Petra, Jordan. The Treasury

Petra:  The Treasury

Europe to Jordan by train?

Before the war in Syria, it was perfectly possible to reach Jordan and Petra overland from London & Europe via Istanbul & Damascus, without flying.  In the hope that it will one day be possible again, I've left this page pretty much as it was before the war.  This page explained how to plan, book and make this wonderful overland trip both there and back.  Jordan is an amazing place to visit.  Amman is worth a day or two, but the prime attraction is of course the fantastic lost city of Petra (pictured, right).

small bullet point  London-Istanbul-Damascus-Amman-Petra by train

small bullet point  Damascus-Amman by train (currently suspended)

small bullet point  Damascus-Amman by bus (currently suspended)

small bullet point  Amman-Petra & Amman-Aqaba by bus

small bullet point  Things to see in Jordan:  Amman, Azraq, Petra, Aqaba, Wadi Rum.

small bullet point  Hotels in Amman, Petra, Aqaba & Jordan  Hotel search.

small bullet point  Amman-Cairo by bus or bus+ferry


large bullet pointUseful country information

Train operator in Jordan:

HJR (Hedjaz Jordan Railway) http://jhr.gov.jo.

Time zone & dialling code:

GMT+2 (GMT+3 last Sunday in March to last Saturday in October).  Dial code +962.

Currency:

1 = approx 1.1 Jordanian Dinars.  Currency converter

Tourist information:

www.visitjordan.comThings to see in Jordan.

Information on Petra: http://nabataea.net/petra.html

Hotels in Jordan   Recommended guidebooks   Tripadvisor Jordan page

Visas:

UK citizens need a Jordanian visa.  You can get this in London from their embassy at 6 Upper Phillimore Gardens, Kensington, London W8 7HA, Tel. 020 7937 3685, www.jordanembassyuk.org.  UK, US & most western European citizens can buy a visa on arrival at the border, cost around 20 dinars or 22.

Page last updated:

7 January 2021


large bullet pointLondon to Amman & Petra by train

This is how it used to be done.  Of course, with the war making Syria a no-go zone, it's sadly now impossible.

Step 1:  London to Istanbul

The train journey from London or Paris to Istanbul takes 3 nights with daily departures all year-round.  See the London to Turkey page for train times, fares and how to book.

Step 2:  Istanbul to Damascus - check current travel advice for Syria!

You can travel from Istanbul to Adana in southeastern Turkey largely by train, as shown here.  Spend the night in Adana then take a bus onwards to Aleppo next day.  Total journey time Istanbul to Aleppo 2 nights, 2 days.  Several air-conditioned 100mph trains link Aleppo with Damascus every day, and there's a sleeper train too.  See the London to Syria page for train times, fares, how to book and other information.

Step 3:  Damascus to Amman in Jordan

There was (see the update below) a wonderful train service from Damascus to Amman twice a week over the historic Hedjaz Railway.  This train ride should not be missed, although if time presses there are also daily buses which are faster.  Both options are explained below.  There are buses and taxis from Amman to Petra.

If you are new to independent travel, planning a trip like this can seem daunting, but it's not that difficult.  This may help you can plan a journey like this: How to plan an itinerary & budget.


large bullet pointDamascus to Amman by train

A narrow-gauge train used to link Damascus in Syria with Amman in Jordan, running over part of the famous Hedjaz Railway, although it hasn't run since 2006.  This historic train ride cost a mere $4, even though buses are faster and run daily.  The Hedjaz line was originally built by the Turks to link Damascus with Medina in what is now Saudi Arabia, and it was the line attacked by T E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and the Arabs during the Arab Revolt in 1917.  For more information about the history of the Hedjaz Railway, see http://nabataea.net/hejazad.html.

 Damascus ► Amman

    

  

 Amman ► Damascus

 Days of running:

??

 Days of running:

??

 Damascus  (Kadem station)

 depart 

-

 Amman

 depart 

-

 Deraa  (change trains)

 depart

-

 Mafraq

 depart

-

 Mafraq

 arrive

-

 Deraa  (change trains)

 depart

-

 Amman

 arrive

-

 Damascus (Kadem station)

 arrive

-

Damascus-Amman Hedjaz train cancelled indefinitely...

