Although Amman is considered an ancient city, it’s budding with creative potential and new beginnings. Between its contemporary vision and deep-seated Arabic tradition lies a vibrant art community whose sole focus is launching innovative spaces and projects — including everything from cafés and galleries to small businesses and design studios.
So, if you’re headed to Jordan’s bustling capital and are looking to experience all that this creative melting pot has to offer, you’ve come to the right place.
Welcome to the creative side of Amman.
If you’re a freelancer with a calendar that doesn’t allow for much free time, take advantage of Amman’s many coworking spaces.
Oasis 500: Located in King Hussein Business Park, Oasis 500 is housed in an iconic landmark complex that was originally established as the administrative headquarters of the Jordanian Army. Now set apart as an entrepreneurial haven, this space is best known for its startup accelerator program, mentorship opportunities, and coworking offerings. As stated in its mission, “Community breeds creativity in many ways.” For more information on how to apply for a membership, click here.
Zain Innovation Campus (ZINC): This colorful, open-air space has a vague aesthetic similarity to Silicon Valley. Also situated in King Hussein Business Park, ZINC offers a “holistic entrepreneurial experience” built around the concept of collaboration, and it doubles as a venue for workshops and networking events. Through its various programs and amenities, the space aims to help young entrepreneurs transform their creativity into productive projects — locally, regionally, and internationally. To inquire about pricing, click here.
MindHub: When Zaidoun Karadsheh launched this café-meets-office-meets-home, he wanted the space to challenge the standards of the “typical” work experience. This dynamic, yet relaxing space offers the perfect mix of focused and casual atmospherics to support everything from ideation to business lunches. Alongside high-speed internet, desk spaces, and a cozy café, MindHub also offers a variety of creative mentorship opportunities and awareness workshops. To learn more, click here.
Hayyez: Meaning “space” in Arabic, Hayyez is a collaborative studio that aims to attach a new meaning to the concept of space by breaking down boundaries and encouraging empathy among Jordan’s tight-knit community of creatives. Located in the artsy quarter of Jabal Amman, this coworking gem offers 24/7 access to dedicated desks or private offices and a communal break area that’s stocked with quality coffee. If you’re keen on joining a club filled with graphic designers, architects, journalists, and entrepreneurs, look no further.
Shoman Foundation Library: Although it’s not technically a coworking space, Shoman Foundation Library is a popular locale to work from if you want to be productive and still be surrounded by creative individuals. Complete with high-speed internet, more books than you could count, a community forum, a coffee shop, a reading club, and a host of workshops and courses, this public library is far from stuffy. And, what’s more, it doesn’t even require a membership fee.
From festivals and fairs to workshops and classes, Amman is home to plenty of creative events that are sure to spark some inspiration. Here are a few favorites.
Amman Design Week: With nearly 90,000 attendees and over 150 exhibitors across 50 participating spaces, Amman Design Week has become a hallmark event in Jordan. Over the past two years, it has brought local, regional, and international designers and innovators together, providing free and open access to a series of large-scale curated exhibitions, student and community programs, workshops, talks, and city-wide cultural programs. Although this year’s event has already passed, it will return in October 2019 and focus its efforts on building and sustaining a local creative movement with social value within the city.
Design Institute Amman (DIA): Founded in 2012 as a multi-disciplinary design education and research project, Design Institute Amman offers a variety of courses and workshops that aim to improve the skills and capabilities of designers so as to enhance the local community through design. Their workshops are taught by regional and international design instructors and organizations, and are open to everyone from design enthusiasts to professionals. In addition to the various workshops that DIA offers, it will soon launch a program of short courses spanning graphic design, interior design, jewelry design, web design, and social media curation.
Rainbow Art House Theater: The Rainbow Art House Theater is an iconic independent arts and entertainment venue with a long and fascinating history of breaking molds and setting benchmarks for the arts scene in Amman. Fully equipped as both a cinema and a theater, this unique venue screens cult classics, world cinema, and local and regional films, and also hosts regular events to promote local artists and performers. Check out Rainbow Art House’s weekly program on Facebook, or head over to Jabal Amman and stop by for a visit.
Baladk Street Art Festival: Baladk first started in 2013 as a street-art project initiated by a group of friends and volunteers of the Al Balad Theater. Its initial objective was to link the theater’s goals and visions with the community’s, emphasizing the principle that exposure to art is a right regardless of social or cultural background. A collective of local emerging artists and musicians residing in the area successfully implemented the first project, and it’s been thriving ever since. Today, Baladk is an annual festival that brings together artists, art groups, and community organizations to empower citizenship through different forms of street art.
CAC Amman: By offering classes in drawing, painting, pottery, printmaking, and mixed-media experimentation, among other disciplines, CAC Amman aims to provide students with an innovative learning environment and, in turn, leave a positive impact on the local community. Each of their classes is taught by practicing professional artists in the area and are designed for all levels, from complete beginners to more experienced creatives. Committed to developing a pioneering model for art centers in Jordan, CAC is working to see a rich, intellectual group of artists come together and take ownership of their city.
Amman’s contemporary creative edge has seen a significant boost in recent years thanks to a number of forward-thinking projects. From murals to photographs, illustrations, sculptures, and installations, here’s a little something for everyone.
The Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts (JNGFA): Founded in Amman in 1979, the national gallery is one of the major art museums in the Middle East. Its unique and vast permanent collection of modern art from the Developing World is internationally recognized. The collection comprises over 2,800 works — including paintings, sculptures, ceramics, woven items, video art, installations, graphic arts, and photography — by more than 1,000 artists from 66 countries. As a cultural, non-governmental, non-profit organization, JNGFA aims to encourage cultural diversity, disseminate artistic knowledge, and promote art throughout the city. To view their current exhibitions, click here.
Wadi Finan Art Gallery: Wadi Finan Art Gallery was established in 2008 and seeks to drive an appetite for visual arts and culture in Amman, and showcase esteemed Jordanian art. The gallery maintains and fills its space with powerful multimedia work by local and regional artists, enabling all people to enjoy and appreciate the outputs of the Middle Eastern artistic expression. As a major cultural vehicle both locally and abroad, Wadi Finan brings a unique aesthetic to its surrounding heritage and hosts public exhibitions, workshops, and special community collaborations such as art therapy projects in refugee camps. For more information, click here.
The Khalid Shoman Foundation, Darat al Funun: First opened in 1988, Darat al Funun was established with the aim to bring together and support artists from Jordan and the wider Arab world. Throughout the years, the gallery has played a key role in hosting and exhibiting many modern masters, including Adam Henein, Rafa al Nasiri, Marwan, and Mona Hatoum. Known as one of the “edgier” galleries in Amman, Darat al Funun also hosts regular film screenings, innovative art performances, and cultural events throughout the year. To see what’s on at the gallery, click here.
Foresight32 Art Gallery: Foresight32 was the first private gallery in Amman. Founded in 1991, it is now seen as a point of reference in the national and international art scene for its experimental and innovative approach toward fostering contemporary culture and arts. Located near the 6th Circle in Um Uthaina, Foresight32 not only houses regular exhibits, but also organizes festivals and art forums, hosts cultural dialogues, and serves to act as “a bridge between different cultures.” For current and past exhibitions, click here.
Nabad: Housed in a historic 1930s building in the neighborhood of Jabal Amman, Nabad is a contemporary art gallery that is quickly becoming a hub for arts and culture in Amman. Since its opening in 2008, Nabad has exhibited works from the wider Arab world and beyond, and is known as one of the most internationally diverse galleries in the country, hosting artists from Pakistan to Korea. By exhibiting work from all around the world, Nabad aims to cultivate intercultural dialogue among artists and the public. To further this goal, the space also hosts professional art classes and periodically organizes cultural events such as lectures and book signings. To learn more about the gallery, click here.
Shopping in Amman isn’t limited to labyrinthine souks and sprawling suburban malls. If you venture a little off the beaten track, you’re sure to find some hidden gems. In case you need some help getting started, here are a few locales to add to your itinerary.
Love on a Bike: Though technically a gallery space and a shop, Love on a Bike is entirely dedicated to the work of local artist Rima Malallah. The space opened in 2007 and has been expanding ever since. It now stocks paintings, pottery, glass works, housewares, textiles, jewelry, and just about everything else in between. You can even check out a few murals while you’re there! In fact, you might recognize her work from the side of Amman’s Landmark Hotel. Whether you’re looking to do a bit of window-shopping or pick up some souvenirs, stop in to Love on a Bike in Wadi Saqra and ask Rima the meaning behind the shop’s name.
The Nature Shop: Located in the Wild Jordan Center, the Nature Shop sells products made in Jordan’s nature reserves — including silver jewelry, organic herbs, teas and jams from Dana, and candles made by Bedouin women — as part of an income-generating project in Feynan. All profits made in the shop are returned to the makers and to nature-reserve projects, so if you choose to purchase any goods here, know that they have a direct impact on the people who poured their time into creating them. Oh, and don’t forget to peruse the decorated ostrich eggs from Azraq — they’re a shop specialty.
Mlabbas: Mlabbas is an Arabic word that means “to cover,” and this shop chooses to “cover” people with clothing. With t-shirts being their initial product, the shop has since expanded to over 10 various categories of products such as mugs, phone cases, prints, bags, postcards, hoodies, and homewares. What makes Mlabbas so unique is that it functions as a creative gift shop that also reflects Jordanian and Arab culture through design. So, pop into their Rainbow Street location and browse the collection of graffiti art, manga and cartoons, and witty Arabic puns (though you’ll have to ask the staff to translate them) — or, let your creativity run free and customize your own design.
Ola’s Garden: Ola’s Garden is a place where traditional Arabic design gets a bit of a contemporary twist. Working with recycled materials — such as leather, wood, stones, and metals — Ola, the shop’s owner, aims to reflect the meditative qualities of nature in the jewelry, accessories, clothing, and home decor she designs. Infused with Ola’s warm and welcoming personality, as well as her excellent taste in French jazz music, this cozy boutique is conveniently located on Khirfan Street, one of the oldest streets in Amman.
Jordan River Designs: Supporting worthy causes while selling quality crafted items, this shop is somewhat of an Amman institution. The showroom offers a unique collection of Jordan’s premium handicrafts, including hand-loomed rugs from Bani Hamida and exquisite Palestinian-style embroidery. With a variety of cushions, camel bags, baskets, and Dead Sea products, it makes for an excellent place to buy home decor with a story. One thing to note, though: only the highest-quality pieces make it into the showroom, and that’s reflected in the prices.
Whether you’re craving a cup of joe or just a place to do a bit of work, here are some of Amman’s art-friendly coffee shops.
Caffé Strada: Located just beside Rainbow Street, Amman’s cultural and artistic center, Caffé Strada is a coffee, paninoteca, and dessert parlor of Italian tradition. Although it’s a bit of a surprise to find this in the capital of Jordan, this neighborhood café is a place where food is celebrated, coffee and tea are savored, and relationships are formed. Locals flock to the establishment both day and night for a bite, an espresso, and good conversation about literature (which, as you’ll notice, is what most people are clutching while they sip on their preferred beverage). All in all, it’s a fantastic place to work, read, write, draw, or sample a wide variety of teas and coffees.
Seven Pennies: Seven Pennies is an Amman-based coffee shop with a holistic mission. In addition to providing an inviting coworking atmosphere that welcomes freelancers and students alike, this locale donates seven pennies back to its community for every Jordanian dinar they make. So, while you’re sipping on your favorite caffeinated cup and working on your next project, why not support the local economy in more ways than one?
The Good Book Shop: Founded in 2005 by an artist who was eager to contribute to Amman’s creative community through education, literacy, and culture, the Good Book Shop is a Jordanian startup-turned-institution. Its objective is to support Jordanian business ventures; hire and train young, local talent; and enrich Amman’s literary environment — all while providing an urban getaway for locals and a hidden gem to be discovered by global guests. TGBS is a mix between a café, a bookstore, and a place to just sit, but that’s the point — it can be whatever you want it to be. With everything from various book categories to aromatic coffee beverages, an open-seating showroom, and a garden, TGBS is the place where you can study, read, co-work, lounge, or simply ask for directions to Jabal Amman’s many hidden treasures.
Rumi Café: A coffee and tea room located in the heart of Luweibdeh, Rumi Café has all the basics of a good café, but with a menu that takes its ingredients seriously. Everything offered here is locally sourced and provides a true taste of the Arab region. And, as all dishes are seasonal, you’re bound to have a different experience every time you visit this hole-in-the-wall café. If you’re looking for a place to wind down, reflect, or relax, this is a great place to do just that.
Books@Café: The eclectic café-cum-bookshop-and-library has become a hub among local Jordanians. In fact, when it first opened, it was the first internet café in the Middle East, and it quickly cultivated a reputation for liberating the local culture and intellect while promoting peace, equality, and tolerance. Today, the venue still boasts an easygoing atmosphere that balances aesthetics with comfort, making it a great place to zone out with a coffee and a good book or natter the night away with friends. Affectionately known as Books@ by its cult following, the café is also revered for its fresh juices and its roof terrace that offers spectacular views of the city. This haven for bilingual texts, home-roasted gourmet coffee, and affordably priced international cuisine is calling your name. So why not listen?
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below!
Header image by Jessica Ruscello