Difference between revisions of "Amman"
Revision as of 18:07, 4 June 2012
Amman is the capital and largest city of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (population c. 2.1 million). Amman forms a great base for exploring the country and does, despite popular belief, hold a few items of interest to the traveler. The city is generally well-appointed for the traveler, reasonably well-organized, and the people are very friendly.
Although not seen as much when in the air over Amman, the city holds many surprises for the visitor. Anything can be found in Amman if one asks. Visit Amman's Roman Amphitheatre or study in the University of Jordan or stay in a luxurious hotel. Shopping malls are abundant in Jordan. With new construction in Abdali, in a few years the high-end traveler could eat in the most high-end restaurant, study in the American University of Jordan, stay in a five star hotel or shop in massive malls, all a few metres from one another. Much less is being done to cater to the budget traveler, although urban beautification is going on (as of early 2011) in the city centre (old town), which is being cleaned up and made more pedestrian-friendly.
Amman is experiencing a massive (some would say: reckless) change from a quiet sleepy village to a bustling metropolis, some of whose neighbourhoods seem hell-bent on wanting to imitate Dubai. Amman's roads have a reputation of being very steep and narrow in some of the underdeveloped parts of the city but now the city has state of the art highways and paved avenues. The steep terrain and heavy traffic remains challenging for pedestrians and for the rare cyclist. New resorts and hotels dot the city and there are many things for the traveler to see and do. Use Amman as a staging point for travels to nearby cities and settlements in Jordan.
A city built of white stone, Amman's growth has skyrocketed since it was made the capital of Trans-Jordan in the early 1920s, but especially after the 1948 and 1967 wars with Israel when hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees settled. Another wave arrived after the second Iraq war, with Iraqi refugees forming the majority of newcomers.
Its history, however, goes back many millennia. The settlement mentioned in the Bible as Rabbath Ammon was the capital of the Ammonites, which later fell to the Assyrians. It was dominated briefly by the Nabataeans before it became a great Roman trade center and was renamed Philadelphia. After the Islamic conquests, Amman became part of the Muslim empire, until the Ottomans were forced out by the Allies, with the help of the Hashimites, who formed a monarchy that continues to rule until the present.
Today, West Amman is a lively, modern city. The eastern part of the city, where the majority of Amman's residents live, is predominantly the residential area of the working class and is much older than the west. While possessing few sites itself, Amman makes a comfortable base from which to explore the northwestern parts of the country.
Amman is a very diverse city. Palestinian, Iraqi, Circassian, Armenian,and many other ethnic groups reside in Amman. Amman was damaged because of the events of Black September but the city was rebuilt. Amman never stops growing. The city went from 20,000 inhabitants to more than 2 million people in less than a century partly because of massive influxes of refugees from Palestine and Iraq.
Despite the common assertion that most Jordanians understand English, that knowledge is quite limited. Charmingly, the most commonly known English phrase seems to be "Welcome to Jordan". The only non-Arabic language used in signposting is English, and you will find "Tourist Police" near the major monuments. It never hurts to know a few useful phrases and come prepared with a translation book, or to have the names and addresses of places you are going written in Arabic for use with a taxi driver.
Most travelers to Amman (and to Jordan) will arrive via Queen Alia International Airport. Very occasionally, regional or charter flights use Marka Airport, centrally located in east Amman a few km beyond the railway station. For most western visitors, entry visas to Jordan can be purchased at the airport, if not already obtained from a Jordanian consulate overseas. The price of visa is 20 Jordanian Dinars ($28), payable in Jordanian Dinars only; at the immigration line you will pay for the visa at the first counter, and then pass through to the second counter to receive the stamp. Note that there will be a sign informing you that payment is also available by credit card; this is inaccurate and you will be sent away to obtain hard currency. Money exchange is available before passport control and a single ATM, more ATMs are available after customs. Please note than there is only one post office and no postbox in the airport, located in arrivals hall of Terminal 1 near the Lost and Found office. If closed, you can put your letters/postcards under the curtain.
From Queen Alia to Amman city proper, the two best options are to either take a taxi or an Airport Express bus. Taxi transportation from the airport to Amman should cost around 20 Jordanian Dinars ($30). Airport taxi fares are fixed. Note that the fare is only fixed from airport to city, taxi driver might try to secure a ride from you from the city back to the airport, often with a massive inflated price. It is not hard to get a ride from City to Airport for JOD20, if the driver is trying to charge more, make your stand and say no. The Airport Express bus runs around the clock every 60 minutes (except at midnight, 2 a.m., 4 a.m. and 6 a.m.) and costs JOD3. It leaves from a marked bus stop outside Terminal 2 only. The trip from the airport to Tabarbour bus station in Amman, with a stop at the 7th Circle, usually takes from 45 minutes to an hour. It is then possible to catch a taxi from the bus station to your hotel but beware of taxis drivers trying to rip off the newly arrived traveler. The bus stop at the 7th circle is less than 100m south of the circle. The small yellow "airport express" labeled bus is easily recognized and the driver will also stop on other places if you wave him. To reach the 7th circle from downtown take bus 41 or any headed to Wadi As-Seir and ask to be dropped of at Dawaar As-Saabe'a (7th circle).
