The best and worst of experiences in Jordan
One part of our Jordan road trip I was so pleased we could fit was journeying north of Amman to the well-preserved ancient Roman City of Gerasa – within the modern day city of Jerash.
Located just 50kms north of Amman city centre it makes for an easy day trip, yet so many miss it from their agenda not allowing enough time to head north. It was truly spectacular to see, but like many parts of our Jordan experience, it can be hard work with kids!
In this post
- More about Jerash
- Our experience taking kids
- Practical advice and top tips for visiting Jerash
- Other day trips north of Amman
This post is part of our Jordan series. We suggest you head over to our Jordan Road Trip Itinerary for tips on how to plan your journey around the country and don’t forget to read up on our practical information for taking kids to Jordan.
More about ancient Gerasa – modern-day Jerash
All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
Monty Python, Life of Brian
The ancient city isn’t immediately obvious when you turn off the main road into Jerash city, but you’ll soon spot Hadrian’s Arch and the thronging crowds coming and going from this spectacular historic site.
The fertile soils of the area are believed to be what caused the city to thrive, with its hay-day being around the first to third centuries AD. Wealth also lay beneath the surface in iron ore and it became an important trading point with the Nabateans to the south.
Described as one the 10 Great Decapolis Cities of the east, it is truly – from my humble travel experiences of the world – one of the most spectacular examples of an ancient Roman city, built to the famous Roman grid system with roads, infrastructure and monuments befitting of the cities stature and wealth.
An earthquake in 747AD destroyed much of the ancient city. Many inhabitants believed the city to be cursed so the city was not rebuilt. Other than a brief occupation by the Crusaders in the 12th century, ancient Gerasa eventually became covered in sands and a new city – modern-day Jerash was built on the neighbouring easterly hillside of Wadi Jerash.
Gerasa was “rediscovered” in the 19th century and has now been largely excavated and rebuilt, though many claim what you can see today is only a third of the original city (the rest assumably is still buried under the modern city). The buildings you can see are immensely well preserved and give a real insight into what life in the city must have been like.
Down to the ruts on the cobbled streets to drainage covers on the road still intact to this day, it is clear to see the forethought and town planning skills the Roman’s used. If your kids are at all interested in this stage of history (Miss Z is studying it at school this year, VERY excited!) – visiting this site is an absolute must!
Our Experience taking kids to Jerash
As we undertook this day trip as the last big outing of our Jordan Road Trip, we had definitely started to grow confident in what we could achieve and how far we could push the Globetrotters little legs. It turned out in many ways though to be a day with parenting errors and nuisances that spoilt an otherwise truly spectacular site.
We tell this tale not to put you off visiting, but to be forewarned and get the most out of a day trip so we’ll cover them first, more practical pointers below!
Our blondies have received a lot of attention over the years but nothing compared to Jerash. This was unforgettable for all the wrong reasons. What we encountered was literally hoards of school girls. Sounds innocent enough, right?
I mean hundreds. Laughing, singing, beating drums (yes!) – and fair hair touching and cheek kissing. We have taught the kids to be tolerant of this behaviour and they know that their fair hair in Asia and the Middle East draws a natural curiosity, but this got to the point where it needed serious intervention.
A polite and firm “no thank you” did not heed a response. The issue was one girl would pluck up her courage to ask for a photo in English, which my oldest Globetrotter at least always obliges to, but then a flock of 20 would come from nowhere and start touching and picking them up. There’s a natural curiosity but this was incredible. At points, we had to be human shields and couldn’t walk away! Not a teacher in sight stopping them, of course.
The good news is, the schoolgirls seemed too lazy to walk very far into the complex. We decided to start skipping some of the sights near to the entrance and sure enough, as we got deeper into the ancient city the attention wore off and we were left in peace to explore.
I think most of the girls spoke little if any English. I’m ashamed to say the only Arabic word I knew was “Khalas” – enough. Arabic friends have given me these expressions to learn in future;
“please don’t touch me” is “min fadlik la talmus“
A much more direct “don’t touch me” is “La talmasni“
Or “Stop” is “Tawaquf”
And our own errors!
In our haste to get out the car, we forgot to put hats and glasses on the kids! It’s a very exposed site, even on a mild spring day we got a lot of sun glare and felt the heat.
We’d also awkwardly timed our arrival through the hectic traffic just around lunch. We survived on what little snacks and treats we could find in the car; given the amount of exploring – not as full on as Petra but still a lot of walking – you want full bellies before you start.
What is there to see at Jerash with Kids
So after navigating our way into finding public parking at Jerash, the entrance to the site via the Arch of Hadrian is through a busy Souq. Had it not been for the aforementioned nuisances – the fact it was immensely busy, noisy, crowded, and with 3 kids to supervise just a tad scary – this would be a fabulous place to pick up a bargain on your Jordan souvenirs at a very reasonable price.
We purchased our foreigners entry tickets here, but there is then a fair walk to the actual ticket inspection point. You first pass through the Arch of Hadrian (mind the selfie sticks) and see the Hippodrome before the main entrance. Once inside you can decide, “tick off” each attraction and famous landmark as it comes, or delve yourselves in the back corner first then work your way back (if it’s crowded, seriously head to the back first).
Although yes this is more of a grown-up site to explore, kids will really enjoy the climbing opportunities and the fact so much of it resembles the city it ones was, hopefully, some lively roleplay too! You won’t find too many health and safety barriers here so naturally keep your eye out on what they’re climbing, but what a place to let kids be kids.
