The Mole Diaries: Amman, Jordan

Wadi Rum by Ellie Wake

This article was written by Ellie Wake, published on 17th February 2014 and has been read 14198 times.

Ellie is 22, and studying Modern Middle Eastern History and Arabic Language at the University of Manchester. She spent her third year abroad in Amman, Jordan, studying at a small local Language Academy in the city. Here is her in-depth guide to living in Amman, from things to know before you go, to top bars, clubs and restaurants, weekend trips, and useful phrases in the local dialect.

My previous foreign adventures had mainly involved central Europe and the East Coast of the United States so it is safe to say that I wasn’t quite sure what I could expect from living in the Middle East!

A few things to know before you travel…

1. Flights

Easyjet fly from Gatwick to Amman – much to our amazement!

2. Jabs

It’s worth checking if your vaccinations are up to date and getting any boosters. I spent most of the summer before I travelled overcoming my fear of needles!

3. Money

In terms of currency exchange it’s roughly £1 to 1 Jordanian Dinar (give or take a few pennies!) It’s worth downloading a currency exchange app if you have a smart phone so you can compare different currencies in the region if you’re planning to travel.

4. Visas

At the airport you have to buy a tourist visa, it’s approximately 20 Jordanian Dinars (JD) and lasts about a month. After a month you have to go to the local police station to have it extended (it’s free for a three month visa), we were fortunate enough that the Academy helped us through the process. However, each time you leave the country and re-enter the same process applies, just a thought to bear in mind if you want to explore outside Jordan. You can take a taxi from the Airport to the capital; it takes approximately half an hour and shouldn’t cost more than 20/22 JD. There can sometimes be locals looking for a bit of extra money so don’t be fooled if they start to direct you out into the car park rather than the official taxi rank! Within Arab culture there is a tendency to barter so don’t be afraid to try a bit of haggling if you feel it’s necessary.

5. Packing

Pack plenty of layers! I know it sounds bizarre, it’s the Middle East, isn’t it hot all the time?! No. Whilst the initial desert heat and glorious sunshine can leave you beautifully bronzed/burnt, the winter is harsh. Think jumpers, boots and plenty of woollens! After Christmas my housemates and I were snowed into our apartment for a week! I had never been so delighted rediscovering my slipper socks and chunky knit jumper. Heating isn’t quite the same over there – we were dependent on a single small gas heater through the winter, so be prepared! Dress in Jordan is generally quite conservative for both men and women; maxi skirts, t-shirts and chinos are essentials, however, expect to see plenty of women in short skirts and dresses on a night out!

6. Accommodation

In terms of accommodation, we were again lucky in that the Academy helped us find apartments around the city to rent but there are rental listings in the local newspapers. Just be aware that foreign tenants tend to be charged a higher monthly rent rate than local people. We paid 400 JD a month each for a three bedroom apartment including water and electricity. Buying new gas canisters for the cooker and heater were extra, but easily available from the mobile gas man who will drive around the area. When we were there (2013) they cost approximately 10 JD and lasted a couple of months.


Don’t be surprised if you find the odd cockroach creeping around - the first day we arrived I had the horror of finding one crawling up my leg in the shower!

The City

Amman is the biggest city in Jordan and very much full of energy! At first it can seem quite overwhelming – the driving is manic and getting around can sometimes feel as though you are surrounded by organised chaos. The city is structured predominantly around a series of roundabouts, starting at one and going through to eight and most people navigate around via these ‘circles’ so don’t be surprised if the taxi driver asks you which circle you want to go to - you’ll get used to it after a while! The city particularly comes alive a night – lots of young men gather at the sides of the road with their friends to smoke shisha and listen to music. Don’t be surprised if you see small gatherings occurring on the side of the motorway! There isn’t a main centre to the city, for example there is no equivalent of Oxford Street or Leicester Square, more a variety of Shopping Malls dotted around the city. The old part of the city, known as ‘Downtown Amman’, by first circle, is where most of the delights of the city can be found. The ancient ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre as well as the prominent remains of the Citadel are located here and also ‘Rainbow Street’ with its selection of Shisha Bars and Restaurants. The Shisha Bars are a great place to spend an evening lapping up the hustle and bustle of Amman amongst the locals.

Transport

The main mode of transport in Amman is taxis and, compared to the UK, taxi journeys are incredibly cheap - you shouldn’t have to pay more than 5 JD to get anywhere in the city. There are public buses around the city although they are not generally used by westerners. It’s important to make sure that you ask the driver to put the meter on when you get in, otherwise you could find yourself being over charged. You can hail a cab at the side of the road without any issues, although don’t be surprised if some of the drivers turn down your custom if they don’t feel they’ll get paid enough! Don’t be afraid to put your language skills into practice and haggle a better deal. Culturally, it’s a little different in terms of a taxi ride - wearing a seatbelt isn’t usually done and some taxi drivers consider it offensive to their driving skills if you wear one – don’t be alarmed if you can’t even find a seatbelt in the taxi!

