Wandering ancient ruins in Jordan’s capital

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When I first booked a tour to Jordan, all I knew about it was the ancient city of Petra. But as I started researching Jordan more – I found the capital Amman had plenty to do to fill a day or two – and I wasn’t disappointed starting my journey here.

Here’s five things to do in the Jordanian capital.

1. Wander through the Amman Citadel

Amman’s citadel sits on the city’s highest hill and is surrounded by a stone wall. The area has been occupied since the Bronze Age, and you’ll see caves dating back to those early days throughout the precinct.

My favourite sites at the Citadel were the Temple of Hercules and the Ummayad Palace complex.

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Only a few columns remain from the once grand Temple of Hercules, but you can imagine what it must have looked like in its prime. The temple was built in the middle of the 2nd century AD. From the remaining columns, you can get a great view of Amman.

The Umayyad Palace complex dates back to the 8th century AD 720. You can see where the streets and residential areas were as you wander through the complex.

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The best-preserved part of the complex is the domed hall, which served as an entrance to the royal palace. The current wooden dome over the top of the hall was built by archeologists as this was thought to best represent how the hall looked like during the days of the palace.

The citadel precinct is also home to an archaeological museum housing artifacts from the citadel area and surrounding areas such as the Roman city of Jerash.

Entry to the citadel is $A5.50. If you want a detailed explanation of the Citadel site and Amman’s former life as the Roman city of Philadelphia, you can also hire a guide at the gate for $47 between several people. Due to low tourist numbers in Jordan at the moment, it seems this price is negotiable and you may be able to get it down to around $A35.

2. Catch sunset from the Roman Amphitheatre

Downhill from the citadel is the restored Roman amphitheatre. The amphitheatre was cut into the side of a hill and built to seat 6000 people.

You can pay $A3.75 to go into the amphitheatre – with sunrise or sunset the best times for photos – or you can get a pretty good photo from the outside.

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3. Visit the King Abdullah Mosque

Amman’s distinctive blue domed King Abdullah Mosque is one of Amman’s most famous landmarks. It was built in 1989 and can seat up to 7000 people.

Women are required to cover their hair, legs and arms to enter the mosque, however headscarves and full-length cloaks are available if you arrive unprepared.

Entry is $A3.75. The mosque is usually closed on Fridays.

4. Eat your weight in falafels & hommus

When in Amman, you have to try falafels and hommus. Don’t worry you’ll find it everywhere in downtown and it’s hard to go wrong.

The downtown area starts on Prince Muhammad Street, and you’ll find lots of cafes and restaurants along here that cater for tourists with English menus. The cafes are easy to spot by the colourful verandah outdoor sitting areas. These are a great place to people watch and the food and drinks are moderately priced. Shisha (flavoured tobacco) is also readily available.

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One of the favourite falafel joints of Amman locals is the Hashem Restaurant located in the downtown area. At night, this place is busy with locals, especially families. The restaurant has been operated by the Turk family since 1956 and is famous for its Bilad al Sham cuisine.

You won’t find a menu here, but just ask for falafels and hummus and they’ll bring out a generous serving of hommus dressed with olive oil, two large pieces of pita bread, a plate of fresh falafels and tomato, and tea. This will serve two and trust me you’ll be very full by the end of it. This will cost about $A7.

While you’re downtown, make sure you take the time to wander the streets. This is the best place for souvenir shopping in Amman and you’ll find traditional clothing, ceramics, bags, and Dead Sea products among other items. This is also a good place to get spices or some delicious Jordanian Medjool dates.

4. Taste delicious ice cream in Rainbow Street

Rainbow Street is one of the bustling parts of Amman and is centered to tourists more so than the main downtown area. Rainbow Street is filled with restaurants and several great ice cream shops.

In fact, I had some of the most creative and delicious ice creams I’ve ever tasted on Rainbow Street.

Your first stop should be Pantastic Ice Cream. Pantastic has a unique system to make ice cream – one I’ve never seen before – and prepare your dessert in stainless steel bowls cooled to -30 degrees. In front of your eyes, they’ll take your flavour of choice such as Nutella, melted dark or white chocolate, or banana – pour it into the pan until it freezes, then mix it up to make ice cream. For an extra sugar hit, you can mix chocolate into your ice cream such as Maltesers, Ferrero Rocher, or Oreo.

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Prices start from $A4.50 each. My tip is try the banana Pantastic creation. They blend up real banana mixed with milk for this one – so you don’t feel so bad eating it. It’s kind of healthy!

With more than one day in Amman, you can also try the Mr Lollies ice cream shop. Mr Lollies has a range of ice block flavours on offer ranging from salted caramel, blueberry and vanilla. Some are gelato, and some are sorbet flavours – but some taste more like frozen yoghurt than ice cream.

You can then have the ice block dipped in a chocolate or fruit sauce – either a half coat or a full coat – and then covered in a topping of your choice such as biscuits or pistachios.

Things You Should Know:

  • Jordan’s currency is the Jordanian Dinar (JOD). 1 JOD is equal to about $A2. The cents are called fels. Jordan is an expensive country and restaurant meals will likely set you back at least $A20. But you can find cheaper meals if you’re keen for a local meal of falafels and hummus.
  • Jordan is a very cash orientated country. ATMs are located in city areas or it’s not hard to find money exchange counters – especially in Amman. US Dollars or Euros are best to exchange for Jordanian Dinars.
  • Jordan is not very well set up for independent travellers due to the lack of public transport. It’s possible to reach some places around Amman by bus such as Jerash, Madaba and Petra, but public transport networks do not service areas like the Dead Sea or Wadi Rum desert. To get to places like the Dead Sea from Amman, you’ll need to join a tour. Guided day trips to key tourist spots near Amman are possible, or there are many companies that offer week long tours through Jordan to see the key sites.
  • You cannot drink the water in Jordan. Jordan is very dry and water is trucked in. You can easily buy bottled water at any supermarket.
  • The dress code for travellers is dress modestly. Women don’t need to wear a headscarf but it’s best to cover your arms and legs with light clothing, especially in city area. I usually wore light cotton pants or a long skirt and covered my arms with a wrap or cotton long sleeved shirt.
  • Jordan is safe to visit – in fact I felt safer in Amman than some European cities.

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