Jordan’s capital city of Amman is a destination in its own right, worthy of at least 48 hours of your time. It also makes an excellent base to explore a number of nearby attractions. Castles, rock climbing, cooking lessons, Roman ruins, hiking trails, handicraft workshops, and more are all within reach (and most within an hour or less!). Here’s some inspiration for a day’s escape from Amman.

A woman sits in one of two huge open window spaces in an ancient ruin; the blocks that make up the wall are massive, each dwarfing the woman.
The last light of the day shining within the windows of the pre-Roman palace in Iraq Al Amir © Sunny Fitzgerald / Lonely Planet

1. Iraq Al Amir

Why go: With an ancient palace, caves and a women’s cooperative, this extra special day trip could easily be extended to an overnight.

What to see: Iraq Al Amir translates to “Caves of the Prince,” so the series of 15 caves carved into the cliff across from the Iraq Al Amir Women’s Cooperative are a great place to start. Explore this cave system (accessible by a stone staircase from the paved road) that dates back to the Copper Age, and then return to the Women’s Co-op for a hands-on ceramics, weaving, paper making, or soap making workshop taught by local craftswomen. In the afternoon, take a stroll down to Qasr Al Abad and watch the light peek and play through the ruins of the pre-Roman palace.

Where to eat and drink: The women of the Iraq Al Amir Women’s Cooperative prepare tasty, home-cooked, traditional meals upon request and can also arrange cooking lessons if you’d like to dine and learn.

How to get there: Iraq Al Amir is just 30 minutes west of the centre of Amman by car, via Zahran St and Iraq Al Amir St.

Travel time: 30 minutes or so.

Read more: Jordan, then and now: following in her grandfather's footsteps

A woman in a green dress and straw hat stands on some ruins and looks over a vast and barren landscape of rolling hills.
The views over the Madaba area from the top of Mt Nebo © Sunny Fitzgerald / Lonely Planet

2. Madaba

Why go: Spiritual sites, mosaic masterpieces and sweeping views are on the agenda for a day spent in and around Madaba.

What to see: Visit Jordan Jewel Art & Mosaic en route to witness the work that goes into creating mosaics and support local artists with disabilities. Then stop by Mt Nebo, stand in the spot said to be where Moses saw the Promised Land, and admire the mosaics inside the hilltop basilica. Continue on to see a massive mosaic and the oldest map of Palestine on the floor of the St George Church in Madaba. If you’re up for a longer drive, take the scenic route along the King’s Highway from Madaba to the Castle of Herod the Great in Mukawir and trek up in time to catch sunset over the Dead Sea before returning to Amman.

Read more: Eight unmissable adventures in Jordan

A lovely mosaic with braided border that features people, trees and various animals, such as zebras, ostriches, camels, donkeys and lions.
The colourful and intricate mosaics within the hilltop basilica at Mt Nebo © Sunny Fitzgerald / Lonely Planet

Where to eat and drink: For a quick and cheap bite, grab falafel and hummus at Abu Yousef. Enjoy Jordanian hospitality, authentic Arab cuisine and locally made St George wines in an old Ottoman house at Haret Jdoudna. Or sit down to a true Jordanian feast at Hikayet Sitti – you'll feel like family as the chef-owner and her children explain each dish to you while you dine in the traditional Madaba home of her grandmother.

How to get there: Mt Nebo is about 50 minutes southwest of Amman by car. Madaba is 15-20 minutes east of Mt Nebo. If you’re going directly to Madaba by skipping Mt Nebo, you can reach Madaba via Rte 35 in about 40 minutes.

Travel time: 40-65 minutes, depending on route.

Read more: How to be a responsible traveller in Petra

A decorative glass cup (half-full of tea) with handle sits on a rust-coloured rock overlooking the Dead Sea.
Stop for some Bedouin tea while en route to the Dead Sea © Sunny Fitzgerald / Lonely Planet

3. Dead Sea

Why go: The Dead Sea is a place to rest and recharge with natural spa treatments. While you’re in the area, you might also consider checking out some community-based tourism activities and try canyoning in Wadi Mujib.

What to see: Purchase a day pass from one of the Dead Sea hotels and gain access to their private pools and beaches (for example, Dead Sea Marriott Resort and Spa offers a day pass for JD60 which includes JD25 to be used for food and drink). Lather on mineral-rich mud before taking a float in the healing waters here at the lowest point on Earth. Splurge on a spa treatment at the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar.

Those looking for adventure will find it at Wadi Mujib where abseiling is available in the river canyon from April through October. You can also join a more leisurely hike and cycle with NGO Al Numeira Environmental Association or learn to make local handicrafts, harvest vegetables, and cook shrak bread and other local dishes through the Zikra Initiative. Before you head back to Amman, catch the sunset – from the beach, the Panoramic Complex, or one of the lookout points along the highway. 