Women generally always sit in the back of the taxi, unless there are too many passengers for the back seat, whilst men are expected to sit in the front next to the driver. If you are a woman intending to travel around Amman alone at night, I would suggest booking a taxi through a local company called ‘Al-Mumayez’, they are slightly more expensive than the yellow taxis but more reliable and make sure someone knows where you are! You can take a taxi to the Dead Sea, Al-Mumayez charge approximately 50 JD return, you may have to haggle with a yellow taxi for a reasonable price but many will take you.

Travelling further from Amman i.e. to Petra/Aqaba there is a company called ‘Jett Bus’ which provides a regular service between Amman and various places throughout the country. You can find a price list online.

Top 10 local restaurants in Amman

1. Hashems

One of the oldest street food joints in Amman. The original Hashems can be found in Downtown Amman in a little alley although there are others dotted about the city (7th Circle). Delicious, authentic and traditional Jordan food – falafel, hummus, fool, bread and lusciously sweet tea. Chips also available. Order ‘Kull Shii’ for the works. Cheap too which makes it even better - four of you can eat and feel as though you need to be rolled into the taxi home for less than 2 JD each!


2. Sufra Restaurant

Located towards the far end of Rainbow Street, it is far more sophisticated than the rough and ready atmosphere of Hashems. Gorgeous décor and a very appealing exterior made this restaurant a favourite. Traditional Jordanian food, offering a selection of Mezzes amongst other local dishes. Has beautiful views overlooking the Citadel and a great outside seating area that is open to customers during the warmer months.

3. Ararat

Also located on Rainbow Street, the restaurant offers Armenian Cuisine. The food is delicious; bread is made fresh to order and served warm. Fantastic selection of hot and cold mezze dishes as well as main meals.

4. Rajeen

Another favourite on Rainbow Street. Popular with both tourists and locals, this became a regular haunt. The cheese rolls are incredible as is the moutabbel.

5. Fakhr El-Din

A Lebanese Restaurant highly regarded within Amman. Offering delicious Lebanese cuisine.

6. Zaartar w Zeit

Located on Zahran Street, offers more delicious Arabic food 24 hours a day!

7. Firefly Burger

Located on Rainbow Street, serves up classic Beef Burgers with generous portions of chips. Very small but bustling burger joint.

8. Sugar Daddy’s Bakery

Bakes delicious cakes, not traditional Arabic sweets, but a go to for anyone with a sweet tooth! Carrot cake, red velvet, pecan pie amongst other delicious favourites. Located in the glamorous area of Abdoun.

9. Al-Raqaq

Another Rainbow street haunt. Serves up freshly made cheese and zaartaar manakeesh alongside other savoury snacks and fresh fruit smoothies and juices. 

10. Turtle Green Tea Bar

A local coffee shop, also on Rainbow Street. A great place if you feel you need some café comfort with free wifi. 

Bit of a Rainbow Street theme - it's definitely a favourite place!

Things to do and places to go

1. Petra

A definite must see, for tourists it costs 50 JD for a day pass, but if you have a Jordanian Student Card it should only cost 1 JD. Photo below by Wojtek Ogrodowczyk:

Petra by Wojtek Ogrodowczyk

2. Wadi Rum

Absolutely stunning desert landscape (main image), highly recommend staying overnight to watch the sunset and take in the Bedouin experience with views of the stars. We went with ‘Jordan Tracks’ who were very professional and we had a great experience both times we visited.


3. Dead Sea

A great place to go for a day or weekend depending on your budget! Whether you fancy sunbathing by the comfort of the pool or floating in the Dead Sea, it’s a great place to go. Hotels offer daily passes varying in price from 25 JD upwards. The Dead Sea Spa Resort or Holiday Inn offer good daily deals. For the more extravagant budget the Kempinski is well worth a visit for a bit of luxury and you’ll find cheap deals on the internet so may bag yourself a bargain! Photo below by Fr. Gaurav Shroff:

Dead Sea by Fr. Gaurav Shroff

4. Roman Amphitheatre

A great place to take in some of the History of Amman.

5. Citadel

Brilliant views of the city. Recommend trying to go up around the time of call for prayer. Photo below of the City of the Dead and the Citadel by vagabondblogger:

Citadel

6. Aqaba

Great place for a weekend away for some sun, sea and sand. Photo below by Wojtek Ogrodowczyk:

Aqaba by Wojtek Ogrodowczyk

7. Madaba

Historical town in Jordan with strong Christian roots. Famous for its mosaics. Photo below by Jason Jones:

Madaba by Jason Jones

Travelling outside Jordan

1. Jerusalem

An amazing city just a few hours away from Amman, highly recommended. Taxi to the King Hussein Bridge with Al-Mumayez around 35 JD, exit fee on the Jordanian side is 10 JD. Security on the Israel/Palestinian side is quite strict, no entry charge, however exit fee is around 70 Sheikels. There are buses and taxis available once you’re through that will take you to Jerusalem. The bus is about 45 Sheikel and goes straight to Damascus Gate. Taxis back to the border are available and shouldn’t cost more than 200 Sheikel, don’t be afraid to haggle. Once back on the Jordanian side taxis back to Amman are available for about 20/30 JD.