There are, of course, rent-a-car stations in Amman as well.
Note that the Abdali bus station is now closed. The new bus station is called Tabarbour Bus Station and is in the North fringes of Amman. Most of the buses to the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge and the various cities ('Ajloun, Jerash, Irbid) in Northern Jordan leave from here. To get there from downtown, take Serviis (A sedan car that works like a bus) #6 from Raghadan Tourist Service Station (Raghadan Al Seyaha) which is located right next to the Colosseum. The Trababour Bus Station is the last stop on the Serviis' route. There are numerous buses pulling into the city of Amman, most of which are operated by JETT (Jordan Express Tourist Transport). The JETT bus to/from the Israel border bridge costs 7.5 JOD and takes about 1 hour.
There are two operators (on of them called Challenge) each providing two daily services from Damascus (Sumariya-Terminal) into Amman for 500 SYP (50 SYP student discount). Times tend to change a bit, but they leave around 7:30, 8:30, 14:30 and 15:30. The tour takes typically about 4 to 5 hours, but can be longer depending on border formalities. The Challenge busses still arrive in Abdali.
From the bus station, you can take a taxi to the city center. As a guide, it NEVER costs more than 2 JD on the meter from the bus station to most places in town, so either go by the meter, or pay a maximum of 2 JD.
Be wary of the private cars posing as taxis around the bus stands. They would offer their services asking you to pay as much as you want but later on insist on pocketing more money from you. In case you get one, insist paying the standard price which should not be more than 2 JD. Anything more than 2 JD is a rip-off.
NOTE: There are 2 Raghadan stations in Amman, the one near the Roman Theater (which is relevant to most tourists) is Raghadan Al Seyaha, make sure you tell the taxi driver this otherwise you will wind up at the wrong Raghadan station like I did and will have to catch another serviis back!
Train operator in Jordan: HJR (Hedjaz Jordan Railway)  check seat61  for details. Since about 2005, scheduled services within Jordan and to Damascus have, sadly, been suspended. They are unlikely to resume. Train excursions run occasionally, as do local services to Zarqa. Neither operate more often than once per week, if at all. Amman's tiny, charming railway station (Mahatta) with its museum is worth a look even if you do not (or cannot) take a train.
A taxi to/from the Israel border crossing bridge can cost 25 JD and takes one hour.
Yellow and grey taxis are readily available and can be easily found anywhere in Amman. Just hail them in the street as Jordanians do. Taxis for Amman will have a green logo on the driver and passenger doors. The grey ones have an advertisement on top of the car. Resist hailing cabs with another color logo; these cabs are based in other cities and it is illegal for them to pick up fares in Amman. White taxis are shared, and the driver can pick up other fares along the way, which can lead to confusion.
Taxis in Amman are required by law to use meters and most drivers will reset the meter as soon as a fare is picked up. Most trips within Amman should be under JD2 or 3, and even a ride from one end of town to the other should not cost more than JD5. Taxis are not required to use meters after midnight and drivers often expect double the normal fare for late night trips. Beware of drivers offering to give you a short ride "for free" as a "Welcome to Jordan", especially if you're walking between the Citadel and the Roman Theater; they will then offer to wait for you to take you to your next stop, and will use the "free" ride as an excuse not to start the meter. They will then charge you exhorbitantly when you arrive at your next stop.
The base rate for the taxi meter was changed in 2007 from 150 fils (JD 0.150) to 250 fils (JD 0.250) due to the rising oil prices, however, not all taxis have replaced their old meters with new ones, and when a taxi is using an old meter, it is legitimate for the driver to ask you for 10 extra piasters (100 fils) on top of the quoted meter fare. Make sure though that you note the initial fare as soon as the driver turns the meter on in order not to have the driver ask you for "the 10 piasters" when he has a new meter. Drivers are not normally tipped, instead the fare is simply rounded up to the nearest 5 or 10 piasters. It should be noted that many drivers do not carry much change, so exact change should be given when possible. If a driver is pretending he has no change, it is likely that he just wants to keep it, so that you'll have to pay more. If you mind this, ask the driver to find a nearby shop and get change or get the change yourself from a shop or (if you don't mind being rude) look into their money box to find the change yourself.
The going, negotiated rate for a taxi from Amman to the airport is JD20 or more, although some drivers can be talked down to JD15 or even JD 10 (which would be close to the metered rate). All taxis are allowed to take passengers to the airport; only special Airport Taxis may take passengers from the airport into town.
