Tourism is one of the most important sectors in the Jordanian economy. In 2010, over 8 million tourists from various countries visited Jordan, with tourism revenues amounting to about $3.5 billion. Another $1 billion was earned from medical tourism to the Kingdom. In 2011, Jordanian tourism lost $1 billion due to political instability throughout the region.
The main tourist attractions include visiting historical sites such as the world-famous Petra (a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985 and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World), the Jordan River, Mount Nebo, Madaba, numerous medieval mosques and churches, as well as unspoilt natural sites (such as Wadi Rum and the northern mountainous region of Jordan in general), but also viewing cultural and religious sites and traditions.
Jordan also offers health tourism focused on the Dead Sea area, educational tourism, hiking, diving in the coral reefs of Aqaba, pop culture tourism and shopping tourism in Jordan’s cities. More than half of the approximately 4.8 million Arab tourists in 2009, mainly from the GCC, indicated that they planned to spend their holidays in Jordan.
Ancient sites in Jordan
- Petra in the Wadi Musa, the home of the Nabataeans, is a complete city carved out of a mountain. The huge rocks are colourful, mostly pink, and the entrance to the ancient city leads through a 1.25 km long narrow gorge in the mountain – the Siq. The city is home to several structures, all (except two) carved into the rock, including al Khazneh – known as the Treasury – which has been declared one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World” by the for-profit New Open World Corporation. Other important sites in Petra include the monastery, the Roman theatre, the royal tombs and the High Place of Sacrifice. Petra was rediscovered for the Western world in 1812 by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985.
- Umm Qais, a city on the site of the destroyed Hellenistic-Roman city
- Jerash is famous for its ancient Roman architecture, with colonnaded streets, Corinthian arches, outdoor Roman theatres and the Oval Square.
- Shoubak with its crusader castle “Crac de Montreal”, which marks both the eastern and southern limits of the crusaders’ expansion.
- Ajloun has a medieval crusader castle
- Al Karak is home to an important castle from the time of Salah al-Din, known as Al-Karak Castle.
- Umm el-Jimal, the so-called “Black Pearl of the Desert”, was once a town on the edge of the Decapolis. Rural and prosperous, it was a fitting contrast to the surrounding bustling towns. The black basalt villas and towers, some of which are still three storeys high, have long inspired poets.
- Montreal Crusader castle, less than an hour north of Petra. The ruins, called Shoubak or Shawbak in Arabic, are located in the modern city of Shoubak. It dates from the same turbulent period as Karak. The fortress fell to Saladin only 75 years after it was built. There are inscriptions of his successors on the castle wall.
- Qasr Amra, one of the best-preserved monuments of the Islamic Umayyad period. Its interior walls and ceilings are covered with unique frescoes, and two of the rooms are paved with colourful mosaics. It, too, is a World Heritage Site.
- Umm ar-Rasas, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2005, these ruins display a mix of Roman, Byzantine and early Muslim architecture. Treasures include the largest church mosaic floor in the country; more recent discoveries are possible as the site has not yet been fully excavated.
Religious tourist sites in Jordan
- Muwakir (Arabic for Machaerus) was the hilltop fortress of Herod the Great. After Herod’s death, his son Herod Antipas inhabited the fortress and ordered John the Baptist to be beheaded there. The legendary Salomé, daughter of Herodias, is said to have danced the famous Dance of the Seven Veils there, demanding the head of John the Baptist.
- The Jordan River is the river in which, according to Christian tradition, Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist.
- Madaba is known for its mosaics as well as important religious sites such as the Madaba Map, the oldest surviving original cartographic representation of the Holy Land and Jerusalem in particular. It dates back to the 6th century AD.
- Mount Nebo, where the Bible says Moses went to catch a glimpse of the Promised Land before he died.
Locations by the sea in Jordan
- Aqaba is a city on the shores of the Gulf of Aqaba with numerous shopping centres, hotels and access to various water sports and protected coral reefs and marine life. It has the ruins of the medieval city of Ayla and other Edomite ruins. Aqaba also has a vibrant nightlife, especially on holiday weekends when thousands of wealthy Jordanians visit the coastal city. The large resorts and beach clubs host numerous raves and concerts by international DJs and artists. Nearly $20 billion worth of developments are currently underway in Aqaba, focusing on tourism and real estate projects to transform the city into a “new Dubai”.
