Aqaba, Jordan’s idyllic coastal city, beckons travelers with its unique fusion of ancient history, sun-soaked beaches, and exhilarating adventure.
I have been through Aqaba several times during my travels in Jordan – but never for long enough. There are some incredible things to do in Aqaba, more than you might imagine considering the city isn’t on all Jordan itineraries and competes for time with world wonders like Petra, Wadi Rum, and the Dead Sea.
From exploring the enchanting ruins of Ayla and diving into the crystal-clear waters of the Red Sea to savoring sumptuous local cuisine and strolling through bustling markets, Aqaba promises a treasure trove of discoveries that will captivate your senses and create memories to last a lifetime. Ready to learn the best things to do in Aqaba and plan one (or all) of them into your Jordan itinerary?
1. Visit Aqaba Castle
Aqaba Castle, also known as Mamluk Fort, is a historic fortress that dates back to the 16th century. It was built by the Ottomans and later restored by the Mamluks, hence the name.
Visiting the castle is one of the best things to do in Aqaba to get a glimpse into the region’s history and culture. The castle played a crucial role in the victory of the Arab Revolt, and Lawrence of Arabia even rode from it to Cairo to give the good news.
2. Shop the Souks
Shopping in a souk is one of the Aqaba things to do that you can’t miss on your visit. These lively markets have been an essential part of Middle Eastern culture for centuries, serving as important hubs for trade, commerce, and social interaction.
Today, they’re an excellent place to absorb the local culture, get a few exotic spices, and experience in the flesh the art of haggling. It’s also a great place to find souvenirs and gifts to get back home.
3. Snorkel at the Marine Park
Aqaba Marine Park is one of the best Aqaba activities if you’re traveling with your family. The park is a protected area that is home to a diverse array of marine life, including colorful fish and corals. You can spend the day relaxing on the beach or go snorkeling to explore the underwater world.
With its clear waters, vibrant coral reefs, and diverse range of marine species, the marine park offers a truly unforgettable snorkeling experience. Don’t forget to book a tour to snorkel in the Japanese Garden; it’s great for beginners!
4. Scuba Dive in the Red Sea
Scuba diving is another popular activity for visitors to Aqaba. The Red Sea’s warm waters and vibrant coral reefs make it a popular destination for scuba divers of all levels. You’ll find a ton of dive operators and dive shops in Aqaba that offer scuba diving trips to different sites along the coast.
If you’re a newbie, don’t worry: many dive shops in Aqaba offer introductory courses and certification programs. These courses typically include classroom instruction and pool training, followed by open water dives with an instructor.
5. Visit the Archaeology Museum
Visiting the Aqaba Archaeology Museum is one of the must things to do in Aqaba if you’re interested in learning about the rich history and cultural heritage of Aqaba and the surrounding region.
The museum’s collection is stunning, showcasing artifacts from the Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Nabatean periods, as well as exhibits on the Islamic and Crusader periods. Among the museum’s highlights are pottery, jewelry, coins, and ancient manuscripts, many of which are unique to the region.
6. Admire the Sharif Hussein bin Ali Mosque
Jordan is a Muslim country and visiting a mosque is a fantastic way to interiorize yourself in the country’s religion and how it has shaped daily life and culture. The Sharif Hussein bin Ali Mosque is a beautiful mosque that features traditional Islamic architecture.
Best of all, the site is open to the public, but not during prayer times. Also, women must cover their heads and bodies with robes, which can be borrowed from the mosque.
7. Stroll the Aqaba Corniche
The Aqaba Corniche is a seaside promenade lined with palm trees, colorful flowers, and street vendors selling local crafts and souvenirs.
Strolling along the Aqaba Corniche is a great way to experience the city’s vibrant atmosphere and stunning views of the Red Sea. You can go for a leisurely walk or bike ride. At night, the restaurants and cafes along the promenade offer outdoor seating, allowing visitors to enjoy the sea breeze and good music while dining.
8. Visit the Ruins of Ayla
Ayla is an ancient Islamic city that dates back to 650 AD but archaeologists rediscovered it in 1989. According to historians, Ayla was the first Islamic city to be built outside the Arabian Peninsula, and served as a port and a storehouse for the Hejaz (a region in the west of Saudi Arabia).
Its ruins offer a fascinating glimpse into the city’s history and architecture and you can find structures from the Byzantine period still standing. The site is quite small – you can cover all the ruins in as little as 3o minutes.
9. Lounge on Al-Hafayer Beach
Aqaba is Jordan’s only port city, which means there’s no shortage of beaches to laze around. My suggestion is that you go lounging on Al-Hafayer Beach. This secluded beach is located just a short distance from the city center and is known for its crystal-clear waters, soft white sand, and picturesque mountain backdrop.
You can rent lounge chairs and umbrellas or bring your own and spend the day soaking up the sun, swimming, and enjoying water sports like snorkeling and jet skiing.
10. Explore Beyond Aqaba on a Day Trip
Aqaba is a great base to visit other Jordan attractions, like Wadi Rum and Petra. Also, since Aqaba is right next to the sea, it’s pretty easy to visit neighboring countries from it.
Day trips to these destinations are easy to arrange or you can even drive yourself to the ones in Jordan. If you need more information, you can check my guide on the most popular day trips from Aqaba and choose the one that you like the most.
As you can see, Aqaba is well worth more than just an overnight stop; there are plenty of great things to do in Jordan’s port city on the Red Sea. Have any questions about the best things to do in Aqaba? Let me know in the comments below.