|The Amman Citadel, an historic site at the center of downtown Amman, symbolizes the birth of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.|
Savvy travelers, meet the original Philadelphia: an ancient city with a cosmopolitan vibe. With one of the highest immigration rates in the world, Amman is all about brotherly love, and was recently lauded as a model for interfaith interaction between Muslims and Christians. Since the Stone Age, Jordan’s capital has occupied a strategic position at the crossroads of civilizations, sprawling across seven sun-soaked hills. Documented in the Bible as the capital of the Ammonites and later dubbed “Philadelphia” during Greco-Roman times, this metropolis has evolved into an important business center in the Middle East. Today, Amman enthralls visitors with its heady mix of the old and new (not to mention a happening culinary and nightlife scene). The city is also the gateway for discovering Jordan’s wealth of tourist sites—from the Lost City of Petra to the buoyant, mineral-laden waters of the Dead Sea. Welcome to Amman.
Where to Stay
Kempinski Hotel Amman pulls out all the stops for a stellar guest experience. Opened five years ago in Shmeisani, the Kempinski offers dynamite digs, a state-of-the-art gym and spa, a sports bar so cool you’d write home about it, and even a bowling alley. The hotel’s contemporary architectural design optimizes natural light with a glassed atrium and abundant windows. Business travelers appreciate the extra perks in the Executive Rooms (think free Internet and access to the Executive Lounge) while those who fancy living the high life prefer the two Ambassador Suites, decked out with contemporary art. Forget something? The concierge has been known to dash out to buy stuff for harried clients.
Four Seasons Amman draws the celebrity set to one of Amman’s highest hills at the 5th Circle. Starting with the head-turning flower arrangements in the marble lobby, the Four Seasons makes a lasting impression. There’s a gorgeous pool with views over the whitewashed city, spa whose specialty is a Dead Sea therapy and destination restaurants, including a new sushi eatery helmed by a Nobu protégée. Tip: Try the signature salmon sashimi, quickly seared in hot oil and then braised in a special sauce.
After calorie-loading at breakfast, hop into a metered yellow taxi (a great conveyance for navigating the capital) and head to Amman’s city center to see the Roman Amphitheatre and the Citadel. Fully satiated, walk around in the sunshine, basking in the Mediterranean climate and admiring the city’s impressive archaeological record. Perched atop the city, the Citadel—newly renovated through funding from USAID—is home to the Roman Temple of Hercules, Byzantine Church and eighth-century Umayyad Palace complex. From here the views are awesome: All of Amman’s white limestone houses spread out before you. History buffs will want to check out the Dead Sea bronze scrolls at the hilltop Archaeological Museum.
|The Umayyad Mosque and its domed entrance to the Umayyad governor’s 8th-century palace.|
Go on a shopping spree in the traditional souks adjacent to the Roman Amphitheatre. Pick up Bedouin dresses, scarves, Dead Sea bath products, even a new piece of luggage to carry it all home. Sniffing spices and handcrafted Aleppo soap from Damascus and listening to the chorus of fruit vendors singing about their produce is a sensory experience. Don’t miss the famous gold souk on King Faisal Street.
Feeling hungry? Fakhr El-Din is a Lebanese-Jordanian restaurant housed in a stone villa on the 2nd Circle. The eatery used to be the home of Fawzi al-Mulki, Jordan’s first prime minister. Start with a palate-thrilling selection of mezze. Note: Be careful not to stuff yourself on the hummus, baba ghanoush and kibbeh before the main courses arrive. You’ll want to save room for the rest of the feast: herb-seasoned lamb, grilled meats and tempting pastries.
Perk up with some coffee before driving to King Hussein Park and the Royal Automobile Museum, a fantastic place that pays tribute to the late King Hussein and the Hashemite legacy. You don’t have to be a car enthusiast to be fascinated by the collection. To say the late king had a passion for cars is an understatement. Over 80 cars and motorcycles—some dating to 1909—are showcased in displays that tell the story of the king’s life and the history of the kingdom.
Next up? Head to the city’s beloved Rainbow Street in Jabal Amman, a heritage-listed neighborhood. Named after the famous Rainbow Cinema, the cobbled street is a favorite hangout for Ammanis and visitors alike. It’s full of shops, cafes and restaurants. Stop in at the showroom for the Jordan River Foundation, Queen Rania’s nonprofit organization, where you can find handwoven rugs and embroidery created by rural women involved in the Community Empowerment Program. Swing by the Wild Jordan Café to get some tips on exploring Jordan’s many nature reserves.
Flagging a bit? Get a lift at [email protected], a Rainbow Street landmark since it opened in 1997 in a renovated 1920s villa. Walk in and you’ll instantly feel welcome. (The café’s tagline is “Always celebrating diversity, creativity and tolerance.”) Settle into a lounge chair, admiring the café’s funky, playful design, and smoke a nargile (water pipe). There’s an eclectic selection of English language books, to boot.
Amman—smack dab in the heart of the Middle East—with its ethnically diverse population offers a medley of the world’s best cuisine. The sky’s the limit when it comes to good restaurants—from Asian delights at the glam Noodasia on Abdoun Circle to mouthwatering Italian at Romero. For amazing 360-degree rooftop views and gastro-pub-inspired fare, head to Cantaloupe, the newest “it” spot on Rainbow Street, a bistro-bar with white-leather and teak interiors.
After dinner, get a taste of Amman’s lively nightlife by hitting Club 51 (Thursday and Saturday nights). Or you may prefer to return to the luxurious cocoon of your guest room to rest up for another adventurous day. Just on the outskirts of Amman, the Roman ruins at Jerash await, where you can witness the largest historical Roman reenactment in the world, complete with chariot races and gladiator fights in the Hippodrome.
|The Blue Fig Café is known for its traditional shisha and as a place to relax with a cup of coffee.|