Amman's Best Kept Secrets
The best way to discover your favorite corners of the world is by accident. I don’t mean to sound all #wanderlust-y, but wandering takes you places Google Maps and even local word-of-mouth suggestions never could. While I’m about to provide you with a list of spaces I have come to cherish in Jordan’s city of hills, I want to preface it by first urging you to get to know her for yourself. She’s overlooked, underrated, and above all, she’s worth knowing. That being said, here goes a jumping-off point for recommendations—all in or near the Webdieh neighborhood—that I have a good feeling future Amman travel-goers will enjoy for their own reasons. Disclaimer: while reading CIEE articles authored by someone you’ve never met is the definition of a good time for most, I realize it’s not for everyone. That’s why I’ve only included places I sincerely consider the best of the best so I’m not wasting your time.
Woop okay, let’s jump in, shall we? Kicking this off with my personal favorite—restaurants.
Shams El Balad
Top of the list is easily this brunch spot I wish I had discovered earlier in the semester. “With a focus on local sourcing, seasonality, and sustainability”, Shams El Balad is guaranteed to offer the freshest, healthiest, and tastiest Mediterranean dishes year-round. Two words of advice: bring fellow foodie friends who are willing to go crazy with you on appetizers. Their menu changes frequently, so if they still happen to be available, I suggest the Mouhamarra and Spicy Cheese, but trust me when I tell you that you can’t go wrong with anything. Second, don’t leave until you’ve visited their attached shop that sells unique home goods, gifts, bath soaps, art, greeting cards, spices, and everything in between. While their products can be on the pricier end, you can avoid a bit of your spending guilt knowing your purchases support local farmers and artisans. Below are photos that give you an idea of the shop (I couldn’t manage photos of the restaurant at peak hour, but I assure you it’s just as aesthetically pleasing).
نوار كعك و معجنات
Ka’ak and Maneesh are Jordanian cuisine staples, but none for me have come close to the kind served at this street side bakery. It’s easy to miss, so tell your driver to drop you off at Rumi Café and head across the street toward Wingers, and it should be no more than two doors down on your right. All of their breads are baked from scratch right there in their in-house brick oven. Just as good as the food here are the prices—turkey and cheese ka’ak stuffed with veggies is just 1.85 JOD. Out of all the things I’ll miss most when I return to the States, the ka’ak here makes top 5. It’s that good.
While everyone spent their first Saturday in Jordan travelling outside of Amman, a friend and I opted to stroll seasonal downtown markets and top the day off having dinner at this gem in Webdieh. That day remains one of my fondest memories made in Amman. Little did we know we were in for a night of cultural dance and song performances on the restaurant’s warmly-lit courtyard while enjoying a three-course meal featuring nearly extinct cuisine originating from areas all over Jordan. The minds behind this innovative concept started out as a non-profit organization rooted in a passion for connecting locals to their cultural heritage. They spent five years travelling and researching regional dishes of all kinds before finally establishing their business in 2018. Truly, you can’t find cuisine like this anywhere else in Jordan, so it’s worth every penny. Be prepared to make reservations, dress up, and spend a good 23 JOD per person.
Feeling homesick or just looking for good food that’s a little more familiar? Mecca Street will likely meet any of your cravings with restaurants featuring Italian, pizza, donuts, sandwiches, pastries, coffee, and even the French fries of your wildest dreams (see: French Fries Love). This is another area I wish I had known about earlier and makes for a great night out with friends.
This hidden gem has hands down the dreamiest view of Amman, especially at sunset. One side of the shop is made up entirely of open windows overlooking the city that perfectly usher in the warmth of golden hour against the space’s wooden features. In addition to 10/10 aesthetics, they’re hardly ever busy, their wifi is both fast and limitless, and their mint lemonade is stupid good.
Manara Arts & Culture
Family-owned social enterprise, Manara Arts and Culture, is way more than a coffee house. Converging business with education and sustainability, Manara is a brilliant example to the local community of achievement in outside-the-box business thinking. Its three-story facility houses a coffee shop and kitchen, a library with public workshops, and a creative space that provides less privileged children with access to education through art. Much of Manara’s interior design features recycled and refurbished fixtures, including decades-old wooden doors turned rustic tables and floor tile typical of Jordanian home architecture thoughtfully integrated throughout Manara’s own floor plan. Perhaps its best feature, however, is the first-floor balcony that, like Bait Baladna, serves up killer city sunset views.
