Jordan is a relative newcomer to tourism. Its popular image abroad encompasses not much more than camels and deserts, yet this is a country of mountains, beaches, castles and ancient churches, and a rich culture. Read our pick of the best things to do in Jordan and start planning your trip.
Snorkelling in the Red Sea is one of the best things to do in Jordan. You don’t have to be a diver to come nose-to-nose with a turtle: coral reefs and multicoloured fish await just beneath the surface of this warmest and clearest of seas.
From the Dead Sea's restorative salty shores to Red Sea reefs teeming with aquatic life, Jordan is full of treasures. Get a taste of desert life and adventure in Wadi Rum; then fill up on culture in Petra and Amman on this tailor-made trip to the Treasures of Jordan.
They are oriented almost perfectly north–south, shaped and characterized by giant granite, basalt and sandstone mountains rising up to 800m sheer from the desert floor.
Travelling further into the Middle East? Read our guide to why you need to visit Muscat, Oman.
These discoveries – eleven Byzantine churches, five baptismal pools from the Roman and Byzantine periods, caves of monks and hermits, and lodges for pilgrims rapidly convinced both Jordanian and international opinion as to the veracity of the site.
During this tailor-made trip following the Foot Steps of Jesus you will be introduced to many Biblical places across our beloved county accompanied by our knowledgeable tour guide. Learn about the fascinating history and culture of Jordan and more. Our tailor-made trip service allows you to go on the trip of your dreams without the planning or hassle. Our trips are completely customisable and are crafted by local craft experts.
Investment is pouring in, new buildings are going up, neighbourhoods are being rejuvenated and the city is humming with cafés, galleries and commerce. If you’re dreaming of medieval mosques, gloomy spice bazaars and fading romance, go elsewhere. If you want a handle on how a young, buzzy Arab capital is making its way in the world, Amman is for you.
Between the two is the River Jordan, defining Jordan’s western border as it flows into the large, salty inland lake of the Dead Sea, famed as the lowest point on Earth. Taking a dip here and relaxing on the beaches is one of the best things to do in Jordan, not least because of the world-class luxury resort hotels dotted along the shore.
The water you can see gushing into the pools between the reeds has come from Amman: it’s the minuscule amount that the government is pumping back into the wetlands as a gesture towards eco-friendliness. Overlooking a water hole near the end of the trail is a hide built of mud-brick, from where you can watch the birdlife – and, if you’re lucky, the water buffalo which roam the reed beds.
Today, it’s almost as if time has literally drawn a veil over the once-great city, which grew wealthy enough on the caravan trade to challenge the might of Rome. Two millennia of wind and rain have blurred the sharp edges of its ornate Classical facades and rubbed away at its soft sandstone to expose vivid bands of colour beneath, putting the whole scene into soft focus.
Moses was buried somewhere on or in Mount Nebo, but Muslims hold that his body was carried across the river and placed in a tomb now lying off the modern Jericho–Jerusalem highway. The lack of earthly remains on Nebo, though, doesn’t temper the drama accompanying a visit to the isolated mountain, and the ancient church on its summit.
The reserve’s terrain drops from 1500m above sea level at Dana to below sea level west of Feynan. Its geology switches from limestone to sandstone to granite, with ecosystems varying from lush, well-watered mountain slopes and open oak and juniper woodlands to scrubland and arid sandy desert. The list of flora and resident fauna here is dizzying.
Madaba’s prime attraction is a remarkable Byzantine mosaic map of the Holy Land, housed in the nineteenth-century St George’s Church. Although heavily hyped – and thus suffering from over a thousand visitors a day in the high season – the map is well worth seeing, notwithstanding the cramped space inside the church.
Major stops include the historic town of Madaba, Crusader castles at Karak and Shobak, and the spectacular Dana Nature Reserve, set in an isolated valley with good facilities for camping and hiking. But the King’s Highway also runs through fields and small towns, linking a series of springs and following the line of maximum hilltop rainfall: travelling on it can give a glimpse of the reality of rural life for many Jordanians.
If you're on the lookout for scenic sites in the Middle East, check out our guide to the most beautiful places in the Middle East.
