Jordan / Middle East / Travel

Petra travel guide: Everything you need to know

The most popular attraction in Jordan, Petra is a magical sight that fully deserves its status as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Formerly the beating heart of the Nabataean empire, the Rose City – so called for the marvellous colour of the sandstone in which it is carved – was once a flourishing city home to around 20,000 inhabitants. However, once new trade routes were discovered, people soon left and the city was left abandoned, remaining hidden to the Western world for centuries.

Having been discovered by Jean Louis Burckhardt in the 19th century, Petra is now open to the public, with towering tombs, monasteries and ancient sights waiting to be explored.  

A visit to the forgotten city is a must for anyone travelling to Jordan, and this Petra travel guide explores the best way to see it. From tips on where to stay and how much it costs to where to eat and drink and what to see and when, the comprehensive guide tells you everything you need to know when visiting Petra. For more tips on visiting Jordan and a suggested itinerary, see this Jordan travel guide.

Petra Travel Guide Contents:

Petra Travel Guide The Treasury
First glimpse of the Treasury from the Siq

Where to stay in Petra:

For those who want to splash out a little, the Movenpick Resort Petra is a fantastic option. Located a two-minute walk from Petra’s entrance, the five-star hotel provides high-end accommodation and a good-sized swimming pool, meaning you can enjoy a relaxing swim after hiking around Petra.

Other good options are the Petra Guest House, which is located right at the main entrance and houses the famous Cave Bar, and the Petra Marriott Hotel. Located up in the hills, this hotel offers spectacular views across the valley and a traditional Bedouin tent dining experience.

Wadi Musa ­– the town surrounding Petra – is also home to a large number of more budget-friendly options.

How long to spend in Petra:

Spread over one hundred square miles with a large number of sights to see, Petra is a huge site and you need at least two but ideally three days to see it fully.

Street of Facades – View from the hike up to the High Place of Sacrifice

What to see in Petra and when:

Owing to its size, a visit to Petra entails a large amount of walking – much of which is up steep hills – so it can be exhausting spending three full days in the site. It’s, therefore, a good idea to consider splitting your time into one full day and two half days, leaving time to relax and recover at your hotel.

Petra’s main sights are busiest from 8am through to 4/5pm, so in order to see them without the crowds, it’s a good idea to be there for at least one early morning and one late afternoon.

A suggested Petra itinerary:

Day one:

With first day enthusiasm in full force, you will most likely want to spend your entire first day within Petra. In order to get the best first impression of Petra, be sure to enter through the main entrance and down the Siq to the Treasury, which you’ll see peeking between the Siq’s towering walls. Aim to get there as early as you can – ideally when the site opens at 6am but definitely before 8am – to see it without the crowds and tour guides.

After the Treasury, head through the Street of Facades, stopping to see the amphitheatre along the way, before heading straight up to the Royal Tombs on the hill to the right. These are incredibly impressive and deserve to be seen when they’re quiet – they also provide spectacular views over the Colonnaded Street and Great Temple, which you can visit after exploring the Royal Tombs.

Finally, walk back towards the Treasury and on the Street of Facades divert off to the High Place of Sacrifice. When visiting here in the late afternoon, you will be able to stop and look back at the Street of Facades, which will be beautifully lit by the late afternoon/early evening sun.

Petra travel guide the Monastery
Late afternoon at the Monastery
Petra travel guide Little Petra hike
First view of the Monastery when hiking from Little Petra

Day two:

On your second day, treat yourself to a leisurely morning at your hotel and aim to leave for Little Petra just after lunch. You can get a taxi from your hotel, which takes around 10 minutes and should cost between 10 and 20JD. Spend some time exploring Little Petra before embarking on the hike to the Monastery.

This hike takes between 2.5 and 3 hours and should only be attempted if you have a reasonable level of fitness. While it may be strenuous, the hike is also very enjoyable and rewarding, and it avoids walking up to the Monastery with all the crowds and souvenir shops. Approaching from Little Petra also provides a dramatic first view of the Monastery, with it slowly emerging over the top of the mountains as you get closer, and doing the hike in the afternoon means you will arrive at the Monastery when it is much quieter and lit up by the sun rather than in the shade. See here for more information on the Little Petra hike.

