Petra is well known throughout the world and a popular place to visit. Most people have it on their bucket lists, indeed it was on ours. With its elaborate architecture chiselled out of the pink cliffs, it’s not just the leading highlight of a country blessed with more than its fair share of top sights, but a wonder of the world. This famous ‘Rose City’ certainly deserves all the hype, it’s an amazing place to visit, but what is it like to explore Petra with kids?
THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO PETRA WITH KIDS
WHAT IS PETRA?
Origins of the ancient city can be dated back 2000 years ago and the Nabatean Empire. The Nabateans arrived in the region around the 6th century BC . They were organised traders and over the next 500 years used their wealth to build the city of Petra. The Nabatean capital city, literally carved into the mountainside, was an important trading post and passageway from the Arabian peninsula in the south to Europe and China to the north and west. In its heyday it was home to around 30,000 people.
By AD106 trade routes had shifted and bypassed Petra altogether. The Romans had now assumed control of the weakened Nabatean empire, but far from abandoning the city, the invaders recast the ancient city with familiar Roman features, including a colonnaded street and baths.
Earthquakes in the 4th and 6th centuries AD destroyed much of the city and Petra became a forgotten outpost, a ‘Lost City’, known only to the local Bedouin who preferred to keep its whereabouts secret. In 1812, however, a young Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, ended Petra’s splendid isolation, riding into the abandoned city disguised as a Muslim holy man.
In 1985 Petra was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and in 2007, one of the new “Seven Wonders of the World”.
EXPLORING PETRA WITH KIDS
We spent a full day exploring the delights of Petra, also known as the ‘Rose City’. Our day began at 6.30am and ended at 5.30pm, a long day but we did a lot! Petra deserves at least a full day as we did, or two days, particularly if you have younger kids, as distances are large.
We had a guide for our time in Petra, organised through Jordan Select Tours. This is somewhere you should consider a guide, as you learn and see so much more this way.
START YOUR VISIT
Your visit starts at the visitor centre plaza in Wadi Must, right cross from the Movenpick Hotel. This is where you can buy tickets and pick up leaflets and maps.
Every visitor’s journey starts at Bab As-Siq (Gateway to the Siq), the trail that runs from the ticket booth to the Siq. There are tombs and monuments to see along the way.
Horses can take you from the visitor centre to the entrance of the Siq. This is supposedly included in your ticket one-way, but you will need to tip.
The 1.2km Siq, or canyon, is undeniably one of the many highlights of Petra. The walk through this magical corridor, a snaking path towards the hidden city, is one of anticipation for what lies ahead. The canyon was formed when two tectonic plates separated and broke the mountain into two pieces. It is hugely impressive with 200 metre high cliffs towering above you. The original channels used to bring water into the city can still be seen, as can several sacred sites.
The Treasury is the view that draws so many tourists to Petra. Carved in its entirety out of the sandstone rock as a tomb for the Nabatean King Aretas III. The Treasury derives its name from a story that an Egyptian pharaoh hid his treasure here. The Treasury is a definite highlight of Petra, but there is so much more to see.
STREET OF FACADES
From the Treasury, the passage widens into a more open area. Here you’ll find tombs and houses built by the Nabateans in the sandstone mountains, 200 years ago.
The Theatre was chiselled out of the rock by the Nabateans and later enlarged by the Romans to hold about 8,500 people.
THE ROYAL TOMBS
Here you’ll find the most impressive burial places in Petra, the Royal Tombs.
THE COLONNADED STREET
The Colonnaded Street lies at the heart of the city of Petra. Built in AD106 by the Romans, columns line the carriageway and originally gave access to shops.
THE GREAT TEMPLE
This Nabataean Temple was built in the 1st century BC.
Hidden high in the hills, the Monastery is as spectacular as the Treasury and a must see (if at all possible). Similar in design to the Treasury but far bigger (50 metres wide and 45 metres high), it was built in the 3rd century BC as a Nabatean tomb. It gets its name from the crosses carved on the inside walls, suggestive of its use as a church at some point.
The hike to the Monastery has visitors climbing over 800 steps through a spectacular canyon for a solid forty five minutes of hiking. It is an entirely uphill journey, passing numerous stalls selling drinks and souvenirs. We did this hike before lunch so in full sunshine. Arriving at 11am we almost had the monastery to ourselves! Many people leave this trek until later in the day when there is some welcome shade.
Alternatively donkeys can be hired for about JD30 return, depending on your negotiation skills. Having done this hike we’d recommend walking down as the donkeys travel fast and the path is steep and slippery, making for an at times dangerous decent on a donkey.
There is a teahouse opposite the Monastery which serves as a great vantage point and the opportunity for a drink and a rest!
If you do one high point during your time at Petra it should be the Monastery. With younger children this is definitely the safest of the various high points. Active children from about age 6/7 should be able to make this trek under their own steam. On the day we visited we saw a 3 year old who had made the climb with much encouragement from his parents.
“BEST VIEW IN JORDAN”
From the teashop there are signs pointing towards the “Best View in Jordan.”
We couldn’t resist so hiked up higher for spectacular views across the Monastery and nearby mountains. What do you think? Is this the best views in Jordan?
HIGH PLACE OF SACRIFICE
Our hiking was far from over for the day! We walked back down from the Monastery and stopped for lunch at The Nabatean Tent Restaurant (the cheaper of the two restaurants at the base of the Monastery trail). Here we had a simple JD 10 buffet lunch, with children paying half price. It was here our guide left us. Guides generally take you through Petra explaining the history and various sites, and will take you to one high point, for us the Monastery. If we wanted to do the other high places, it was up to us.
After our lunch we headed back along the Colonnaded Street and past the Royal Tombs, to the path heading up to the High Place of Sacrifice. This climb was again steeply uphill, taking about thirty/forty minutes. This time the reward being a view over much of Petra. The views are spectacular and well worth the climb.
This climb is probably best done with slightly older children as there are steep drop offs at the top with no railings at all.
The ancient city of Petra has several High Places, once used for sacrifice or other ritual. These locations all afford magnificent views and are a highlight for many, but they do involve a steep climb to a mountain top with no safety features.
LOOKING DOWN AT THE TREASURY
As we were walking down from the High Place of Sacrifice we met a local Bedouin man with a donkey. There was one place we hadn’t been to…so we asked him how to get to a view point overlooking the famous Treasury. After some bartering he agreed to take us for JD 20.
A word of caution, this is absolutely not something I’d do with children under the age of 10. For us, with children aged 9, 12 and 13 who have done a lot of hiking, this was a challenging, at times scary hike, with steep drop offs and plenty of difficulty. At one point, i refused to go on as we were clambering down a scree slope on a cliff edge but they managed to convince me to continue! I have no idea of the route we took (not a regular tourist trail) as we descended from the High Place of Sacrifice and up the canyon wall on the other side for our view of the Treasury.
With the sun starting to go down we made it to a tiny drinks stall overlooking the Treasury. It was the most splendid view with nobody else there but us! Having the view of the Treasury in the fading light was a fantastic experience. It was well worth the effort in getting here for this special moment. Its times like this you remember forever.
We had managed to see the Treasury, hike to the Monastery, the High Place of Sacrifice and to a viewpoint overlooking the Treasury, all in one day and with three kids! We’ve since learned that most people only do one or two of the high places in a day.
PETRA BY NIGHT
Three nights a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, at 20:30 the Siq and the area around the Treasury are lit by thousands of candles. Unfortunately we missed this as we were here at the weekend. This is a unique way to see Petra and many describe it as “special and magical.”
Tickets cost JD 17 and children under 12 years old are free. This is something you should book in advance as it is popular and gets sold out. It lasts for two hours.
I would consider whether this is something you want to do with children. There is no way we would have been able to do this on the same day as our mammoth visit to Petra. Additionally we wouldn’t have wanted to do this the night before our daytime visit as it would have been too late for us to then get up and start our day at 6.30am the next morning! Although Petra by Night only takes you as far as the Treasury, this is still about 2.5kms from the entrance. Careful planning and more time in Petra might be needed to fit in both Petra by Night and a full daytime visit with children. Another option would be to arrange hotel babysitting for the kids for Petra by Night so that they can sleep while you visit.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT PETRA?
Spring (March – May) and Autumn (September – November) are the best times to visit. Daytime temperatures are pleasant. Winter can be cold, particularly at night. Summer temperatures can be unbearable. We visited during the last week of October and it was perfect.
HOW MUCH TIME IS NEEDED?
At a minimum, a full day is needed to see Petra. If you have younger children it is worth considering spending two days at Petra to enable you to see both the Treasury and the Monastery. We spent a very full day at Petra, from 6.30am to 5.30pm and saw all the sights but it was an eleven hour day with a considerable amount of hiking.
There is a lot to see at Petra and you wouldn’t be doing it justice if you only got as far as the Treasury.
As with any attraction, the earlier you are there the better. Gates open as early as 6am which may not appeal with young children, but try and get going as early as possible.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO VISIT PETRA?
For one day in Petra the ticket price is JD 90. For those staying overnight in a hotel, ticket prices are reduced. One day entry is then JD 50 and two day entry is JD 55. Children under 12 are free but you do need to show the children’s passports as proof of age (even if they are obviously not 12).
Guides can be hired at the visitor centre for JD 50, for three hours guiding.
SPECIFICALLY FOR FAMILIES
Bring a baby/child carrier for small children as a buggy will be useless in Petra.
Shade is limited in Petra so remember hats and plenty of suncream.
There are toilets at various points throughout Petra but bring toilet paper and hand sanitiser.
Snacks and drinks are readily available but bring plenty of water.
Hiking shoes or trainers are a must.
WHERE TO EAT IN PETRA?
There are two buffet restaurants at the bottom of the hike to the Monastery. We ate at the The Nabatean Tent Restaurant (the cheaper of the two) but there is also The Basin Restaurant. There are teahouses overlooking the Monastery, the Treasury, and the Royal Tombs. There are snack stalls dotted all over Petra so you’re not going to go hungry.
Outside of Petra, Wadi Musa has a wide range of restaurants to suit every budget.
WHERE TO STAY TO VISIT PETRA?
There are a number of options for accommodation, staying either right next to Petra or in nearby Wadi Musa.
We stayed at the Movenpick Hotel Petra which is right across the road from the entrance to Petra.
Another cheaper option close by, is the Petra Guest House Hotel with it’s cave bar. Even if you’re not staying here take the opportunity to have a drink at the 2000 year-old Nabatean cave bar!
Our Jordan itinerary was organised through a company called Jordan Select Tours. As a family group we were able to arrange a tailor-made itinerary, perfect for when you’re travelling with children and need flexibility. We had a car and driver for our sole use throughout our time in Jordan. Jordan Select Tours arranged our guide for Petra. He was excellent, full of information and engaging with the children.
TOP TIPS FOR MAKING THE MOST OF A VISIT TO PETRA
The Treasury is sunlit in the morning. Get there before tours arrive at 8.30am.
By mid-afternoon most guests have headed back to their hotels. Stay and watch the setting sun with fewer people.
Hike to a high place, the High Place of Sacrifice or the view overlooking the Treasury, for a completely different perspective of Petra.
Visit the Monastery, in the late morning with hardly anybody else or in the full sun of the afternoon. For the “best view in Petra” head higher still to the various lookouts.
Catch the spirit of Petra By Night.
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Is Petra on your bucket list? Are you travelling to Petra soon? Are you wondering whether to visit Petra with kids?