Amman is a grand capital situated on historical, religious and empirical crossroads, and for the budget traveller there are plenty of tasty Jordanian eateries, art galleries and world-class historical sights so you can keep up with the culture without breaking the bank. It’s the perfect introduction to middle eastern life; the city has a relaxed and local feel to it, the people are friendly, it’s traditional and attracts interesting open-minded travellers.
The sprawling expanse of the city can be seen as it rolls across the steep hillsides, just a visit to the Roman Amphitheatre will leave you feeling overwhelmed by the sheer scale and manpower of this ancient wonder. Three days in Amman is plenty to make the most of the sights and culture, and we have put together a list of our favourite activities to help the budget traveller. If you are into food, culture, the arts and a few of the must-see attractions, then take a look at our recommendations for travelling to Amman on a budget....
Be Engulfed By The Roman Amphitheatre
Sometimes these ‘must-visit’ sights aren’t quite what they’re hyped up to be, and overpriced for that matter, but this really isn’t the case for the Roman Amphitheatre in downtown Amman. It’s impressive size and steep accent up the hillside can hold up to 6,000 people at any one time, and despite its crumbling edges, it’s probably the most solid thing you will ever lay your feet on. It was build between 136-181 CE, that’s nearly 2000 years ago, and is in impeccable condition (minus a few well restored sections that are visible on the edges). To sit at the top of this beautifully symmetrical structure is somewhat overwhelming. Just the sheer scale, architectural achievement and view from the top is world class, and for only 2 JD (£2) entry, I can’t think of a better way to spend the price of a coffee. Price also includes entry to the Folklore Museum, and Museum Of Popular Traditions. Entry is free for those with a Jordan Pass.
Try Sweet Cheese Pudding At Habibah
This place has a queue of hungry sweet-toothed diners at pretty much any time of day and it’s clear to see why. Locals and tourists alike fall in love with the traditional Palestinian kunafa served here, it’s an unusual dish of cheese pastry (similar tasting to halloumi or mozzarella) served warm with a crunchy and sweet syrupy semolina topping. Eating this fatty, sweet and calorific pudding is intense and incredible, it’s so more-ish and sickly at the same time. In 8 months of travelling it’s probably one of the most memorable things I have eaten. At Habibah, they make huge trays of the stuff, and it’s all being heated up from underneath to keep the cheese gooey and the topping as crunchy as dried noodles. A small plate costs 0.80 JD (80p) and a large which is double the size costs 1.40 JD (£1.40). You can choose between fine or course kunafa, the fine one is even sweeter.
Visit The King Abdullah Mosque
It’s not very often you get to see inside a mosque, unless you are a practicing Muslim that is, so visiting the King Abdullah Mosque is worth a trip when in Amman. This is the only mosque you can visit in the area as a non-Muslim. The enormous blue central dome is a clear highlight, and is decorated inside with a symmetrical gold star-shaped design, which is illuminated by a halo of bulbs. There is some really beautiful marble insets on the surrounding walls in Islamic patterns, and chunky wooden doors with star shaped engravings. Tourists are allowed to visit outside of prayer times, so unfortunately you will be visiting when the space is empty. A whopping 7,000 worshippers can fit into the carpeted space with a further 3,000 outside in the courtyard. Women are provided with a full length black hooded cloak (abayas) to wear, and men are asked to wear full length trousers. Everyone is to remove their shoes before entering. Entry is 2 JD (£2) per person.
Eat All You Like At Hashem
This open air restaurant in downtown Amman is a favourite with both tourists and locals. It’s sandwiched in between two buildings, in a wide alleyway, and diners are invited to take a seat and wait for the onslaught of Jordanian food. There’s no menu as such, just a feast of vege dishes that get delivered by some very chatty waiters. We were fed flat breads, hummus, falafel, the most deliciously smokey moutabel (similar to aubergine baba-ganoush), salad, french fries and local tea, all fresh, plentiful and tasty. On our first visit we were charged 3 JD (£3) per person, but on our second trip the owner recognised us and charged only 1.5 JD (£1.50) per person. That’s not bad for a half-price price cut! It’s also possible to pick up a falafel wrap for the bargain price of 0.5 JD (50p). For a cheap eat, you will leave very full and happy inside.
