An authentic insight into the Arab world

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

City Slicker - Amman: Don't be too quick to pass through Jordan's capital for Petra or Wadi Rum. Mark Rowe offers ideas for new and returning visitors



Why visit?


Welcome to easyJet's big adventure.

The budget airline has launched its longest flight – around five hours – to the Jordanian capital of Amman, the first no-frills UK flight to an Arab capital city. The airline's reasoning may be that Amman is a gateway to Jordan's headline acts – Petra and Wadi Rum – rather than a destination in itself, but visitors shouldn't overlook the capital.

Amman is no Istanbul, but there's a decent clutch of sights and things to do, a gently throbbing arts scene, and some excellent half-day excursions, including the Dead Sea and the spectacular mountain landscape, amid which Moses is said to have first viewed the Promised Land. And Amman's relaxed, hospitable atmosphere will provide a more authentic insight into the Arab world than you might get from touts selling you camel rides around Egypt's pyramids, or from wandering the shopping malls of Dubai.

Amman is also a light city, built almost entirely from the surrounding limestone hills – with the odd splash of sandstone. That doesn't make it an Arabian version of Bath, but a near absence of skyscrapers amounts to a harmonious appearance, as though the city has been hollowed out of one large rock.

EasyJet may just be banking on the Royal Wedding effect. The two years Kate Middleton spent in Jordan as a child have not gone unnoticed by the country, which plans to invite the couple to spend a second honeymoon there. If the Duchess of Cambridge ever returns, it's unlikely that she'll see much that has changed. Amman feels – and looks – in many ways like an Arab city from the 1970s, a place to read the local English-language newspaper over a cup of ultra-strong Arabic coffee, meander from felafal stall to shawarma stand, and see how people in this neck of the woods go about their everyday lives.

Don't miss

Roman Amman (kinghussein.gov.jo)

Amman also has seven hills, and on top of one of them, the citadel, you'll find the starkly dramatic remaining pillars of the Temple of Hercules and the impressively grandiose post-Roman Umayyad Palace with its newly reconstructed dome.

The Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts (nationalgallery.org)

Head here for proof that Arabic art extends beyond calligraphy. Displays are split between two equally delightful buildings, linked by a peaceful park. If you're the sort of traveller who finds interest in what modern Omani, Palestinian, Jordanian or other Arabian artists are getting up to, this captivating museum is the place for you.

Abu Darwish mosque (visitjordan.com).

Mosques are frequently aesthetically graceful but this one, built from sandstone and basalt, resembles a chess board – made up entirely of black and white square blocks of limestone, basalt and bitumen. You'll find it to the south of downtown on Badr Street – but at the top of a very steep uphill climb, so it's best to take a taxi.

Ben Hur chariot races (jerashchariots.com)

A chariot race set up for tourists might set the alarm bells ringing on full "tat" alert, but fear not. These races, in the Roman city of Jerash, just 20 miles north of Amman, are reckoned by historians to closely mirror the original events. Chariots were used for sport, not fighting, and actors in full gladiatorial regalia hold sword fights before leaving rivals eating dust in the setting of the Roman hippodrome.

What's new

Rainbow Street

As its name implies, Rainbow Street is a jaunty and colourful collection of galleries, cafés, falafel outlets and charitable foundations. Amman's few tourists make it here, but are outnumbered by Amman's arty set and expats on R&R from the region's more troubled zones. For a gasping smoke on a nargileh, make for Books@cafe (booksatcafe.com) just around the corner on Mango Street. To see the sort of work the local charities get up to, pop along to the Jordan River Foundation (jordanriver.jo) galleries, which has gloriously coloured handiworks and paintings of an extremely high standard.

Jordan Museum

This much-delayed museum is finally scheduled to open in June. While world-class international exhibitions are promised, the main draw should really be the rich archaeological pickings that have been uncovered in and around Amman – from plastered Neolithic skulls to sarcophagi of baked clay, and what is generally agreed by experts to be the world's earliest examples of pottery. This will be the place to reinforce your understanding of what the Romans – along with the Greeks, Persians and Ottomans – have done for Jordan.

Details: jordanmuseum.jo

Mijana

One of the newest restaurants in town, Mijana, is set in a lovely two-storey sandstone building. Book a table on the top floor for graceful views across the cityscape at dusk. Dishes are wildly eclectic, ranging from Arabic shawarma – chicken or lamb in flat bread – to pastas.

Details: Jabal Amman, 1st Circle, Rainbow Street (00 962 6 4620 744).

Jara Souk

Until autumn, Friday prayers in the artist's quarter of Jebel Amman will host the open-air Jawa Souk on the corner of Fawzi al Malouf street. Expect music, crafts fairs and plenty of snacks.

Details: jara-jordan.com

Shaumari Wildlife Reserve

Restoration on this wildlife-rich desert landscape, easily visited on a half-day trip into the stony desert, east of Amman, finishes this summer. Where else could guided tours provide you with close up views of wild ostriches, Arabian oryx and wild ass, known as onagers, just one hour from a capital city?

Details: rscn.org.jo

Beit Shocair restaurant

Another charming eaterie, opened earlier this year, is worth visiting both for the food – classic Middle Eastern spreads – and its location, with views over Amman, set within a Damascene house centred on a courtyard that is home to some of Amman's most charismatic artists.

Details: beitshocair.com

Compact Facts

How to get there

Mark Rowe travelled with Royal Jordanian Airlines (08719 112112; royaljordanian.com), which flies daily from Heathrow to Amman, from £199. EasyJet (0843 1045000; easyjet.com) flies three days a week to Amman with fares from £142 return. Mark Rowe stayed at the Intercontinental Amman (00 962 6 4645217; intercontinental.com/amman), which offers double rooms with breakfast for £125 per night.

Further Information

Jordanian Tourist Board (020-7223 1878; visitjordan.com).

Insider Secret

Ahmed Abushiera, Former restaurant manager

"Buy a slice of kunafeh – hot goat's cheese fried with syrup – from Habibi, on a small street by the Arab Bank on King Faysal Street. Whenever Ammanis walk around downtown, they hear in their heads Habibi calling them, like a siren: 'Come and eat kunafeh'."

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone