Should you tackle the famous Lost City with kids?
Still pumped from our experience in the Wadi Rum Desert, we had huge anticipation for visiting Petra, Jordan. But make no mistake, this is a huge experience for small kids. Although it is one of the Modern 7 Wonders of the World, don’t expect them to share the same awe as you do!
In this post we cover:
- More about Petra
- Top tips for taking young kids
- Transportation options
- Practical Information
- Petra by Night
- Little Petra
More about Petra
Let’s quickly chat about what is Petra and why it’s such an amazing place to add to your bucket list – with or without kids!
Origins of the ancient city can be dated back to around 1st century BC and the Nabatean Empire. The Nabatean capital, literally carved into the mountainside was an important trading post and passageway from the Arabian peninsula in the south to Europe and China beyond.
Later part of the Roman Empire, a large earthquake destroyed much of the city in 4th century AD. Trading paths then changed and by the 7th century, the city was largely deserted other than its Bedouin inhabitants.
Often called “the Lost City”, it wasn’t until the early 19th century when Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt “rediscovered” it and it became known to the West.
The city, also referred to as the Rose City due to the magnificent colouring in the rocks is now Jordan’s most popular tourist attraction. In 1985 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and in 2007, one of the modern 7 Wonders of the World.
Where to find Petra
Located in Jordan about 240kms south of Amman or 120kms north of Aqaba. A modern new Visitor Center now sits on “Tourism Street” near the township of modern-day Wadi Musa to welcome visitors to the archaeological complex.
Navigating the Petra complex
Thousands of visitors make the daily hike down to the Treasury through the Siq, a dramatic narrow passageway formed by the separation of two tectonic plates. This in itself is one of the most amazing experiences.
Beyond the Treasury is then the Main Petra Trail, including the Great Temple, the Colonnaded Street, the Royal Tombs, the Theatre and the Street of Facades. We highly recommend reading up a bit on Petra before you go to understand what you’re actually looking at! There’s limited signposting, or alternatively, hire yourself an official guide at the visitor center. This will set you back 50JOD ($70USD) for three hours.
For us, the Lonely Planet Jordan guide is a must! It has limited information specifically directed at families, but for all-round background, history and context they still remain one of the best guidebooks on the market (we got the electronic version which was super handy and light to take with us, but I’m still a sucker the actual blue book to keep on the shelf!)
For those willing to make the climb up an extra 800or so steps and a good hour extra walk, the Monastery is arguably one of the most spectacular buildings of Petra (though conflicting reports descirbe it as the uglier sister of the Treasury!). We did not make it this far so it remains high up on the bucket list.
Petra is truly one of those places that fills your heart with excitement and your soul with wanderlust. Then you remember you have kids with you….
Experience of a lifetime or just hard work?
Top Tips for taking young kids
I won’t deny that after the magnificent Wadi Rum, we personally found Petra a lot harder going. Maybe they were just too tired, it was definitely too much walking and not enough seeing, touching, doing for them (see our tip to visit Little Petra below though). Our kids were 7, 4 and 2 when we visited.
So with this in mind, although we have some great tips for parents to try and make a trip to Petra bearable, we’ve also called in some other top adventure family bloggers to give advice on how to keep your troops happy, entertained and comfortable.
We waited until we were heading back up towards the Treasury and the Siq to get a Donkey for the kids. Besides a rest for their legs, they loved it!
Linsday from Carpe Diem Our Way (Kids aged 5 and 3)
Make sure to bring sun protection and LOTs of water there is very little shade
Kevin from Wandering Wagars (Kids aged 1 and 3)
If you’re travelling with toddlers it might be best to forgo the buggy. The paths are uneven and scattered with small stones, making it difficult to push most strollers. You won’t be able to take a buggy up to the Royal Tombs, let alone the mountain paths to the Monastery. Take a baby carrier instead.
