Amman is losing its under-the-radar status—to the benefit of travellers the world over. Rich with history and ancient ruins on par with Greece, yet still youthful in its energy, Jordan’s capital is leading the country into the 21st century by adding contemporary developments and cosmopolitan flair.
In 2017, the Jordan Tourism Board launched a social media campaign, #amman24, where locals and visitors can share things to do and see over 24 hours in the city of four million residents. Meanwhile, traditional Middle Eastern culture and flavors mingle with the modern through food, craft beer and growing wave of fashion and design innovators.
Once settled into your Amman stay, get to work crafting your own #amman24 adventure with these lesser-known local gems, which won’t stay hidden for very long.
Where there are hipsters there’s good coffee, and that’s certainly the case with Rumi Cafe. Located in the increasingly hip Jabal al-Weibdeh district, it literally buzzes (and not just from the caffeine) with millennial and progressive Jordanians who hobnob over Turkish coffee, cappuccino, cold brew coffee and tasty pastries.
Furniture designer Zeena AlAhmad founded Chamber Gyld, billed as a “bespoke design house.” Embracing a buy-local ethos, they showcase a wide range of Jordanian and regional artisans’ fresh and trendy home items, fashion for adults and children, beauty and skincare goods, accessories and more. Most are produced exclusively for Chamber Gyld, and some—like Sitti olive oil soap, handmade by women in Jordan’s Jerash Refugee Camp—empower and benefit people and communities in need.
Ali & Rama’s Gallery
Passionate and joyful photographers Ali and Rama—check out their Humans Of Amman series on Twitter—opened this funky, fun shop in late 2016. Besides their mounted photos of Amman places and faces, Ali & Rama’s Gallery stocks goods from female artists, including notebooks fashioned from recycled materials, painted jewel boxes, dreamcatchers and whimsically illustrated bookmarks (be sure to check out the ones by Palestinian artist Sabreen). It’s souvenir heaven. Also visit Jacaranda Images for a paper-centric selection of artwork and goods.
Falafel at Al Quds
Naturally, you always have to try some delicious falafel from a hole-in-the-wall no matter where you go in the region. In Amman, Rainbow Street’s Al Quds is the hands-down local favourite. Founded in the 1960s and frequented by Jordan’s king and queen, Al Qufs’ delectable sandwich is available in two sizes and distinguished by its sesame seed bread, freshly fried falafel and signature sauce. It’s worth the ever-present queue.
Amman’s massive Roman amphitheatre gets all the mainstream guidebook glory, yet its smaller nearby sibling deserves attendance and selfies as well. Also dating back to the 2nd Century, the 500-seat Odeon continues to entertain with performances and concerts by fantastic Jordanian and Arabic rock and alternative bands, including El Morabba3, Zaed Naes and Autostrad, and is the main venue for the annual Al Balad Music Festival.
Foresight32 art gallery
Founded in 1991, Foresight32 is Jordan’s first private gallery and an ideal kickoff for a contemporary art and culture crawl. Take in exhibitions by pioneering and young Jordanian artists including Adnan Yehia and Juman Alnimri, plus works from across the Middle East. Photography fans should note that Foresight32 is also a host venue for the annual Image Festival Amman, spotlighting both world renown shutterbugs and innovative newcomers.
Off The Record
A proper American-style speakeasy, Off The Record, aka OTR, opened in 2016. Jazz, blues and funk tunes rule this slick joint. Drinks include excellent 1920s cocktails; beer from Jordan’s first microbrewery, Carakale; and Jordanian wine by Haddad Estates JR Wines. And there are delights for your stomach as well, in the form of international fare like Korean bulgogi tacos and filet mignon sliders. Keep in mind that there is an upscale dress code, so if you’re seeking a more casual and beer-centric pub (including Carakale brews), drink up at Kegs House Of Ale.
Satisfying your sweet tooth is a futuristic and family-friendly affair at molecular ice cream parlour Four Winters. Liquid nitrogen is used to blend each made-to-order cup, and seasonal flavors include spins on quintessential Middle Eastern desserts knafeh—sweet cream blended with shredded, crisp kataifi dough and topped with pistachios—and baklava.
Of course, Amman’s better-known destinations are famous for good reason. But between visits to The Citadel and the Gold Souk, these under-the-radar destinations will give your Jordanian visit the kind of local flavor most travellers miss. And the great eats, drinks and souvenirs they offer don’t hurt, either.