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Jordan is one of the most popular tourism destinations in the Middle East for good reason. Home to Petra, lots of Roman ruins, Lawrence of Arabia’s favorite desert, the Dead Sea and a thriving capital city, there’s plenty to do and see. Jordan is also known for hospitality and as a safe and stable country.
Here’s how to spend five days in Jordan, hitting the tourism highlights and favorite local spots. If you have more time, spend another day in Amman, head north to Jerash and Umm Qais for a day or two, do some adventuring in Wadi Mujib or book a food-focused tour. You can learn more about the history of the kingdom and other fun facts here.
Day 1: Fly Into Amman
Amman is a thriving city of four million people. There’s plenty to do, but most of it is things you can do in any big city: shopping, dining, museums, bars. To see the main sights and eat the best food, 36 hours is perfect.
Say you get in in the afternoon. Start with juice with a view at Wild Jordan Center at the end of Rainbow Street. The center is run by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature and proceeds go to the rural communities of eight nature preserves throughout the country. If you have time, the center can organize day trips to one of the preserves. Either way, it has some of the best views over the old city of Amman. The gift shop sells homemade souvenirs and gifts that are higher quality than souvenir stores downtown.
For dinner, dine at Fakhr El-Din or Al Quds (different than the above). Al Quds serves the best Mansaf–Jordan’s national dish of rice, meat, almonds, and fermented yogurt–in Amman, while Fakhr El-Din serves fine-dining Arabic cuisine. Make a reservation for the latter or prepare to wait for a table. End the night at Cafe de Paris, Dubliners Cantaloupe, O Six, Maestro Bar, or one of the many other bars for drinks.
Stay: There are plenty of hotel options in Amman, but if you only have a day or two stay in the historic area, near the main sights.
Day 2: Amman & Wadi Rum
Wake up early and head to Cafe Rumi for coffee and cardamom cake.
Walk or take an Uber to the Amman Citadel (it looks close on a map, but the hills to get there are killer). Spend some time exploring the ancient Roman and Umayyad ruins, then walk down the hill to the Roman Amphitheater.
After lunch hop in a taxi and pick up a rental car from the airport. Transportation services are available, but it’s nice to have the flexibility to stop whenever you feel like it for snacks or photos. Renting a car allows you to see more of a place, which is especially useful when you have limited days. Amman can be a bit crazy, but overall Jordan is fairly easy to drive around, and once you’re out of the city you’ll be on a straight highway all the way to Wadi Rum.
There are a couple ways to see Wadi Rum. You can camp with bedouins and other tourists in tents, which can be fun. You’ll be taken to a campsite with other small groups, where you’ll chat, drink tea, and eat a giant dinner usually prepared in an underground oven. Sometimes, there’s traditional Bedouin dancing. During the day, you can choose to hike, take a camel, or drive around to different famous sights. Or, you can sleep outdoors and have a more private experience. Atullah and the rest of the staff at Wadi Rum Jordan Guideare lovely. Try to arrive in time to catch sunset from the sandstone cliffs.
After sunset, your guide will probably light a fire and make tea, which you can drink while watching stars slowly populate the sky. Dinner is typically rice and chicken with yogurt and spices.
Day 3: Wadi Rum & Petra
You’ll likely wake early, as you’re sleeping outdoors without shield from the sun. Breakfast is typically tea, served with bread heated over the fire, za’atar, cheese, and jam.
Spend the morning exploring Wadi Rum’s seemingly endless sand dunes and cliffs with your guide. Driving is much more comfortable than camels.
Around midday (the benefit of waking up with the sun is that by this time you’ll already have seen a lot), head back to your rental car and drive the 1.5 hours to Petra.
Now, this part of the trip changes depending on what time of year you go. In spring or fall the weather is perfect. Warm during the day but not too hot, jacket weather at night. If you go then, you can walk through Petra in the afternoon when you arrive and be back in our hotel by dark. If you go in the summer, exploring Petra in the afternoon is just too hot. You should start at 6 a.m. to beat the heat, and by 1 p.m. you’ll want to be inside. It’s recommended to visit in the spring or fall if you can.
Petra is beautiful, the history is fascinating, and the carvings and logistics of it are incredibly impressive. It is also Jordan’s most touristy spot, and over the past 10 years has seen an increase in the number of people selling donkey and horse rides, postcards and other knick-knacks. Endless selling is a problem with most touristy sites around the world, but because you’re walking through small passageways it feels exacerbated here. If you can get past it, it’s easy to see why Petra is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Walking back later in the day after most of the crowds have gone and the sun is beginning to set is especially beautiful. Be sure to stop in the visitor’s center and museum to get a better grasp of how and why Petra exists.
Stay: Movenpick, the nicest hotel in the city of Petra. One reason travelers like this hotel is the huge breakfast buffet, which is about $15.
Day 4: Little Petra & Dead Sea
First stop is Little Petra, which is far less visited than the main sight, and for that reason almost more charming. The ruins aren’t as impressive, but the canyons and rocks are just as beautiful. If you have time, you can also hike from here along part of the Jordan Trail, a recently completed trail that runs the length of the entire country.
Back in the car, you’ll drive along the King’s Highway, a scenic, hilly road that warrants a few photo stops. Arrive at the Dead Sea in the afternoon.
Walk to your hotel’s beach, coat yourself in Dead Sea mud, and wade into the water. There’s so much salt in the Dead Sea you can’t sink, and floating without trying is such a strange sensation. Hotels are the only thing around, but they all have bars and often nighttime entertainment, so settle in and relax.
Stay: There are a few hotel options here all offering more or less the same thing. The Holiday Inn is popular, mainly for its swim-up bar and various pool options.
Day 5: Madaba
On your way out, stop at the Baptism Site, the World Heritage Site where it’s believed Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptist. There are also a few Roman and Byzantine ruins here.
Drive to Madaba, an ancient city with hundreds of Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics. Visit the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George to see a large mosaic map on the floor depicting the Holy Land. The Archaeological Park has many more mosaics, and also houses the Church of the Virgin Mary. Visit the Shrine of the Beheading for St. John the Baptist for the underground Acropolis Museum and views from the bell tower. On the way, there’s a rare book shop on Haya St. near the church.
Have lunch at Haret Jdoudna, a sunny spot serving large salads and mezze.
You can stop at Mt. Nebo if you have time, where according to the Hebrew Bible Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land.
Head back to Amman and either go straight to the airport to drop off your car and catch a flight, or head back into the city for a few hours. If you go back to Amman, stop for a shawarma at Reem’s, the oldest shawarma spot in the city (beef and lamb, no chicken).
A few things to consider:
- Spring and fall are really the best times to visit, especially if you don’t do well in hot weather.
- Dress conservatively. Even in Petra, even though you’re surrounded by other tourists.
- Driving in Jordan is a little rough at times. You’ll be fine, but watch out for what seem like unnecessary speed bumps in the middle of the highway. If you’re nervous about driving, pick up and drop off the car at the airport, and do not attempt to drive in Amman, which is much crazier than the highway.
- Jordanians pride themselves on their hospitality and you will hear “welcome to Jordan!” dozens of times a day. Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations, directions, you name it.