One of the most-visited cities in the Middle East, Jerash is the jewel of northern Jordan. Surrounded by fertile farmland and rolling hills, this once-powerful settlement is less than fifty kilometers from Amman, making it a popular choice for day trips from the nation's capital. Jerash is widely renowned for its exquisitely preserved ruins from the first century AD, when the city flourished under Roman rule. The remaining architecture reflects that influence, and visitors can wander through the pristine columns, plazas, and temples that have earned this town its own distinct spot on the map. Beyond the archeological attractions, modern Jerash is a quiet place with an economy kept afloat by farming, but its location makes it a perfect jump-off point for exploration of nearby nature preserves and historical attractions.
Jerash is located less than an hour's drive from Amman, making it an easy stop on any comprehensive tour of Jordan. If you need to hire transportation, you'll get the best deal and more flexibility if you hire a driver for the entire day - be sure to work out a price and what it includes before heading out. The city itself is small and easy to navigate, split into two main sections by a river valley. On the eastern side, you'll find the mostly residential modern-day Jerash, but most visitors stick to the beautifully preserved ancient part of town to the west. After entering through Hadrian's Arch head to the archeological park and start exploring!
Top Sights in Jerash
Hippodrome: An ancient sports field, large enough for 15,000 people, which still hosts mock gladiator fights and chariot races multiple times per week.
Hadrian's Arch: Originally constructed to honor its namesake emperor, this impressive arch was meant to eventually be the city's southern gate.
Forum: This enormous, oval-shaped plaza in the city center is stunning. Surrounded by 56 imposing Ionic columns, it was once used as a marketplace.
Temple of Artemis: An impressive place of worship, complete with sandstone pillars and vaulted ceilings, named for the patron goddess of the city.
Nymphaeum: One of the most beloved ruins of Jerash, this Roman-style ornamental fountain was carved to resemble seven lion heads.
Jerash Archeology Museum: Small museum providing a detailed look at small artifacts and antiquities found in the area.
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What To Do
For those planning a half-day excursion, you'll want to maximize exploration of the famously well-preserved ruins. You can access a few of them free of charge, but most are within the ticketed archeological park which is typically open from 8-5 daily and certainly worth the admission fee. Start with Hadrian's Arch, the ancient city's unfinished yet beautiful Southern gate, before heading to the Forum, a massive limestone plaza surrounded by columns and complete with its own temple and theater. From there, walk the length of the Cardo Maximus - an impressively straight north-south boulevard - all the way to the North Gate, stopping along the way at the Nymphaeum fountain and Temple of Artemis.
If you have a few more hours in Jerash, plan your activities around the performance schedule at the Hippodrome, a huge arena built under Roman rule to accommodate 15,000 people for sporting events. Nowadays, visitors can enjoy reenactments of activities from that era, including military drills, mock gladiator battles, and a chariot race. Performances run twice daily, except on Fridays. Before you leave the park, you should also stop by the Archeological Museum above the southern end of the cardo. This small collection contains a sampling of items like jewelry and mosaic tiles excavated from the area, representative of daily life in an ancient civilization.
Anyone spending the night in the vicinity of Jerash can also explore some of the attractions outside the city limits. Ajlun Castle sits atop a hill overlooking the town of Ajlun and offering stunning vistas of Northern Jordan. To explore this 12th-century structure's rooms and passages, you'll need to make a fairly steep trek - it's about three kilometers from town - or hire an inexpensive taxi at the bottom of the hill. Hikers and campers can also enjoy a visit to Dibbin National Park, a lovely nature preserve south of Jerash that boasts rolling hills, old-growth pine forest, and lots of wildlife.
Where To Stay
Lodging in and around Jerash is limited, but the few hotels that do exist are solid options. Just across from the main ruins, Hadrian's Gate Hotel is perfect for travelers who favor convenience. Rooms are basic but clean, the staff is friendly, and you can't get any more central to the action. If you're interested in a peaceful spot with more amenities, try the Mountain Breeze Resort in the nearby Gilead Mountains, where you can take in the views from your individual cabin or the restaurant terrace. Another great choice outside of town is the Olive Branch Hotel, about five kilometers from Jerash and named for the lovely olive groves growing on the surrounding land. Overlooking Dibbin Nature Preserve, this mountaintop property also offers a campground.
For more unique lodging options in Jordan, read this article.
Where to Eat
You'll likely do quite a bit of walking in Jerash, so be prepared to work up an appetite. Lebanese House is an elegant favorite for locals and travelers alike, located just a few minutes stroll away from the center of town. The menu is filled with well-executed international dishes and traditional fare like kibbeh nayyeh. If convenience is your priority, head to Jerash Rest House for a quick bite after getting your fill of the ruins. The buffet is passable, but its real draw is the location - its the only eatery located within the boundaries of the archeological park.
For an escape from the crowds, pay a visit to The Olive Branch, a vegetarian-friendly restaurant situated in the aforementioned hotel of the same name. Guests will enjoy meals prepared with freshly pressed olive oil and organic produce, all while taking in scenic views from lovely outdoor dining spaces. Once you're ready for dessert, Green Salon Sweets is the best place in town for knafeh, baklava, and other syrupy Arabic delights.
Jerash Pro Tips
Beyond the city's urban history, Jerash is known for the region's fertile soil. When you head out of town, embrace the bountiful fresh produce stands you'll see along every road, making sure to sample the region's famously delicious plums, figs, and olives.
Looking for a souvenir? Jerash has its own souq, or outdoor bazaar, at the entrance to the archeological park. Its offerings are pretty standard, but you'll encounter smaller crowds and possibly lower prices than at Petra (though haggling is still expected). Some vendors may be selling items claimed to be found inside the park, but resist the urge to take home a piece of history - it's illegal.
Jordan's weather is more varied than you might think, especially in the northern highlands where Jerash is located, and it even receives the occasional snowfall during winter. Check the weather before you go, pack accordingly, and dress in layers throughout your visit.