The Top Things to See and Do in Aqaba, Jordan

Enjoy a stroll or boat ride along the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba
Enjoy a stroll or boat ride along the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba | © Yakov Oskanov / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Andrew Ricca
4 September 2021

Aqaba, the only coastal city in Jordan, is a base for diving the coral reefs of the Red Sea or heading to the Star Wars-esque landscape of the rocky Wadi Rum. The city landmarks – from ancient ruins to a showstopping mosque – illuminate fascinating elements of Islamic culture and Middle Eastern history. Here’s what to do in Aqaba.

Want to explore Aqaba with a local guide at your side? Join our nine-day adventure from Amman to the Dead Sea and discover the cultural must-sees and must-dos that are often overlooked.

Seek out Arab history at Mamluk Castle

Historical Landmark
Map View
Aqaba Fortress, Mamluk Castle
© Eugene Sergeev / Alamy Stock Photo
A few blocks inland from the Gulf of Aqaba, Mamluk Castle is the site of one of the most famous battles of World War I – a victory for the Arab Revolt. This uprising, which swept through Aqaba in 1916, is immortalised in a memorable scene from the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia. The 16th-century castle was built by the Mamluk sultanate and was used for centuries as a khan, or travellers’ inn, hosting pilgrims on their journey to Mecca.

Venture into the Wadi Rum

Map View
Wadi Rum, Jordan.
© Yadid Levy / Alamy Stock Photo
Aqaba is the gateway to the Wadi Rum, south Jordan’s mystical-looking valley of sandstone and granite. Also known as the Valley of the Moon, this natural wonder of remarkable rock formations was made by millions of years of changing weather conditions and erosion. Sunsets here are especially colourful and best enjoyed during a night as guests of nomadic Bedouins. JETT and Trust company buses depart from private stations in the city, while minibuses leave from the main station in Aqaba.

Visit the Aqaba Archaeological Museum

Map View
Aqaba Archaeological Museum adjacent to the castle
© Valery Voennyy / Alamy Stock Photo
Adjacent to the castle and near the 130m (427ft) high Aqaba Flagpole, the Aqaba Archaeological Museum gives you the best introduction to the rich history of the city. Originally a palace for Hashemite dynasty founder Hussein bin Ali, it houses a collection of Bronze Age artefacts dating to 4000BCE. Among the best-known treasures are Medieval Fatimid coins and an inscription of a Quranic verse that once hung above the eastern gate in Aqaba.

Go diving in the Red Sea

Building, Sports Center
Map View
Cedar Pride, Red Sea
© Norbert Probst / imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

One of Aqaba’s greatest assets lies beneath the surface – the coral reefs of the Red Sea. The gulf’s mild weather makes it a perfect place for a first trial dive, while certified divers can choose from a plethora of sites. Go looking for turtles at the Seven Sisters coral, or swim down to Cedar Pride, a Lebanese freighter wreck that’s accessible from the shore. Ahlan Aqaba Scuba Diving Centre offers adventurous diving trips and snorkelling in the Aqaba Marine Park.

Alternatively, you can go diving in the Red Sea as part of Culture Trip’s carefully curated small-group trip, Beyond Petra: Discovering Jordan’s Rugged Side.

See the Sherif al-Hussein bin Ali Mosque

Map View
Sherif al-Hussein bin Ali Mosque
Courtesy of Sherif al-Hussein bin Ali Mosque / Expedia
Named after the leader of the 1916 Arab Revolt, the Sharif al-Hussein bin Ali Mosque is the most remarkable place of worship in Aqaba. It was built in 1975 and enlarged in 2011, the white stone still gleaming on its vast dome, intricate minaret and elegant arches. Wander through the main entrance to explore the mosaic interior, which is adorned with fountains, columns and chandeliers. Come back at night to see the soaring tower illuminated in bright white light.

Live it up at Berenice Beach Club

Park, Ruins
Map View
Upgrade your day at the beach with a spot at Berenice Beach Club. A short bus ride from the city centre, this private club is spread across 500m (1,640ft) of the Red Sea coast, a spot that lays claim to the cleanest waters of the Aqaba Marine Park. It has three swimming pools, showers and shaded sunbeds. Services range from diving and snorkelling at an in-house diving centre to yacht cruises and jet-skis.

Explore the early Islamic city of Ayla

Historical Landmark
Map View
Ruins of ancient city Ayla in Aqaba, Jordan
© Pavel Dudek / Alamy Stock Photo

Northwest of the city centre, ancient ruins mark the spot of the first Islamic city to be founded outside the Arabian Peninsula. You can see the ruins of an ancient church, arguably the oldest purposely built church anywhere in the world, and sections of the city wall. The site is located right in front of the Mövenpick and Aqaba Gulf hotels, a short walk from the waterfall, and entrance is free.

Take a stroll around the Aqaba Bird Observatory

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Levant Sparrow Hawk, Aqaba Bird Observatory
© blickwinkel/AGAMI/V. Legrand / blickwinkel / Alamy Stock Photo

The Aqaba Bird Observatory is at the northern tip of the Red Sea, close to the Eilat border, and receives flocks of birds from Europe, Asia and Africa every migration season. The forest and wetlands cultivated here create a stark contrast to the surrounding desert and are no less beautiful for being artificially managed. Any given season attracts more than 70 different bird species passing through this bottleneck of global migration routes.

Go on a glass-bottom boat tour

Natural Feature
Map View
Movenpick Resort and Residences Aqaba
Courtesy of Mövenpick Resort and Residences Aqaba / Expedia

Should you not fancy getting into the water for snorkelling or diving, glass-bottomed boats are a fantastic way to see the Red Sea. Boats pull up on a beach near the Mövenpick hotel, or at a jetty in front of Aqaba Castle. Tours last from 30 minutes to an hour, the latter rounding most of the harbour and going close to the Israeli border and the city of Eilat.

These recommendations were updated on September 4, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

Cookies Policy

We and our partners use cookies to better understand your needs, improve performance and provide you with personalised content and advertisements. To allow us to provide a better and more tailored experience please click "OK"