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'."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
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
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

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker