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Aqaba is a popular tourist destination in Jordan, and for good reason! Jordan is a country that has so much to offer, regardless of what type of holiday you’re after. On our travels through Jordan we experienced the hustle and bustle of city life, explored several ancient ruins, drove the scenic Kings Highway, visited several castles and slept under the stars in the desert- all in just a few days! So a few days in the luxury of an Aqaba beach resort was a welcomed rest at the end of a very exciting and busy travel itinerary.
In this post I will share with you what I learnt about Aqaba during our visit and give you some travel tips to help you plan your own trip to Aqaba.
A bit of background on Aqaba
Aqaba is the only coastal city in Jordan, as well as being a port city. It is located on the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba, has a population of around 150,000 and plays a major role in the development of Jordan’s economy. This is mostly down to trade and tourism.
Due to its proximity to Wadi Rum and Petra, Aqaba is said to be in Jordan’s “golden triangle” or tourism. You can access Aqaba by King Hussein International Airport – from cities such as Istanbul , Cairo and Moscow – or via the port on a cruise that has Jordan on its itinerary. You can also travel in from Amman, where more international flights land. Take a short connecting flight on to Aqaba, or hire a car at the airport for the 4 hour drive.
Things to do in Aqaba
There is plenty to do in Aqaba. Being such a bustling port city, there’s always something happening and something to see. Here are some of the best things to do in Aqaba…
A nice stroll through the old town won’t cost you a thing, and there is so much stunning architecture to marvel at. The colours and shapes will stick in your mind for a long time! There’s a market place here, too – you can find local souvenirs, tea, herbs & spices, jewellery, clothing, incense, homeware and more. Try your hand at a bit of bartering while you’re there for the true Jordanian shopping experience.
Aqaba is also well known for its sweet pastry. There are plenty of cafés, bakeries and sweet shops in the city where you can try kunafeh – a pastry made with fried cheese, syrup and pistachios. An acquired taste, perhaps, but something you should definitely try while you have the chance to do so. It’s not just pastry either; Aqaba is famous for its fish. Being a port city, this makes sense -Sayadieh Fish, which is grouper in a sauce with peanuts and caramelised onions, is a common dish to find in Aqaba.
Read also: Visiting Bethlehem: A complete guide
There is a lot of night life in Aqaba. The streets are lined with bars and restaurants, emanating a happy and chilled out vibe. With shops and eateries open late, and plenty of shisha bars around to wind down the evening, you can have such a good night out. There is also a Friday night market in downtown Aqaba known as Souk by the Sea. There are over 50 local artisans, with local food, drink and music to boot. You can pick up some bargains and support the business owners of the area.
The highlight of visiting Aqaba for most people though, is the ability to relish in relaxation offered in one of the several luxurious holiday resorts. Most of the beaches are privately owned or restrictive for tourists (it is offensive to the locals if you take your clothes off, for example), so you will need to go to a resort if you want toward on your tan. That said, you don’t need to actually stay at the resort, most offer a small charge, allowing you to enjoy the facilities for the day.
Map of the city
Here you can see the main sights and areas of the city of Aqaba.
Also known as Aqaba Fort or Mamluk Castle, this is a fortress that was built by crusaders in the 12th century. It has been used as a defence time and time again throughout history – as recently as 1916, it was used as part of the Arab Revolt.
You can visit the castle, but at the time of writing it is currently closed for renovations. It is a striking building, though, so it’s worth a look if you’re in the area and feel like soaking up a bit of history.
Being a coastal city, it’s no surprise that Aqaba has a number of private and public beaches for tourists and travellers to enjoy. If you’re after a bit of rest and relaxation, head to one of these beaches…
Berenice Beach Club is one of the most popular private beaches, and many Aqaba hotels have an agreement with them meaning guests can use the beach club for a reduced cost. Berenice also offer sunset cruises, on-site showers, towels for use and plenty of food/drink.
South Beach is a public beach, free to use and well maintained with dive clubs nearby. It is perfect for chilling out, and the sunset looks great from here too. It is recommended that women cover up on public beaches, which is something to bear in mind.
Of course, alongside the beaches there is the chance to snorkel in Aqaba. If you take your mask and snorkel with you to South Beach, you will be able to swim among brightly coloured fish and plenty of beautiful coral. The biodiversity here is incredible. You can also book tours here. I recommend one of these boat trips or a snorkelling trip in Aqaba! Take a look at the video clip below to see why Aqaba is such a great place for snorkelling…
Other things to do in the area
There are plenty of mosques and churches in Aqaba. Not only are they incredible beautiful, but peaceful and welcoming too. Don’t forget to dress appropriately when you visit though, or they might not let you in! I’ve written a guide here on what to wear when visiting a mosque.
You can also visit the Islamic city of Ayla while you’re in Aqaba. It was the first ever Islamic city built outside of the Arabian Peninsula, and the site is well marked with informative panels to teach you about the history and significance of the area.
On our visit to Aqaba we visited the Intercontinental Resort and Hotel and I cannot recommend it highly enough! It was brilliant! We only had one day in Aqaba so unfortunately we didn’t get to stay the night here but I’m sure we wouldn’t have been disappointed if we did. The resort was absolutely beautiful with fantastic service all round. It has multiple pools, a beautiful beach, spa facilities, playgrounds and lots more. It was such a treat after a busy few days of travelling!
If luxury is your thing you can also head over to Kempinski Hotel Aqaba – five stars, five restaurants and plenty more to offer. You’ll be overlooking the read sea, and each room has its own balcony. The hotel offers water sports, and the city centre is just a five minute walk away. WiFi and parking are free, and there are spa facilities too!
For budget travellers, check out this studio apartment for two: Arwa Hotel Apartments. Basic but clean and bright with two single beds, a kitchenette, sofa, TV, laundry facilities and your own bathroom, the apartments are just 350 yards from Aqaba Fort. There’s free WiFi and free parking as well as outdoor seating to relax in the sun.
For a full list of accommodation options on your travel dates use the search box below.
There’s everything you need to know about travelling to Aqaba in Jordan – it is an incredible city that also acts as a gateway to nearby Petra and Wadi Rum, so it’s definitely worth a visit.