Emily from Kids & Compass (Kids aged 1 and 3)
Petra is a place that takes a lot of stamina (both mental and physical) to explore. To get your kids to stop focusing on their tired legs and parched mouths, turn everything into a game. Play chase, hide and seek, and tag all over the place (basically whatever it takes) and before you know it, you will have seen a ton, and you and your kids will all have a smile on your face!
Jessica from Bring The Kids (Kids aged 7, 5, 2 & 6mths)
- Be prepared to negotiate on everything. Vendors to your own offspring.
- Find any opportunity to let them explore. Although not nearly as many opportunities to climb and crawl as Little Petra, letting them take their torches and a little independence will help no end
- If you do want to “see it all” in one day, be aware that visiting the monastery might mean bypassing other attractions to fit it all in. Have a plan of attack with a plan B and remember distances are harder than they look with hills, steps, rocks.
- There are toilets on site. BYO paper and handwash and don’t expect anything too flash, but a step up from squatting behind a bush.
Transportation options inside Petra
Don’t be mistaken a day out in Petra will involve A LOT of walking!
The distance from the entry to the famous Treasury is over 2kms and to the monastery, 7kms! There are strictly no motorized vehicles permitted on the protected site, so the only way to get around is to use animals. And to complicate things, not all animals can go in all areas! It appears each Bedouin operator has their own “zones”.
You definitely need to give some thought and tact how to plan your day out. You will also want to seriously manage expectations of little ones who want to try everything.
So here’s a head up on what to expect and what you may pay for a 4 legged helper:
- Horses can take you from the visitor centre to the entrance of the Siq (about 1km). They claim these are included in your ticket one-way, but you also need to ‘tip’. The tip from our estimate is about 3-5JOD per horse, children can double up with a grown up. My advice – hold out on using your “free ride” until the return leg. This bit is an easy downhill! (That said, we were never asked for tickets and as there was a horse available on our return we took this for our bigger two who were basically asleep).
- There are also horse and carriages that come thundering down all the way from the visitor center, through the Siq, and to the Treasury. These are 20JOD return and are reserved only for the less able to walk. (Seriously watch out for them, they do NOT slow down for wandering kids!)
- From the Treasury, there are offers of camel rides. If you’ve had the novelty of this experience elsewhere in the world, take a nice photo and skip it on your way in.
- A couple of hundred metres beyond the Treasury and into the “main city” is where the donkeys and camels can operate. Their prices will fluctuate considerably depending on how busy it is, time of day and how willing you are to negotiate.
- After much persuasion, we took 2 donkey’s from the Great Temple back past the Royal Tombs (quite a climb) and were dropped back at the Street of Facades, all up maybe 2kms which cost us 11JOD.
- Don’t leave it too late in the day to start your trek back. You’ll be wondering where all those pesky donkeys went when you desperately seek one for your return out of Petra!!
- Very small children should be accompanied by an adult, I would say our 4-year-old was just competent enough to ride alone, definitely not the two-year-old. Larger adults are cautioned to think about the donkey’s health and well being before taking a ride, at a rough guide I’d say over 80kgs you’re pushing your luck.
- Yes, it’s gonna cost you. But compared to the price of carrying and moaning = priceless. Given the kids don’t pay entry under 12 years-old, we write this one down to being their fee!
(If you’ve visited I’d love your guide to what you paid in the comments!!)
Seriously though for your little ones, get a good carrier. It will be by far the quickest and easiest way to get around. As Emily recommended in her tip, strollers beyond the Treasury are pretty useless. It’s near impossible to drag them through the rocks and sand and you certainly won’t be climbing any hills.
What to pack for Petra
You’ll want to pack light to avoid carrying too much (especially if you will ultimately end up carrying kids at some point too), but will need quite a few things with you to ensure a comfortable day
- Water (chilled or even frozen if you can the night before)
- Hand Sanitiser
Top Parents Tip
If you have Pokemon Go fans, there is a gym at the tea house on top of the monthain that overlooks the Treasury! While I had tea my 5 year old was rewarded for his hiking with a few Pokemon Go gym battles!!
