The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is full of bucket list things to see. Upon arrival, I didn’t know much about Jordan. I purposely didn’t do a ton of research because I wanted to be enveloped by the culture. With Jordan being so different from my own culture I didn’t want outside opinions to shape what my trip was going to be list. I was immediately taken with Jordan and it’s people. On multiple occasions, I was greeted with, “Welcome to Jordan, this is your home now.” I was offered countless cups of tea, just to be friendly and welcoming. Add these things to see to your bucket list and explore Jordan and all it has to offer.
The ancient city of Jerash, located 50 kilometers north of Jordan’s capital city of Amman, is considered one of the most well preserved Roman sites outside of Italy and one of the largest collections of standing Roman columns in the world.
Dating back over 6500 years, Jerash makes an amazing day trip from Amman. I recommend hiring a guide in Amman to assist you in navigating this ancient maze and avoiding the buses of tourists. Guides can also be hired on site and will help you in understanding the storied history of the site.
At its peak, Jerash was filled with over 20,000 people and continued to grow and thrive as a major stopping point along trade routes until around 800AD. Between the dry climate and being covered with desert sands, it has been excellently preserved. It was only rediscovered in 1806 by German explorer Ulrich Jasper Seetzen while searching for artifacts during a research project. Excavation is been happening on and off at the site ever since uncovering the site that we see there today.
Eat all the Falafel and Hummus
I could eat falafel and hummus everyday for the rest of my life and die a happy woman. I consumed hummus every day while I was in Jordan and it was amazing. I recommend asking the locals where they eat in each town you visit to find food worthy of your Jordan bucket list.
If you’re in Amman you need to go to Hashem Falafel. It’s located downtown not too far from the Roman Amphitheater. If you get lost, just ask, everyone knows where it is. They have the best hummus I’ve ever had in my life.
Stay at a Bedouin Camp in Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum, located in the south of Jordan, is a protected desert reserve and known to some as the Valley of the Moon. If this isn’t on your bucket list, add it right now! The red sands of Wadi Rum have seen the adventures of the real-life Lawrence of Arabia, the lives and history of the Bedouin people, and even Hollywood as it served as the backdrop for the Matt Damon movie, The Martian.
My experience at Wadi Rum began with a 4×4 adventure through the desert. We cruised around the rock formations, stopped to see some ancient petroglyphs – pictures carved into rock – and had a piping hot cup of tea where Lawrence of Arabia was said to hide after his World War I raids.
If you have the time in your busy traveling schedule try to spend a night at one of the Bedouin camps in the desert. I stayed at the Rahayeb Desert Camp, it was magical! We watched the sunset from a nearby cliff side, and I can honestly say I’ve never seen the sun so red. In addition, I was there on St. Patrick’s Day, so there may or may have been an expedition on the back of a camel across the desert to get beer to celebrate properly, Shisha, and a clear starry night sky. There was a group of local women from nearby Aqaba there as well. They taught me some pretty sweet Arabic dance moves! I never expected Wadi Rum to be as spectacular as it was. I’m so glad I added it to my Jordan Bucket List.
Float in the Dead Sea
Yes, you really do float in the Dead Sea. The water is saltier than any other body of water on Earth. The concentration of salt in the Dead Sea is around 34%. You float in the Dead Sea because the human body is less dense than the density of the water surrounding you, making you float. This doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world!
It is the lowest geographical point on the planet and it is slowly disappearing. Add the Dead Sea to your bucket list and get there soon! The water is receding at an average of 3 feet per year. The natural flow of water into the Dead Sea has been diverted for use in farming and for drinking water in Lebanon and Syria reducing the amount of water reaching the lowest spot on Earth.
There are public beaches and resorts lining the Dead Sea to visit. Plus you get a glimpse of Israel across the water!
Take in the view at Gadara in Umm Qais
Umm Qais is off the beaten path and so worth the visit for the ruins and the bucket list views. Formerly known as the Decapolis city of Gadara, these ruins reflect its history of Roman rule and that of a village from the Ottoman Empire. Gadara is famed for being mentioned in the New Testament in the Bible where Jesus set out demons into pigs.