- The Dead Sea – It is the lowest point on earth, 402 metres below sea level, and gets 1 metre deeper every year. It is the only deposit of the Jordan River and was part of the biblical kingdoms of the Midianites and later the Moabites. The Dead Sea area is home to many world-class resorts such as the Kempinski, Mövenpick and Marriott. There are also water parks, a public beach and international restaurants. However, the ultra-chic destination in the area is the O-Beach, which houses cabanas, bars, international restaurants and a beach club.
Sightseeing in Jordan
- Amman is a modern and cosmopolitan city known for its shopping malls, hotels and ruins. Amman contains numerous ancient ruins, with one dating back to 7250 BC in the ruins of ‘Ain Ghazal Neolithic village. Other ruins include the Citadel of Amman, located on a hill to the east of Amman, which combines many ruins from different ancient civilisations, such as the Umayyad Palace, Byzantine churches and the Roman Temple of Hercules. At the bottom of the hill is the famous Great Ammani Ancient Roman Amphitheatre along with Hashemite Plaza, Nymphaeum and the smaller Odeon Amphitheatre.
- Mahis with its religious sites.
- Wadi Rum is a desert full of mountains and hills located south of Jordan. It is popular for its sightseeing in addition to a variety of sports practised there, such as rock climbing. It is also known for its connection to D.H. Lawrence; some scenes in Lawrence of Arabia were filmed here. In the late 2000s, it was included as a World Heritage Site for its natural and cultural heritage.
- Irbid, the second largest city in Jordan, is also home to several museums and shopping centres. However, the main reason for foreigners to visit the city is the abundance of universities it hosts, with Jordan University of Science and Technology and Yarmouk University being the two most famous. The city hosts a large number of students from all over Jordan, the Middle East and beyond. University Street in Irbid hosts the most internet cafes per mile in the world. 
- Fuheis, a town about 20 minutes northwest of Amman, is known for its traditional 18th and 19th century churches and turn-of-the-century provincial Jordanian architecture.
Nightlife in Jordan
Jordan, particularly Amman and to a lesser extent Aqaba, has become one of the region’s nightlife hotspots. Along with Dubai, Beirut, Sharm el Sheikh and Manama, Amman is one of the leading clubbing destinations in the Arab world and the Middle East. The country has seen an explosion of nightlife development, from high-end nightclubs and bars in the capital to world-class raves at the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum. Aqaba has also seen a huge increase in nightclubs and beach clubs due to massive foreign investment and the influx of foreign workers and tourists due to the establishment of the ASEZA special economic zone. The annual Distant Heat in Wadi Rum is considered one of the best raves in the world.
Natural reserves in Jordan
Jordan has a number of nature reserves.
- Azraq Wetland Reserve – Azraq is a unique wetland oasis in the heart of Jordan’s semi-arid eastern desert, managed by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN). Attractions include several natural and ancient constructed ponds, a seasonally flooded marsh and a large mudflat known as Qa’a Al-Azraq. A variety of birds stop at the reserve each year during their arduous migration routes between Asia and Africa to rest. Some stay for the winter or breed within the protected areas of the wetland.
- Dana Biosphere Reserve – covers 308 square kilometres and consists of a chain of valleys and mountains stretching from the top of the Jordan Rift Valley down to the desert lowlands of Wadi Araba. Dana is home to some 600 plant species, 37 mammal species and 190 bird species.
- Mujib Nature Reserve – the lowest nature reserve in the world, with spectacular scenery near the east coast of the Dead Sea. The reserve is located within the deep Wadi Mujib Gorge, which empties into the Dead Sea at 410 metres below sea level. The reserve extends to the mountains of Kerak and Madaba to the north and south, reaching 899 metres above sea level in some places. Wadi Mujib has a magnificent biodiversity, which is still being researched and documented today. Over 300 species of plants, 10 species of predators and numerous species of permanent and migratory birds have been recorded.
- Shaumari Wildlife Reserve – Shaumari Reserve was created by the RSCN in 1975 as a breeding centre for endangered or locally extinct wildlife. Today, following breeding programmes with some of the world’s leading wildlife parks and zoos, this small 22 square kilometre reserve is a thriving protected environment for some of the rarest species in the Middle East, such as Arabian oryx, ostriches, gazelles and onagers, which are depicted on many 6th century Byzantine mosaics.