For visiting the Middle East for the first time, Jordan is a perfect choice. With its mixture of Arab tradition and Western influences, especially the capital Amman offers a broad spectrum of cultural activities, sightseeing opportunities and exciting events of any kind. You probably have heard of the unique and historical city of Petra, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and maybe even of the Wadi Rum Desert, both located in the south of Jordan, but today I am going to tell you about the benefits of Amman only, Jordans proud capital in the north of the country.
Amman is located in the northwest of Jordan and has around four million inhabitants, which makes it the most populated city in the country. Considering that Jordan itself only has around ten million inhabitants, Amman’s size is even more impressive, as it is home to almost half of the country’s population. While the western side of Amman is mostly modern, full of shopping malls, local NGO’s and different people from all around the world, eastern Amman is more traditional, simple and – unfortunately – also poorer.
The city is covered by local transportation opportunities, such as buses and service taxis (shared taxis with fixed routes). Due to the fact that most Jordanians use their car for any place they go and that there is no metro line in the city, traffic is often an issue.
Recently, Amman has become a very popular destination for foreigners, especially Americans and Europeans, to study abroad, volunteer, intern or just to take some courses in spoken Arabic. The city is the cultural center of Jordan.
Why Amman is the perfect introduction to the Middle East
When I first arrived in Jordan in October 2016, many things were new to me as a European. However, I expected to experience a giant cultural shock, which I never did – at least not in Amman. The city welcomes you with its arms wide open and for me, in the beginning, it was even hard to believe I am in such a different place of the world now. Let me explain why Amman is so perfect for foreign visitors:
1. Jordan is safe
While many countries in the region and almost all of Jordan’s neighbor countries are in more or less difficult and unstable situations, Jordan is a calm country. Safety is always secured and people are always nice to foreigners. The crime rate in Jordan is comparably low. As a woman living in Amman on my own, I have never experienced anything noteworthy uncomfortable. The general unofficial dress code should be respected, which means people (men and women) should dress modestly, shoulders and legs should be covered. This way you avoid people staring at you and you and can enjoy your visit in a very comfortable way. Walking on the streets late in the evening in Amman has never been a problem for me as a female. There also is, of course, a difference between Amman, other cities, and the countryside: In many areas in Amman, people dress and behave just as they would do for example in Europe, and no one even notices, while in smaller towns, poorer areas and more traditional places, dressing accordingly is highly appreciated.
2. People are friendly and welcoming
This might be something Arabs are generally known for, but the hospitality in Jordan is definitely amazing and heart-warming. People will not get tired of offering you sweet black tea or inviting you and your family for some typical Jordanian sweets. Once, a friend showed up in front of my door with a giant, fully filled dish in his hands saying: ‘My mother cooked traditional food for you – Vegetarian of course. Here you go!‘. Wherever I go, people offer to help, try to speak English and are curious and seriously interested in conversations. From the bakery in my neighborhood, I get fresh, warm bread for free every once in a while and trying to reject it never works. During Ramadan, the month of fasting in Islamic tradition, I get invited for Iftar (the fast-breaking meal after sunset) by friends or friend’s families many, many times and they will not let you stop eating until all the food is gone – because Jordanians like to say: ‘If you think you are full, there is always room for exactly 40 more bites!’
3. Amman is modern and traditional
Modern: Jabal al-Weibdeh & Abdali
One of the best things about Amman is its diversity! On the one hand, you can find modern coffee shops and ‘Hipster‘ areas, where you will meet people of all nationalities, interests, and backgrounds, that just hang out, have language exchanges, read their books and enjoy their time. On the other hand, there also is a different kind of modern area: the fancy ones, with high budget coffee shops, expensive stores and high quality surroundings. One of these areas is the Boulevard in Abdali. Also called ‘The new Downtown’, this street is very similar to the shopping miles in Western cities and the mall next to it provides all kind of shops.
You will even find parties of all kinds and music genres in Amman, and there is no chance you will have to spend your Thursday or Friday night alone and bored in your hotel room or apartment. Especially in the months of spring and summer, also many concerts of Arab indie bands and wonderful markets take place in Amman. Cultural events like debates, free Dabkeh classes (traditional Palestinian dance) and public food gatherings are being organized all year, and again you can meet people of all backgrounds. The most popular area that is popular for its modernity, full of foreigners, alternative cafés, and stores is the Jabal al-Weibdeh, one of many hills in the city, located right next to traditional downtown.
Within minutes, you can reach from one of the most modern and young parts of the city to the most traditional one. In Wasat al-Balad, which means downtown in Jordanian Arabic, you will pass by tiny stores that sell colorful spices, fresh juices, warm and sweet black tea and Turkish coffee, and odoriferous nuts. At the souq, the daily market in downtown, fruits, vegetables and everything you need for your daily life is being sold. There is probably nothing you cannot find in Amman’s downtown – from food over clothes to toys – I am sure, anything anyone could ever dream off is being sold there.
These are only a few examples of how diverse Amman really is and how many different kinds of places and events it offers! Come and explore yourself!