There is so much more to Jordan than just the ancient ruins at Petra. Jordan’s desert landscape is home to the ruins of numerous Crusader castles, Roman cities, and Islamic fortifications. This guide to Jordan’s best ancient ruins beyond Petra covers the most fascinating sites you won’t want to miss on your Jordan trip.
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How to Get to Jordan’s Ancient Ruins
You will most likely arrive in Jordan via Amman, the capital city and primary hub for international flights. From here, you can rent a car and drive yourself from site to site. This is by far the best option if you want freedom to determine your own schedule and how long you stay at which places. Try to book with local car rental agencies versus international names like Hertz, Alamo, etc., as the local agencies will be much less expensive.
Alternatively, you can hire a private driver/guide. This would be more expensive than self-driving, but you will gain the expertise of a local in addition to the same freedom of choosing your own itinerary and time frames. For reference, this is how we traveled in Jordan with another couple.
For budget travelers or those with a more flexible schedule, tourist-class buses like JETT (Jordan Express Tourist Transportation) offer direct routes to the majority of popular tourist sites in Jordan.
Jordan’s Best Ancient Ruins
About Ajloun Castle
Ajloun Castle’s name goes back to Byzantine time (4th century), when a Christian monastery sat on this hill and a monk named Ajloun lived there. Saladin, the sultan of Egypt and Syria who led the campaign against the Crusaders, had this castle built on top of the old monastery. These are the ruins visitors can see today. You’ll hear Saladin’s name often as you learn more about the region’s history.
Visitors can walk through the many tunnels and rooms to experience the 800 years of history within the stone walls. In the 1200s, soldiers lived at Ajloun Castle to defend the region against the Crusaders. With its high vantage point the castle held a strategic location against enemies. Today, this hilltop location affords visitors stunning views.
How to Visit Ajloun Castle
Ajloun Castle is about an hour and a half northwest of Amman. Entrance to the site is 3JD (about $4.25 USD), and you can buy tickets at the gate. Allow for about 1-2 hours to explore the ruins and take photos.
Jerash Roman Ruins
Jerash may be the best Roman ruins I’ve seen anywhere – including Rome. If you can only make it to one place in Jordan outside of Petra, make Jerash it.
The Romans conquered the region in 64 BCE, and for several hundred years Jerash flourished. It wasn’t until 747 CE when a devastating earthquake struck that the city finally declined. Over a thousand years later, Russians discovered the ruins and sparked a century of excavations.
The city feels very complete, and it’s easy to visualize what it would have looked like in its heyday. To me, it is as impressive as Pompeii in Italy. It is significantly less crowded, though, since, like me, people don’t typically think Middle East when planning a trip to visit Roman ruins.
Highlight features at Jerash include an ancient amphitheater, colonnaded streets, and the most magnificent column-lined forum. Don’t forget to look out for the grooves in the road leftover from chariot wheels.
How to Visit Jerash
Jerash is only an hour northwest from Amman. If you visit Ajloun, you’ll actually pass Jerash on your way from the capital. Allow at least 2 hours to explore this incredibly well-preserved city. Entrance is 10 JD or $14 USD.
About Shobak Castle
Shobak Castle, like Ajloun, dates from Crusader times. Shobak, however, was built by a Crusader king in the 1100s. The Muslim Mamluk empire took over the castle in the 14th century. Though they built over much of the Crusader Era features, visitors today can still see the remains of their churches. Shobak has hidden passageways, old Arabic carvings, and many rooms to explore.
Though less complete than Ajloun, it still seems imposing when you see it from the town below. Additionally, the view over the Jordan desert is even wilder than at Ajloun.
How to Visit Shobak Castle
Shobak Castle is only a half hour away from Petra, making it an easy additional ancient ruin to visit. Allow about an hour to visit. The entrance fee is only 1 JD (or $1.41 USD).
About Kerak Castle
Crusader King Baldwin I built Kerak Castle in the 1100s. In the later part of the century, Saladin’s army took control of the castle and the town. Overtime Kerak Castle was forgotten, like all ruins are, until the 1880s. At that point excavation and repair work started. Now it’s one of Jordan’s most-visited ancient ruins.
Though not as well-preserved as Shobak or Ajloun, Kerak is still a worthwhile ancient ruin to visit in Jordan. The architecture is fun to explore, with a pretty courtyard area and several levels to explore.
How to Visit Kerak Castle
Kerak is about 2 hours south of Amman. You only need about an hour to explore the site. The entrance fee is 2 JD (about $2.82 USD).
Smaller Ancient Ruins in Jordan
While the following two ancient ruins in Jordan are interesting to visit, they are not worth going out of your way for. That said, they are nearby some of the sights listed above and good to visit for about a half hour to break up your drive.
Mount Nebo is the last place anyone recorded seeing Moses. The Bible says that this is where Moses looked out over the Promised Land after the exodus from Egypt and saw the future home of the Jewish people.
From the lookout point, you can see the Dead Sea and Israel. The Moses Memorial Church on the summit has beautifully preserved tile mosaic floors from 530 CE. The imagery depicts scenes of hunting and herding and detailed renderings of African animals like giraffes, zebras, and lions.
St. George’s Church in Madaba
St. George’s Church in the town of Madaba is home to a famous mosaic map. The floor inside the church depicts a tiled map, crafted in 560 CE, of the Holy Land from Egypt to Palestine. It’s the oldest map of Palestine still in existence, and it depicts all of the major cities and locations of significant biblical events.