My wife and I took the Damascus-Amman train in late 2005, when it ran twice-weekly.  But by mid-2006 it was reported that it was no longer running because 'something is broken' - Syrian tank manoeuvres destroying the tracks, according to one source.  The train has never run since.  In May 2010 it was reported that a weekly Deraa-Amman passenger train had started running, making one round trip on Saturdays, though this went unconfirmed, and at present there is definitely no Damascus-Amman train at the running - or indeed any other trains in Syria, given the conflict.

If you have any feedback about this train service, please e-mail me

If you can't take the train, you'll need to use the Damascus-Amman bus service shown here (which given the conflict in Syria, isn't running either at the moment)

You can phone the Hedjaz Railway in Amman on 00 962 6 489 5413

Damascus to Amman is 223 km (139 miles).

Trains are operated by Syrian Railways (CFS) and Hedjaz-Jordan Railway.  The Damascus-Amman train was in fact two trains, and you had to switch from a Syrian train to a Jordanian train at Deraa while your passports were being checked.  The Jordan Hedjaz Railway website is http://jhr.gov.jo.

The Hedjaz station in Damascus was being rebuilt.  The Amman train started from Damascus Kadem station 3-4km southwest of the city centre, reached by taxi for less than $2.

Amman railway station is 2.5km east of Amman city centre, taxis are available.

 Fares

 Damascus to Amman:

  -  

 Amman to Deraa:

  - 

How to buy tickets...

There was no need to reserve in advance.  In fact, it was not even possible to buy tickets in advance, as tickets were only sold on the day of travel an hour before departure at the station.  They may not bother selling you a ticket even then, but tell you to board the train and pay later.  So you just turned up half an hour before departure with $4 in Syrian pounds, asked about tickets and saw what they said.

What was the train like?

For the record, this section describes the (currently cancelled) Damascus-Amman train as it was in 2005.

Damascus-Amman by Hedjaz train:  The 1905-built passenger carriage on the Syrian train.   Damascus-Amman by train:  Inside the Syrian 1905-built passenger coach.

The Syrian train from Damascus to Deraa has one ancient passenger coach, built in 1905, with a side corridor and several 6-seater compartments...

Inside the Jordanian train from Deraa to Amman   The Jordanian train from Deraa to Amman, at Deraa.

The Jordanian train from Deraa to Amman has two passenger coaches, with bench seats along the coach sides...  You get great views (and covered in dust) from the open verandas at the end of the coach.

What was the journey like?

Arriving by taxi at Damascus Kadem station, you walk over the footbridge to the narrow-gauge Hedjaz Railway platform on the far side of the station, behind all the mainline trains.

At first, with the platform empty, you may think your train hasn't yet arrived from the sidings.  Then it will slowly dawn on you that the ancient freight train standing one track over from the platform line actually IS the twice-weekly train to Amman.

At the head of a long line of grey bogie boxcars is one solitary passenger coach, built in Nuremburg in 1905, with open verandas at each end and a 'clerestory' roof.  It has a narrow side-corridor and a number of 6-seater compartments, the ancient seat springs trying to burst out of what's left of the upholstery.  Ahead of the passenger coach is one 4-wheeler guard's van, a flat wagon and a Romanian-built diesel locomotive.  This is the Syrian train that will take you as far as Deraa.

The train leaves at 08:00 or maybe later, heading slowly out of the industrial suburbs of Damascus and then out into the arid countryside, descending a shallow valley.  There are military outposts in this area, so the policeman travelling with the train may ask you not to take photos.  The train twists and turns on its narrow-gauge tracks across the desert, at no more than 30-35 mph.  Eventually, it arrives at Deraa.

