The King’s Highway Jordan: Scenic Road Trip from Amman to Petra

Jordan is a very small country and there are not many roads. If you wish to travel from Amman to Petra, you have 2 options. The fast and direct Desert Highway 15 to Petra or the scenic King’s Highway 35 from Amman to Petra. I took a tour from Amman to Petra, stopping at Unesco World Heritage sights Umm ar-Rasas and Crusader strongholds Kerak Castle and Shobak Castle. Not only is the King’s Highway Jordan a unique way to travel to Petra but you’ll get to see amazing things along the route.

If you continue reading, I’ll explain a little bit about the history of the King’s Highway, what driving in Jordan is like and the things to see along the route to Petra.

King’s Highway Jordan: Scenic Road Trip from Amman to Petra

Scenic Highway from Amman to Petra

The King’s Highway is one of two routes that run from Amman to Petra. The King’s Highway starts in Northern Jordan near the town of Irbid and runs north to south to the town of Wadi Musa (the gateway to Petra). On the map, the King’s Highway is marked with number 35. After Wadi Musa, the King’s Highway continues for a few more kilometers before it merges with Highway 47 to Aqaba.

History of the King’s Highway Jordan

The route of the King’s Highway in Jordan is over 5,000 years old and has been used as a trading route in ancient times. It was used by the Nabataeans to trade and the Roman emperor Trajan dubbed the route the Via Trajana Nova. The Romans not only used the route for trade, but also for military purposes.

With the rise of Christianity in the Byzantine time, many Christian pilgrims followed the route to visit Mt. Nebo where Moses saw the promised land and the baptism site of Jesus in the Jordan River. Until the 16th century, Muslims used the King’s Highways as their main route from Heliopolis (Egypt) through Jordan to Damascus, ending in Resafa (modern-day Syria) where the route merged with another ancient route to Mecca.

Nowadays, the King’s Highway is perfect for people who like driving in Jordan and want to see more of the country and visit many historic sights along the route.

Driving in Jordan

What is driving in Jordan like? I took several tours, taxis and buses around the country and once outside Amman and I didn’t experience any problems. I have to admit, Amman is a whole different story with the endless stream of traffic going through the narrow streets of the capital of Jordan. Honking taxis, people crossing the road at any time and the odd habit to make an emergency stop with their cart, truck or mini-bus in the middle of the road and park for a few minutes (or hours) is no exception.

But once outside of Amman, it’s a whole different world out there. Empty roads, signage in Arabic and English and just 2 routes going south. I guess it will be nearly impossible to get lost while driving in Jordan. Driving up the Shobak Castle on a small winding road was a bit tricky but nothing that a bit of patience and driving skill can’t handle. Roads are not lit, so I do recommend to drive during daylight in Jordan. And make sure you’ll have a filled water reservoir for your wind sweepers, as the dust from the desert and the road like to settle on your windows.

What to see on the King's Highway Jordan from Amman to Petra? I highlight the best photo stops and things to see and do on your Jordan road trip.
Driving on a completely empty road.

How to get to Petra from Amman?

As mentioned before, there are two roads leading south from Amman to Petra. One is the direct Desert Highway and the other the scenic King’s Highway. Both will bring you from Amman to Petra. But what is the difference?

King’s Highway or Desert Highway?

Desert Highway 15 runs south to north, from Aqaba via Petra to Amman. It will take you 234 km (145 miles) and it’s a straight route, without any interesting stops on the way. As the name suggest, the highway cuts through the desert. From Aqaba, you’ll cross Ma’an where you can take the turn off to Wadi Musa to reach Petra. As you continue on the road you’ll reach Amman.

The Desert Highway is perfect for people who have little time and want to go quickly from Amman to Petra. The regional buses from Amman to Petra follow this route as do many tours from Amman.

When you have a little more time (allow all day to be safe) and want to see interesting historic sights you’ll not find in Amman, then the King’s Highway would be your best choice. The King’s Highway from Amman to Petra is 249 km (154 miles) long. This is only slightly longer than the Desert Highway but because of the scenic nature of the route, the winding roads, the steep climbs, and descents, it will take you much longer.

What to see on the King's Highway Jordan from Amman to Petra? I highlight the best photo stops and things to see and do on your Jordan road trip.
Great stops along the King’s Highway to explore Jordan.

King’s Highway Tour

We set out at 9 o’clock in the morning and we arrived in Wadi Musa at 5.30 pm. This included 3 sightseeing stops, 4 short photography stops and about 1 hour of lunch. To me, it was the perfect way of taking in more of the country while driving through Jordan on my way to Petra. I arranged for a shared taxi tour via my hotel, the Jordan Tower Hotel. I shared the car with the skilled driver and 2 other tourists. There was plenty of room for our bags, we stopped at interesting sights and I got dropped off at my hotel in Wadi Musa to explore Petra. I paid 35 JD for the tour via my hotel which included the shared car ride and petrol. Other expenses like the lunch, entrance fees and tips were not included.

