Exploring the Lost City of Petra with Kids

The Monastery, Petra

Is there anyone who grew up in the 80s who managed to miss Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? This classic adventure romp has to be most people’s introduction to Petra.  In the most memorable scene, desperately trying to find the Holy Grail, our eponymous hero rides through a narrow canyon at breakneck speed before bursting out in front of an imposing pillared temple cut into the walls of a cliff.

The eight-year-old me was enchanted by this scene.  As soon as I found out that this was a real place and not a set made of painted polystyrene I was desperate to go.  Nearly 30 years later, I finally made it, although I’d never imagined I’d be taking two tiny children with me.

Petra deserves its reputation as the best tourist attraction in Jordan, and as a new wonder of the world.  It was the highlight of our family trip to Jordan.  We loved everything about it, and we went with high expectations.

But can you really visit the incredible Lost City of Petra with kids?

The Nabateans

The sandstone mountains in which the Nabateans built their city, Petra
The sandstone mountains in which the Nabateans built their city

Petra was built by the mysterious Nabatean people. Little is known about who they were and where they came from as they didn’t write anything down and contemporary accounts of them are rare.

The Nabateans were originally a nomadic tribe but for some unknown reason they settled in Petra in about 312BC.  They carved the beautiful facades of their tombs from the soft red sandstone of the mountains. Expert traders, the Nabateans ensured that Petra soon became a thriving commercial centre with links to the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and as far east as India and China.

Petra was eventually abandoned in 551AD after a series of earthquakes and gradual decline under the Roman Empire.  It was then forgotten by the outside world, only inhabited by the Bedouins, until the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt discovered it in 1812.

It captured the imagination of the West then, and little has changed since.  Today it’s Jordan’s star attraction and draws visitors from around the world.

What to see in Petra with kids

The Siq

The walk towards the Siq, Petra, Jordan
The walk towards the Siq

One of the highlights at Petra is the journey to reach it, through a narrow canyon called the Siq.  There is a 15 minute or so walk from the entrance to reach the Siq, past ancient tombs carved into the rocks.

I put Bee into our baby carrier and the husband carried the Cub on his shoulders (as of course, she refused to be carried in the toddler carrier that we’d bought especially for the trip).

The Obelisk Tomb cut into the rocks on the way to the Siq
The Obelisk Tomb cut into the rocks on the way to the Siq

We hired a guide to take us down the Siq and we were glad as he pointed out lots of little things that we’d have missed by ourselves.   The canyon winds through the rose coloured rocks for 1.2km, and every turn adds to the anticipation of finally glimpsing the magical Treasury around the last corner.

The curved pathways of the Siq.
The curved pathways of the Siq.

The Nabateans clearly intended the walk to Petra to be special.  They carved little nooks into the rocks in which travellers could leave representations of their gods.  Our guide explained that the Nabatean gods were represented by geometrical shapes (something that I’d never heard of before).  “Their beliefs were very primitive,” was our guide’s explanation for this.

The kids thought the elephant rock was amazing!
The kids thought the elephant rock was amazing!

If the Nabateans’ beliefs were “primitive” their technology and artistry wasn’t.  The channels that took water from the stream at the top of the Siq down to the city can still clearly be seen; using these channels and clay pipes they were able to turn Petra into an oasis.  Without their technological nous, Petra would not have flourished.

The imposing walls of the Siq at full height
The imposing walls of the Siq at full height

The Treasury

Arriving at the Treasury is a spine-tingling experience that just can’t be beaten.

Between us the husband and I have seen some pretty amazing places but there is something truly magical about Petra that knocked our previous favourite places (the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China) into a distant second place.  We paused for a few minutes trying to get those iconic photos before we stepped out of the Siq and got a better look.

That first magical glimpse of the Treasury from the Siq
That first magical glimpse of the Treasury from the Siq

Only one of the main columns of the Treasury needed to be restored; the rest were still intact when the city was discovered.  Hopefully you won’t be too disappointed to discover that you can’t go inside, and even if you could there is no booby-trapped labyrinth waiting for you, just a small room that was probably a tomb.

The Treasury, and obligatory camels
The Treasury, and obligatory camels
Outside the Treasury, Petra
Time for some silly photos!

Some of the intricate carvings of the Treasury have been eroded and the urn at the top has been partially destroyed by people who believed that gold had been hidden inside.  To try to get the gold out they shot at it.  Needless to say, they were disappointed!  None of this diminishes the effect of this magnificent building.  We could have stared at it, slack-jawed, for ages.

The Treasury at Petra
The Treasury at Petra

The Cub was also quite taken with the Treasury, although the camels waiting for customers were more interesting to her.  After a few minutes to soak up this incredible building, we walked further into the site.

The Street of Facades

Along the Street of Facades, Petra. You can see numerous tombs hewn into the rocks.
Along the Street of Facades you can see numerous tombs hewn into the rocks.

I knew that there was more to Petra than the Treasury, but I didn’t really know what to expect as the Treasury takes all the glory.  We were surprised to discover that there were so many tombs and homes cut into the rocks – they were everywhere we looked.  While you can’t go into the Treasury, you can go into most of the other caves, though there’s not much to see inside and they don’t smell particularly fragrant.

The Nabatean amphitheatre at Petra
The Nabatean amphitheatre at Petra

We passed the ancient (Nabatean, not Roman) amphitheatre which was taking on a beautiful pink hue in the morning light.  It was fenced off otherwise I think we’d have explored it more.  We walked past more tombs and Bedouin people riding donkeys and camels before pausing for a drink in a cafe overlooking the Royal Tombs.  These are just as magnificent as the Treasury; while they are not as well preserved they are larger and just as intricate.  When we got closer to them later in the day their erosion was more obvious, so I thought they were best viewed at a distance.  They must have been such a sight when they were newly carved!

Colonnade Street

Looking back up Colonnade Street towards the Royal Tombs, Petra
Looking back up Colonnade Street towards the Royal Tombs

After the kids had had a scamper and a play in the sand we carried on.  Our backs to the Royal Tombs, we walked down what was once a paved and pillared street.  Colonnade Street was once Petra’s main thoroughfare and leads to the Great Temple.

Petra's Great Temple
Petra’s Great Temple

Not all of Petra’s buildings were carved into rock.  The Great Temple was once a freestanding pillared shrine.  Climbing up a grand flight of steps, we spent a little while scrambling through the ruins.  Cracked tiles give an idea of the grandeur of the paved hall and we found plaster with paint still on it in a sheltered corridor.  Toppled columns like stacks of coins littered the hall.

The Temple of Duschares, Petra
The Temple of Duschares

Next to it is the Temple of Duschares, or Qasr al-Bint.  Incredibly much of it still stands, unshaken from the earthquakes which devastated many of the other freestanding buildings of the city.  It’s thought that sacrifices and offerings were made outside the temple on an alter.

The Monastery

We knew that we didn’t have enough time to see all of Petra in just one day.  Two of the main sights, the High Place of Sacrifice and the Monastery, are high up in the mountains. With toddlers in tow, we were sure we’d only have enough time to visit one.  Both our guide in Petra and our driver, Nabil, recommended the Monastery.

Arguably as impressive as the Treasury, the Monastery is about an hour’s hike up 800 or so steps.  You can hire a donkey to carry you up if you don’t feel like walking.  We felt that our kids were too small to ride the donkeys safely so we carried them up ourselves.  Luckily Jordan in November isn’t too hot – there’s no way we’d have made it in the summer heat!  It’s a scenic route through twisting canyons and the path is in good order.  There are plenty of places to stop and rest and many Bedouin families selling drinks and souvenirs as you pass.

Pausing for a rest with the Royal Tombs in the background, Petra
Pausing for a rest with the Royal Tombs in the background

The Monastery is worth the effort to reach it.  It stands much larger than the Treasury and its carved angles are still sharp, unlike the worn and smoothed facades of the Royal Tombs.  Previously you were able to climb to the top of the urn and go inside but today that’s all blocked off.