At Deraa, passports are collected and passengers told to transfer to the Jordanian train standing alongside.  The Jordanian train has two wooden passenger coaches of similar vintage to the Syrian coach, also with open verandas at each end.  Inside, these cars are open-plan with bench seats along the coach sides.  Two small guard's vans bring up the rear.  The train is hauled by a beefy-looking General-Electric locomotive marked 'Hedjaz Jordan Railway'.

After a long wait, passports are shown to their owners and handed straight over to the Jordanian policeman who has now joined the train.  With a long low hoot the train leaves Deraa.  You'll see the road frontier and all the wire fences that mark the actual Syrian/Jordanian border, which the train passes straight through.  Some distance after the actual frontier the train reaches the little station at Mafraq, and here there is also a long stop while passports are processed by the Jordanians.

South of Mafraq there is more desert, a river, bridges (including one rebuilt after being blown up by Lawrence in 1917) and a few hours later the train reaches the suburbs north of Amman.  The train seems faster in Jordan, often travelling at 40-45mph.  Now the train heads straight through the middle of a busy town market, past tenements and rubbish dumps.  The policeman is riding on the leading coach veranda, shaking his finger at any kid by the tracks who looks as if they might throw a stone.  Most Jordanian kids simply like waving at the train and love it when you wave back!  The train follows a cultivated river valley between hills covered in houses, and finally rounds a curve into the pleasant little station in Amman.

If you're interested in the history of the Hedjaz Railway, see http://nabataea.net/hejazad.html.

Damacus-Amman by train:  The Syrian train at Damascus Kadem station.   Damascus-Amman by Hedjaz Railway:  The Jordanian train waiting to leave Deraa.

Syrian Hedjaz train at Damascus Kadem...

 

The Jordanian train at Deraa...

Damascus-Amman train, between Deraa and Mafraq   Amman railway station

In Jordan en route to Amman.

 

Amman station...


large bullet pointDamascus to Amman by bus

  JETT bus from Amman to Damascus

Again, this is all cancelled due to the war in Syria of course, but here's what used to run:

Although nowhere near as interesting an experience as the train journey on the famous Hedjaz Railway, the Damascus-Amman buses are faster (4 hours) and run daily.  It's possible to travel from Aleppo to Amman (or Amman to Aleppo) in one day, combining an Aleppo-Damascus train with a Damascus-Amman bus.

JETT = Daily air-conditioned buses operated by Jordan Express Tourist Transportation, www.jett.com.jo, call +962 6 562 2430 fax +962 6 560 5005.

Karnak = Daily air-conditioned buses operated by Karnak bus company, Syria.

 Damascus ► Amman (bus)

    

  

 Amman ► Damascus (bus)

 

Karnak

JETT

JETT

 

JETT

JETT

Karnak

 Damascus 

 depart 

07:00

15:00

16:00

 Amman

 depart 

07:00

08:00

15:00

 Amman

arrive

11:30

19:30

20:30

 Damascus

 arrive

11:30

12:30

19:30

 Fares

 Damascus to Amman:

8 JD (7 or $11)

Damascus to Amman by road is 180 km.


large bullet pointAmman to Petra & Aqaba by bus

The Hedjaz Railway no longer operates south of Amman, except for freight trains.  But there are regular buses and minibuses from Amman to Petra (Wadi Musa is the name of the modern town next door).

 Amman ► Petra (by bus)

    

  

 Petra ► Amman (by bus)

 

JETT

JETT

Taxi

 

JETT

JETT

Taxi

 Amman (Abdali bus station)

depart 

06:30

*

taxi

 Aqaba

 depart 

*

-

taxi

 Petra (Wadi Musa)

arrive

10:00

|

taxi

 Petra (Wadi Musa)

 depart

|

17:00

taxi

 Aqaba

arrive

-

*

taxi

 Amman (Abdali bus station)

 arrive

*

20:30

taxi

* = Departures from both Amman (Abdali bus station) southbound & from Aqaba northbound are at 07:00, 09:00, 11:00, 14:00, 16:00 & 18:00.  Journey time 4 hours.  Additional departures run several times daily from Amman's Wehdat, Tabarbour & 7th Circle bus stations.

