The underappreciated appeal of Amman

Jordan's Petra is one of the seven wonders of the modern world. (Shutterstock)
Updated 31 July 2019

The underappreciated appeal of Amman

  • Jordan’s capital city is overshadowed by Petra and Wadi Rum, but has much to recommend it.

DUBAI: Amman doesn’t always receive the appreciation it deserves. Beirut, or even Damascus before the war, have always been viewed as offering far more to travellers than Jordan’s capital city. Not only in terms of history and architecture, but in terms of cuisine and nightlife too.

Amman has traditionally been viewed as a means to an end — a gateway to the wider wonders of Jordan rather than as a destination in itself. After all, when you’ve got Petra — one of the seven wonders of the modern world — and the cinematic landscape of Wadi Rum, with its majestic rock formations and Stone Age petroglyphs, who’s arguing? Throw in the Dead Sea, the Roman ruins of Jerash, and the castles of Ajloun and Kerak, and it’s easy to see why most visitors treat the capital as a staging post rather than as a city to be enjoyed in its own right.




Temple of Hercules. (Shutterstock)

Yet such views do everyone a disservice. Take, for example, the city’s historic attractions. There’s the ancient Citadel, with its Temple of Hercules and Umayyad Palace, and the 6,000-seat Roman Theater located just off Hashemite Plaza. The latter is the most spectacular remnant of Roman Philadelphia and is cut into the northern side of one of Amman’s seven hills.

It is possible to argue, however, that it is not the city’s ancient ruins that are its main attraction, rather its more modern neighborhoods, some of which have been transformed over the course of the past few years. A case in point is Jabal al Weibdeh. Once a purely residential area, it is now home to many of the city’s best cafés and restaurants, including the ever popular Rumi Cafe and Fann wa Chai, an art gallery and tea bar. On its fringes is also the National Gallery of Fine Arts, which itself is home to the delightful Jungle Fever Coffee and Tea House.




(Shutterstock)

A walk along one of the neighborhood’s two main arteries, Al-Shariaah College Street, is a pleasant, even sedate, experience. It is busy yet quiet, trendy yet relaxed. It is also home to Chapters, a family-run restaurant serving homemade cuisine in a pocket-sized venue. Able to accommodate no more than 16 people at a push, its menu includes tomato galayeh, aubergine fateh, and rummaneyye — a wonderful dish of lentils, aubergine and pomegranate molasses.

A short walk from Jabal al Weibdeh’s Paris Circle is Darat Al Funun, an art center located in a renovated building overlooking downtown Amman. It even has a restored archaeological site in its garden, and from the stairs running alongside you can easily reach the historical sites of downtown.




Hashem restaurant. (Shutterstock) 

Downtown is also where you’ll find Hashem, a legendary eatery with a very basic menu — falafel, hummus, foul, fatteh and moutabel, essentially. But there’s falafel and then there’s Hashem falafel. It’s hugely popular, so be prepared to wait for a table. If you love your food, also make sure you visit Reem, a hole-in-the-wall shawarma joint located next to the city’s second circle. No tables, no chairs, just the best beef shawarma in town.

Across the valley on Jabal Amman is another concentration of attractions. Running from the city’s first circle (there are eight in total) is Rainbow Street, arguably Amman’s most tourist-friendly artery. It is longer and far busier than Al-Shariaah College Street and has enough shops, cafés and restaurants to keep you busy for hours. At the top, and just to the right, you’ll also find the Royal Film Commission and, further along, [email protected]. The latter’s rooftop offers wonderful views of Amman, especially at sunset.




Four Seasons Hotel. (Courtesy/ Four Seasons Amman)

If you decide to stay for a few days, the best place in which to base yourself is the Four Seasons. Perched on top of one of the tallest of Amman’s hills, this 15-story white-limestone landmark includes an outdoor pool area with views over the city and large, bright and modern rooms.

As with other outposts of the Four Seasons, it’s the small details that make a difference. The generosity and friendliness of the staff, the small wooden tray of locally-grown strawberries and freshly-made jam delivered to your room, the down duvets, and the thick terrycloth bathrobes. For lovers of food, there’s the French brasserie La Capitale and the Levantine cuisine of Olea, but it’s the pool that wins the day. On a perfect summer’s day it provides the kind of resort-style relaxation that is rare to find in any city center.


Asir ‘could be hotspot for global tourism,’ say travel bloggers

Paragliding is among the attractions for thrillseekers in addition to bungee jumping, ropes course, slingshot and paintballing. (Photo courtesy: @AlsoudahSeason)
Updated 47 sec ago

Asir ‘could be hotspot for global tourism,’ say travel bloggers

  • Flower Men Festival a hit with visitors
  • Season ends Aug. 31

AL-SOUDAH: Asir province has the potential to become a hotspot for international tourism, according to bloggers who were impressed by the events and activities on offer at Al-Soudah Season. Joshua Van Alstine, who shot to fame in Saudi Arabia with his YouTube videos, said the public and private sector were taking advantage of the area’s potential and would develop it to accommodate demand.
 Van Alstine and his wife, who hails from the southwestern city of Tanomah in Asir, were driving to Abha from Riyadh and were invited to explore Al-Soudah Season.
“I loved it, I am so glad I accepted the invitation,” he told Arab News. “The best part of visiting Al-Soudah was trying out the bungee jumping.”
He also met his wife’s relatives. “We had dinner with them, they came to visit us in Al-Soudah and I gave them a tour and they really liked it. They could not believe this was happening in the region and I could not either. This is something so special, even as an American and we have had these events for years back home, this to me is something incredibly special.”
Al-Soudah has other attractions for thrillseekers in addition to bungee jumping. There is a ropes course, a slingshot, paintballing and paragliding.
Slightly more leisurely activities include trekking, cycling, enjoying performances of a local dance, and learning more about the distinctive traditions of the region’s Flower Men, a tribal group famous throughout the Kingdom for their floral crowns who live high up in the mountains.

I loved it, I am glad I accepted the invitation. The best part of visiting Al-Soudah was trying out the bungee jumping.

Joshua Van Alstine, YouTuber and blogger

“They did a great job,” said Van Alstine. “I am sure they had a lot of challenges moving up and down the mountain area into that valley. There are not that many places where you can walk into a town and see people singing, dancing and that is what happened when we visited. We walked into this old school village and people were laughing, dancing and the smell of food ... it was kind of like a barbeque.”
Travel blogger Paris Verra, who also visited Al-Soudah, said the region’s people were hospitable and welcoming. “The place is unreal, the beauty is just incredible,” she told Arab News. “Coming here I feel safe and there are many misconceptions of coming to Saudi Arabia. If people would open up there are so many great things about this country in general, especially in this region.”
Verra experienced four seasons in one hour. “I mean, it was like eating lunch in the clouds. Then there was rain, then there was thunder, and then clear blue sky ... and the Flower Men festival is on a whole different level.”
Al-Soudah Season runs until the end of the month and its programs are held across seven locations. The main area, called The Hub, is suitable for families. There is also the Kids Zone, where the Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Foundation is holding educational workshops at the House of Qatt.
It is one of 11 festivals being held across the Kingdom to promote the country as a global tourist destination.
It also seeks to contribute to achieving goals within the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan, which aims to improve the quality of life, raise living standards, and create career and investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia.