The ancient city of Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, is a treasure trove of unforgettable experiences that beckon travelers to delve into the heart of its fascinating history and culture. It’s almost impossible to visit Jordan and not visit Petra – so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to explore this incredible site.
As you embark on your journey to uncover the myriad things to do in Petra, you’ll find yourself immersed in a world where breathtaking architecture, awe-inspiring landscapes, and captivating stories intertwine to create an enchanting tapestry of discovery.
From exploring the iconic Treasury and the majestic Monastery to hiking the rugged trails that reveal hidden gems and panoramic vistas, the best things to do in Petra promise to captivate your senses, stir your imagination, and leave you with memories that will last a lifetime. Ready to discover each one?
1. Visit the Treasury
Of all the things to do in Petra, visiting the Treasury is a must-do. This is one of the most iconic landmarks in the Nabatean Kingdom.
The good news is that visiting it doesn’t take much effort or planning. It is the first building that visitors see when they enter Petra’s main entrance. The Treasury is a rock-cut temple that dates back to the 1st century BC. It was carved out of a sandstone rock face and features intricate carvings and details that are simply breathtaking.
2. Hike to the Monastery
Another must-see attraction in Petra is the Monastery. It’s a steep and narrow way to the top, though. This rock-cut temple is perched on the top of a steep hill, and visitors need to climb approximately 850 to reach it. The hike is challenging, but the views from the top are worth it. Architectonically speaking, the Monastery is similar to the Treasury in design, but it is much larger in scale.
3. See an Ancient Crusade Site
Petra was founded over 2000 years ago and has been inhabited by numerous groups and civilizations throughout history. One of the most fascinating periods was the Crusades.
Visitors can see the remains of an ancient Crusade castle named the Vaux Moise Crusader Castle, or as the locals call the al-Wu’aira. The castle dates back to the year 1116 when Baldwin I of Jerusalem ordered the construction of the Crusader castle to control the trade and communication route between Cairo and Damascus.
The castle isn’t inside the Petra site, but between Wadi Musa and Um Seyhun, a Bdul village.
4. Admire Byzantine Mosaics
If you ask me, admiring the Byzantine mosaics is one of the most fascinating Petra activities. The Nabatean Kingdom is home to several Byzantine mosaics that date back to the 5th and 6th centuries. These mosaics are located in the stunning Petra Church and feature intricate designs and details that are simply breathtaking.
(If you love mosaics, Jordan has lots of great ones – here’s a guide to other places to see them.)
5. Step inside Ancient Tombs
Like most ancient civilizations, the Nabateans also had their own death rituals and ceremonies. In Petra, you can find The Royal Tombs, which are carved out of sandstone rock and feature elaborate designs and details.
There are four Royal Tombs: the Urn Tomb, the Silk Tomb, the Corinthian Tomb, and the Palace Tomb. For me, the biggest takeaway from these tombs is the amazing colors you’ll see inside (and sometimes outside) in the rock of the mountain they are built into. Be ready to climb and walk a lot if you want to enjoy them!
6. Enjoy a Hot Tea with a View
On your way up to The Monastery (it’s the Ad Deir Trail), you’ll find tons of tea shops and souvenir shops dotting the path. Take a break, get an authentic Bedouin tea, and sip it while you admire the view around you.
7. Learn the Art of Bedouin Kohl
While you’re still trying to nail down that smokey eye you saw on TikTok, Bedouins mastered the Art of Kohl centuries ago.
You’ll find tons of traditional Bedouin tribesmen in Petra who’ll be happy to demonstrate how to apply Kohl eyeliner. Kohl is an ancient eye cosmetic widely used in the Middle East, the Caucasus, North Africa, South Asia, West Africa, and the Horn of Africa. But it’s more than just makeup. Wearing Kohl eyeliner has spiritual, historical, and religious connotations and even health benefits.
(You can also buy a small container of Kohl to bring home as a souvenir; this is one of my favorites!
8. Find a Unique Souvenir
Speaking of souvenirs, Petra is a great place to find them. The Nabatean Kingdom is dotted with a bunch of souvenir shops run by local Bedouin that offer a wide range of unique items. You can find everything from traditional Bedouin clothing to handcrafted jewelry and pottery. Be aware that the Jordanians sales pitch can be a bit aggressive for us Americans. So don’t take it personally!
9. Ride a Camel
Riding a camel is one of the most popular things to do in Petra. You’re in the desert, after all! Most people recommend doing a camel ride once you’ve finished exploring the site. You’ll see quite a few camels for hire spread around the site, starting from the Treasury and going up to the Street of Facades. All you have to do is go up to the camel owner and negotiate a rate you’re happy with.
10. Book a Carriage Ride
Another fun way to explore Petra is by booking a carriage ride. This is a great option for visitors who want to take a more leisurely tour of the city and enjoy the views without having to walk. Most horse rides will take you from the Visitor Center through the Siq. Remember to negotiate the price before you book the ride.
11. Admire Sunset
Admiring the sunset atop the Monastery is one of the Petra things to do that you shouldn’t miss. The experience of watching how the sun sets over the ancient city, casting a warm glow over the rock-cut temples and tombs is unforgettable. You can get tea or fresh juice in one of the tea shops to accompany the relaxing moment.
12. Visit Petra by Night
Petra by Night is an experience everyone should have during their trip. In fact, it’s gained such popularity that some people have it as one of the must things to do in Petra. You’ll get to experience walking down The Siq as hundreds of candles illuminate the way. Then, you get to admire the Treasury bathed in the light of hundreds of candles and enjoy a guided tour that includes storytelling, music, and traditional Bedouin music.
13. Smoke Hookah in a Cave
Last but not least, go to The Cave Bar and smoke hookah. The Cave Bar is set in a restored Nabatean tomb, and is part of the Petra Guest House hotel. It’s a great place to unwind after an astonishing day exploring Petra. The drinks are good and cold and the hookah is flavorful and long-lasting.
It’s an amazing experience; I don’t know where else in the world you can sit in your own private niche in a cave right outside one of the seven wonders of the world and enjoy drinks and hookah!
Have any questions about the best things to do in Petra, other activities you’ve heard of, or anything else about visiting Petra? Let me know in the comments below!