There is no place in the middle eastern country of Jordan that is more iconic than the ancient city of Petra. Petra made the list as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Also, it has become somewhat of a media icon, appearing in movies such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Sprawling over 60 sq. km among the Petra Mountains, it was hard to wrap our minds around what to see in Petra with kids. So we spent three days exploring the area and are bringing our best tips to you!
Getting to Petra involves a 3-hour drive from Jordan’s capital of Amman. While the drive may seem long, there is a lot to see along the way! On arrival in Wadi Musa, it’s quick to see that it is a city that caters to visitors. There are incredible restaurants and shops for visitors.
Tip: The drive to Petra from Amman can be accomplished by three methods: 1) by renting your own car, 2) by joining a tour, or 3) by taking a bus.
The Long Walk to and Through Al Siq
After we showed our tickets at the entrance to Petra, we began a 1.2 km walk along a crushed stone path toward Al Siq. Right away we were approached by no less than half a dozen local Bedouins asking if we wanted to take rides on horses or carriages.
Tip: If you decide to ride into Petra rather than walk, make sure you negotiate the price openly with the guides beforehand. The horses will only take you to the opening of al Siq, but the carriages can go all the way through to the Treasury.
Tombs, Temples, and Columns of Bab As-Siq
The amazing sites along the walk to Al Siq can often be overlooked in the excitement to get to the majestic buildings within Petra. As our eyes began to adjust to the bright sun, we quickly noticed the various shapes among the mountains surrounding the paths. Lining the mountain walls were towering Obelisk tombs, caves, and columns.
The tombs are the most spectacular site on the way to Al Siq. There are several that you can explore along the way, the largest being three stories of towering sandstone. The reliefs along the front offer witness to the Arab, Egyptian and the Roman occupation of the region.
Entering Al Siq
As we approached Al Siq we passed over a bridge. To the right was a small store built into the cliffside. This is the only place to get drinks and snacks till the Treasury, 1.2 km away. As we entered the Siq, we were instantly dwarfed by the towering 200 m cliffs.
Many visitors to Petra rush through the Siq to get to the main city. But that is a shame. Al Siq offers some stunning sites. And if it were anywhere else, it would be a destination of its own. The walls are lined with niches that once held sacred statues for Nabataeans making the pilgrimage to Petra. Many of these niches are still visible today, although most have been badly eroded. Also visible are the remains of once detailed sculptures illustrating Petra as one of the key trading hubs in the region. One of the best preserved shows a man leading a group of camels through the Siq.
The best thing about exploring al Siq in Petra with kids though is the Elephish. C could have spent ours wandering around this amazing rock, that from one side looks like an elephant. And from the other side, looks like a fish! Nature is awesome!
As our feet began to tire from the long walk through the Siq, it happened. The view. THE VIEW! As we saw the towering Treasury building, illuminated by the sun through the dark walls of the Siq, our exhaustion disappeared.
The Treasury is where countless visitors swarm, sipping a coffee and snapping photos with the camels. There are a few shops and small restaurants here to grab some refreshments. Unfortunately, this is as far as many visitors go. The view here is incredible, but this is really where the lost city of Petra begins!
Tip: If you want to hire a guide to show you around the area, this is where you do it. Camel guides, which can lead you to the lower areas of Petra are available here, but donkeys and horse guides wait around the corner and aren’t allowed directly in front of the Treasury
Lower Petra consists of a few different areas that can easily be explored on your own. But a guide will help you get a better understanding of what you are seeing.
The House with a View of the Theater
On the right-hand side, after a row of tall and magnificent tombs is the largest house in Petra. This three story cave house features huge rooms that the boys loved to explore. The home holds a coveted spot in the city, directly across from the Theater.
The Theater was built out of solid rock about 2000 years ago to hold 3500. It was expanded by the Romans in AD 106 to hold as many as 8500 people. It reminded of a much smaller version of the one that we had seen in Jerash.
The Royal Tombs
Along the cliffs, to the right, the wadi widens immensely. On the right is a long line of the most spectacular tombs. You can access them by following along the cliff, or from a staircase from the lower floor of the wadi.
Tip: When you are exploring the lower tombs, be prepared for the smell. They are often used by goat herders for shelter during the rain.
The Colonnaded Street
As we rounded the corner from the theater we came to the Colonnaded street. The start of this stretch is marked by a 450-year-old pistachio tree. The tree makes a great spot to stop and grab some shade and eat some lunch. There are a few small shops nearby.
The Great Temple
Along the colonnaded street sits the remains of the Nymphaeum and the Great Temple. We entered the Great Temple through the wide staircase at its base. Christina and C headed deeper into the ruins to explore. I, on the other hand, got to do one of the coolest things when visiting Petra with kids. Changing a diaper on a 2000-year-old ruin at of 7 wonders of the world!
At the end of the Colonnaded street that marks the outer rim of the main area of Petra sits the Temenos Gateway. These massive pillars once held huge wooden doors and separated the commercial district from the sacred temple.
