waters from the lowest point on earth. The ancient city of Petra is worth the day trip, where you can wander around the pink-stoned remains of the Nabatean Kingdom.
Best activities and trips