Amman is one of the easiest places to soak up some Middle Eastern culture. The capital of Jordan is peppered with ancient ruins, yet there’s plenty of modern flavours to keep your interest during your short escape.
The hilly city is the most populated in Jordan. In the East, the more traditional old city sits in the Downtown area, overlooked by the magisterial Citadel. The spectacular Roman ruins stand next to a maze of mosques, souks and cafés, while on the western side of the city you’ll find stately villas, modern malls and art galleries among leafy residential districts.
Flights are a mere three and a half hours from Dubai and temperatures are far more forgiving, with highs of around 32 degrees in the summer months.
As far as Middle Eastern cities go, Amman isn’t particularly long in the tooth, emerging largely during the 20th century, but what it lacks in history it more than makes up for in personality and charm.
SIGHTSEEING AND CULTURE
The top attraction in Amman is without doubt the sprawling ruins that make up the Citadel. The site is perched on Jabal Al Qal’a – the highest hill in the city – which stands 850m above sea level.
You could literally lose yourself among these ruins, but to miss the Temple of Hercules and the Umayyad Palace would be criminal.
Two giant standing pillars are nearly all that is left of the Roman Temple of Hercules, which was built in AD 161-180, but they are a spectacle in themselves.
The Umayyad Palace is an historical set of buildings believed to be inhabited by royals and governors in around AD 720, although it was never rebuilt after an earthquake just 29 years later.
If you want to get a little more contemporary with your culture, then check out Darat Al Funun (www.daratalfunun.org/+962 6 4643251/2) for arts and artists from the Arab world, located just a few minutes from Downtown Amman’s King Faisal Street, and from Jabal al Weibdeh’s Paris Circle.
Also worth a visit is the Royal Automobile Museum (+962 6 541 1392) regardless of whether you’re a car fan or not, to see more than 70 classic cars and motorbikes from the personal collection of late ruler King Hussein.
Alternatively, if you like a bit of a head-scratcher, you might want to explore Qasr Al Abad, a pre-Roman palace that was never completed and remains shrouded in mystery to this day. What remains stands on the outskirts of Iraq Al Amir village, about 10km west of Wadi As Seer and is best accessed by public transport.
FOOD AND DINING
While you’re in Jordan it’s only right that you sample some of the local cuisine. Head to Sufra (www.romero-jordan.com/sufra/+962 6 4611468) for homemade dishes in an elegant traditional setting. The restaurant is housed in a lovely old villa with an outdoor terrace that is the perfect sanctuary for lazy summer nights.
Another good spot for local cuisine is laid-back café Shams El Balad (+962 6 465 1150), especially if you’re trying to reign it in calorie-wise while you’re away. The meat-free menu is fresh and fragrant without being too heavy and the dishes are packed with flavoursome veggies.
If you fancy a treat, then head to Cantaloupe (www.cantaloupe.jo/+962 6 465 6561) for a high-end international menu and a rooftop terrace with views over downtown Amman that will take your breath away.
Head to Jabal Al Weibdeh, one of Amman’s oldest neighbourhoods to learn how to whip up an Arabic feast of your own, before sitting down to devour it. Beit Sitti (www.beitsitti.com/+962 7 77557744) is a cook-and-dine experience established by sisters Maria, Dina and Tania who teach their grandmother’s recipes in her old villa.
The sessions are held sporadically so you’ll do well to book in advance, but if you can get into a class then it’s not to be missed.
While you’re in this beautiful city, you’d be foolish to miss the stunning sunset from one of the city’s many rooftop bars. Head to Ghoroob (+962 6 560 7100) in the Landmark Hotel for gorgeous views from Amman’s longest bar, before mosying down to Copas (+962 7 9755 5813) for a lively mingle among locals and other tourists on the sprawling outdoor terrace.
Check out Off The Record (+962 7 7840 5888) for 1920s jazz and expertly-crafted mixed drinks, or swing by the grungier Corner’s Pub or a laid-back musical vibe (+962 7 9587 7970).
WHERE TO STAY
The pleasant jumble of old and new extends to the hotels in Amman. You can enjoy the luxury that we’re accustomed to in the UAE or do it on a shoe-string.
If you’re travelling on a budget then Jordan Tower Hotel (www.jordantowerhotel.com/+962 6 4614161) is a good option. The hostel has been newly refurbished and has both dorms and private rooms for you to get your head down. The location is ideal, snuggled among the hills of Downtown Amman in the thick of all the action.
For something a bit more upmarket, head to the Grand Hyatt Amman (www.hyatt.com/+962 06 465 1234) for an enormous hotel complex with hundreds of rooms, suites, restaurants, bars and even its own shopping mall. The five-star hotel has a luxury spa and swimming pools and is located in the centre of the business and diplomatic district of the Jabal Amman neighbourhood.
If you’re looking for a mid-range hotel away from the hustle and bustle of the city, then Hisham Hotel (www.hishamhotel.com.jo/+962 06 464 4028) is a good option. The rooms are comfortable and modern, also located in the district of Jabel Amman, where you can enjoy a bit of leafy suburbia while still being in easy reach of the Downtown area.
The best way to get around Amman is by taxi. Private taxis are painted yellow and are pretty much the same as RTAs in the UAE. Cars are abundant and fares are cheap and calculated by the metre. You can also use Careem (www.careem.com/amman) in Amman, which makes it easier if your driver doesn’t speak English.
There are also shared taxis that are white in colour and stick to a specific route. Fares cost around 400 fils per seat, but the service can get busy at rush hour.
Emirates offers multiple flights every day from Dubai International Airport to Queen Alia International Airport in Amman from Dhs1,515 and flydubai runs 21 flights every week to the city from Dhs1,375. Etihad Airways flies direct from Abu Dhabi to Amman from Dhs1,563.