From the hillside you can overlook Israel and Syria with views of the Sea of Galilee. During my visit our guide explained that a few weeks earlier they could see smoke off in the distance coming from Damascus in Syria where there was severe fighting going on.
The ruins themselves are very impressive with baths, roads, a partially reconstructed gateway, and hippodrome will take your breath away. For me, I feel in love with the 3,000 seat amphitheater constructed complete of basalt.
Jordan’s capital city of Amman is immense. I spent 3 days there, which I realize isn’t a lot, but I feel like I saw so little of this massive city. However, what I did see made me want to go back!
What makes Amman a bucket list item in Jordan is the history mixed with the modern. In the middle of the city sits the Roman Amphitheater, a 6,000 seat structure built right into the hillside with the most amazing acoustics. Just down the road you’ll find a bursting street art scene. At the top of the highest hill in the city you’ll find the Citadel, a collection of historic structures dating back to the Bronze Age.
For more reasons to visit Amman check out my blog post on the 14 Best Things to do in Amman.
Get Medival at Karak Castle
Karak Castle was a Crusader Castle, but also home to the Nabateans, Romans, and Byzantinians. The construction of the castle as we see it today began in 1142 and took approximately 20 years to complete.
The castle is under consistent renovation and excavation. I choose this as a bucket list thing to see in Jordan because of how well preserved it is. It is consisted to be one of the best examples of Crusader-era architecture in the region. As the castle is set atop a hill, on clear days you can see the Dead Sea off in the distance.
While not all of Karak is open to the public there are 7 levels of the castle to explore. In some parts of the site it is very dark, so for your safety bring a flashlight and watch your head as some of the ceilings are low. Stepping inside of Karak is like stepping back in time. The archways and art found around the castle were like hidden gems waiting to be discovered. It does not disappoint!
Read More: Jordan Country Guide
Walk up Mount Nebo
From 3,300 feet atop Mount Nebo, for thousands of years, Pilgrims have looked over at the Panorama that, according to ancient tradition, Moses saw when he reached the summit; The Promised Land.
Whether you are a believer in the Bible or not it is interesting to think that ancient people have been coming to this spot for thousands of years.
Not only is the view a bucket list thing to see in Jordan, but at the summit there is the Memorial Church to Moses. Inside the church houses beautiful mosaic floor of a Byzantine basilica. The floor and other mosaics on the site was uncovered by the Franciscan Archaeological Institute and date back to around the year 500.
See the Madaba Mosaics
To keep going with the topic of beautifully preserved mosaics, we head to see the Madaba Mosaics. Only 20 minutes south of Amman lies the city of Madaba. What makes this little East Bank town bucket list worthy is under many of the homes within the city lies a beautiful Byzantine mosaic.
Several of the mosaics discovered in the city are on display in the city’s Church of the Virgin and the Apostles and in the Archaeological Museum. However, the most famous of them all is the Map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land which is located in the Greek Orthidox Church of St. George. It is the most extensive map of the Holy Land depicting hills, valleys, and towns all the way to the Nile Delta. While the original map was around 94 square meters only a 1/4 of it have been preserved.
Yes, hike Petra, because it isn’t just the Treasury at the site. The current site, as it is still be excavated, is measured at 60 square kilometers. There is a ton of walking involved with visiting and I wish I had put my hiking boots for my visit.
There are 2 trails at Petra that I would recommend every visitor do during their trip: The High Place of Sacrifice Trail and the Ad-Deir (Monastery) Trail.
The High Place of Sacrifice Trail is only 1.7 miles long, but takes a good 4 to 5 hours to hike as it is all uphill. If you have bad knees I would not hike this trail as it is difficult and a good portion of it is stairs.
The Ad-Deir (Monastery) Trail is a little less strenuous at 3/4 of a mile, but has over 800 steps to get to the top and takes 2 1/2 to 3 hours. While it is still classified as difficult I found this to be less steep and slightly more in the shade (I hiked it mid/late morning)
To see my full list of tips on visiting Petra check out my post Essential Tips for Visiting Petra Jordan.