I’ve probably visited Rumi close to thirty times to study or enjoy time with friends which, for a coffee shop snob like myself, really says something. Its quaint, charming, and minimalist decor makes for the perfect European escape. For full European effect, plug in some earphones and hit shuffle on Spotify’s “French Café Lounge” playlist. I swear Rumi is where worlds collide, or better put, where worlds connect. There’s never a time when Rumi isn’t bustling with a balanced mix of expats and locals. Above all, Rumi stands out among other Webdieh coffee shops for its wide-ranging tea selection hailing from different countries in the region (pictured below is their menu as of November 2019).
Things to See & Places to Be:
Having already mentioned two spaces specifically for their sunset views, you probably guessed I’m a big sunset girl. You’re right. If you weren’t big on sunsets before Amman, you will be by the time you leave. And lucky for you, I’m about to mention two more spots just in case you need more persuasion.
Out of all the places I’ve thrown onto this list, Darat Al-Funun Museum carries the most sentiment. Making space for solitude is important to me, and I’d retreat to Darat’s balcony regularly to pray, think, read, write, draw, and be still. There’s so many reasons to love this little city sanctuary: it’s free of cost, it’s seldom busy, it *casually* sits atop ancient Roman ruins, has just enough natural outdoor greenery, features a rotating art gallery, and owns an outdoor café that has—you guessed it—KILLER SUNSET VIEWS. I promise I’m not overhyping golden hour in Amman. All the buildings are made of white limestone that give a glowing orange impression when the light hits just right.
Another great spot lies at the foot of Darat Al-Funun’s southern entrance and is best enjoyed over pizza and music with friends. It’s nameless, but I’d argue it’s the city’s best rooftop overlook.
Close by is Grandma’s House where one of CIEE’s best cultural activities of the semester was hosted. You’ll learn how to cook and actually get to eat the Jordanian classics you made during this guided cooking class. Normally, it’s around 35JOD per person, so get your name on the list as soon as CIEE announces the sign-up sheet and you won’t have to pay a dime. For a more detailed account of our time at Beit Sitti, check out Matt’s blog post here.
Walk around Webdieh repeatedly enough and you’ll start to know the streets by their graffiti. Al Kahla Stairs in particular features some of my favorite art and a heckin photogenic alley way.
While it has many trusted name brand clothing stores, I have only ever visited Abdali Mall for their cinema (discounted on Monday nights) and collection of outdoor restaurants that make up a little area called The Boulevard. Keep a lookout for special events occasionally held at The Boulevard, including national team basketball games and an annual Christmas lighting ceremony.
Souk Jara is Amman’s famous seasonal artisan market open on Rainbow Street every Saturday through summer months and ending in late September. Run by locals, each stand is guaranteed to have unique finds that make great personal souvenirs and gifts for friends back home that you can’t find anywhere else. Best part? Bargaining is expected. It’s definitely a skill that requires practice, but no better place to start than here.
Last but not least is Amman’s oldest residence turned post office turned charming teahouse. This one is easy to knock out after a visit to Amman’s legendary Habibeh Sweets for Knafeh next door.
And that completes my list for Amman’s Best Kept Secrets. Typing this up with less than two weeks left in Jordan has me reminiscing with a sort of heartache that cannot be put into words. Eager to pick things up where they left off, but just as devastated to leave. I look back at the girl three months ago sitting in seat 42E lowkey wanting to get off the plane. If you're preparing to study abroad in Amman, maybe you find yourself counting the days until takeoff, or starting to believe your friends when they tell you you’re crazy for actually wanting to live in the Middle East. Either way, you’re in for one heck of a journey. It won’t be perfect. It’s hard and challenging and you’ll miss your dog a lot. But the things Amman has to offer far outweigh the hard stuff. I hope you let yourself fall in love with her, and yourself, too.
Keep #wanderlusting, friends ;)