I couldn’t stop staring at the skyline of Amman, the capital city of Jordan, from my hotel room. It seemed ancient and utterly modern at the same time, an organized chaos with thousands of white limestone buildings, busy traffic circles, and small pockets of green trees.
Amman thrived at the crossroads of ancient civilizations for thousands of years and is now educating a worldly Jordanian citizen, some with Palestinian roots from their families that fled to Jordan as refugees after the 1948 and 1967 wars. Buildings touting logos like Microsoft, Deloitte, Apple, and Starbucks blend with run-down shacks in the souks and wafting smells of spices and falafel. A perfect day in Amman showcases the juxtaposition of old and new.
Breakfast at the Four Seasons Hotel Amman
The Four Seasons Hotel Amman is a stylish oasis, a central meeting point for business and leisure travelers alike. The international East-meets-West breakfast buffet serves pancakes, eggs, fruit, bagels, and American coffee alongside local delicacies like foul (simmered beans and spices), labaneh (soft cheese made with yogurt), black olives, falafel, halloumi cheese, Arabic bread, and Turkish coffee.
Royal Automobile Museum
I easily spent two hours at the Royal Automobile Museum, built by Jordan’s current King Abdullah II in honor of his father, the beloved King Hussein, who died in 1999 after a 47-year reign. King Hussein was obsessed with cars and amassed quite a collection in his lifetime. Car fanatics could spend much more time than I did studying the gleaming, limited-edition Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, and Rolls-Royce vehicles, as well as many motorcycles. The Range Rover used by King Hussein, Queen Elizabeth, and Prince Philip on their trip to Petra is also on display.
On the highest hill in Amman sits the Citadel, an ancient fortress and site of Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad ruins. The small National Archaeological Museum on-site displays ancient relics of daily life spanning centuries.
Lunch at Wild Jordan
“There’s a real trend for organic food in Jordan, along with flax seeds,” said the waiter at Wild Jordan. Flax seeds? Yes, there they were, adding crunch to my delicious lunch salad. Wild Jordan is partnered with the Royal Society for Conservation of Nature to help raise money for the cause. The cafe sources local, organic foods for salads and sandwiches. Floor-to-ceiling glass walls show off a stunning view of downtown Amman.
Explore Rainbow Street
Near Wild Jordan is the center of Amman’s social scene, Rainbow Street. Quiet during the day, there are souvenir shops, coffee shops, and bookstores to explore. At night, groups of friends spill out of bars and restaurants, eating at sidewalk tables, creating a lively evening buzz.
Jordan River Foundation
The Jordan River Foundation, established by Queen Rania in 1995 to empower women and children, aims to support local products from communities all over the country. I found that this was the best place to shop for authentic, high-quality items. The shop’s gorgeous pillows, jewelry, and blankets can add distinct global flair to any home.
The Gold Souk
Gold prices remain at all-time highs, and although at the gold souk you can negotiate, you won’t score bargain prices. I was told that many shoppers now purchase “Russian,” or imitation gold instead of real gold. But the real thing still shines brightly in the downtown gold souk.
Darat Al Funun Art Gallery: The Khalid Shoman Foundation
A highlight for me was discovering this “haven for knowledge and progress” for artists in central Amman. The Darat Al Funun Gallery is housed in three buildings built in the 1920s, established by the family of the late wealthy banker, Khalid Shoman. Local artists can use the library and tools and anyone can tour the rotating exhibitions, usually four per year. When I was there, the exhibit on display was a partnership between Darat Al Funun and London’s Tate Modern.
Dinner at Fakhr El-Din
One of the most popular restaurants in Amman for fun and fresh local Jordanian and Lebanese flavor, Fakhr El-Din offers over 120 items including traditional mezze, meat, fish and desserts. Dinner is especially nice al fresco on the terrace when the night air is cool.
Annie Fitzsimmons is a New York-based travel and hotel writer. She is a frequent contributor to publications that share her love of exploration and discovery. Follow her adventures on Twitter at @anniefitz and on her personal blog, Hotel Belle.