The bit our Globetrotters loved the most (and I love that other parents who have been to Jersash say the same thing!) was the giant millipedes. I’m talking some about a foot long! We found a few at the start but the novelty wore off after a while once we were seeing them in their hundreds! I have no idea why they’re so big and why they call Jerash home but they’re a major drawcard for the kids.
Practical advice and top tips for visiting Jerash
Getting there and where to stay
It is possible to self-drive and park but we found the drive up here very heavy going. There was much more traffic on the highway and more chaotic than in the south. Use of lanes on the road is incredibly optional. Navigating the streets of Jerash township, hair-raising! Although relatively close to the city of Amman, I’d recommend seeing if you could get a driver for the day with a guide, or even take a taxi.
We did not see anything remotely family-appropriate in accommodation options for Jerash itself.
What you should expect to pay
Entry for non-residents is 10JOD, ($14USD), kids free.
Guides can be hired near the south gate – we are told for 20JOD though the day we visited they looked very uninterested in touting for business. Never knowing how long our kids’attention spans will last these days we avoid guided tours.
NB consider the South Gate as an alternate entrance. You don’t walk through the Arch of Hadrian this way, but given how busy we found the main entrance and souq, I wish we had known about this alternate entrance. This is the point where your tickets are actually checked, you can still double back to see these attractions (as they are outside the entry fee area).
Plan your timings!
- The site is open 8am to 4.30pm in the winter or 7pm in the summer
- Squeezing in Jerash alongside other destinations on the same day will be a challenge (see other north of Amman day trips below). You need at least 3 hours to do it any justice (though fascinating, I’m not sure we could have held kids interest too much longer).
- The middle of the day we found was absolutely packed with school groups – its one of those places you want to be first in or last out at sundown.
- The best time to visit is spring (also because of the beautiful wildflower season), but as it’s not as hot in the north, you could still probably visit in the summer avoiding peak heat of the day.
- Every summer the Jerash Festival of Culture & Arts is held which includes shows held on site in the ancient Roman theatres. These theatres are still remarkably well intact and I’m sure would be an incredible experience!
Be parent prepared!
- The site is very exposed with little to offer in terms of shade. Pack up on drink bottles, sunscreen, hats and incentive snacks!
- Sturdy explorer footwear recommended.
- As an added bonus something like a magnifying glass will keep kids busy.
- This is definitely NOT stroller friendly – pack your kiddy-carrier.
- And whatever you do, avoid the school groups and the touching. Learn some basic Arabic!
Other day trips north of Amman
Once you mention heading north of Amman I know one glaringly obvious truth immediately springs to mind: you’re close to the border with Syria.
The best current international government warnings we can find suggests issues are around only the actual border crossings. The border should be avoided to a radius of 6km to 10km, including the town of Ramtha (See UK Home Office advice here and US State Department here).
That still leaves many exciting destinations to visit in the north – which we would have had we had more time in our itinerary. The north is surprisingly green, fertile, mountainous and beautiful, too often it is overlooked for the more famous attractions to the south of Amman. The highlights include:
- North of Irbid in the hills of the Jordan Valley sit the Byzantine ruins of Umm Qais (The Decapolis city of Gadara). Not as extensive as Jerash but still some excellent intact structures from the Greco-Roman period. Work to unearth much of the city only started in the 1980’s so much is still buried, but theatres, baths, gateways and mausoleums that have been unearthed.
- The city of Irbid itself is the second largest in Jordan. Very much a University town it has in the past been seen as one of the country’s most lively and progressive cities. In recent times it has become home to many refugees from Syria. Whilst not a deterrent, Irbid’s personality lies in its nightlife which isn’t the biggest family drawcard!
- Ajloun is another slightly hidden gem with much to offer. The Ajloun Castle sits atop the hillside; a 12th-century fortress built to defend against the Crusaders and a great example of Arab-Islamic architecture. In the vicinity, you will also find Ajloun Forest Reserve, a small and important protected area for native fauna and flora. Those with more enthusiastic walkers may want to give one of the many hiking trails a try. There are a few B&B and bungalow options here if planning an overnight stop – I haven’t found any attestations to their family-friendliness!
Many tours do offer these sights in conjunction with a trip to Jerash, some of the more reputable tours are available through Get Your Guide; If time permits with little ones in mind I would look to tackle these sites in a separate trip to Jerash or it becomes an incredibly long day.
Also given the proximity to the Syrian border, I would be thoroughly checking the day to day situation and travel with reputable tour guides who understand the roads, the area and your safety concerns. I would certainly feel more comfortable with a private driver than in a big tourist bus!
Safety in Jordan
Just as an aside – the most common question we have had about Jordan since our return “IS IT SAFE?”. This is an absolutely valid question and concern. Had I read half the articles about Jordan that I have since my return, I’m not sure I would have approached our trip with the same ease and candour.
But in 2017 alone there have been more attacks by Islamic-linked terrorists on European soil than in Jordan, including the failed Parsons Green bomb, just minutes from our old London home. Read government advisories. Talk to people who have been. Weight up your options, take sensible precautions.
I will publish a full article on Middle East Safety soon to expand on these ideas. But don’t let the threat of terrorists alone or geographic location put you off.
Pin it for later
Despite the nuisances of the day, I could see Jerash was another experience that still touched the Globetrotters. Regular mention is still made of the giant millipedes and little snippets of their day that obviously touched a chord. Hard work – always – but rewarding and unmissable in you’re visiting Jordan!
Read more of our Middle East Adventures with kids here
Disclosures: We were not compensated in any way to write this post, all activities were paid for and all opinions as always are our own. There are affiliate links on this page which may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you.