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. Jordan, and its laidback capital Amman, hide a treasure
trove of unmissable, authentic Arabian experiences. And the best of all, you
will have most of this to yourself.
no fault of its own, Amman has become the forgotten city of the Middle East. It
is also the most underrated. The streets have ancient monuments and dusty
history to rival Cairo, without the grinding traffic or pollution. Its suburbs
have a vibrant restaurant and cultural scene to match neighbouring Beirut, but
locals have kept it to themselves.
see the city at its best, start your day early at the Jabal al Qal’a, or Amman Citadel. In the morning sun, it is
the perfect vantage point from which to get your bearings. The seven main hills
of Amman spread out below like a rumpled carpet, each mound helping to define a
different neighbourhood within the city. Under your feet, meanwhile, lie more
than 7,000 years of history, and the crumbling pillars, arches and staircases
of the Citadel are testament to Amman’s claim as one of the world’s oldest
continuously inhabited cities.
not miss the Roman-era Temple
of Hercules, a honeycomb-coloured jumble of columns and beams, and the
Palace, believed to date back as far as the 8th Century. Before
you leave, take a peek into the hill’s onsite museum – even some locals do not
know that it has priceless Dead Sea Scrolls in its collection.
horns from the baying taxi drivers outside will bring you back to modern day
Amman before you can say la shokran elak
(no, thank you). Resist the urge to be ferried across the city (save the Royal Automobile Museum for another
day), and head to one of Amman’s best-kept secrets, the Darat al Funun gallery, on the nearby
hilltop Jabal al Weibdeh. A champion of the local arts scene, the gallery is
located in a series of three 1920s whitewashed mansions that can be hard to
find up a series of crooked steps -- but
it is worth the effort. Darat al Funun regularly hosts artists in residence and
impromptu concerts and is a great place to dig deeper into the soul of the
city. On the way, you will pass one of Amman’s strangest claims to fame: that
it is home to one of the
tallest flagpoles in the world.
the steps outside the gallery and across a few side streets is Paris Circle,
one of the city’s most talked about suburbs and home to the coolest fashion
store in the city, Jo Bedu. Its
Arabic-inspired retro t-shirts and hooded sweatshirts play on a number of
Arabic phrases and in-jokes, making for a perfect streetwise souvenir.
Favourites include Wadi Rum and Coke and tongue-in-cheek twists on the Facebook
and Twitter logos.
here, retrace your steps back down the steep side-streets to the hustle and
bustle of downtown, also known as Jabal Amman. Here, the clichés of Arabian
Nights spring to life, in the muezzin call to prayer and the smell of spices
and flavoured tobacco smoke wafting from the surrounding souk and shisha cafes.
Make sure to stop by Hashem,
the finest falafel cafe in the country bar none (it has a picture of King
Hussein dining here on its wall, if you need any further recommendation) and Habibah, a hole-in-the-wall baker selling
Palestinian knafeh, a syrupy
vermicelli-like pastry that locals swear by. There is a lack of street signs,
so they can be hard to find – just follow your nose.
the city’s ancient Roman forum and
amphitheatre – the largest in the country – rises above the surrounding
buildings. A tiered structure squashed at the end of a busy traffic junction,
the amphitheatre is built into the side of a hill and once had room for 6,000
spectators. For a handful of pocket change, you can climb to the top of the
parapet for God-like views over the rest of the Roman ruins.
trip to Amman would be complete without a walk down Rainbow Street, a
kilometre-long stretch of rag-bag antique shops, art galleries, coffeehouses
and low-key bars in upper Jabal Amman, a five-minute trip away by taxi from
downtown. It is home to the city’s most happening creative community -- do not miss
Café Des Artistes, Books@Cafe, Wild Jordan or Jacaranda Images to get a real sense
of where Jordan is heading. Located in an old townhouse halfway down the
street, Sufra is another
favourite of King Abdullah and Queen Rania, and even though it has only been open
for six months, it is already regarded as the best Jordanian restaurant in the
you want to get a glimpse into the story behind some of these cherished Jordanian
dishes – like muskhan (chicken with
pine nuts) or mansaf (lamb, yoghurt
and rice) – pop into Beit
Sitti on Jabal Weibdeh, a Jordanian run cooking school where you can eat
and cook to your heart’s content with no one else around. Be quick, before the
word really starts to spread.
Correction: A previous version of this article made mention of King Hussein and Queen Rania. This has been corrected to King Abdullah and Queen Rania.
The article 'Secret Amman' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.