Taste of Rainbow Street: a stroll along Amman's famous road

Rainbow Street invites visitors and locals to do something that’s not always easy or possible in Jordan’s crowded capital: walk! As a city built on hills, plagued by traffic and dotted with sporadic sidewalks that are often obstructed by planted trees or parked cars, Amman is not terribly pedestrian-friendly. But Rainbow Street – the nearly flat stretch of street starting at First Circle – is lined with a huge number of places to dine, drink, shop and people-watch.

Street in Amman, Jordan, with giant flagpole
Incredible views of Amman's cityscape are in reach for visitors to Rainbow Street © Amos Chapple / Getty Images

Perched atop Jebel Amman and opposite the neighbourhood of Lweibdeh, Rainbow Street is in close proximity to some of the city’s must-see sites, such as the ancient ruins at Al Qala’a (Citadel Hill) and the Roman Theatre as well as the art galleries of Lweibdeh and the colourful old city centre at Al Balad. There’s enough to do and see along Rainbow and in the side streets surrounding it, you could easily spend an afternoon and evening hopping from cafes to souvenir shops, restaurants to rooftop bars. Thursday nights are the start of the weekend in Jordan, so if you visit then, be prepared to find a lively scene with cruising cars and promenading pedestrians. Whether you’re looking for nightlife or you prefer to take it all in during the light of day, here are the best things to do, see, eat and drink on Amman’s famous Rainbow Street.

Woman working at a laptop in Caffe Strada, Rainbow Street, Amman, Jordan
Grab a quiet cuppa in Caffe Strada just off Rainbow Street © Sunny Fitzgerald / Lonely Planet

Kick back in a cafe

While travelling in Jordan, you’ll likely be offered tea or coffee by your hosts and sometimes even by strangers and shop owners, welcoming you into their home or business. The purpose of these everyday drinks is much more than simply delivering a jolt of caffeine they are important symbols of Jordanian hospitality passed down from traditional Bedouin culture, so you never have to go far in this city to find them. Rainbow Street is no exception. Cafes dot the street, serving up steaming mugs of local and international favourites.

With its loose leaf blends of high quality tea and local herbs, Turtle Green’s double-level coffee and tea shop is a must for true shai (tea) lovers. This cosy cafe aims to create an atmosphere of acceptance and hospitality for all — including smokers so take your tea to go if you prefer the fresh air. For a Euro vibe sans the smoke, pull up a seat in the bright, naturally lit indoor area or the courtyard of Caffe Strada and order an Italian-style coffee or one of 30 types of tea and a panini. Located directly across from Rainbow Theatre, this casual-chic spot is just a hundred steps from Rainbow Street.

Customer waiting at Al Quds Falafel, Rainbow Street, Amman, Jordan
Falafel from Al Quds, started in 1966, is an iconic eat in Amman © Sunny Fitzgerald / Lonely Planet

Grab a quick bite

Amman is one of the most expensive cities in the Middle East, and you may find the food to be quite pricey, but you can get cheap eats on Rainbow Street if you know where to look. Snag a fresh falafel sandwich complete with pickles and tomato at Al Quds (about halfway along Rainbow Street, opposite Abdul Aziz Jawish St) for less than JD2 (about US$2.80). This frills-free, walk-up spot has been in business since 1966, and though the two-item menu is as simple as it gets, falafel from Al Quds is apparently fit for a king: Jordan’s own King Abdullah and the late King Hussein have both eaten at this iconic establishment. 

The chefs at Sufra cook fresh bread in the clay oven, Rainbow Street, Amman, Jordan
The chefs at Sufra cook up fresh bread in the clay oven © Sunny Fitzgerald / Lonely Planet

Sit down to a Jordanian meal

Food and family are at the heart of Jordanian culture, and thanks to traditional dishes and family-run restaurants found on Rainbow Street, you can experience a bit of both. With a rustic vibe and views over the Old City, family-run Nabateh o Fatteh is a casual and welcoming space to enjoy traditional Middle Eastern offerings including mansaf (the national dish of Jordan made with lamb, rice, and yoghurt sauce) and fatteh (a toasted flatbread topped with hummus, chicken, meat or oil-cured and stuffed aubergine called makdous) — alongside popular international eats like burgers and pizza at an affordable price.