If you are visiting the Citadel, call it al'Aqal. The driver may try to convince you that the Roman theater is nicer so that he can drop you off there at the bottom of the hill. It's best to be dropped off at the Citadel and walk down the hill to the Roman theater.
Big, municipal buses serve many parts of Amman. They are used by low-income workers, working-class youth and foreign workers, but are perfectly safe. As of January 2011, the fare was 380 fils. Pay the exact fare (or overpay); bus drivers have no change! You can also load a bus fare cash card with a few JD and swipe the card past a reader as you enter the bus, but places to buy and recharge the card are rare. Most buses are numbered; some display their destination in Arabic only. Bus no. 26 conveniently travels between the old town (Balad) and the 7th Circle along Zahran Street. No. 27 goes from the old town towards the posh Abdoun neighbourhood. No. 43 passes near Shmeisani (as does no. 46) and continues along Mecca Street towards Mecca Mall. Many bus stops are marked by bus shelters, but buses also drop passengers at unmarked spots wherever it is safe to stop. Privat minibuses shadow the municipal buses. They do not display route numbers, but a conductor usually shouts out their destination.
You can visit the fascinating Roman Theater and Nymphaeum, that reflect the historic legacy of the city, and the enchanting Citadel which has stood since the ancient times of the Ammonites. Or enjoy a leisurely stroll through the King Hussein Park and visit the Automobile Museum, which contains the late King Hussein's car collection, or the Children's Museum.
Jabal Amman 1st Circle Walking Trail is also interesting, with its coffeshops and grand traditional villas. A leaflet with a route description is available from the Wild Jordan Cafe.
If it's shopping you're after, then the pedestrian Wakalat shopping district offers a wide selection of international brand names to choose from.
For a more exotic and traditional experience you can visit the old-downtown, also known as the Souq, and take in the traditional sights and smells of the spice market, and shop for authentic souvenirs. (All of this info can be found at )
Although the capital of a diverse kingdom, Amman is not what one would call "packed" with things to see, making it a great gateway to explorations further afield. Even so, the city does hold a few items of historical and cultural interest (allow maximum 2 days to see them).
The cultural scene in Amman has seen some increased activities, notably cultural centers and clubs such as Makan House, Al Balad Theater, the Amman Filmmakers Cooperative, Remall, and Zara gallery. Around the 1st of September the Jordan Short Film Festival takes place.
It is highly advisable to see the sunset from the view point near the Citadel. But pay also your attention to the time of the muezzin call. If you listen to it from the view point, where the whole city lies before you, you get the unforgettable acoustic impression.
Due to accelerated growth the past several decades, the styles of living differs considerably as one travels from east to west throughout Amman. Visitors desiring to experience "Old Amman" should explore the central downtown, or Balad, which features numerous souqs, shops, and street vendors.
Besides touring the city, shopping is also advisible for the traveler. The City Mall is your best bet. The older and huge Mecca Mall aimed at women (walking distance from City Mall), the Abdoun Mall (also aimed at women), and the Plaza Mall are all large shopping centers scattered across Amman; you may also want to check out "Sharia'a Al Wakalat" (Brands Street).
For night clubs and bars visit the cosmopolitan West Amman where many Western and American franchises operate here. The nightlife in Amman is not as vibrant as other Middle Eastern cities like Beirut or Tel Aviv, however, there are a few clubs and bars in Amman.
Abdali, a section of downtown Amman, is being transformed into a modern center for tourists and natives alike. The plan includes a broad pedestrian boulevard where visitors can shop, eat, or do numerous other activities. New office buildings and residential hi-rises are being constructed. "New Abdali" should have been completed by 2010, but was still a large construction site as of early 2011.
The Islamic headscarf is optional, there is no legal obligation to wear it and many women do not. In more affluent areas such as West Amman women often dress in Western clothing. Western women are advised to dress modestly. Long skirts pants and shirts with sleeves past the elbows will attract less unwanted attention for female travelers. Modest clothing is especially important at religious sites. In more conservative parts of the city such as East Amman, women are advised to heed the advice to wear modest clothing more strongly so as to not offend local sensibilities.
Amman has numerous antique dealers littered throughout the city. Those located in the western parts of the city will most likely be serviced by those with a competent grasp of the English language, but you run the risk of the items being a bit overpriced. For the more adventurous, some of the best tourist shopping can be done in downtown Amman (the Balad). Shopping in the Balad has a more primitive feel with shop after shop filled with wares and prices not always clearly marked and extremely negotiable.
Some interesting, original souvenir items that one may consider taking home are:
For the coffee lover, Amman's Starbucks locations (Swefieh, Abdoun, Taj Mall, City Mall, Mecca Mall) offer various mugs, tumblers, and to-go cups with distinctive Jordanian and Middle Eastern flair.