A woman in a black bathing suit stands on some white rocks at the shore of the Dead Sea; her arms are spread wide and her legs are crossed, while her legs, arms and face is covered in black mud.
Bathing in the Dead Sea can often involve happily getting dirty © Sunny Fitzgerald / Lonely Planet

Where to eat and drink: Al Numeira’s quaint café in the Ghor community serves up local flavors in a lovely patio setting, and the proceeds are funnelled back into the community to support environmental and cultural programming (so you can eat well and do good, too). Rover’s Return is the place for burgers, seafood, and beer in a pub atmosphere.

How to get there: The Dead Sea is about 45 minutes to one hour from Amman by car, along the Dead Sea Rd.

Travel time: Between 45 and 60 minutes.

Read more: Top 10 things to know before you visit Jordan

Taken from a spring-flower-filled hill, this image looks over a semi-circular set of pillars that are part of Roman ruins.
The archaeological site in the heart of Jerash is thought to be one of the best-preserved Roman towns in the world © Sunny Fitzgerald / Lonely Planet

4. Jerash

Why go: The slower pace of the northern city of Jerash provides the perfect escape from Amman. And the impressive archaeological site at the city centre is believed to be one of the best-preserved Roman towns in the world.

What to see: The Roman ruins are a must. Walk the colonnaded streets of the archaeological site and explore the temples and theatres with views over the city. You can visit year-round, but springtime is extra sweet with colourful wildflowers popping up amidst the storied stones.

A shot looking down a table at plates filled with a rice and lentil dish; the plate nearest the camera is in focus, while all the others are blurred (along with various people's arms extending over the table at the far end).
A plate of mujadarra (local lentil dish) as part of an organised meal with a local family © Sunny Fitzgerald / Lonely Planet

Where to eat and drink: Well-loved for its Lebanese mezze (small plates of hot and cold appetisers including pickles, olives, salads and hummus) and open-air terrace, Lebanese House (known to locals as “Um Khalil”) is a longtime favorite – albeit a pricey one by local standards. Artemis Restaurant is an affordable alternative and also offers local flavours and views from the hilltop terrace. Both restaurants also have a selection of shisha, beer and wine. For a truly local  experience, opt instead for a Jordanian meal at a local family home . 

How to get there: Jerash is about one hour north of Amman by car, via Al-Urdon St and Rte 35.

Travel time: Approximately 60 minutes.

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

Three people hike along a rocky path towards a forest within some rolling hills.
Hiking within the forested hills around Ajloun makes for a rewarding part of your day trip from Amman © Sunny Fitzgerald / Lonely Planet

5. Ajloun

Why go: A castle, forested hiking trails and local craft lessons await in this sleepy northern village.

What to see: Climb to the top of Ajloun Castle for a view over the olive groves and surrounding countryside. Hike a section of the Jordan Trail or one of the Ajloun Forest Reserve trails before paying a visit to the three themed houses here: Soap House, where you can learn to make olive oil soap from local women and purchase some eco-friendly souvenirs; the Biscuit House, where you can snack on locally-made treats; and the House of Calligraphy,  where you can practice the art of writing your name in Arabic script.

Where to eat and drink: Take in the idyllic, panoramic views of Ajloun Forest Reserve from their on-site restaurant (be sure to call ahead as meals are on request). Or book a local lunch or cooking lesson with Engaging Cultures for the chance to break bread with a local family in Orjan Village.

How to get there: Ajloun is about 1.5 hours from Amman by car, via Al-Urdon St, Rte 35, and Rte 20. As it’s about 30 minutes beyond Jerash, you could combine the two and spend the morning in Jerash and the afternoon in Ajloun.

Travel time: Around 90 minutes.

6. Fuheis

Why go: Get off the tourist trail for a day of rock climbing and craft beer (in that order, of course).

What to see: Spend the day scaling rocks in Fuheis with family-run outdoor adventure and gear company Treks. Then watch the sunset from the outdoor terrace at Carakale Brewing Company, Jordan’s only brewery.

Where to eat and drink: Relax with a good cup of coffee and a grilled panini or pizza in the cosy atmosphere of El Housh Café & Gallery. BnB Beer and Burger is a popular local spot for pub fare and local and international beers as well as wine and craft cocktails. Carakale has a selection of brews made on site and a barbecue grill, but they do not have a full kitchen or food menu. So come prepared with picnic eats and your own meats and other items for grilling. Zuwwadeh Restaurant is a bit pricier but the authentic Arab dishes, comfortable dining (indoor and outdoor tables are available) and the sweet sounds provided by the oud player make it well worth the cost.

How to get there: Fuheis is reachable in about 40 minutes by minibus from Abdali station, but you’ll still need to book a car or taxi back to Amman so consider booking a driver or renting a car.

Travel time: Around 40 minutes.

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