In January 2013, I won a nine-day trip for two in Jordan, courtesy of EXPLORE, a leading tour company based in the UK. A few days ago, together with a friend, we claimed that prize.
I’ve never ever tried using a tour company for my whole trip before and to be honest, I didn’t really expect much from it. I thought its going to be a hurried kind of tour, moving from one place to another, running against time and will be bombarded with instructions, these and those.
Boy, was I wrong! Explore is an excellent tour company. From scheduling to organizing accommodations and transports, from places to eat to experiencing local culture, we were all given time to absorb everything without hassles. The pace of our trip was carefully planned out but wasn’t that different from a trip one would take alone.
I’m not saying this because the tour was free. I’m saying this as a backpacker who loves to get lost in a strange city–among the ruins and complicated street signs, who loves to do things on his own and who takes loads of travel photos. I’m very glad that I still did ALL of these things with Explore tour without being forced to be in the group ALL the time. Not that I don’t want to be in a group, but the feeling of being free when traveling gives me a sense of independence without having to ask the tour guide ALL the time about the whats and whys of a certain attraction. Traveling, for me, is getting to know the unknown, marvel at the beauty of the country and learn from the locals–on your own.
With Explore Tour, I’m impressed. Jordan is a relatively small country. Our 9-day trip across from North to South was like getting to know the whole country itself. Our tour guide Mo, who majors in Jordan Antiquities, brought us to the ancient realm of the Byzantine, Biblical, Ottoman, Nabatean, Roman and Modern Times. From ancient wars, cultures, traditions and symbols, he dazzled us with stories beyond our capacity to internalize at once. He’s a walking history book!
Our first and a half day in Amman was spent sans a tour guide. My friend and I made our own itinerary to get to know the city on our own terms. Then, at the end of the whole trip, we had extra two days (because Egypt Air cancelled our original flight) to get to know more about the city. We explored it mostly on foot, reveled in its unfamiliar sights and wondered in the habits of the locals.
So, here are our 26 things to do in Amman.
1. Climb to the top of the Citadel Hill.
See the sweeping view of the city that’s built on seven mountains. Inside the old city, you can explore the remnants of the Temple of Hercules, Umayyad Palace and and an ancient mosque. Take a look inside the Jordan Archaeological Museum. Entrance fee: 2 JD
2. Run up the stairs of the Roman Ampitheater.
This surviving, impressive architecture is at the heart of downtown Amman. It’s good to visit here in the morning. Entrance fee: 1 JD
Also, on both sides of the stage, you can find the Museum of Folklore museum (closed when we were there) and the Museum of Popular Traditions.
3. Walk to the Houseini Mosque.
Walk to your left when exiting the Roman Ampitheater. If Houseini Mosque is closed, go people-watching on the square in front of it. Or visit any mosque around the city, like the King Abdullah Mosque or the King Hussein Mosque.
4. Stroll at the little alleys and souks around the Housseini Mosque.
Souk Al-Sukar (Sugar Market) is on your left when facing the mosque. Though there was no sighting of sugar, it’s still worth a visit if you like the smells of fresh, organic vegetables, fruits and spices.
5. Buy something at the souks.
Across Houseini mosque are souks that sell everything you can think of, old and new.
6. Drop by at Duke Diwan, Amman’s oldest building.
There are old photograph displays, antique pieces of furniture, news clips, books, old stuff, etc… It’s free.
7. Go window shopping at the Gold market.
If you have a fortune to spare, treat yourself with gold blings. It’s a couple of steps from Duke Diwan. It’s on a tiny alley you can’t miss. Those gold bracelets, necklaces, bangles, rings, etc… are on display to make you feel so poor. :))
8. Walk along Rainbow Street, the city’s district for hedonists.
Cafés and shops abound. Don’t be fooled by its name as a gay district. There’s no sign of rainbow flag there!
9. For some arts, visit Nabad Gallery.
They have some interesting displays of contemporary arts. Not far from here is Wild Jordan–for more arts stuff. Entrance fee: Free.
10. Stroll around King Hussein Park
This might be Amman’s answer to New York’s Central Park. It’s a green space where local families go for some quality time. 5JD by taxi from downtown. Entrance fee: Free
11. Let the children play at Children’s Museum.
It’s inside King Hussein Park.
12. Take a journey inside the Royal Automobile Museum.
Here you’ll see two, three and four-wheeled cars collected by the Royal Family through the years. From 1916 Cadillac to elegant Rolls Royce; from rugged Harley Davidsons, to head-turning Porsche; from sand-covered sports car to shiny Lincolns. If you are a car enthusiasts like my friend, F, this gem of a museum is a paradise. Cost: $3JD for non-Jordanians.
13. Take a peek at Martyr’s Memorial and Military Museum.
We were supposed to go the National Gallery but our illegal taxi driver didn’t know where the place was. He brought us to this museum insisting he was right (but, of course, wrong!). Inside, there’s a great display of maps and history of the Great Arab Revolt, the foundation of the Trans-Jordan and Arab Legion and the development of the country’s Armed Forces.
14. Be awed at the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts
Two buildings on opposite sides of the park between them, this gallery hosts local and international talents/artists.
15. Visit an Orthodox Church.
If you haven’t been to one, go and see it. It’s pretty interesting.
16. Visit a Coptic Church.
Few steps from the Orthodox Church, this Coptic Church is my first. Go, if you haven’t been to one, too. 😉 Across the street is the King Abdullah Mosque.
17. Walk downtown.
Depends on the time of the day, the two-lane streets are crowded with both foot and automobile traffic. Cars and trucks can literally park anywhere on the streets which make it more complicated.
18. Go on a day trip outside Amman.
There are a lot of sites to see outside Amman: the Baptism Site, Mt. Nebo, Madaba, Jerash and the Dead Sea. (A separate blog entries for these places will be posted).
19. Dine at [email protected]
Known as the hangout for gays, this bar resto doesn’t really scream gay at all. There’s no sign of feather boas, glitters and beads. It’s a relaxing place for everybody! Part of the dining area has a nice view of the houses on the other side of the mountain. Below the cafe is a bookstore. They serve, mostly, western food.
20. Try sisha (water pipe)
Almost all restaurants and cafés offer sisha.
21. Try Jordanian sweets.
In a tiny corner few steps from Duke Diwan, Habiba sweets shop (next to the Arab Bank) is a paradise for those who were born with sweet tooth.
22. Eat at Hashem Restaurant.
This restaurant is your typical Jordanian street restaurant with no air of class or luxury. But, guess, what, even the Royals once ate here. They serve falafel, organic vegetables and fruits, naan bread, hummus, chick peas and fries.
23. Go people-watching at the Taj Mall
Or at any other malls. Here, you’ll see local people, especially the teenagers, yuppies and the moneyed collide.
24. Watch the sunset at Citadel.
Simply because you will be blown away.
25. Ride a taxi.
It’s a thrill ride zigzagging through dangerous slopes in hills and mountains. I love the feeling. :))
26. See the Cave of the Seven Sleepers.
It’s a bit far from downtown but it’s interesting. This cave was mentioned in the Quran, Islam’s sacred book. The story says that seven Christian men escaped Roman persecution by hiding in a cave.