Best Things to do in Jordan

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 14.02.2023

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.

The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Jordan, your essential guide for visiting Jordan.

1. Red Sea diving & snorkelling

The huge eastern deserts of Jordan are mostly stony plains of limestone or basalt, but much of the southern desert is sand, presaging the dunes and vast emptinesses of the Arabian interior. In the far south, squeezed onto Jordan’s only stretch of coastline, Aqaba forms a pleasant urban counterpoint to the breathtaking marine flora and fauna which thrive in the warm Red Sea waters just offshore.

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.


Snorkelling in the Red sea is one of the best things to do in Jordan ©

2. Wadi Rum

Exploring one of the most spectacular natural environments in the Middle East, the desert scenery of Wadi Rum (rhymes with “dumb”, not “doom”) is one of the best things to do in Jordan. The wadi itself is one of a sequence of parallel faults forming valleys in the sandy desert south of the Shara mountains.

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.


Wadi Rum desert, Jordan © EyesTravelling/Shutterstock

3. The Baptism Site

The Baptism Site is a pilgrimage spot alongside the River Jordan at the place where Jesus was baptized, commemorated by dozens of ancient churches and hermitages. Archaeologists have uncovered a wealth of sites – 21 at the last count – along Wadi Kharrar, a small side valley of reeds and flowing water that runs for 2km from its source down to the River Jordan.

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.


Greek Orthodox St. John baptist church in Jordan © vvoe/Shutterstock

4. Ancient Amman

Consistently overlooked and underrated by travellers to the Middle East, the Jordanian capital Amman stands in marked contrast to its raucous neighbours, with none of the grand history of Damascus or Jerusalem’s tension and just a tiny fraction of Cairo’s monuments. It’s an approachable city with unexpected charm, bathed in a new spirit of dynamism.

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.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Amman


Roman theatre in Amman, Jordan © Leonid Andronov/Shutterstock

5. Taking a dip in the Dead Sea is one of the best things to do in Jordan for relaxation

A few kilometres west of Amman’s city limits, the rugged highlands of central and northern Jordan drop away dramatically into the Dead Sea Rift. This giant valley marks a geological dividing line as well as a political one, with the Arabian plate to the east shifting a few centimetres a year northwards, and the African plate to the west moving slowly southwards.

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.


Lying on the water surface of the Dead Sea is one of the unique things to do in Jordan © Shutterstock

6. Azraq Wetlands

Boardwalks lead through reed beds amid the Azraq oasis, in the deserts east of Amman – perfect for nature walks and bird-watching excursions. Before the oasis dried up, this whole area of marshes and lakes, in the midst of Azraq’s qa, or depression, was the scene of vibrant life.

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.


Azraq Wetland reserve, Jordan © Tala Dabain/Shutterstock

7. Petra

A magnificent ancient city hidden away in the craggy mountains of the south – one of the world’s must-see attractions and one of the best things to do in Jordan. Petra astounds. Tucked away in a remote valley basin in the heart of southern Jordan’s Shara mountains and shielded from the outside world behind an impenetrable barrier of rock, this ancient city remains wreathed in mystery.

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.


Petra, Jordan © Shutterstock

8. Mount Nebo

Following in the footsteps of Moses to this summit above the Dead Sea to gaze out over the Promised Land is one of the essential things to do in Jordan. Mount Nebo comprise one of the holiest sites in Jordan, with a unique resonance for Jews, Christians and Muslims.

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.

Mount Nebo, Jordan © VLADJ55/Shutterstock

Mount Nebo, Jordan © VLADJ55/Shutterstock

9. Dana Biosphere Reserve

Jordan’s flagship nature reserve, covering a sweep of territory from highland cliffs to the sandy desert floor. Whether you come for the hiking, the natural environment or the silence, you won’t want to leave. Dana village overlooks the Dana Biosphere Reserve, an immense tract of wilderness centred on the V-shaped Wadi Dana. It’s a spectacular place to go walking.

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.


Wadi Dana, Jordan © Case60/Shutterstock

10. Hiking

There are plenty of opportunities to get off the beaten track in Jordan’s back-country for a day or a week, whether alone or with an adventure tour company:

  • Jordan Beauty. Specialists in hiking and trekking, specifically in the Petra area, with excellent local knowledge. Also able to construct innovative, keenly priced tours around the country.
  • Murad Arslan. One of Jordan’s top licensed adventure guides, Murad has years of experience leading groups and individuals through Jordan’s backcountry.
  • Mahmoud Twaissi. Born and bred in Petra, Mahmoud is in the top rank of Jordan’s national tour guides, highly experienced and with a particular focus on hiking and nature tourism.
Wadi Zered (Wadi Hassa or Hasa) in western Jordan. A sand stone canyon with fresh running water. Flowing into the Dead Sea

Wadi Zered, Wadi Hassa or Hasa in western Jordan

11. Madaba Map

The easy-going market town of Madaba, 30km southwest of Amman, is best known for the fine Byzantine mosaics preserved in its churches and museums. An impressive sixth-century mosaic map of the Holy Land takes top billing in package tours, but the town’s narrow streets, dotted with fine old Ottoman stone houses, lead to plenty more examples, notably the splendidly intricate mosaic at the Church of the Apostles.

