11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Jordan
Jordan is a traveler's dream introduction to the Middle East. Safe and friendly, the destination gets travelers up close to world wonders and immerses them in world-class hospitality. You'll feel right at home once you slip into the culture of this easygoing country.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites abound in Jordan. Marvel at fading frescos in the 1,300-year-old desert castle of Quseir Amra. Climb red sand dunes and stand in the shadows of weathered sandstone in Wadi Rum's humbling desert landscape. And plan to spend at least two days exploring Jordan's crown jewel attraction: Petra. The jaw-dropping sites in the ancient Nabatean city will leave you stunned – and eager to see more.
But Jordan's not solely rooted in the past. Its hilly capital, Amman, brims with bustling restaurants and cafés, swanky shopping, and impressive art galleries. Then, there's the Dead Sea – where you can kick up your feet after days of sightseeing and dig in to some much-needed pampering at the many luxe waterfront resorts.
Plan your vacation to the Middle East and see the best places to visit with our list of the top tourist attractions in Jordan.
Prepare to be amazed by Petra. One of the New7Wonders of the World, this attraction has wowed modern-day visitors since the long-lost city's rediscovery by Swiss explorer Jean Louis Burckhardt more than 200 years ago.
You'll need at least two days to hit all the highlights around Petra, which include more than 800 registered sites. But if you have more time, you won't be disappointed spending it here. Wandering around a city this ancient in such a well-preserved state is an experience like none other.
Petra wastes no time impressing tourists. Immediately after the entrance, you'll see mysterious Djinn Blocks, imposing stone monuments whose original purpose still remains unknown, followed by the Obelisk Tomb. It's just a sample of the incredible sites to come.
From here, you'll make your way through the Siq – the famous snaking canyon pathway flanked by tall walls. Look along the walls to see the remnants of historic channels that were used to supply Petra with water, as well as niches for sacred carvings known as baetyls. These artifacts hint that Petra may have been considered a holy city at one point in time. Keep your eye out for the weathered relief sculpture of camels being lead by two merchants, as well.
Finally, you'll reach the unmistakable Treasury (also known as Al-Khazneh). Showcased in nearly every travel guide book and social media post about Petra, this attraction's Hellenistic facade is one of the most enchanting places to visit in Jordan. Legend has it that the rock-hewn monument, which was built as the final resting place for Nabatean King Aretas IV, was the hiding place for an Egyptian pharaoh's treasure at the time of Moses.
When it comes to things to do in Petra after the Siq and the Treasury, it's a choose-your-own adventure. Check out dozens of tombs and houses on the Street of Facades, climb steep stairs for a great view at the High Place of Sacrifice, stand in awe at the Theater and stroll down the impressive Colonnaded Street.
If your feet aren't too sore yet, make your way up the roughly 850 rock-cut steps to the legendary Monastery. The impressive structure, tucked in the hills, is well worth the journey.
If you thought Petra was incredible during the day, wait until you see it after dark. Reserve tickets to the Petra By Night show to see the Siq and the Treasury lit by more than 1,500 flickering candles.
2. Dead Sea
Floating in the Dead Sea is a quintessential thing to do in Jordan. The lowest point on Earth accessible by road, this body of water is located at 418 meters below sea level. It practically glows an intense shade of aquamarine – a particularly striking sight next to salt-encrusted rock ledges and barren red mountains in the background. You can reach the attractions in the Dead Sea region in about an hour by car from Amman.
The Dead Sea is renowned for its mineral-rich water. Wellness devotees believe the water has healing properties for the skin. Don't plan to swim laps, though – the Dead Sea is so dense and salient that all you can really do is float atop the surface.
You can access the Dead Sea from a couple of entry points, including Amman Beach. Better yet, splurge on a stay at one of the plush spa resorts on the Dead Sea's northeast coast. They typically have private wading areas complete with buckets of Dead Sea mud. One bath with this red-brown sludge, and your skin will be softer than ever.
Hot tip: Avoid getting Dead Sea water in your eyes at all costs. The intense salinity (10 times saltier than the ocean!) stings worse than you can imagine.
