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AMMAN AND THE NORTH

 

 

AMMAN CITY:

Amman, the capital of Jordan, is a fascinating city of contrasts; a unique blend of old and new, ideally situated on a hilly area between the desert and the fertile Jordan valley.
 
In the commercial heart of the city, ultra-modern buildings, hotels, restaurants, art galleries, and boutiques share the streets comfortably with traditional coffee shops and artisans' workshops. There is evidence of the city's much older past everywhere you turn.
 
Due to the city's modern-day prosperity and temperate climate, almost half of Jordan's population is concentrated in the Amman area. The residential suburbs consist of mainly tree-lined streets and avenues flanked by elegant, almost uniformly white houses, clad as they are with golden rock quarried in the south. The downtown area is much older and more traditional with smaller businesses producing and selling everything from intricate gold and silver jewellery to everyday household items.
 
The city offers its visitors plenty of lively night-life, with everything from cultural and theatrical events to traditional Arabic entertainment, modern restaurants and clubs.
 
The people of Amman are multi-cultural, well educated, and extremely hospitable. They welcome visitors and take pride in showing them around their fascinating and vibrant city. An invitation to the home of a waiter, shop-assistant, taxi-driver is not uncommon. They are proud of their families and are very often to the stimulus provided by foreign visitors.
 
No more than four hours drive from anywhere in the country. Amman is also a perfect base for exploring further into Jordan and the various landscapes it provides.
 
 

Historical sites:

The citadel is a good place to begin a tour of the archaeological sites of the city. It is the site of ancient Rabbath-Ammon and excavations there have revealed numerous Roman, Byzantine, and early Islamic remains. Located on a mountain, it not only gives visitors a perspective of the city's incredible history, but also provides bird’s-eye views of the entire area.
 

Places of specific interest at the citadel include:

 
  • The Umayyad Palace complex:
Dating from 720-750 AD. The great monumental gateway with its cruciform shape and four vaulted niches leads to a courtyard and colonnaded street, which runs through the complex with ruined buildings on either side.
 
  • The Temple of Hercules:
Built during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD). Its subtle green flood-lighting makes it a easily recognisable night-time landmark.
 
  • The Byzantine Church: believed to date from the 6th or 7th century AD. Corinthian columns mark the site.
 

Places of interest downtown include:


  • The Restored Roman Theatre:
Which dates back to the 2nd century AD. It is built into three sides of the hillside and seats approximately 6000 people. It is still used for performances today.
 
  • The Roman Forum:
A public square, bordered by the theatre and the Odeon, which was amongst the largest in the Empire (100 X 50 meters). The rows of columns in front of the theatre are what remain of the colonnades which once flanked it.
 
  • The Nymphaeum:
Roman cities always contained ornamental gardens and public fountains. The main fountain is close to the theatre complex and dates back to the end 2nd century AD.
 
  • The Grand Husseini Mosque:
Just a short walk away, decorated in pink and white stone, it was built by Emir Abdullah in 1924 on the site of a much older mosque from the Umayyad period. Restoration was carried out under the late King Hussein in 1987.
 
  • The Hejaz Railway:
For a glimpse of recent history, take a ride on the Hejaz Railway. This famous train was repeatedly sabotaged by the Arab troops of Emir Faisal and Lawrence of Arabia to defeat the Turks. While the days of Lawrence are long gone, the railway retains its sentimental appeal. The section from Amman to the Syrian border can still be travelled, albeit at a leisurely pace.
 
 

What to see:

  • Jordan Archaeological Museum.
  • Jordan Folklore Museum.
  • Jordan Museum of Popular Tradition.
  • Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts.
  • Haya Centre.
  • Martyr's Memorial and Military Museum.
  • The Royal Automobile Museum.
 

Culture & Art:

The English-language newspaper, the Jordan times, publishes a daily list of culture, sports and entertainment.
 
 

Art Galleries:

Jordan has a rapidly developing fine arts scene, including an increasing number of female artists. Today, artists from various Arab countries find artistic freedom and inspiration in Jordan. The royal cultural centre and various foreign cultural centers often organize exhibitions for foreign and Jordanian artists.
 

