One of the Middle East’s most modern cities, Amman is also one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, boasting plenty of historic sites. It’s a compelling mix of new and old: contemporary ambience and culture, with new buildings going up, and gentrifying neighborhoods humming with cafés, galleries and commerce.
Known as Jordan’s “white city” because its hills are covered in a jumble of cream-colored limestone houses, Amman dates back more than 5,000 years and even features in the Old Testament. It was once a Roman capital; the Roman theater situated in the city center dates back to 170 AD and is still used today for events. And nearby is the celebrated lost city of Petra, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
With Four Seasons Hotel Amman, atop the highest of Amman’s seven hills, as our base, my family and I explored the city, then enjoyed some day-trips around Jordan.
*Undiscovered gem: This destination is often underrated and overlooked, but you’ll be delighted you chose it.
*A welcoming place. Jordan boasts thousands of years of history, but without the tension and discord that marks many neighboring countries.
*“Indiana Jones” in real life: you’ll find ruins and archeological treasures throughout Jordan.
*The Amphitheater: Amman’s ancient Roman Forum and Amphitheater—the largest in the country—are a site to behold. The museum has a few small exhibitions and well-preserved murals, and for a small fee, you can climb to the top for a bird’s eye view of the city.
*Petra. Spectacular—as you walk in, its famed carved monuments emerge into view through a narrow gorge. A “lost city” for 500 years, this is one of Jordan’s, and the world’s, most fascinating and thrilling sites.
*Museums outside. Perched on the highest hill in Amman, the Citadel (Jabal Al-Qalaa) is an open-air museum.
*The pool. The hotel’s rooftop outdoor swimming pool, with its wonderful views of Amman, was closed for the season when we visited in winter. But fortunately, the indoor pool was open for as much wet and wild fun as my daughters could manage.
*Games galore. When a box full of DVDs, a PlayStation and some old-fashioned board games arrived, I wondered how I would ever extract the girls from the room.
*Children’s Museum. After seeing all of the ancient ruins, kids will be ready to go back to the future at the modern Children’s Museum, which offers a plethora of hands-on exhibits and activities.
*Rainbow Street. Amble down Rainbow Street and take in the exotic local flavor. This block is filled with antique shops, art galleries, cafés and bars.
*Shopping. When there are more shopping malls than museums in a city, I think it’s pretty clear what needs to be done. Pick up Turkish leather, jewelry, hand crafts, hand-embroidered linens or an authentic Bedouin dress in one of Amman’s traditional souks.
*The spa. Moms, send Dad out with the kids and enjoy a Four Seasons spa treatment using Dead Sea mud or other regional minerals.
The breathtakingly beautiful Abu Darwish Mosque. Covered with the distinctive black-and-white checkered patterns, it is situated on the highest point in the city.
Dine in—With conversation-friendly family-style seating, Olea showcases home-style Levant cuisine. The space feels like a local’s elegant, welcoming home. Kids will like the outdoor terrace overlooking the herb garden; parents will appreciate the a la carte menu options and casual ambiance. Share the Sawani, an oven-baked meat and vegetable dish for two. Olea’s brunch is ideal for families.
Since you can seldom go wrong with kids and pasta, we were happy to see the hotel’s classic Italian restaurant, Vivace. Twelve-year-old Paris and nine-year-old Vanessa were delighted with the Classic Penne in a Spicy Tomato Sauce and Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Cheese, recommended by the waiter, and the Milanese Style Veal Cutlet was a winner in my eyes.
Dine out—Follow the locals and enjoy a ridiculously delicious—and affordable—falafel from the no-frills (very few choices, no tables to sit) Falafel Al Quds Rainbow Street.
Serving fresh-ingredient, local olive oil drizzled pizzas and pasta, fans say spunky, inviting Oliva in Jabal Al Lweibdeh “must be the cutest Italian restaurant in town”; outdoor seating, too—ideal for squirrely toddlers.
Take older kids to stylish Dunia Rooftop Lounge or save it for your date night out; cozy in winter, airy in summer. Expect fab views and interior décor; notable is the live music and creative fare, including Shisha (next to Malhas Hospital in the oldest part of the city).
(And while we’re talking food, try a kid-friendly recipe from the kitchen of Four Seasons Hotel Amman.)
1. “Rome away from Rome.” The Roman ruins at Jerash, about 30 miles north of Amman, are easy to get to and make for a great half-day excursion.
2. Go low. Dramatic and other-worldly beautiful, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth at 1,312 feet below sea level. Take a day trip to the Jordan Valley to see it and bob around in the warm, salty seawater. (Many products come out of the Dead Sea, including its mineral-rich facial mask clay.)
3. Auto exhibit. See the impressive collection of cars and motorcycles owned by the Jordanian Royal Family at the Royal Automobile Museum. Afterwards, take a walk around King Hussein Gardens, one of the few green spaces in the city.
4. Bazaar. For an authentic Middle Eastern experience, go to the Downtown Souk, where you will find stalls and shops selling aromatic spices and Arabic delicacies and an animated fruit and vegetable market.
5. Petra. A must-see is the “lost city of Petra,” just a few hours’ drive from Four Seasons. Take your time and make a day of it. Ask the concierge for tips.
Read more on Amman in Four Seasons Magazine.
Read our “Concierge Recommendations” for Amman in Four Seasons Magazine.
Monique Rubin lives in the Netherlands with her husband and two daughters. She writes about her travels, running and expat life at motravels.com
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