3. Wadi Rum
Head to the southern region of Jordan, and you'll be treated to one of the most spectacular landscapes across the globe: Wadi Rum. Also known as the Valley of the Moon, this sandstone and granite rock valley is an otherworldly experience, with towering cliffs, massive dunes, swirling archways, and caverns. It served as the set for much of the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia and was tagged a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011.
Adventure lovers, eat your heart out: The Zalabia Bedouin, a cultural group that lives in the area, have transformed the Wadi Rum into an ecotourism playground. You can ride camels or spirited Arabian horses through the area, strap on a harness and go rock climbing up the sandstone mountains, hike through canyons, and kick up sand on ATV tours.
Ask your tour guide to take you to the Khazali Canyon, where you can see petroglyphs of humans and antelopes that may date as far back as the 8th century BC.
Consider spending the night at one of the luxurious "glamping" (glamorous camping) sites in Wadi Rum. With almost zero light pollution, the park offers incredible stargazing opportunities. No wonder visiting Wadi Rum is one of the top things to do in Jordan.
Official site: http://wadirum.jo/
4. Jerash Ruins
Nothing feels more like traveling back in time than visiting the Jerash ruins. It's one of the world's best-preserved ancient Roman cities and features spectacular places to visit, from colonnaded avenues and temples to a massive sports arena that once had a seating capacity of 15,000 spectators.
Tourists kick off their sightseeing adventure of the Jerash ruins by walking through Hadrian's Arch. The roughly 11-meter-tall structure is magnificent, but even more impressive when you consider it was originally double the size.
If that wasn't enough to wow you, wait until you explore what's ahead. The Hippodrome, a sports field constructed around the 2nd century, once hosted chariot races as entertainment for thousands of onlookers. The ancient sport is brought back to life through daily re-enactments, featuring fighting gladiators and chariots racing laps.
Another highlight of the Jerash ruins is the Forum. The oval-shaped plaza is lined by still-standing columns that give the space a regal feel. Climb the steps of the nearby Temple of Zeus to get an even better view of the colonnaded site. And imagine the performances that took place on the ornate stage of the South Theater. Jerash seems to have a fascinating ruin for everyone – explore to see which site is your favorite.
Hot tip: There's almost no shade in this archeological site. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a sunhat to keep yourself protected from the harsh rays.
Think you can't have a seaside vacation in the hot, dry Middle East? Think again. Aqaba, a beach town on the southern tip of Jordan, treats tourists to holidays on the breathtaking coastline of the Red Sea.
Float, swim, snorkel, or dive – you can do it all from Aqaba. You can also get out on the turquoise water on one of the daily cruises offered by local hotels. Enhance your beach vacation in Jordan with a soak in one of the lovely hammams around the resort town.
When you're feeling peckish, dig into the local specialty of Aqaba: sayadieh, a dish of fish on flavorful rice with onion, tomato, and chili pepper.
6. Roman Ruins in Amman
You don't have to go all the way to Petra to see fantastic archeological sites in Jordan. In fact, the capital Amman (where you'll probably arrive from abroad) is home to a variety of fascinating ruins, many of which are within short walking distance from one another.
Head downtown to see one of the most celebrated ruins: the Amman Citadel. Archeologists have found artifacts around the Citadel that suggest it has been occupied since at least the Bronze Age. Here, you can see the few columns that remain of the amazing Temple of Hercules, a significant Roman structure that was never completed. Look for the stone sculpture of several fingers, which were once part of a Hercules statue that may have been more than 12 meters tall. It hints at just how majestic this attraction was during its height.
One of the top attractions in Amman for history buffs is the Roman Theater. The restored amphitheater, which seats 6,000 people, dates back to when Amman was a Roman-ruled city known as Philadelphia, nearly 2,000 years ago. The attraction is still full of life, hosting many events and welcoming locals and tourists alike.
Nearby, tourists can visit the Nymphaeum, a Roman fountain that was built around the same time as the theater, as well as the smaller 500-seat theater, the Odeon.