Theaters & Cinemas:

Foreign-language films are shown with the original soundtrack and Arabic subtitles. Times are listed daily in the Jordan Times. Film shows are also often organized by the various cultural centers.
 

Sports Clubs & Fitness Centers:

Amman has numerous sports clubs and fitness centers. In most cases, one can pay per visit or take out a short-term membership. Some facilities separate male and female visitors.
 

Shopping:

Shopping in Amman can be an exciting experience. Designer boutiques, particularly those in Sweifieh, Abdoun and Jabal Al-Hussein, offer the latest in clothing and accessories. Amman also boasts a wide assortment of shopping centers such as Abdoun Mall, Amman Mall, Mecca Mall, the new City Mall and the Zara shopping centre. The Gold Souq, located in the downtown area, is famous for its dazzling array of competitively priced handmade gold and silver work where one can still practise one's bargaining skills. There are also a number of excellent shops selling beautiful traditional handicrafts, such as hand-woven rugs and cushions, pottery, and embroidered items, many of which now come in contemporary designs.
 

Supermarkets & Department Stores:

There are many supermarkets and grocery stores in Amman, and they are generally well stocked with local and imported foods.
 

Accommodation:

Amman has many 5 and 4 star hotels, with gourmet restaurants, coffee shops, and boutiques. All the top hotels offer well-equipped conference and meeting facilities, fitness centers, spas and swimming pools.
 
For those on a more modest budget, there are numerous small hotels ranging from 3 to 1 star, especially in the Downtown area.
 
For more information about hotels and accommodation, throughout the kingdom, please contact us at reservations@explorejordantours.com
 

Dining:

Amman is a large cosmopolitan city and offers an extensive range of restaurants serving popular international cuisine. Dining is available for just about everything from American to Yemeni with everything in between. Visitors are highly encouraged to try the local food.
 
There is a variety of delicious traditional restaurants to choose from, many of which also provide live entertainment. Coffee shops, both traditional and modern, are popular meeting places, and seem to appear on almost every street. Also, because the Jordanian people are particularly fond of sweet things, there are many excellent patisseries. Several international fast food chains can also be found in Amman.


JERASH:

A close second to Petra on the list of favourite destinations in Jordan, the ancient city of Jerash boasts an unbroken chain of human occupation dating back more than 6500 years.
 
The city's golden age came under Roman rule and the site is now generally acknowledged to be one the best preserved Roman provincial towns in the world. Hidden for centuries in sand before being excavated and restored over the past 70 years, Jerash is a fine example of the grand, formal, provincial Roman city building that is found throughout the Middle East. It comprises paved and colonnaded streets, soaring hilltop temples, handsome theatres, spacious public squares and plazas, baths, fountains and city walls pierced by towers and gates.
 
Beneath its external Greco-Roman veneer, Jerash also preserves a subtle blend of east and west. Its architecture, religion and languages reflect a process by which two powerful cultures meshed and coexisted, the Greco-Roman world of the Mediterranean basin and the ancient traditions of the Arab Orient.
 
The modern city of Jerash can be found to the east of the ruins. While the old and new share a city wall, careful preservation and planning has ensured that the city itself has developed well away from the ruins.
 
The Jerash Festival, held in July every year, transforms the ancient city into one of the world's liveliest and most spectacular cultural events. The festival features folklore dances by local and international groups, ballet, concerts, plays, opera, and sales of traditional handicrafts, all in the brilliantly floodlit dramatic surroundings of the Jerash ruins. For more information about the Jerash Festival, visit http://www.jerashfestival.com.jo
 
 

What To See:

Guidebooks, maps and further information are readily available from the Visitors Centre near the South Gate.
 
The ruins are extensive and impressive. Highlights include:
 
  • Hadrian's Arch.
  • Hippodrome.
  • Colonnaded Street.
  • Cathedral.
  • North Theatre.
  • South Theatre.
  • Jerash Archaeological Museum.
 

Directions:

Jerash is a great day-trip from Amman.
 
By car or taxi:
From the Sports City interchange in Amman, head northwest past Jordan University; Jerash is 51km from Amman.
 