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.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Madaba


Mosaic, Madaba, Jordan© Lukiyanova Natalia frenta/Shutterstock

12. The King’s Highway

The King’s Highway – the grandiose translation of an old Hebrew term which probably only meant “main road” – is a long, meandering squiggle of a road running through some of Jordan’s loveliest countryside. Today it is a simple byway, often rutted and narrow, which follows the contours of the rolling hills above the Dead Sea rift.

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.


King Highway, Jordan© geogif/Shutterstock

13. Umm Qais

If you are looking for things to do in Jordan off the beaten track, head 30km northwest of Irbid and discover the windswept village of Umm Qais, tucked into the angle of borders formed by Jordan, Israel and the Golan. It is well worth the effort of a long journey, whether you visit on a day trip from Irbid or stay overnight to relish the still twilight and fresh, chilly mornings.

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.

Ruins of early christian basilica at Umm Qais, ancient Gadara, Jordan © Shutterstock

Ruins of early christian basilica at Umm Qais, ancient Gadara, Jordan © Shutterstock

14. The “Desert Castles”

Venture east of Amman to explore a string of early-Islamic forts, palaces, hunting lodges and caravanserais, dotted across the stony desert plains. For most visitors, the main reason to head east is to explore Jordan’s “Desert Castles”. This is a group of early-Islamic buildings dotted around the desert – the best of which are now easily accessible by ordinary vehicles driving on proper roads.

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).


Qasr al Kharana, desert castle, Jordan © Claudio Soldi/Shutterstock

15. Wadi Mujib

South of Madaba, the King’s Highway meanders up and down across several valleys draining rainwater off the hills, including the dramatic canyon of Wadi Mujib. One of Jordan’s most spectacular natural features, lying midway between Madaba and Karak, the immense valley has been dubbed, with a canny eye on the tourist dollar, “Jordan’s Grand Canyon”.

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).


Wadi al Mujib canyon, Jordan © Achiedegids/Shutterstock

16. Modern Amman

Take time out from ruin-hunting to explore the capital’s buzzing cafés, galleries and restaurants – a side of the city few visitors experience. There’s a cluster of elegant little 1920s stone villas around the junction of Rainbow Street and Othman bin Affan Street.

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.


Amman, Jordan © Shutterstock

17. Feynan Eco Lodge

Hole up at this beautifully designed eco-friendly desert hotel, miles from the nearest road, for rugged walking, fascinating cultural encounters and epic star-gazing. The Feynan lodge’s green credentials are impeccable. It is not connected to the grid, and generates all its own electricity through solar panels – but only the reception office, bathrooms and kitchen have power; the rest of the building is lit by candles.

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.


Feynan eco lodge, Jordan © outcast85/Shutterstock

18. Jordanian cuisine

Sample some of the Middle East’s finest restaurants in Amman – or try Jordan’s national dish, mansaf, at a bedouin gathering in the desert. The cheapest budget diners will generally only have one or two main dishes on view – fuul, stew with rice, roast chicken and the like – but you can almost always get hummus and salad to fill out the meal.

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).


Mansaf - the national dish in Jordan © bonchan/Shutterstock

19. Jerash

One of the best-preserved Roman cities in the eastern Mediterranean, set in the bowl of a well-watered valley about 50km north of Amman, Jerash is the principal focus of a trip into northern Jordan. With its monumental and sophisticated public buildings tempered by charmingly human touches, the ancient city is likely to inspire even if you are on the jaded final leg of a ruin hopping tour of the region.

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.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Jerash


Jerash, Jordan © Shutterstock

20. Ajloun

Set amidst the northern hills is a magnificent Crusader-period castle, within easy reach of a tranquil nature reserve. In the Ajloun region around the highland market town of the same name, to give plenty of walking and picnicking possibilities in what are some of the most southerly natural pine forests in the world.

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.


Ajloun castle, Jordan © Cortyn/Shutterstock

21. Hospitality

The hospitality of Jordanians is legendary: whether you’re passing through a city or crossing the desert, you’re bound to be invited in for tea. It’s almost inevitable that during your time in Jordan, you’ll be invited to drink tea with someone, either in their shop or their home. It’s quite likely too that at some point you’ll be invited for a full meal at someone’s house.

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.


Drinking tea in desert with the locals - one of the best things to do in Jordan to learn about local traditions © tenkl/Shutterstock

22. Ma'in hot springs

About 30km southwest of Madaba, at the end of one of Jordan’s steepest, squiggliest roads, lies Ma'in hot springs. Continuously dousing the precipitous desert cliffs of the Wadi Zarqa Ma’in with steaming water varying between a cosy 40°C and a scalding 60°C, the springs (and the whole valley, which lies more than 250m below sea level) have long been popular with weekend day-trippers.

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.

Hammamat Ma'in hot springs, Jordan © Shutterstock

Hammamat Ma'in hot springs, Jordan © Shutterstock

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

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 14.02.2023

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