Byzantine Church or Petra Church
On a rise above the Colonnaded street is the Byzantine Church. The remains of this building, covered by an awning, features a stunning mosaic floor. It was built in 530 AD but was destroyed by a fire and subsequent earthquakes.
Tip: A small cafe near the Petra church has outhouses that you can use.
The High Place of Sacrifice Route
Heading back towards the Theater, we met up with a local Bedouin guide to take us up to the High Place of Sacrifice. The High Place of Sacrifice can be reached via a long series of switchbacks. Because we were at Petra with kids, we opted to have Christina and the boys take horses for the trip while I would carry our gear on foot. Our guide, Mohammed with the gold tooth took us up the back way to give us some even more unique views.
The Tomb of the Roman Soldier
The Tomb of the Roman Soldier was our first stop on our way up the side of the mountain. This temple received its name from the elegant statue of a Roman soldier on the facade. The inside of the building is impressive on its own, with all of us inside with the horses with room to spare.
The Lion Triclinium
We made our way to the cliffs opposite the Tomb of the Roman Soldier and began to climb up the steep steps towards the upper levels of the cliff. Christina and the boys needed to dismount their steeds and we made our way up the toward the Lion Triclinium.
The Lion Triclinium was located at the top of the steep stairs in a narrow canyon. It featured the reliefs of two lions outside a tomb that was believed to have held funerary practices.
The High Place of Sacrifice
We reached a wide landing where there was a small shop to get water. We left the horses and made the climb up a remaining set of stairs to the High Place of Sacrifice.
When we reached the top we were met with incredible views of the Petra mountains. The peak features a flat stone landing on which is perched an altar with a large rectangular triclinium. This is where animals were sacrificed and celebrants would share communal dinners.
Past the sacrificial altar, we crossed a narrow path along the dizzying high cliffs. The path was marked with small red arrows on the rocks and ground. We climbed down over some rock ledges and were treated to a view over the wadi and the Royal Tombs. It was breathtaking. The grounds were nearly empty when we visited, so we were joined by a local Bedouin shopkeeper who guided us to the top and shared stories with the boys.
Tip: The High Place of Sacrifice along with other High Places in Petra have sheer cliffs and no safety barriers. Please keep a close eye on your little ones everywhere in Petra, Jordan.
Heading back down
Mohammed took us down the conventional route through many suburban style facades. The way down made for a relaxing and beautiful route.
The following day we returned to see Mohammed. We presented our tickets at the entrance. Then, we joined him for a climb up the 800 steps toward the famous Monastery. Christina and the boys made the journey again by horse, while I desperately chased them on foot (the horses won).
Tip: It is cheaper to buy multi-day tickets than multiple single-day tickets. If you know you will be spending more than one day in Petra, make sure to purchase the multi-day pass.
After I finally caught up to everyone, we stopped to have a snack. We left the horses and made our way up a few more steps and around a bend. The corner took us to a wide clearing littered with tumbled columns. It took a moment to notice the MASSIVE structure on our right. But there it was, the largest structure in all of Petra. The amazing Monastery building.
The Monastery was built in the 3rd Century BC and is an astounding 50 m wide and 45 m high. There is a cave teashop across the plaza from the Monastery. We cooled from the heat with a delicious mint lemonade to take in the view. Our next stop would have us climb to an amazing lookout. The short hike to the lookout took us past a few more beautiful tombs with defaced carvings.
A little shopping
As we began to make our way down towards Mohammed we came across a Bedouin shopkeeper selling head scarves. We had spoken to her briefly before we made our way up to the Monastery. This time we decided to take her up on her offer of mint tea and some shade in her shop. We had a great conversation with her about life in Petra. She got along famously with the boys, who ended up begging us to buy some headscarves. We couldn’t resist!
Home sweet home
When we reached Lower Petra, Mohammed pointed to the left to a series of caves on the shorter cliffs. He told us that until 20-years ago, that was his home. That was when the Jordanian government relocated the local Bedouins to a new town located just up the hill.
What You Need to Know Before Deciding What to See in Petra with Kids
Petra is an epic place full of incredible scenery, unmatched history, and unforgettable culture. It’s also huge, hot, dusty and has ZERO safety precautions. It will be exhausting for parents, and doubly so for little ones who make the trip. Make sure you give yourself enough time to experience the site. Unless you are only exploring Lower Petra, we suggest spending more than 1-day in the ancient Nabataean city. Give yourself a couple of days to soak it all in. Plus, the desert heat is hard on the little ones. We did not have full days at Petra. Instead, we escaped the mid-afternoon sun by having some ice-cream in Wadi Musa. And don’t forget, after ice-cream, mid-afternoons is always a great time for a nap! Get your rest, because there is a lot more to see in Jordan with kids!
With the birth of their two boys, Kevin and Christina have made it their mission to show others that travelling with children isn't as scary as it sounds and that kids can benefit from experiencing the world outside of their front door and beyond.