If you’ve travelled to other Arab countries, for example the UAE, Lebanon etc expect some questions about why you were there/who you were visiting etc – the Israeli’s are quite security conscious! You get given a paper visa rather than a stamp so it doesn’t affect you if you want to travel elsewhere in the Middle East. We got through with Lebanese stamps but were confronted with quite a few questions! They like to know where you’re staying/ planning to visit so it’s a good idea to have the booking confirmation for the hostel/hotel you plan to stay in.

2. Beirut

Beautiful, vibrant and cosmopolitan city. Was a great place to visit for the weekend although would suggest going with someone who knows their way around. Also check Foreign Office travel advice as the situation is ever changing with overflowing political turmoil from Syria. We had to cancel plans a couple of times because of security concerns but it was well worth the wait when we finally made it.

3. UAE

Cheap to fly to in comparison to flying from the UK. Recommend ‘Fly Dubai’, supposedly the equivalent of Easyjet and Ryanair however a far more pleasant experience. Expect your own TV screen in the headrest in front of you! Return flight from Amman to Dubai was around 100-150 JD.

4. Muscat

Also cheap to fly to (Fly Dubai) and was great place to go for some sun, sea and sand in the colder months! Very glamorous in comparison to

5. Amman

There’s a great souk and a gorgeous beach in and around the old part of the city.

Nightlife

Nightlife in Amman is very glamorous and definitely an experience. Ladies can expect free drinks on ‘Ladies Night’ as well as free entry. Often clubs require reservations, especially on busy Thursday and Friday nights. Many clubs can also be funny about the ratio of men to women, a group of women will normally not have an issue but if there are more men than women in a group, bouncers can sometimes be a bit awkward. In the warmer months there are a lot of events at hotels, generally held outdoors with the swimming pool transformed into a dance floor. In the colder months nightlife is limited to just a handful of clubs. Many bars and clubs have Facebook pages so it’s worth liking/following them to find out about their upcoming events.


Big nights in Amman tend to be at the weekend, but there are also club nights during the week.

1. Flow

In Abdoun, popular with many partygoers in Amman. Open all year round.

2. Cube

By second Circle. Hosts an 80’s night once a week, payment on entry allows you a free drink. It’s quite a small venue but if you’re in the mood for 80s classics it can be a great night. Open all year round.

3. H20

Open Seasonally at the Kempinski Hotel

Bars (Just a few of them!)

1. O Six

Was the first bar I went to in Amman - it has amazing views over the city and is definitely worth the visit. Located on the top floor of the Canyon Boutique Hotel, it has an outside seating area open during the warmer months.


2. Oobé

A glamorous yet cosy bar located on the lower level of the AlQasr Metropole Hotel. Offers a variety of cocktails as well as food.

3. Cantaloupe

Located towards the end of Rainbow Street, offers views over downtown Amman and the Citadel.

4. [email protected]

Situated at the very end of Rainbow Street, by day is a great place for tea and coffee, by night a bar/club. Think Austin Powers in terms of décor.

5. Sky Lounge

Located at the top of the Millennium Hotel. Like O Six, it has stunning views over Amman. Often hosts club nights.

6. Amigo Pub

Less glamorous than some of the above. It’s a great place to go for a casual drink and a game of pool. Often busy with locals, it’s located just round the corner from 1st circle.

Shopping 

There are lots of small boutiques throughout the city and a big market in the Downtown area of the city. DVD’s are incredibly cheap; ‘Hammudeh’ in Downtown has a huge selection of films and TV series catering for both English and Arab audiences. You can find everything from the complete Sex and the City box set to classic Arab films.

If you’re in need of a western fix there are several shopping malls throughout the city. Expect to find Zara, Pull and Bear, H&M, M&S to name a few. You can find a Pizza Express in Taj Mall (Abdoun) and don’t be surprised to see Starbucks and of course MacDonalds who will deliver to your door if you can’t quite make it out the house!

Useful Phrases 'Dialect'

bidi… - I would like

adesh? - how much?

wayn? - where is...?

ma fi mushkila - it’s not a problem

al adaad - the meter

shmaal - left

yamiiin - right

doghree - straight

Useful Websites

General Information

Visit Jordan - Jordan Tourism Board Jordan Tracks - Travel Agency Amman Snob - Fine Business Directory of Amman

Travel

Skyscanner - Flight search engine JETT - Jordan's transportation and tourism bus service Hostelworld or HostelBookers - Hostel search

Food Delivery

ifood.jo - Order food delivery online with no extra charge

Our Mole Diaries are insider city guides written by students about their experiences, filled with top tips and recommendations. Please view our 200+ Mole Diaries arranged by language, and if you'd like to contribute, do find out more about becoming a Mole!

If you would like to comment, please login or register.