JETT = Jordan Express Tourist Transportation, www.jett.com.jo, +962 6 562 2430 fax +962 6 560 5005.  Air-conditioned buses.  The fare is 8 JD Amman-Petra, 7.50 JD Amman-Aqaba.

Taxi = service taxis, usually 25-seater minibuses.  The taxis leave when full and usually operate throughout the day.  The fare from Amman to Petra is 3 JD or less, journey time about 2 hours 40 minutes. These minibus taxis leave from Amman's Wahedat bus station.

Hiring a private taxi to take you to Petra will cost about 40-50 JD (36-46) after negotiation.

For ferries from Aqaba to Nuweiba in Egypt, see below.


large bullet pointThings to see in Jordan

Amman

Amman is a sprawling modern city which has grown very rapidly from what was once a small village.  Built on a number of hills and valleys, it does have a centre with a citadel and Roman amphitheatre, but isn't worth more than a day if you're passing through.  The Al Saraya Hotel, near the centre, is a good choice for budget travellers.

Azraq

T E Lawrence fans will want to visit the castle at Azraq, an hour's drive east of Amman.  The castle was used as the headquarters of the Arab Revolt for a while in 1917, and Lawrence slept in the room immediately above the gatehouse.

Azraq castle, Jordan   Roman amphitheatre, Amman, Jordan

Azraq castle.  Lawrence of Arabia slept in the room above the gatehouse in 1917.

 

Amman:  The Roman amphitheatre.

Petra

Jordan's premier attraction, and deservedly so.  The famous ruined city of Petra nestles in a valley surrounded by mountains and approached through over a mile of narrow defile.

Petra, Jordan   Royal Tombs, Petra   The Monastery, Petra, Jordan

Above left:  The end of the defile, where you emerge in front of the 'Treasury'.  Centre:  The royal tombs.  Above right:  The 'monastery', reached after a steep climb up into the hills on the far side of the Petra site...

Jerash

A ruined Roman city in northern Jordan, well worth a visit.

Aqaba

Now Aqaba is a modern town and holiday resort, but when Lawrence and the Arabs attacked it was little more than a fishing village.  The fort they captured from the Turks is still there and can be visited.

Wadi Rumm

A beautiful area of desert and rocky outcrops, it enthralled Lawrence, and much of the film 'Lawrence of Arabia' was filmed here.  You can visit on a jeep safari as a day trip from Petra or Aqaba.

Aqaba Fort, Jordan   Wadi Rumm, Jordan

Aqaba fort.

 

Brewing up in Wadi Rumm.

No flying was involved in the taking of these photos:  All travel from London to Jordan and back was overland by train...


large bullet pointLondon to Amman via Greece-Israel ferry

It used to be possible to go to Israel by sea from Greece, then travel overland from Jerusalem to Amman.  However, all ferries from Piraeus via Cyprus to Haifa in Israel were suspended in 2001 and show no signs of restarting.


large bullet pointHow to travel from Amman to Egypt

Amman to Cairo by bus...

An air-conditioned bus leaves Amman (JETT terminal) on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays & Sundays at 14:00, taking some 20 hours to reach Cairo.  Fare 75.5 JD (about 69 or $102).  It is run by Jordan Express Tourist Transportation (JETT), www.jett.com.jo, telephone Amman 662722, fax 601507.  This bus crosses Israel - remember that you won't be able to re-enter Syria with any sign of a visit to Israel in your passport.

Amman to Cairo by bus & ferry...

It's also possible to travel from Jordan to Egypt avoiding Israel, using a ferry.  Here are details for the southbound journey - details for the northbound journey are shown on the Egypt page.

Aqaba (Jordan) to Nuweiba (Egypt) by ferry

The fast ferry from Aqaba in Jordan to Nuweiba in Egypt. Photo courtesy of Elliot Bannister


large bullet pointRecommended guidebooks

I recommend planning a trip with the relevant Lonely Planet guidebook - I've found that the L-P guides are the best out there for the independent traveller.

Click the images to buy online at Amazon.co.uk 

Or buy direct from the Lonely Planet website, with shipping worldwide.