Explore The Bustling Local Markets
Get a taste of local life by taking a wonder down the market streets of bukhariyeh in downtown Amman. Whether your interested in flashy electronics, middle eastern herbs & spices, cuddly toys, fresh fruit & veg, or speciality coffee beans, it’s all here for you to explore, at any time of day and night. The locals are really friendly, and not pushy for you to buy their produce. There are several grocery stores that you can stock up on long-life food goods, which is pretty handy considering there aren’t many supermarkets in downtown. This market is the perfect place to people watch, find some traditional foods, and do a bit of cheeky haggling. The location is right next to the Grand Husseini Mosque.
Touch Two Thousand Year Old Ruins At The Citadel
On the highest hill in Amman stands the crumbling remains of the Roman Citadel. Built between AD 161-80, what’s left of this ancient structure can be seen from all across the city. Two enormous pillars at the Temple of Hercules are the only standing remains that give you an indication of the scale of this thing, just standing underneath it makes your head go dizzy! The site holds the Umayyad Palace, which is a building of stone remains with a beautifully reconstructed wooden dome roof. It’s definitely worth a look inside to see the intricate construction of the wooden structure, and the ancient carvings on the surrounding stonework walls. One of the most impressive parts of the citadel though is the site in which it sits on. All around you is a 360 degree view of the city of Amman, and the flat roofed boxy buildings that climb up the steep hillsides. There is a viewing platform that you can enjoy or just take a walk around the sight to make the most of the cityscape. Entry is 2 JD (£2) or free with a Jordan Pass.
Munch Down Middle Eastern Meat
You can’t come to Jordan and not sample a kebab, well maybe if you’re a vegetarian! We found a place tucked away in the alleyway opposite the favourite Hashem, and for 4 JD (£4) per person including an extra side salad with pickles, you can get a taste of authentic Jordanian kebab with a selection of lamb shish, chicken shish, lamb kofte, a salad garnish and flat breads. It’s the perfect portion for a hungry diner. The meat is well cooked and seasoned, and the salad is fresh and crispy. The staff are really friendly here, and you can see them cooking the dishes in outdoor ovens in the alleyway. This is a real taste of local life down here, no tourists in sight, just some old men drinking tea and playing cards in the cafe next door. It’s a shabby alleyway, no thrills and a bit grubby round the edges, but if you like going to the local places then you will be at home here. The restaurant is called Abu Hatem Grills and the restaurant is at the end of the alley before the staircase.
Enjoy Some Peace In the Jordan National Gallery Of Fine Arts
This is the perfect place to take some time out of city life and ponder the middle eastern and Islamic art world. The two-part building boasts a large collection of high quality contemporary works in an enjoyable light and airy space over several floors. Only a handful of visitors were there when we visited, which makes a nice change from other busy galleries that you might visit. Even though the works were contemporary in style, I would say that they weren’t particularly provocative and the ones that were more thought provoking were named ‘untitled’. Was this on purpose? We may never know, but it would have been helpful to have some sort of name or description on the pieces at times, otherwise there was a lot to be left to the imagination. Having said that, it’s still worth visiting and you could easily spend a couple of hours there if you were taking your time. There’s a nice cafe up on the top floor if you’re looking for a quiet place to work and can afford to splash out on a coffee. Entry is 5 JD (£5) but well priced for the amount of work that’s there.
We hope our recommendations help you if you’re backpacking on a budget. There are also plenty of other cheap things to do around Amman such as free walking tours and visiting other art spaces like the Khalid Shoman Foundation and Darat al Funun galleries. If you have any other suggestions then we would love to hear them in the below comments box!
(So you can find it again next time that is)