By bus:
Various companies offer regular trips in air-conditioned coaches from Amman.
From more information, please contact us at inquiry@explorejordantours.com
 
 
 

AJLUN:

The marvels of nature and the genius of medieval Arab military architecture have given northern Jordan two of the most important ecological and historical attractions in the Middle East: the sprawling pine forests of the Ajlun Dibeen area, and the towering Arab Islamic castle at Ajlun, which contributed to the defeat of the Crusaders eight centuries ago.
 

What To See:

Ajlun Castle (Qal'at Ar-Rabad) was built by one of Saladin's generals in 1184 AD to control the iron mines of Ajlun, and to counter the progress of the Crusaders by dominating the three main routes leading to the Jordan valley and protecting the communication routes between Jordan and Syria. A fine example of Islamic architecture, the fortress dominates a wide stretch of the northern Jordan Valley.
 
Close to Ajlun is Anjara, the town where Jesus Christ, his mother Mary and his disciples reputedly passed through. History has it that they rested in a cave, near which now stands the church of Our Lady of the Mountain.
 
Just west of Ajlun is Tall Mar Elias, the site where the prophet Elijah is believed to have ascended to Heaven in a whirlwind on a chariot of fire. Both Tall Mar Elias and Anjara are Millennium 2000 pilgrimage sites designated by the Vatican.
 

Accommodation:

New hotels in the immediate vicinity of the castle make it easy for visitors to spend as much time as they wish in this fascinating area.
 

Directions:

From Amman take the Zarqa-Mafraq highway north and follow the signs. A short journey west from Jerash, through pine forest and olive groves, brings you to the town of Ajlun.
 
For more information about accommodation throughout the kingdom, please contact us at reservations@explorejordantours.com
 
 

IRBID:

Jordan's second largest city is a bustling community with a large university. Though not an important city for sightseeing, Irbid houses two worthwhile museums, and makes a convenient base to explore the northern Jordan Valley or to start a trip to Syria.
 

What To See:

  • University Street
  • Archaeological Museum Department of Antiquities
  • Museum of Jordanian Heritage
  • The Yarmouk University Institute of Anthropology& Archaeology.
 
 

Directions:

Allow around one and a half hours to get from Amman to Pella or Umm Qays via Irbid. A good idea is to start by exploring Jerash and its magnificent ruins, and then continue north.
 
By car or taxi:
From the Sports City interchange in Amman, head northwest past Jordan University.

By bus:
There are regular bus services from Amman to Irbid.
 
 

UMM AL-JIMAL:

Umm al-Jimal, dubbed ''Black Gem of the Desert'' was once a town on the margins of the Decapolis. Rural and well-to-do, it is a fitting contrast to the surrounding busy cities. Its black basalt mansions and towers, some still standing three stories high, have long inspired poets.
 

Directions:

Take the Irbid Highway to Mafraq, and then a tiny road will take you to Umm Al Jimal, 2 hours away from Amman.
 
 

UMM QAYS:

Site of the famous miracle of the Gadarene swine, Gadara (known today as Umm Qays) was renowned in its time as a cultural centre. It was the home of several classical poets and philosophers, including Theodorus, founder of a rhetorical school in Rome; one poet called the city ''a new Athens''. Perched on a splendid hilltop overlooking the Jordan Valley and the Sea of Galilee, Umm Qays boasts an impressive colonnaded terrace and the ruins of two theatres. Take in the sights and then dine on the magnificent terrace of a fine restaurant with simultaneous views of Jordan, Israel and Syria’s Golan Heights.
 

What To See:

The main sights are the ruins of the Roman city, with its western Theatre, colonnaded street, mausoleum and baths. The Umm Qays Museum contains artefacts, mosaics and statues.
 
Al-Himma's therapeutic hot springs are located about 10km north of Umm Qays and were very popular with the Romans. There are two bathing facilities: a privately run, high quality complex and a public bath complex with separate timetables for men and women.
 

Directions:

Take the Jerash -Irbid Highway north of Amman. Upon reaching the city of Irbid (an hours drive) follow the signs to Umm Qays. Umm Qays is about 60 minutes away from Irbid and around 120kms from Amman.


