Amman is a modern Arab city rather than one of the great cultural centres of the Middle East; it has never rivalled Damascus or Cairo as a grand Islamic city of antiquity. For those arriving from Syria or Egypt it can, depending on your perspective, feel either refreshingly or disappointingly modern and Westernised.
Residents talk openly of two Ammans. Conservative and Islamic in its sympathies, Eastern Amman (which includes downtown) is home to the urbanised poor, with vast suburban Palestinian refugee camps on its fringe. Western Amman is a world apart, with leafy residential districts, trendy cafés and bars, and impressive art galleries. It's impossible to gain a full understanding of Amman, or even Jordan, without visiting both areas.
The city's character has been indelibly altered by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and, more recently, 100, 000 Iraqi refugees, most of whom are highly educated and have pushed the boundaries of a cultural life that had been kept under close rein by Islamic conservatives. Along with a young generation of Jordanians, these immigrants have helped to make Amman a tolerant and outward-looking city.
Don't come to the nation's captial with expectations of medieval souqs and bazaars, or wonderful mosques of Islam's grand architectural heritage. Do come to Amman to catch a glimpse of a modern Arab city, embracing an international and culturally diverse vision of the future. Whether you're in the urbane western suburbs, or the earthy, kinetic chaos of downtown, the welcome you'll receive is sure to be warm.
Best places to stay in Amman
Jordan - Amman (Chapter)
Jordan’s capital city, Amman, is one of the easiest cities in the region to enjoy the Middle East experience. The city has two distinct parts: urbane Western Amman; and earthy Eastern Amman. At the heart of the city is the chaotic, labyrinthine ‘downtown’, a must-see of a capital visit. At the bottom of the city’s many hills, and overlooked by the magisterial Citadel, it features spectacular Roman ruins and the hubbub of Jordanian life – best understood by joining the locals in the nightly promenade between mosque, souq and coffeeshop.
The cosmopolitan crossroads of the Middle East
Paris has the Champs Elysees, London has Oxford Street and New York has Fifth Avenue. But while life in Amman may not be as fast-paced as the world’s major metropolises, the Jordanian capital has Rainbow Street, one of the most colourful and multi-ethnic streets in the Middle East.
Amman destination guides
Much of the time, visitors to Jordan follow in the footsteps of Indiana Jones -- rushing straight to the Treasury and Monastery tombs that bookend the ancient Nabataean city of Petra. But in doing this, they are overlooking some of the best that this country has to offer.
A journey uncovering the extraordinary history and geographical delights of Jordan
Jordan & Egypt Express
There's something truly epic about this nine-day adventure through the spectacular, history-steeped landscapes of Jordan and Egypt. Wander the ancient city of Petra, climb Mt Sinai for astounding views and finish up among the souqs and pyramids in Cairo.