Although many travellers to Jordan have their sights set on the architectural marvels of Petra and the magical martian landscapes of Wadi Rum, the capital of Amman is worth at least 48 hours of your time.
It’s easy to fill two days with well-loved historic sites, restaurants and cafes, but be warned: after a couple of days in this spirited city, you may realise you could spend many more.
Some of Amman's best and most ancient sights are right in the middle of the city, perfect for a short stay © Leonid Andronov / Shutterstock
Food and family are integral to Jordanian culture, so you’ll only truly understand this city if you taste your way through it. From streetside falafel in old downtown to family-run ‘cook and dine’ experiences in historic neighbourhoods to an upscale union of local and international cuisine served on rooftop terraces, Amman dishes up an abundance of authentic eats to suit every palate, with a hospitality so warm you might just feel you’ve arrived home.
Start your exploration of Amman with an early-morning falafel at Hashem © Sunny Fitzgerald / Lonely Planet
You’ll need fuel for your Amman adventures, and you’ll find some of the best breakfast options in historic downtown. Head for Hashem Restaurant, a legendary institution serving up authentic Jordanian dishes since 1952. In just one bite, you’ll understand why this street food is a favourite of locals and visitors alike. Their stuffed falafel – with onions and sumac tucked inside and sesame seeds dotting the top – is what to order. You’ll also want to sample the garlicky muttabal (roasted aubergine puree) and the silky-smooth hummus, sopping up every last bite with fresh Arabic bread.
When you’ve had your fill, stroll lively Al Balad, the historic downtown heart of Amman, popping into local shops to barter a good price for your souvenirs. If you’re lucky enough to be downtown on a Friday, join locals looking for a bargain at Souq Al Juma'a (the Friday Market). After all that walking, get off your feet and up above the street at Afra Cafe & Restaurant, where you can sip a hot mint tea and take in the city sights and sounds from the balcony.
Take in a panorama of the city from Amman's Roman ruins © mbrand85 / Shutterstock
Now that you’ve worked up an appetite, Al Quds should be your next stop, with traditional dishes like mansaf (Jordan’s national dish of lamb, yoghurt and rice) and makloubeh (meaning ‘upside down’, a traditional Arabic dish made of meat, rice and vegetables and then flipped upside down before served). Save room for dessert; Habibah is only a stone’s throw away and offers some of the best kunafeh (a Palestinian pastry filled with cheese, soaked in syrup and topped with shredded Turkish kadaif noodles, pistachios and rose or orange blossom water). With your sweet tooth satisfied, continue on to the Roman Theatre, where you can climb to the top and stretch out on the expansive amphitheatre-style seats before setting out for the Citadel. The ancient ruins sit atop Jebel Al Qala’a, affording visitors a history lesson, panoramic views of the city and plenty of Instagram-ops.
With so much more to see and eat, there’s no time for a siesta. You’ll be ready for a recharge, so hop in a cab to Jungle Fever Coffee and Tea House, where you’ll find a wide selection of Dimitri's coffees, Turtle Green teas and locally made snacks. Lounge on the hand-embroidered cushions or grab a table on the terrace to kick back with views of the park. On your way out, be sure to browse the contemporary art collection in the gallery.
Learn how to make traditional Jordanian dishes in an old family home at Beit Sitti © Beit Sitti
Have a wander around Lweibdeh, one of Amman’s oldest neighbourhoods, which has transformed into a lively scene with cafes, shops and startups popping up. Check out some street art and stop by JoBedu for amusing and quirky souvenirs.
After you’ve spent the day sampling local flavours and familiarising yourself with some culture and history of the city, it’s time to go behind the scenes and into the kitchen. Join a ‘cook and dine’ experience hosted in an old family home in Lweibdeh. Beit Sitti, meaning ‘grandmother’s house’, is the brainchild of three sisters who were inspired to carry on their grandmother’s legacy by sharing Jordanian hospitality and Arabic cuisine. After a couple of hours in the kitchen, you’ll have a chance to sit back and savour the rewards of your work. Be sure to book ahead – Beit Sitti only opens upon request.
Wake up with views over Amman at the cafe at Wild Jordan Center © Sunny Fitzgerald / Lonely Planet
Jumpstart your second day with a hearty and healthy breakfast with a view at the cafe at Wild Jordan Center in Jebel Amman. This family-friendly restaurant serves up delightful (albeit pricey) plates of locally sourced, organic ingredients with a medley of Jordanian and international flavours. The cafe’s location directly across from Citadel Hill combined with floor-to-ceiling windows affords visitors exceptional views of the old city and ancient ruins. Wild Jordan also has an activity centre where you can book ecotours, and a gift shop featuring local, artisan-made products to peruse.
Make a happy-hour stop at Sekrab, a bar made from upcycled furniture © Sunny Fitzgerald / Lonely Planet
Head up the hill and hunt for souvenirs in the shops along Rainbow St, one of Amman’s most popular promenades. On Fridays (spring through autumn) Souk Jara is a perfect pop-up marketplace for finding handcrafted, local gifts, and it’s conveniently located across from the entrance to Wild Jordan. Sip a local tea at Turtle Green, enjoy some shisha with a view at Talet Al Jabal or Dust Roof, or – if you still have space in your stomach – stop by Abu Jbara near Second Circle for your daily falafel fix.
You’re bound to be parched after climbing up and down all those hills and stairs Amman is famous for, so you may find yourself in need of a happy-hour beverage. Located just off Rainbow St, Sekrab (meaning 'scrapyard') is a colourful 'junkyard jewel' with upcycled furniture, a creative cocktail list, treetop views from the terrace and 25-35% off on drinks.
Catch the sunset from one of Amman's rooftop terraces © Gregory T. Smith / Getty Images
Keep an eye on the sky and the time – you don’t want to miss the chance to see the city splashed in rose-gold hues by the setting sun. With rooftop terraces aplenty in Amman, you’ll be spoilt for choice on spots to watch a spectacular sky transformation. If you’re seeking a classy setting with unbelievable views of the old city, try Cantaloupe, mere steps from Sekrab, or reserve a table on the open-air, rooftop terrace at District and dine amongst a mix of stylish locals and visitors while the muezzins’ call to prayer marks the moment when day turns to night.
The night is not over yet, and as you are only in Amman for 48 hours, let’s make them count. Head up to Ghoroub, on the 13th floor of the Landmark Hotel. From Amman’s longest bar, take in panoramic views of the sparkling city while sipping a craft cocktail. When you’re ready to be back in the buzz at ground level, catch a cab to First Circle where you can wander down Rainbow St, people-watching and dropping by La Calle for a cocktail on the terrace. Copas, a cosy and cheerful Latin-themed bar where locals and visitors mingle between the indoor bar and outdoor terrace, is a perfect place to end your final evening in Amman. No matter where you choose to wrap up your two-day stay, your whirlwind visit is worthy of celebration.
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