Those who crave gourmet coffee have a number of choices along Rainbow St. off of First Circle in Jabal Amman with other shops sprinkled throughout the city.
Alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, liquor, etc.), can be purchased in liquor stores across the city. Most are distinguishable by an advertisement for Amstel or some like beverage outside. There are also bars up and down Rainbow St. in Jabal Amman and throughout Abdoun. Drinking age is 18 but some bars/cafes might card you and admit 21+ customers only.
There are numerous universities one can study in. Irbid, Madaba, and Aqaba also hold many educational institutes for foreigners. Jordan's universities are world-renowned and respected for their hospitality and methods of instruction.
Amman features many different styles of restaurants, from traditional Middle Eastern fare to more familiar Western fast food and franchises. Prices range from ultra-cheap to moderate, depending on one's taste buds. For those on a budget, Arabic food is very affordable and can be obtained everywhere.
Arabic food generally consists of several general basic groups. Meat dishes will generally consist of lamb or chicken; beef is more rare and pork is never offered. Shwarma, which is cooked lamb meat with a special sauce rolled in piece of flat bread, is a local favorite. Rice and flat bread are typical sides to any meal. Jordan's speciality, mansaf, is a delicious lamb and rice meal, typically eaten with one's hands. Arabs serve plenty of cucumbers and tomatoes, many times accompanied by a plain white yoghurt condiment. Another favorite is chick pea-based foods such as falafel, hummus, and fuul. One of Amman's most famous local foods restaurant is Hashem, located in down-town Amman and you can have a lunch or dinner there for no more than 1.500 JD which is very low compared to other restaurants in Amman. This restaurant is one of the favourites of the Royal family and you will see a lot of photographs of the Royal family of Jordan dining at this restaurant. Nearby, there is Habeebah, which serves traditional east Mediterranean sweets such as baklava, but is most famous for serving a traditional dessert known as knafeh nabelseyyeh in reference to its origin from the Palestinian city of Nables.
The allegedly best shawerma in Amman is found in the street-side kiosk called Shawermat Reem, at the 2nd Circle. It is very famous and there are even lines at 2 a.m. It is a must to eat from this place and is very cheap.
Lebnani snack is a great place to eat Middle Eastern sandwiches, delicious ice cream and cocktails.
Contact details: 10 Rainbow Street, 1 Juqa Street Jabal Amman Mobile: +962 7777 333 33 Telefax: +962 6 46 56 561
And even if you can afford the above-mentioned, do not forget the good surprises coming from the countless shawarma outlets and other very cheap places.
Note: If you are a vegetarian, probably you will have to live on bread, felafel, fries, pita bread with hummus moutabal and salads. The salads are really tasty well marinated.
Jordan's national beer is aptly called Petra beer, and there are many liquor shops and kiosks around Amman where you can find it. There are two types: 'black' and 'red', which have 8% and 10% alcohol percentage respectively. The red is usually slightly more expensive than the black, but you should expect to pay 2-2.5JD for a 500ml can at a shop. You will often find that bars prefer Amstel and other international brands and do not have Petra beer available.
The majority of Amman's pubs and night clubs can be found in West Amman.
Living in Amman, the main places people spend time during the evenings are hookah shops.
Amman has the full range of accommodation options from very basic 1 star accommodation to luxurious 5 star facilities.
Compared with other capital cities, Amman is a very safe place to visit. Jordanian police and the military maintain a tight grip on law and order. Personal safety is high in Amman - it is safe to walk anywhere in the city at any time of day or night. Serious crime is extremely rare. In 2005, some major hotels were targeted by bombers (connected with the conflict in Iraq). Security measures at all major hotels were increased as a result.
Jordan is a majority Muslim country with a large Christian population too. Jordanian people are mostly very welcoming to any foreign visitors. Women should wear fairly conservative clothing if visiting religious sites.
While Jordan is a generally free and tolerant country avoid discussing sensitive topics with casual acquaintances or strangers such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or making negative comments about the Jordanian royal family.
Amman makes a convenient base for day trips to:
Bike tours are a good way to see the local scenery and meet local cyclists. There are a couple of bicycling tour firms in Amman:
Tareef cycling club  was founded in 1982 and developed into an active group in August of 2007 by a former Jordanian National Team cyclist. They provide fun active weekend cycling and hiking trips, supporting all levels of fitness all around Jordan.
Cycling-Jordan.com offers tours and weekly trips to the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea.
Many budget hotels like Palace or Farah organize day tours for about 16-18jd which seems a sensible price, but they do not include entrance fees which could be important. These tours are open to people who don't sleep at the hotel. Classical tours are Jerash/Ajlun/Um Qais, Madaba/Mount Nebo/Baptism site/Dead sea, and Castles.