Beautiful and Unusual Things to do in Jordan
Start planning your trip to this fascinating country in the Middle East with this guide to the best and most unusual things to do in Jordan. Practical travel tips included, plus links to more in-depth articles. Updated 2019.
More Than Petra and the Dead Sea
Lie back and float in the salt of the dead sea. Watch the sun set over swirling sands and the rocks that, quite literally, saw Lawrence of Arabia. Share hot, honeyed knafeh in a street stall in bustling Amman, see one of the oldest maps in the world and walk along the iconic ruins of UNESCO World Heritage Site Petra.
And we're only getting started.
You'll find so many creative, beautiful, inspiring things to do in Jordan. I've visited several times, now, and still can't quite fathom how one country can round up so much history, so much beauty - and so much good food!
Get ready to challenge your ideas about the Middle East with this collection of things to do in Jordan.
Petra by Night
Petra is one of those iconic places that more than lives up to the hype. Visit Petra first by day to catch raspberry rock swirls, donkeys and the famous Treasury. Then come back for a quieter experience called Petra by Night.
Using only 1500 candles and all the stars that glimmer overhead, Petra's passageway to the Treasury mixes inky silence with a reverential glow.
Expect to walk for around half an hour in the dimly lit passageway before you reach this famous, glimmering view. Be ready to be still, be ready to be silent, and be ready to be moved.
My only top tip? Visit Petra by day first.
Top Tip: Explore UNESCO World Heritage Site Petra by day first. Then visit Petra by Night for candlelit beauty.
Hot Air Balloon Ride over Wadi Rum
From the ground, the desert wilderness of Wadi Rum mesmerises. From the skies above looking down, it provides the kind of views that make you feel lucky to be alive.
There are deserts and then there are deserts. Wadi Rum is the ruby-red, dust spinning, camel swashbuckling kind of desert with rock formations several storeys high. Camp beneath the stars in a (tailored for visitors) Bedouin tent, ride on camels, dune bash and take to the skies in a hot air balloon.
Despite that long list of heady activities, Wadi Rum feels surprisingly quiet when you visit. As if the whole world has turned to red sand and is waiting for you.
Lawrence of Arabia roamed around here and it's possible to camp out beneath the stars or ride camels the traditional way. But the best view, for sure, takes place from the wicker basket of a hot air balloon.
Top Tip: hot air balloon trips work best at dawn because of the air temperature. Plan to stay overnight nearby.
Taste Sweet Knafeh in Amman
Knafeh, like the stone and sand of the city of Amman itself, has a deliciously rich history (and taste). Delirious with calories, this butter-soaked streetside snack presses cheese between syrup-soaked angel hair and then sprinkles it with rosewater and pistachios.
Top tip: try Habibah Knafeh on Al-Hazzar Street to get your sugar fix.
Did You Know?
Women don't need to cover their hair in Jordan. Many do, but it's not compulsory.
Float in the Dead Sea
Can I let you in on a secret? Those serene photos of people floating, reading newspapers in the Dead Sea don't tell the whole story!
Swimming in the Dead Sea is great fun but it's anything but serene. The salt levels threaten to flip you over at a moment's notice like a drunken weevil in an oil slick. But it is good fun.
Saltier than a salty sea dog, the Dead Sea is also the lowest point of earth. It reaches between Jordan and Israel and it just so happens to be achingly beautiful.
Find out more interesting facts about the Dead Sea here.
Top tip: don't shave just before swimming in the Dead Sea. The sting will make your own saltwater flow.
Splash About Canyoning
If wading through the Dead Sea seems too tranquil, a short trip to Wadi Mujib will soon get your pulse racing again with a spot of canyoning.
Don't be fooled into thinking canyoning is only for those insanely fit folk; it's an inclusive sport but it is mentally challenging.
What to Know About Travel to Jordan
Currency: Jordanian dinar (JOD)
Best way of getting around: by car with a local driver or guide
Highlight: Petra, without a doubt
Travel tip: Wrap a scarf around your head to protect from the wind, sun and sand in the desert, Bedouin style.
Dress Code: modest but not excessive. Cover shoulders, knees and cleavage and wear layers because it’s hot in the day and cool at night.
Help Make the World's Largest Mosaic in Mount Nebo
At Mount Nebo, there’s an incredible mosaic in production. It depicts The King’s Way, a route that runs from Aqaba and the Red Sea north to Bosra Sham. When complete, it will run for more than 30 metres involving more than 3.5 million pieces and expects to earn the record of being the largest mosaic in the world (if you look closely, you’ll find a piece with my name on it. And one there from the Queen). We're not special, though. The city of Madaba invites every guest to take part in the project, no matter your birthplace or background.
It's a beautiful project in a fractured world.
Top tip: look out for my name! ;-)
Stargaze in the Desert with the Bedouin
Free from light and sound pollution, the Feynan Eco-Lodge's green credentials stretch beyond simply not washing your towels every day and printing out lots of leaflets to tell you about it instead.