After getting your fill of the ruins, see the vibrant culture of modern-day Amman with a sightseeing trip along Rainbow Street. The popular promenade boasts atmospheric cafés, fantastic people-watching opportunities, and souvenir shops galore!
7. Ancient Mosaics of Madaba
While sightseeing in many destinations demands you look up, the opposite is true in the historic trading city of Madaba. The city is home to the "largest number of mosaics discovered in their original location in the world," many of which are located on the floors of churches and buildings around the city.
The relatively unassuming St. George's Church is home to one of the most noteworthy mosaics in Jordan: the Madaba Mosaic Map. The 6th-century map depicts the Holy Land during the Byzantine period, showcasing Biblical-era cartography. While some of the original two million tiles are missing, the remnants of the map still give you an excellent glimpse at what the Middle East looked like many centuries ago.
Visitors can see more mosaics at Madaba's two archeological parks. The open-air museum at Archaeological Park I contains a stunning geometric mosaic from the Church of the Virgin Mary – a site from the 6th century that was unearthed in someone's basement in 1887. This attraction also houses the oldest mosaic in Jordan, which dates back to the 1st century BC, as well as breathtaking carpet-like tile work of the four seasons and nature that was once in a Byzantine villa.
Tourists can see other impressive mosaics at Archaeological Park II, located in the ruins of a luxurious mansion from the early 6th century.
8. Wadi Mujib
Stretching from the Desert Highway around 70 kilometers to the Dead Sea, Wadi Mujib is Jordan's answer to America's Grand Canyon. The river canyon, which is four kilometers wide and one kilometer deep, offers nature lovers the chance to explore unique scenery and see a plethora of wildlife, including Egyptian vultures, Nubian ibex, striped hyena, and the Syrian wolf.
There's great hiking through the Wadi Mujib gorge, if you don't mind getting a little wet. You can also head to the Mujib Reserve Biosphere to soak in picturesque hot springs just an hour and a half away from Amman.
9. Desert Castles
Stretching from Amman to the border of Saudi Arabia, the Zarqa Governorate is home to a series of archeological sites known as the Desert Castles. These early Islamic buildings were erected by the Umayyads around the turn of the 7th century. Not quite castles in the traditional sense, the collection of structures consists of hunting lodges, forts, military citadels, bathhouses, and rest stops for caravans, among other types of buildings.
Rent a car and drive the Desert Castle Loop to visit the sites. You'll get the chance to see Quseir Amra, a squat building with interiors covered with beautiful frescoes; Quseir Hallabat, a Roman fort that features volcanic basalt rock and a well-preserved mosaic; Quseir Al-Kharanah, a castle-like structure that has dozens of rooms, but whose original function has been lost to history; and Azraq Castle, an ancient walled fort known as the place where T.E. Lawrence sought shelter in 1917-1918.
Situated just 20 kilometers northwest of Jerash, Ajloun makes a worthwhile trip for tourists who want to see some of the best natural scenery in all of Jordan. Plan to spend a day hiking around the Ajloun Forest Reserve, a 13-square-kilometer expanse of pristine, open woodlands. In the spring, the area is blanketed by wildflowers, which makes for spectacular photo opportunities. Keep your eyes peeled for the crested porcupines and striped hyenas that live in the area.
Be sure to visit the Ajloun Castle on the summit of Mount Auf. It was built in the 12th century in the footprints of an even older Byzantine monastery to protect against the Crusader attacks. Its mountaintop location offers sweeping views of the Jordan Valley.
11. Mount Nebo
Mount Nebo is the crown jewel of Biblical sites in Jordan. According to the Old Testament, this mountain is said to be the place where Moses saw the Promised Land ahead of his death. Today, it's a spiritual attraction, with some of the country's best preserved mosaics from the 6th century, a Serpentine Cross, and the famous Moses Memorial Church.
Your ticket to the church includes access to Memorial Viewpoint, which has a small museum and views of the Dead Sea and Jerusalem on a clear day. But for more privacy with similar vistas, take a 100-meter walk on the road downhill from Mount Nebo and make a left toward the hilltop. It's the perfect spot for a picnic lunch.