The main attraction is exploring the remote, widespread ruins of the Decapolis city of Gadara, on the edge of modern Umm Qais, some of which are jumbled together with the striking houses of black basalt and white limestone of an abandoned Ottoman village. It’s a popular choice for Friday outings, when its parking area can be filled with family cars and youth-club buses.
These are some of Jordan’s most atmospheric ancient buildings – most notably Qasr Kharana and Qusayr Amra, which lie near each other on a fast road between Amman and the oasis town of Azraq (itself worth a stop for its nature reserve, eco-friendly lodge and links to Lawrence of Arabia).
The name, however, is well earned, as the King’s Highway delivers you to stunning viewpoints on either rim over a vast gash in the barren landscape, cutting through 1200m of altitude from the desert plateau in the east down to the Dead Sea in the west.
Experience a mix of hiking in the North of Jordan, canyon trails and relaxing activities combined with sightseeing of the highlights and meeting locals. This tailor-made active adventure in Jordan is accompanied by a knowledgeable guide and is not recommended during wintertime (November to February).
One houses the splendid Jordanian restaurant Sufra; turn left here, and the second villa on the right has been beautifully restored and reopened as the NOFA Creative Space, a venue for talks, readings, music recitals, screenings and exhibitions. It’s worth popping in to sample the atmosphere, and to linger in their gorgeous garden.
And the place has atmosphere. Sit out on the terrace, lounge on the sofas, try a spot of star-gazing on the roof, and walk in the hills – it’s bewitchingly calm and contemplative. Set down below stony crags under a scorching sun, the lodge feels remote, but crucially not cut off from its surroundings. This is no luxury tourist hidey-hole planted down amid rural poverty.
In better-quality Arabic restaurants, the usual way to eat is to order a variety of small starters (meze), followed by either a selection of main courses to be shared by everyone, or a single, large dish for sharing. Good Arabic restaurants might have thirty different choices of meze, from simple bowls of hummus or labneh up to more elaborate mini-mains of fried chicken liver (kibdet djaj) or wings (jawaneh).
Jerash is a huge site which easily merits a full day. If you have only a couple of hours, you could rapidly absorb the Oval Plaza – with its temple and theatre – the Cardo, the Sacred Way leading up to the Temple of Artemis and the North Theatre. Make sure you time your visit to coincide with one of the shows of Roman-style chariot racing staged in the hippodrome: they are quite a spectacle.
Use the town – or, better, the rural tourism projects around the Ajloun Forest Reserve nearby – as a base to get way off the beaten track for a day or three, walking silent hillside tracks and exploring the magnificent Crusader-period castle perched among the olive groves.
Jordanians take hospitality very much to heart and are honestly interested in talking to you and making you feel comfortable. However, offers tend to flow so thick and fast that it would be difficult to agree to everyone, yet people are often so eager it can also be difficult – and potentially rude – to refuse outright.
Immerse yourself in Jordanian culture and experience real Bedouin hospitality on this tailor-made trip to Jordan for Culture Enthusiasts. Visit the highlights in Jordan, meet locals and learn from them and your knowledgeable guide about Jordanian customs and traditions.
The waters have been channelled to form hot waterfalls, and there are hot spa pools with natural saunas, plus spa facilities at the adjacent hotel. Fridays, especially in spring and autumn, see the valley packed with day-trippers from Amman and Madaba. If you’re seeking serenity, come another day, when it’s not too hard to find a quiet, steamy niche in the rock all to yourself.
Jordan offers visitors many opportunities for a unique spiritual experience, making it a great destination for a solo trip. If this is what you're looking for, read our guide to the best places to travel alone.
Ready for a trip to Jordan? Check out the snapshot The Rough Guide to Jordan. If you travel further in Jordan, read more about the best time to go and the best places to visit in Jordan. For inspiration use the itineraries from our local travel experts. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.
If you prefer to plan and book your trip to England without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.
We may earn commission from some of the external websites linked in this article, but this does not influence our editorial standards - we only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.
Top image © Ehab Othman/Shutterstock