When to go to Petra
As with much of Jordan, Petra is temperate experiencing warm summers and cool winters. Spring and Autumn are ideal but winter visitors might be treated to a peaceful experience with not unbearably cold weather (averages around 10c/42F).
Midsummer temps can reach 30c/85F – which might not sound too bad but bearing in mind the lack of shade once you pop out of the Siq…. We visited on a sunny but fairly cool April day – you can tell by the hoodies in the pictures it was a chilly start but you do warm up considerably as you’re moving about during the day.
We packed but did not need extra thick coats for “Petra at Night”, you’ll work up enough sweat on the walk with just a couple of warm layers.
As with any attraction, the earlier you get going in the day the better. Gates open as early as 6am which may not appeal with young kids, but do wake them relatively early, get a big breakfast in and get moving before the hoards arrive on day trips from Amman and Aqaba (And I’m talking hundreds and hundreds of visitors suddenly descending).
How much will Petra Cost
For foreign visitors, Petra will be the most expensive part of a road trip around Jordan. At the time we visited in April 2017, one day entry to non-resident adults was 50JOD (about $70USD). You can see current advertised pricing here:
A few more notes on ticketing
- Under 12’s are free, but if your kids look borderline do take a passport to prove age, they will challenge this at the gate.
- Overnight visitor means you must be staying in Jordan with evidence in your passport. They get day trippers from Israel who are charged a higher rate of 90JOD.
- You can save a HEAP by buying a Jordan Pass which includes your entry Visa to Jordan; See our Top Tips For Visiting Jordan with Kids for more money saving ideas.
- Petra by Night (see more below) is a separate entry charge. Children under 10 free.
Top parents’ tips
Make sure to secure your Petra by Night tickets ahead of time. It can book up quickly and you don’t want to miss out
Once inside expect to pay for everything. Your ‘free’ horse ride comes with an expected tip. As mentioned above you will constantly be pestered for donkey rides, camel rides, to buy trinkets, drinks. Remember to include these in your budget, but also be firm and polite in saying no sometimes. (Oh and “sorry I have no cash”<which was true!> doesn’t work, many of the traders have EFTPOS machines!!!)
And yes if you are not local or at least don’t look Arab, you will pay more for EVERYTHING. That’s just life.
Speaking of money – cash up before you go. It was one place we really struggled to get money. The ATM everyone kept directing us to inside Mövenpick Hotel was out of order, luckily we always travel with a few spare USD’s that we exchanged as we were otherwise cutting it very fine!! Most cafes and shops in Wadi Musa were equipped to take cards though.
Where to eat near Petra with kids
As well as options within hotels (where you can expect +++ on everything!), head up “Tourism Street” towards Wadi Musa from the visitor center to find a strip of quite reasonably priced eateries.
There’s certainly no Michelin dining, but you will get extensive menus of Western and local cuisines, clean, reasonable service and about 50% cheaper than eating in one of the few restaurants in the Visitor Center Plaza!
Inside Petra, you will find several stalls selling small drinks and snacks to keep you going. As we did not go as far as the monastery we didn’t see it ourselves but we understand the Basin Restaurant has decent enough buffet lunch that makes it a pricey, but popular stop for hungry travelers (some hotels/tours may also give you vouchers for lunch here).
A mustn’t miss experience is to have a drink in a 3000-year-old Nabatean cave, The Cave Bar! Granted it hasn’t always been a bar but is part of the Petra Guest House Hotel right at the entrance to Petra (It doesn’t open until 3pm if you are planning a well-deserved beverage on your exit from Petra!)
Where to stay near Petra with kids
There are quite a few options for accommodation, staying either right next to Petra, nearby Wadi Musa township or transporting in from other larger cities.
The closest and fanciest option is the Mövenpick Hotel Petra which is where we stayed and we describe in more detail below. The other good, very close option is Petra Guest House which we mentioned above with the cave bar, you are literally on top of the entrance here!