AS-SALT:

An ancient town, As-salt was once the most important settlement in the area between the Jordan valley and the eastern desert. Because of its history as an important trading link between the eastern desert and the west, it was a significant place for the region's many rulers.
 
The Romans, Byzantines and Mamlukes all contributed to the growth of the town but it was at the end of the I9th and the beginning of the 20th century, during Ottoman rule, that As-Salt enjoyed its most prosperous period.
 
It was at that time that the Ottomans established a regional administrative base in As-salt and encouraged settlement from other parts of their empire. As the town's status increased, many merchants arrived and, with their newly acquired wealth, built the fine houses that can still be admired in As-salt today. These splendid yellow sandstone buildings incorporate a variety of local and European styles. Typically, they have domed roofs, interior courtyards and tall, arched windows. Perhaps the most beautiful is the Abu Jabber mansion, built between 1892 and 1906, which has frescoed ceilings, painted by Italian artists. It is reputed to be the finest example of a 19th century merchant house in the region. There is also a small museum and a handicraft school where you can admire the traditional skills of ceramics, weaving silk screen printing and dyeing.
 

What to see

  • As-Salt Archaeological Museum.
  • As-Salt Handicrafts Centre.
  • As-Salt Folklore Museum.
  • As-Salt Historical Museum (Abu Jabber House).
  • Shrine of Prophet Shu'ayb (Jethro).

 

Directions:

As-Salt is located 29 kilometers northwest of the centre of Amman and is only a half hour’s drive away.


FUHEIS:

This predominantly Christian town features charming restaurants, galleries and a small complex of craft shops presenting ceramics, weaving, jewellery, antiques and other items. In the summer, theatre and musical performances can be enjoyed outdoors during the Fuheis festival. There is quite a Mediterranean atmosphere in Fuheis.
 

Directions:

Take King Abdullah Street (Al Hussein Medical Street). Fuheis is 35Kms away from Amman.
 

IRAQ AL AMIR:

Iraq Al Amir is situated in a green, secluded wadi 24km to the southwest of Amman. The area is generally known for Qasr Al-'Abd (palace of the slave). An impressive and unique building which dates from the first quarter of the 2nd century BC. Originally two stories high and constructed of megalithic stones weighing from 15-25 tons each, it is the most striking Hellenistic monument to have survived on either side of the Jordan River.
 

Directions:

Take the Wadi Al Seir Street from the 8th Circle. Iraq Al Amir is 15kms away from Wadi AI Seir.
 

DESERT UMAYYAD CASTLES:

Jordan's desert castles are beautiful examples of both early Islamic art and architecture and stand testament to a fascinating era in the country's rich history. Their fine mosaics, fresco, stone and stucco carvings and illustrations, inspired by the best in Persian and Graeco-Roman traditions help bring to life this desert world as it was during the 8th century.
 
Called castles because of their imposing stature, the desert complexes actually served various purposes as caravan stations, agriculture and trade centers, resort pavilions and outposts that helped distant rulers forge ties with local Bedouins. Many of these remains are preserved compounds, all of which are clustered to the east and south of Amman.
 
Qusayr Amra: one of the best preserved monuments is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its interior walls and ceilings are covered with unique frescoes, and two of the rooms are paved with colourful mosaics.
 
Qasr Mushatta, Qasr al-Kharrana, Qasr at-Tuba and Qasr al-Hallabat have been restored and are all in excellent condition. The black basalt fort at Azraq has been in continuous use since late Roman times and was the headquarters of Lawrence of Arabia during the Arab Revolt.
 

Directions:

The Desert castles can easily be seen on a day trip or a two-day loop from Amman.

Take the Airport Highway from Amman heading south and take the turning towards Azraq. You can visit Qasr al-Hallabat, Qasr al-Azraq, Qusayr Amra and Qasr al-Kharrana, in this or the opposite direction during a drive through the Eastern Desert. Qasr al-Mushatta is located near Queen Alia International Airport south of Amman and is well worth a trip.

 



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