Alternatively, make your dinner reservation at the aptly named Sufra (meaning 'dining table' in Arabic) and feel like a house guest in the cosy yet refined grey stone villa. Dine on the terrace and take in views of the old city while watching a chef prepare fresh bread in the clay oven. Here at Sufra you can sample a true taste of Jordanian hospitality and flavours with dishes like Jerashi labneh (tangy yoghurt balls in olive oil served with chilli peppers) and galayeh (tomato and onion stew with cubes of lamb).

Shopfront of Mr Lollies, Rainbow Street, Amman, Jordan
Top up your sugar supply at Mr Lollies © Sunny Fitzgerald / Lonely Planet

Satisfy your sweet tooth

Dessert lovers will be happy to see there is no shortage of sugar on Rainbow Street. If you’re already dining at Sufra, save room for kunafeh, a traditional and popular Palestinian pastry made with white cheese, drenched in syrup and peppered with pistachios. Wash it down with a spot of Turkish coffee or a shai bil na’na’ (mint tea). For a chillier treat, try Mr Lollies, a quaint ice lolly shop located across from Turtle Green. Choose a sorbet, gelato or fruit yoghurt pop to dunk in your choice of dips, sprinkles, nuts or cereal toppings.

Shop and stroll

If you’re in Amman during Jordan’s summer months (June through September), be sure to visit Rainbow Street on a Friday. From 10am to 10pm Fawzi Al Maalouf St, a side street off Rainbow, transforms into Souk Jara — a pop-up market with vendors selling handicrafts, antiques and art. After perusing the locally produced items and bumping elbows with locals and visitors in this bustling market, take the stairs at the end of Fawzi Al Maalouf St down to Othman Ben Affan St. You’ll find the Wild Jordan Center directly across from the stairs, and inside, The Nature Shop — another opportunity to support local artisans with the purchase of quality handicrafts and locally made goodies, such as teas sourced from the Dana region and jewellery and candles created by Bedouin women.

Mosque and houses in Amman, Jordan's capital, at sunset
Find a perch at a rooftop cafe for sundowners while looking over the Old City © Justus de Cuveland / Getty Images

Savour the views

When you’ve had your fill of wandering, there’s no better way to wind down and reflect on your day than relaxing on a rooftop or terrace. Just off Rainbow Street, Cantaloupe's two-level terrace provides panoramic views of the Old City and Jebel Al Qala’a (Citadel Hill), plus happy hour prices during prime sunset time. Nibble on some grilled halloumi cheese with a pomegranate molasses while you sip a local, organic St George wine and watch the sunset colours transform the otherwise monochrome Old City scene. For a family-friendly experience, head to Wild Jordan Center. With a full menu of healthy local and international foods, fresh fruit drinks, a kids’ corner and floor-to-ceiling windows with views to the Temple of Hercules, it’s sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Sign for Rainbow Street, Amman, Jordan
Rainbow Street is just the start for more explorations in Amman © Sunny Fitzgerald / Lonely Planet

Explore the surrounding area

Rainbow Street is a destination in and of itself, but it’s also a starting point for other adventures in Amman. From here you can easily trek downtown to discover more restaurants, cafes and shops at the heart of the Old City. For a soothing herbal drink or a Turkish coffee prepared using a traditional technique involving a cezve (small, long-handled pot) and hot sand, take a walk to Ayman Coffee Shop near Second Circle. Shisha smokers should check out Dust Roof or Talet Al Jabal, two alcohol-free ageeleh (shisha) spots just steps from Rainbow Street, while visitors and locals looking to sip and mingle can head for Copas, a small Latin-themed bar with indoor and outdoor seating.

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