Lonely Planet guide to Jordan   Click to buy online

The Middle East guidebook covers Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iran, Israel and several other countries.


large bullet pointHotels in Amman, Petra & Jordan

Find hotels at Booking.comMy favourite hotel search site: www.booking.com

www.booking.com is my favourite hotel booking site and I generally prefer booking my hotels all in one place here.  You can usually book with free cancellation - this allows you to confirm your accommodation at no risk before train booking opens.  It also means you can hold accommodation while you finalise your itinerary, and alter your plans as they evolve - a feature I use all the time when putting a trip together.  I never book hotels non-refundably.  I have also come to trust their review scores - you won't be disappointed with anything over 8.0.

Tip:  It can pay to compare prices across multiple hotel sites:  HotelsCombined.com is a price comparison site which compares hotel prices on Booking.com, Hotels.com, Expedia, Accor, Agoda and many others.  Though if there's not much in it, I prefer keeping all my bookings together in one place at www.booking.com.

Other hotel sites worth trying...

Backpacker hostels...


large bullet pointTravel insurance & VPN

 

Staysure travel insurance

 

Confused.com logo

Always take out travel insurance...

You should take out travel insurance with at least 1m or preferably 5m medical cover from a reliable insurer.  It should cover trip cancellation and loss of cash & belongings up to a reasonable limit.  These days, check you're covered for covid-19-related issues, and use an insurer whose cover isn't invalidated by well-meant but excessive Foreign Office travel advice against non-essential travel. An annual policy is usually cheapest even for just 2 or 3 trips a year, I use an annual policy myself.  Don't expect travel insurance to bail you out of every missed connection, see the advice on missed connections here.  Here are some suggested insurers, I get a little commission if you buy through these links, feedback always welcome.

UK flagwww.staysure.co.uk offers enhanced Covid-19 protection & covers you even if the FCDO advises against non-essential travel.

UK flag

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65, see www.JustTravelCover.com - 10% discount with code seat61.

UK flagYou can use www.confused.com to compare prices & policy features across major insurance companies.

 Australian flag New Zealand flag  Irish flag    If you live in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, try Columbus Direct.

 US flag If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

 

Curve card

Get a Curve card to save on foreign transaction fees...

Banks often give a poor exchange rate, then charge a currency conversion fee as well.  A Curve MasterCard means no foreign transaction fees and gives you the mid-market exchange rate, at least up to a certain limit, 500 per month as I write this.  The balance goes straight onto one of your existing debit or credit cards.  And you can get a Curve card for free.

How it works:  1. Download the app for iPhone or Android.  2. Enter your details & they'll send you a Curve MasterCard - they send to most European addresses including the UK.  3. Link your existing credit & debit cards to the app.  4. Now use the Curve MasterCard to buy things online or in person or take cash from ATMs, just like a normal MasterCard. Curve does the currency conversion and puts the balance onto whichever of your debit or credit cards you choose.  You can even change your mind about which card it goes onto, within 14 days of the transaction.

I use a Curve Blue card myself - I get a little commission if you sign up to Curve, but I'm recommending it here because I think it's great.  See details, download the app and get a Curve card - they'll give you 5 cashback through that link, too.

 

Express VPN

Get a VPN for safe browsing.  VPNs & why you need one explained...

When you're travelling you often use free WiFi in public places which may not be secure.  A VPN means your connection to the internet is encrypted & always secure, even using unsecured WiFi.  In countries such as China where access to Twitter & Facebook is restricted, a VPN gets around these restrictions.  And lastly, you can select the geographic location of the IP address you browse with, to get around geographic restrictions which some websites apply - for example one booking site charges a booking fee to non-European visitors but none to European visitors, so if you're not located in Europe you can avoid this fee by browsing with a UK IP address using a VPN.  VPNs & why you need one explainedExpressVPN is a best buy and I use it myself - I've signed up as an ExpressVPN affiliate, and if you go with expressvpn.com using the links on this page, you should see a special deal, 3 months free with an annual subscription, and I get a small commission to help support this site.

 


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