Amongst majestic Petra, breathtaking Wadi Rum, and relaxing Aqaba, the capital city of Amman is often treated as a side note on most Jordan travelers’ itineraries. In actuality, Amman is a charming city of boxy houses, sunlight, and stone; a real diamond in the rough with hundreds of undiscovered treasures. Although exploration is encouraged, this is where I, a local Ammani, take my friends who are visiting for a weekend.
In Jordan, Thursday marks the beginning of a busy weekend. In the evening, the streets of Amman swell with noisy traffic as shisha lounges and cafés open their doors for what will surely be a late night. Get your first taste of Amman on “Rainbow Street”, the home of the artistic community located at the heart of Amman’s oldest neighborhood. There are many opportunities during the day for gallery hopping and local shopping; from Nabad (http://www.nabadartgallery.com), the self proclaimed pulse of the Ammani Art scene, to the Jordan River Foundation (http://www.jordanriver.jo/) which has beautiful sustainably made local crafts. The Soap House ((962-6) 463-3953) sells homemade natural olive oil soaps, which make great gifts. Both are located right off of Rainbow Street in charmingly renovated old homes. Beit Shuqair (064644094) offers hand crafted mosaics and other treasures, as well as delicious brunch pastries for a mid-morning snack. If you’d like a proper meal that will leave you bursting at the seams, go to Sofra (0096264611468), a fairly new restaurant that serves generous Jordanian home cooking that rivals that of an Arab grandmother. Sofra is a good place to try “Mansaf”, the favorite food of all Jordanians, served daily. If you’re on the go, don’t pass up the opportunity to grab a sandwich at Falafel Al Quds who have got falafel sandwiches down to a science. Bonus: one sandwich will only set you back about 80 cents.
No Thursday in Amman is complete without a drink and a smoke at a local shisha bar. Books@Cafe, also near Rainbow Street, (http://booksatcafe.com/) has a brilliant view of the city, and is one of the few places one can order a shisha and a beer in the same sitting. It is right next to Jacaranda gallery that offers an eclectic selection of stunning art prints.
From there, hitch a ride down to Al Balad Theater, where you will likely find an exhibition, a screening, or oriental music concert in a quaint theater setting. Just to be safe, check the website before you go (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Al-Balad-Theater/220635291294614).
All Day Friday:
Friday is the right day to go downtown. Go hungry and go early to catch the Friday markets in full swing. Every trip to “Al-Balad”, as it is locally referred to, is a roller coaster ride of sights, sounds, and fragrances. In the vegetable market by Hussein mosque, street sellers vocally advertise their wares. There are markets for spices, clothes, animals, and knickknacks, and each one of them is worth a visit. Try one of the juice bars located on approximately every corner where, depending on the season, you can find pomegranate, sugar cane, and other fresh fruits squeezed and mixed as you watch.
For a late breakfast, go to Hashem restaurant, a scattering of plastic furniture in a downtown alley that is the home of the most authentic breakfast in all of Amman. The hummus is rich and the falafel will both burst and crackle in your mouth. Even King Abdullah has been known to stop by Hashem every once in a while, but due to its location, it is a well-kept local secret.
If you’ve eaten too much, get a cheap taxi to take you up the road to the full sized Roman amphitheater that sits square in the middle of the city. Touristy, but worth it. From there, find one of the characteristic Amman staircases that will take you up through a local neighborhood to the citadel and its accompanying museum (Hours 9:00 - 17:00 in winter, 9:00 - 19:00 in summer, except on Fridays and official holidays 10:00 - 18:00). If timed correctly, you will catch the sun setting into the hills for an unrivaled desert sunset.
For dinner, book at Fakhr El-Din restaurant (http://fakhreldin.com/). A splurge, but in a class of its own when comes to traditional mezze, barbeque, fish, and deserts. Exemplary service and a relaxed atmosphere offer an explanation for the extensive guest list of political figures and celebrities from Kofi Annan to Placido Domingo. If you go for an early dinner, stop by Al-Aydi (064644555), a traditional crafts house.
Saturday is a quiet day in the stone city. Located at the top of Amman’s biggest public park, The Royal Automobile Museum (www.royalautomuseum.jo/) is an extravagant display of the royal car collection since the infancy of the Hashemite Kingdom. History and Ferraris make a good combination. If you are travelling with kids, the Children’s Museum (http://www.cmj.jo/) is also a must.
On sunny Saturdays (and practically every Saturday is sunny in Amman), the old neighborhood of Weibdeh is where it’s at. Daraat Al Funun (http://www.daratalfunun.org/), a stunning art gallery built on top of some ruins, is a perfect place to stop for tea. The National Gallery (http://www.nationalgallery.org/) is another art hot spot, and it is located right next to Canvas (064632211), a trendy young café with a gorgeous patio.
On your trip you will doubtlessly encounter the young and young at heart wearing shirts by Jo Bedu (http://jo-bedu.com/), a local T-shirt company that sells some laugh out loud designs. On your way out of Weibdeh, go to the local ceramics store Silsal (http://silsal.com/) where traditional clay meets modern design, to purchase pots and other ceramics so that you will have a piece of Jordan close by at all times. Other places of interest outside of Weibeh that cannot be excluded are jewelers Nadia Dajani (http://nadiadajani.com/) and Lama Hourani (http://www.lamahourani.com/) whose showcases are located at the Intercontinental Hotel and the Foresight Gallery (http://www.foresightartgallery.com/) respectively.