This city of two million is graciously traditional, with steep and narrow side streets, small glasses of sweet mint tea, and flowing daytime fashions. Amman is also optimistically modern, with its skyscrapers, miniskirts, and some of the Middle East’s best nightlife. It offers every modern convenience the most demanding travelers might require, alongside historic treasures such as the Amman Archaeological museum, chronicling more than 10,000 years of human habitation; the Roman Amphitheater, almost 2000 years old; and the glorious blue onion domes of striking King Abdullah Mosque, completed in 1990. The city’s comforts and conveniences make Amman a delightful base for exploring the rest of the region, replete with natural and cultural gems.
Day 1: Around Amman
This city, recently swollen with refugees from Iraq and Palestine, sprawls. Consider acquainting yourself with the sites by booking a four-hour tour taking in the city’s top sites, including the Citadel, Amman’s originally occupied hilltop city, first fortified during the Bronze Age, and today boasting Roman, Byzantine, and Ummayad remains; you could also opt for a traditional Meza (Arabic sampler platter) lunch, or try a brilliantly illuminated night tour instead. You can also combine an Amman city tour with a trip to nearby Jerash, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) north, considered the best-preserved city of the Roman Empire.
Day 2: Petra and Beyond
The “Rose-Red City of Petra,” carved some 2000 years ago by the rather mysterious Nabateans into pink sandstone cliffs, is truly a wonder of the world. The precise grace of these ancient architects is revealed with aplomb, at the end of a steep, narrow, smoothly worn gorge called the Siq, that opens onto the exquisite sunlit façade of “The Treasury,” its exquisite cascade of columns familiar to anyone who has seen an Indiana Jones movie. Most people visit Petra, 225 kilometers (140 miles) south of Amman, on a day trip, with a two-hour tour of the most famous sites. You can arrange to spend three days three days here, however, exploring every corner of this carefully crafted UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most multi-day tours from Amman stop at Petra as well.
Day 3: Out into the Wilderness
The wind-sculpted wilderness that surrounds Amman has inspired prophets, kings, and cinematographers with its awesome dreamscape of sunset-streaked mountains, ancient stone villages, and the magnificent Dead Sea Dead Sea. Amman makes a very comfortable base from which nature lovers can explore the unforgiving dunes and spectacular rock formations of Wadi Rum Wadi Rum, where Lawrence of Arabia first befriended the Bedouin. History buffs could consider trips to Umayyad-era (circa 700 AD) castles; Um Quais, dating to the Ottoman Empire, or to see the Byzantine mosaics of Madaba and Mount Nebo, a tour that can also be combined with a float atop the salty Dead Sea.