Highly commended for families for their larger rooms and still being easy walking distance to the visitor center in lower Wadi Musa are;
- Petra Palace Hotel (triple and quadruple room options + extra beds, pool, breakfast included)
- Petra Moon Hotel (family rooms with 3x twins and a queen can sleep 5, pool, breakfast included, amazing rooftop views)
- La Maison (value pick with triple rooms + add a bed)
Heading further up the hill now to Upper Wadi Musa township there are loads of options to suit the more budget minded (less than $100USD per night) – bare in mind a good 15-minute walk to the entrance to Petra, but you’ll be closer to more shops, restaurants, and the bus station;
- Petra Sella Hotel (connecting rooms and quadruple rooms, breakfast included, great views)
- Tetra Tree Hotel (connecting rooms and triples, breakfast included)
- Sharah Mountains Hotel (triples and quadruples, breakfast included)
Have you stayed at a hostel or guest house with kids near Petra? We’d love to hear your experience using alternate accommodation
If you are seeking a view back down over the Great Rift Valley there are a few well-known hotel chains like Marriott Petra Hotel and Mövenpick Nabatean Castle (though bear in mind you will most definitely need at least a 15-minute taxi to and from Petra if staying at these).
Points to note booking a Petra hotel
- Expect to add 7% city tax and 10% service charge to quoted hotel prices. VAT of 10% should already be included
- When it gives distance to the city centre, this is to Wadi Musa NOT Petra Visitor Center! The walk to central Wadi Musa is very much more uphill for at least 1.5kms.
Our Review of the Mövenpick Hotel Petra
In terms of location, you just can’t beat this. You are literally 50m from the ticket office and visitor center at Petra and have access to a number of nearby restaurants.
Once you get past the rather extensive security checks, it has a wonderful period feel. The atrium is just fabulous and what a way to set out on your day exploring, you certainly get that feeling of getting on your Indian Jones! The breakfast buffet had a great selection, yes even our fussiest little explorer found something he’d eat (For nearly 5 years I’d avoided the discovery of Fruit Loops….)
Other aspects, however, were a little disappointing. Even on a non-smoking floor, the smell of cigarette smoke was very prevalent throughout the whole building.
One thing that appealed to us was the advertised kids club. I can assure you there was nothing ‘fun” about the Fun Factory. In a darkened basement and unsupervised, it was nowhere near our expectations of a Mövenpick kids club. A very limited selection of younger kids play equipment, maybe slightly more appealing to tweens and teens who would be momentarily amused by pool tables and table tennis but most equipment was broken and missing pieces. Really sad for what is otherwise a very reputable hotel chain that caters to families.
And the pool was utterly freezing! We were very surprised it was not heated given the price you pay, we didn’t see a single brave patron in there throughout our two night stay!! A few were brave enough to try the sun loungers (wrapped in towels!) but I think it would really only benefit those visiting in the peak of summer to have a pool.
For what it is, you are adding a hefty price tag for the convenience and luxury at Mövenpick Hotel Petra. If you are only going to spoil yourself once on this trip, make it at Mövenpick Tala Bay or Mövenpick Dead Sea Resort, both fabulous family establishments with far better facilities and service.
Day tripping to Petra
Only got limited time in Jordan? It’s understandable you may only be flying through or coming on a long weekend but still want to see the highlights. You can hire a private driver or join a tour from Aqaba or Eilat (Israel) if you’re staying on the Red Sea or Amman, the Capital and see Petra as a 10-12 hour round trip.
- Check when pre-booking if your park entry fee and meals are included or only driver and guide
- You may need to pay for a child’s seat on a bus but not their entry fee if they’re under 12 years old
- It may be worth paying a little more for a private tour and guide so you’re not having to keep up and compete with a massive group
Petra by Night
Another unmissable experience is Petra by Night – a candlelit walk from the entry through the Siq to the Treasury.
A separate entry fee of 17JOD ($24USD) applies per person (and per Kevin’s advice above, book this in advance, the same day should be OK but if you arrive the night before, I’d suggest pre-arranging all your tickets for the following day to not be disappointed and save time).