Other Tours from Amman to Petra

Obviously, there are several other ways to get from Amman to Petra. If you don’t feel like driving in Jordan or booking the local tour I did, you can always opt for the complete tour or transfer to Petra and book in advance.

Things to see along the King’s Highway

Are you already a little excited to take the King’s Highway from Amman to Petra? Curious what exactly you’ll see along the route? I highlight the most exciting things to stop for along the King’s Highway.

Umm ar-Rasas

We left Amman via the south and turned off a road through the desert. We saw nothing but sand and more sand. As it was November, the land was completely dry and thirsty for some rain. We reached the small village of Umm ar-Rasas where we parked at the visitor center.

We entered the park and passed the ancient Islamic cemetery and walked through the ruined city. Big blocks of limestone revealed the foundation of many churches. Smaller blocks of limestone formed big piles of rubble. We followed the main route and ended up at St. Stephan’s Church. Protected by big structure we entered the ancient Byzantine church. For me lay the biggest mosaics I’ve ever seen inside a church. The black and white colored little stones were neatly aligned, forming dramatic scenes of exotic animals. As we walked around the complex, we found a colored mosaic depicting little images of the cities of that time and we had fun trying to decipher the Greek names of ancient cities and match them with their modern-day successors.

We continued our tour of Umm ar-Rasas and visited several other churches. It’s too bad the sight is almost completely in ruins. In some cases, the foundation, doorway and apsis of churches can be recognized but overall, we found a lot of rubble, debris and loose rocks laying around. The sight is protected by Unesco but I’m not sure if they receive a lot of funding for it. There is definitely work to do to make the site more attractive and understandable.

We spent about 45 minutes at Umm ar-Rasas.

What to see on the King's Highway Jordan from Amman to Petra? I highlight the best photo stops and things to see and do on your Jordan road trip.
Roaming the Ruins of Umm Ar-Rasas

Photo stop at Mujib Dam

We continued our Jordan road trip to Kerak Castle. The drive from the town of Dhiban to the Mujib Dam was spectacular. The deep canyon was green with terraces and the view of the canyon and the dam in the distance was spectacular. We stopped at a viewpoint where we could take it all in and enjoy the view!

After first climbing the winding roads to the highest point and then descending down again, in similar meandering fashion, I was glad we found a patch of straight road again. We passed a few town and I had fun looking at ordinary life as we passed by.

What to see on the King's Highway Jordan from Amman to Petra? I highlight the best photo stops and things to see and do on your Jordan road trip.
The perfect road trip photo stop.

Kerak Castle

We reached Kerak and parked near the castle. With my Jordan Pass, I could walk straight through the gates. Kerak Castle is the fortification atop the town of Kerak. The site has been inhabited since the Prehistory but it’s main claim to fame is being one of the 3 largest Crusader Castles in the region. Once in Roman hands and the seat of the Church of Nazareth, where the first followers of Jesus Christ gathered, the city fell to the hands of the Crusaders in 1132.

Called the stone of the desert, the castle was built around that time and most of it still stands today. But the Crusaders kept is for only 46 years, because after 1 year of attacks by Saladin, the castle fell in 1188 to the hands of the Muslim forces.

Although many modifications were made to Kerak Castle since that time, the main draw is the ancient Crusader lay-out. Situated on a 1,000-meter hilltop (3,300 ft.) the castle is surrounded by deep valleys on three sides. On a clear day, you can see as far as the Dead Sea but the nearby mountains and valley are equally impressive.

We explored many underground hallways, entering big halls and climbing the defense towers of the castle. The views were what captured me the most though.

After roughly 45 minutes we returned to Kerak city where I snapped a quick picture of the statue of Saladin and we had lunch at a nearby restaurant.

What to see on the King's Highway Jordan from Amman to Petra? I highlight the best photo stops and things to see and do on your Jordan road trip.
Overlooking the outer ramparts of Kerak Castle and the surrounding hills

Dana National Reserve

More twisting roads followed as we left Kerak behind us and drove towards Shobak Castle. On the way, we passed small towns, high black mountains and glistering dams. We stopped for a photo moment at a viewpoint overlooking Dana National Reserve. I’ve heard great things about Dana National Park, but due to a lack of time and fitness, I decided to skip it. What I could see from the viewpoint was breathtaking.

Shobak Castle

In the late afternoon, we arrived at Shobak Castle. Situated on a round hill, the castle can be easily spotted from the distance. Shobak castle is also called Montreal Castle. It is surrounded by fertile lands and due to its location on the hilltop, it was very desirable. Not as big and important as Kerak Castle, the Shobak Castle also was a Crusader castle. But it took Saladin 2 years (!!) to capture it in 1189.

When you explore Shobak Castle, you’ll find 2 paths, one follows the lower levels and when you look up, you’ll see impressive arches and structures. You can also climb atop these structures, which gives sweeping views across the area. You’ll have 360 degrees uninterrupted views of the mountains and land surrounding Shobak.