Get back to basics under the stars of the Jordanian desert with an engaging storyteller, roaring fire and arabic coffee for company.
Even the coffee has UNESCO Intangible Heritage Status.
Top tip: prepare to feel an incredible sense of peace as you gaze up at the stars.
Why I Love Jordan
From the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum to the poetic candlelight at night at Petra, Jordan dazzles with big name sights and great natural beauty.
But its real richness comes from its people, from sharing hummus, tabbouleh and pitta bread together and from discovering layers and layers of history that have remarkably resulted in peace in this otherwise tumultuous part of the world.
It’s a country that brings me great joy every time I visit – and one that gives me hope for the future.
Ride Camels at Sunset
Yes, it's a cliche, and yes, you can find horrible tourist traps that do this.
Travel by camel was and is a core part of culture in the Middle East. Plus, until you've ridden one yourself you'll never believe how monstrously, ridiculously uncomfortable the whole experience is.
Ride a camel and gain a newfound level of respect for desert nomads.
Desert camps on the edges of Wadi Rum arrange some of the more soulful camel expeditions at sunset.
Top tip: camel hide is scratchy so wear the thickest trousers you can manage in the heat. And, of course, it cools fast at night. Bring a warm jacket or jumper as well.
Make Friends Over Food
Learn about traditional Jordanian food through cooking lessons with the indomitable Maria at Beit Sitti. Not only will you get to taste the smoky, aubergine richness of baba ganoush and the more suspect aniseed spirit Arak, but you'll mix with people from Amman in a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere.
Top tip: choose an evening class and enjoy the sound of the call to prayer amid the orange blossom in this old and beautiful part of Amman.
Snorkel in the Red Sea
Bright skies, pleasure boats and snorkelling await in Aqaba, Jordan’s playground. It’s also a good dive site and has easily accessible markets for spice pyramids, incense and perfume.
Make sure to visit the markets in the evening, when the smoke of the incense is at its most atmospheric.
Visit the World's Oldest City (Probably)
Jordan’s capital vies for the title of oldest city in the world and when standing on the citadel at sunset, that seems easy to believe. Yet it’s a modern city, too, with luxurious five star hotels, shops, and an amphitheatre with a special trick...
Visit the citadel at sunset for spectacular views and the lyrical call to prayer.
Madaba and the Ancient Map
Somewhat off the standard tourist radar, Madaba makes for a fascinating city to visit for a number of reasons. It’s home to one of the oldest maps in the world, in mosaic form, depicting the ever-disputed holy land.
Visit the Byzantine church of St George to see the 6th century map - and then visit mosaic workshops outside.
Drive or Hike Through the Dana Biosphere Reserve
The Dana Biosphere Reserve is the largest nature reserve in Jordan and comes with a handy addition: a luxurious ecolodge right in the centre that allows you make the most of the empty space and the stars. The Feynan Ecolodge helps organise hiking, drives and cooking lessons from their hub, working with the community in a sustainable, responsible way.
Ask them to help you make natural soap...
The Ancient Roman City of Jerash
While the Romans may not have the sex appeal of the Nabateans of Petra, this still-standing city is still pretty impressive with road after road of tumbling columns and pathways that have survived thousands of years. It’s also a lot more accessible than Petra, which is worth bearing in mind if you’re short on time (or mobility.)
Top tip: wear comfortable shoes. The ground is very uneven.
My First Trip to Jordan: A Mistake
I boarded the plane to Amman in Madrid, feeling slightly self-conscious. Aside from a young man in a leather jacket in first class, where sadly, I was not, everyone else wore white. Was over 50. And began praying at supersonic volume as the aeroplane took off.
I’d made an effort to dress conservatively but tugged at the edges of my sleeves, willing them to grow longer. I checked for a gap between sock and trouser and became aware of something I usually never notice: my free flowing hair. I’d brought a scarf to cover up, just in case, but had made the mistake of leaving that in my suitcase. So, I slumped into my chair, focused on becoming invisible and watched the minutes crawl by.
In Amman, only the man in the leather jacket waited by the luggage carousel, and forty minutes after that I met up with two women, Reine and Halla. They burst out laughing.
Reine and Halla, I should probably mention, were dressed in skintight clothes, with full make-up, free glossy hair and they looked absolutely wonderful. I, by this stage, was red-faced from keeping my fleece on, with hair in disarray and not so much as a dash of lipstick in sight.
It reminded me of two, oh go on make that three, important things.
- Breaking stereotypes by actually travelling somewhere is always a good thing
- It never hurts to try not to offend your hosts
- It’s not a good idea to ask for the same application card as everyone else on the plane – when it turns out that’s entry permission to Mecca for the Haj because you’re on a chartered pilgrimage flight.
What have I missed? What do you think are some of the best things to see and do in Jordan?
Disclosure - I visited each of the things to do in Jordan over a period of three years. I visited Jordan as a guest of Visit Jordan, but as usual, as always, as ever, kept the right to write what I like here on Inside the Travel Lab. Otherwise, there's just no point.