It lasts for 2 hours, 8.30pm to 10.30pm and there is a small ceremony held with traditional music and storytelling in front of the Treasury before the grand unveiling.
The Petra by Night experience is supposed to be undertaken in silence under candlelight only, but I can assure you nobody observed this; torches, mobile phones, and chatter are in abundance (unless you’re running a little late like we were you’ll get the walk in all to yourselves!)
Should you take the kids to Petra by Night?
If your kids have already done the main Petra site during the day – or you plan to undertake it the following day – you will seriously be pushing your luck to have them repeat this task twice in 24 hours. Although Petra by Night only takes you as far as the Treasury, this is still about 2.5kms from the entry, plus whatever walking distance from your accommodation. That walk back up the hill honestly felt like it would NEVER end!!
We arranged hotel babysitting in order to do this sans kids which was a brilliant call; they were asleep by the time the babysitter got there! Despite the rudeness of other guests and some serious burning muscles after a massive day, it was still an amazing experience that I’d highly recommend to see the Treasury lit up in all its glory.
Take a tripod and a bag of patience to be any hope of a decent snap without people in it!!
Petra by Night is only held on a Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. As we recommend in our Jordan Road Trip Itinerary, plan your Petra stop off around these days of the week.
Little Petra (Siq al-Barid)
Only 8kms from the main Petra visitor centre is a miniature version of Petra. Granted not AS grand, but for exactly this reason it made it perfect for kids.
No big tour groups, in fact hardly any tourists at all. Guides will greet you on entry hoping to give you a guided tour at a fee – but otherwise, entry is free (or at least there was nowhere obvious to pay!). There was a small souk at the entry selling the usual array of trinkets but no hard selling – no endless offers for donkeys and camels!
There are plenty of small alcoves for the kids to explore and the end of the siq you can climb a rock staircase to take in some magnificent vistas. You will also find her “the painted house”, the only example you’ll find of a magnificent Nabatean fresco. You can photograph it but it’s about the only place in the complex that is fenced off for preservation.
Enthusiastic hikers can even enter the back of Petra, Ad-Deyr from here. Not something I’d suggest you try undertaken unless your kids are quite self-motivated and fit! It’s recommended you only take this hike with a Bedouin guide that can be hired at the entrance to Little Petra. And although entry to Petra this way is free, it’s technically not allowed and you should pay for a ticket at the main entry first.
Top parents tip
If you get the chance, visit nearby Umm Sayhoun. This is where many of the Bedouin who formerly lived in Petra now live. It offers a great perspective on how tourism has changed their way of life
Kevin from Wandering Wagars
Donkeys, goats and small children definitely have right of way in Umm Sayhoun, the small township you pass through on the way to Little Petra. But also some spectacular views across the Petra Valley, you’ll even find some very old play equipment on the side of the road! (Definitely, would not pass modern day OH&S checks!).
There’s also a back entrance to Petra through Umm Sayhoun. If you have already entered via the Siq (you really cannot miss this!), seen the main trail and have an entry ticket you could save yourself some time on Day 2. It’s apparently a 20-minute walk to the Museum and a further 40-minute walk to the Monastery, saving yourself 45 minutes of walking in both directions compared to the main entrance – and the chance to see this unique town!
In hindsight, the kids enjoyed their small but satisfying exploration of Little Petra far more than the real thing. You probably only need to allow 1.5 hours so it can be squeezed in on a half day before or after your visit to the main Petra site, but honestly, our kids LOVED it! Bring torches and binoculars for some added fun.
So there you have it! Everything you will need to start planning your trip to Petra! If this is a trip you’ve previously made pre-kids, make no mistake you will find this a more challenging experience and may not be able to cover as much ground. But you will see it with a brand new perspective.
This post is part of our series on Road Tripping Jordan with Kids – come and see more on our experiences in Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea and much more!
Disclosures: We received a discount on our accommodation with Mövenpick Petra but this is not a sponsored post. All activities were paid for and all opinions, as always, are our own. There are affiliate links on this page which may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. You can see our full disclosure policy here.
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