Get to know Amman
By Martha Hales
There’s a forward-thinking and welcoming vibe about Amman, a capital city in a land of ancient relics which somehow feels effortlessly modern.
Sprawled across a series of 19 hills in the north west of the country, between the fertile Jordan valley and the arid desert, Amman is a buzzing, cosmopolitan city of over 4 million people. As the hub of Jordanian cultural and political life as well as the centre of its commercial activity, it is widely held to be one of the most liberal and tolerant cities in the Arab world.
Despite the troubled nations that share Jordan’s borders and the consequent movement of people, this is a peaceful and safe destination and one which is likely to win you over with its upbeat charms. Get under the skin of Amman with our local guide to its food, culture and entertainment hotspots.
Middle Eastern food has a great reputation, and deservedly so. The tempting flavour combinations are finely balanced, and everywhere from street stalls to elaborate restaurants have their culinary offering down to a fine art.
To sample some typical snacks on the go, give shawarma a try. Expect a fist-sized flatbread parcel of grilled meat mixed with chopped tomato, onion and lettuce, topped with tahini and spicy sauce; it’s cheap, filling and delicious. One of the most renowned places to get a shawarma in downtown Amman is at Reem takeaway on the second circle.
Another must-try in Amman is handmade falafel, shaped and cooked in record time by the experts at Abu Jbara, where it can be quite hypnotic watching their art. The falafel sandwich is a classic, combining hummus, crushed falafel, salad, pickled lime, mint and chilli.
These days, the food scene in Amman is sophisticated and international, with a fine dining repertoire to match many Western capital cities.
A wander around the streets of West Amman will reveal its newly established reputation for fine art galleries and exhibitions; from the National Gallery and the Al Hussain cultural centre to the quirky art shops and cafe-galleries of Rainbow Street.
A significant number of bands that have a following in the Arabic world hail from Amman, and the annual Al-Balad festival is the perfect chance to see them showcase their latest tunes. There is a rich calendar of festivals in Amman - one of the highlights is the youthful and philosophically progressive New Think Festival, aimed at encouraging visionary new ways of seeing the world.
Historical remnants from the past are not prominent in Amman, although the Roman theatre and the hilltop citadel are worth a look. Full immersion into Roman ruins is an easy trip out of the city at Jerash.
Shopping is a thrilling Amman excursion; whether for designer accessories on Wakalat street, knick knacks around the downtown souks, or anything and everything in one of the huge malls - but there are plenty of other ways to relax in the city.
People-watching from a pavement cafe can prove a good way of getting to know the friendly and hospitable Ammanis, and come the evening there are plenty of chances to carry on mingling. Shisha bars, music venues and drinking dens are plentiful and generally bursting with young trendy Jordanians enjoying the freedoms of their home city. Thursday tends to be the ‘big night out’ preceding the weekend, which falls on Friday and Saturday.
Summer Fridays see Fawzi Malouf street turned over to a great flea market come mini festival, with food, music and art elevating the mood of the crowds as they peruse the bric a brac, antiques and handicrafts.
Amman is a modern wonder of the Arabian world, and a few days here will allow insight into what makes Jordanians tick. We’ve teamed up with local experts who can show you the best of this beguiling capital. Send them an enquiry form to start your Jordanian adventure today!