As the sun was slowly setting, I think we stayed for 30 to maximum 45 minutes at Shobak Castle. As we drove away, we managed to stop for a quick photo moment where you’ll see Shobak Castle against the impressive backdrop.

What to see on the King's Highway Jordan from Amman to Petra? I highlight the best photo stops and things to see and do on your Jordan road trip.
Rosy red sun set over Shobak Castle

Wadi Musa and Petra

By now, I was getting quite tired. We’ve been exploring and driving all day. But our Jordan road trip was nearly over because 30 minutes later, we reached the town of Wadi Musa, gateway to Petra.

Do I need to introduce Petra to you? This is probably the reason why you took the drive from Amman to Petra. Or why you’re looking for information on Jordan in the first place. The ancient site of Petra is one of the 7 wonders of the world. After walking through a natural carves mountain path, you’ll reach the ancient Nabataean site of the pink city. Long hidden but the modern world, it now offers stunning views of the Treasury and ancient Nabatean Tombs. Together with Roman ruins and Byzantine churches and amazing views when you climb to one of the high places, Petra is the MUST see site in the Middle East. I spend 3 nights in Wadi Musa and visited Petra twice.

It is with right a rewarding end to the King’s Highway and worth the time and effort to get there from Amman.

What to see on the King's Highway Jordan from Amman to Petra? I highlight the best photo stops and things to see and do on your Jordan road trip.
Exploring the Siq of Petra.

Jordan Road Trip on the King’s Highway

If you’re looking for more road trip ideas or you have more days to explore the King’s Highway in Jordan, then I also recommend the following stops en route. I visited these on a separate day trip but they can easily be added to your Jordan road trip itinerary if you have more time or your own car.

Mount Nebo where Moses saw the promised land

Mount Nebo is just a short detour from the King’s Highways near Madaba but I found it very rewarding. I’m not religious and I must confess I have not read the Bible. But even for me, I found the drive up the mountains impressive. The mountains leading up to Mount Nebo are equally impressive, offering hair-pin turns and stunning views in the rear-view mirror.

Once at Mount Nebo, I was impressed by the level of professionalism on how the sight is run. A big car park, several restaurants, a state of the art entrance, many toilets and readable signs to explain details. At the main point, you’ll find a statue of a staff, representing the staff of Moses but most impressive must be the view.

Unfortunately, during my November visit in Jordan, all views were covered with a hazy blanket of dust but nevertheless, the views were stunning! The Dead Sea is clearly visible and looking in the correct direction you’ll see a glistering in the distance. That would be the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. On your right, you can see a few skyscrapers of Amman and all the lands between them.

At the viewpoint, you’ll find the modern church with very impressive mosaics. The church is the definition of contrast as the modern structure feels odd but for some reason, it does blend in nicely. My most memorable moment was as I walked around the church and just heard the call to prayer and witnessed some workers in the park. They put down their tools and started praying. I was moved to see the two religions so close together at this historic sight.

We spent about 45 minutes at Mount Nebo in total.

What to see on the King's Highway Jordan from Amman to Petra? I highlight the best photo stops and things to see and do on your Jordan road trip.
Exploring Mount Nebo.

Madaba Mosaic

From the King’s Highway, it is easy to drive into the town of Madaba. Only 32 km (20 miles) south of Amman, this is also an easy (half) day trip from Amman. We mainly visited Madaba for our lunch at a small restaurant opposite the St. George Church of Madaba.

But, as long as we were there, we also visited the famous map mosaic of Madaba. In the Greek Orthodox church of St. George, you can find a 6th century (ACE) floor mosaic with a map depicting the Holy Land and Jerusalem. It is the oldest cartographic depiction of the current Middle East at that time.

You need to pay a 1 Euro contribution at the office before you’re allowed to enter the church. I spent about 5 to 10 minutes looking at a simulation of the map outside the church with the several elements on the map. In total, I spent only 3 minutes inside the church to look at the original floor mosaic map because large portions are missing or destructed.

When you’re in the neighbourhood, definitely stop and take a peek at the Madaba Map, but I didn’t think it was worth a (half) day trip from Amman.

What to see on the King's Highway Jordan from Amman to Petra? I highlight the best photo stops and things to see and do on your Jordan road trip.
The tiny piece of the Madaba mosaic that is still somewhat intact.

King’s Highway Jordan

After completing my full day of sightseeing on the King’s Highway from Amman to Petra I was quite tired but very happy. I had an excellent day, covered a lot of miles and added one Unesco World Heritage Site to my list, visited 2 Crusader Castles, took in numerous breathtaking views and had fun on my Jordan Road Trip. If you’ll travel to Jordan to see more than just Petra, I definitely recommend driving in Jordan along the King’s Highway. Yes, it takes more time than the King’s Highway to reach Petra, but for me, it was 100% worth it!

Have you been to Jordan? How did you travel from Amman to Petra? Did you drive the King’s Highway? What was the sight you liked best? Please share your thoughts with me in the comment section below!

What to see on the King's Highway Jordan from Amman to Petra? I highlight the best photo stops and things to see and do on your Jordan road trip.
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