Petra Travel Guide Little Petra Hike
The hike from Little Petra
Petra by Night
Petra by Night

After taking in the majestic structure, be sure to stop for a refreshment at the adjacent café ­and then walk back through Petra towards the Treasury, which should also be relatively quiet right at the end of the day. Use this time to arrange a hike up to the Treasury viewpoint for the following morning. By arranging it with a guide the night before, you can bargain a better price and it will also mean they will be there waiting for you as soon as you arrive first thing in the morning. Expect to pay between 15JD and 20JD for the hike up to the viewpoint and back – be sure to agree on the return when haggling.

Following a quick dinner and refresh, finish your second day with Petra by Night. This ceremony sees the Siq and Treasury beautifully lit by more than 1,000 candles with an accompanying show of readings and songs. Aim to be the first or last ones into Petra by Night in order to walk through the candlelit Siq all on your own – a peaceful and magical experience. Petra by Night runs every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday and tickets must be bought separately. It costs 17JD per person.

Day three:

Conclude your visit to Petra with an early morning visit to the Treasury, getting there for when it opens in order to arrive before anyone else. You’ll then be able to meet with the guide for your pre-arranged hike up to the viewpoint. Doing this first thing in the morning should mean you have it all to yourself, enabling you to relax and take plenty of photos without other people waiting for their turn.

Once you’ve taken in the magnificent views from above the Treasury, you can then either re-visit any sights that you want to see again, head off to relax at your hotel or leave Petra for your next destination.

How much Petra costs:

Entry to Petra is included in the Jordan Pass, which can be purchased before entering the country in order to save money on your visa and other major attractions. There are three price brackets for this: 70JD for one day in Petra, 75JD for two days in Petra, and 80JD for three days in Petra. This also includes your visa and entry to attractions such as Karak Castle, Jerash and the Amman Citadel.

If you do not purchase the Jordan Pass, entry to Petra costs 50JD for one day, 55JD for two days and 60JD for three days. These prices are dependent on visitors spending at least one night in Jordan.

Where to eat and drink in Petra:

There are a number of restaurants and cafes within Petra, so you will be able to find somewhere to stop for a drink or lunch while in the site. A particularly good spot is the café in front of the Monastery – a fantastic place to stop and enjoy some well-earned refreshments after the long hike. A lot of the hotels also offer a lunchbox service, allowing you to bring your own food in and have a picnic somewhere in the site.

In the evening, the Red Cave Restaurant is a good option for dinner with very friendly staff and a tasty lamb mansaf – Jordan’s national dish – while the Cave Bar is an atmospheric spot for a post-dinner drink. Set within a 2000-year-old Nabataean rock tomb, it’s a unique setting and one of the few bars in Jordan that isn’t within a five-star hotel.

What to wear in Petra:

A visit to Petra involves an incredible amount of walking, so you need to ensure that you wear comfortable and supportive shoes. If you want to climb up to the Treasury viewpoint, you must wear trainers or proper walking boots because it’s quite precarious and sandals would be too dangerous.

Petra is the biggest tourist attraction in Jordan, meaning that you don’t have to worry too much about dressing conservatively as you will mainly be surrounded by other tourists. However, it’s always a good idea to respect local customs, so loose fitting trousers and appropriate shorts are the best option. Maxi skirts and tight fitting clothes will make climbing up to the viewpoints quite difficult.

Be sure to wear a hat and a top that covers your shoulders to prevent sunburn.

Where to park in Petra:

A lot of hotels in Petra, including the nearby Movenpick, have their own car parks. Alternatively, there is a free car park located at the entrance to Petra.

More on Jordan:

The Little Petra Hike

The ultimate guide to driving through Jordan

Everything you need to know about visiting Wadi Rum

A Jordan 10 day itinerary

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