The Monastery, Petra
The Monastery

Nobody really knows what the Monastery was used for (the name has nothing to do with its original use) but the levelled space in front of it was probably for a large audience.  You can surmise that it was most likely a temple.  You really don’t want to miss this on your visit.

Fun at the Monastery, Petra
The Cub having a whale of a time

The Royal Tombs

The Royal Tombs, Petra
The Royal Tombs

After a much needed rest at lunch we decided to get a closer look at the Royal Tombs.  You can go inside the Urn Tomb which has a large chamber with dramatic black and red striped walls.  From here we got a great view across Petra.

The Urn Tomb, which you can explore in Petra
You can explore inside the Urn Tomb

These tombs were the centrepiece of ancient Petra overlooking the city, and were used as tombs for the kings, as you’d expect from their name.  The soft rock has been worn away over the centuries but you can imagine how grand they used to be.  The Corinthian Tomb in particular looks a lot like the Treasury.

The worn facade of the Palace Tomb, Petra. It must have been incredibly imposing in its heyday
The worn facade of the Palace Tomb. It must have been incredibly imposing in its heyday

We started the walk back to the Treasury after looking at the Royal Tombs.  All of us were pretty shattered by this point so we paused for a drink and a last look at the Treasury before we trudged back up the Siq, dodging the horse drawn carriages thundering past us, and vowing to return one day.

Family in the Siq, Petra
On our way back up the Siq after a fantastic day.

Know before you go

Is Petra family friendly?

Yes!  We had an amazing day, even though our kids were too small to truly appreciate the sights. There was plenty of opportunity for them to run about, camels and donkeys to meet, and places to rest.

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.

Getting there and away

We visited Petra as part of a private tour with Jordan Select Tours (we would highly recommend them).

If you’re travelling independently, you can hire a taxi or take a JETT coach from outside Abdali station in Amman (departures 06.30am, return 16.00 from Petra).  If you’ve hired a car, it’s an easy 3 hour journey down the Desert Highway from Amman.

Tickets cost from 50 – 60 Jordanian dinars depending on how many days you need (children under 12 are free).  If you are arriving in Jordan for one day solely to see Petra it will cost you 90JD.

Where to stay in Petra

There are plenty of hotel and guesthouse options in Wadi Musa.

You’d find it hard to pick a hotel with a better location than ours.  We stayed at Petra Guest House hotel, literally next to the entrance to Petra.  Our room was spacious with a view over the town.  This was our favourite hotel (other than the 5 star Intercontinental in Aqaba).

The hotel has a bar called the Cave Bar, which used to be an ancient tomb.  If you don’t have two tired, squirming children it’s a nice place to hang out in the evening and enjoy a shisha.  All was quiet while the Cub built herself a fort out of the seat cushions; but soon my cocktail was smashed on the floor, the screaming started and we beat a hasty retreat.

Where to eat in Petra

We ate at The Basin restaurant after we visited the Monastery as we had a discount voucher from our hotel.  It served a typical Jordanian buffet with salads and hot options including mansaf.  The desserts were particularly good – seconds all round.  There are cafes by the Monastery, the Treasury, and another in front of the Royal Tombs.  There are snack stalls dotted all over Petra so you’re not going to go hungry.

In the evening we ate at the Cave Bar at Petra Guest House hotel.  Wadi Musa has a plethora of restaurants to suit every budget.

Tips for your visit to Petra with kids

Start as early as you can; the Siq will not be as crowded.  We left our hotel at around 8am and there were a fair few people ahead of us.  Don’t rush down the Siq, there’s plenty to look at.

You could see all of Petra in a long day if you don’t stop long for lunch; we would have liked another day to make the climb up to the High Place of Sacrifice.

There are lots of Bedouins who work in Petra.  They sell gifts, offer donkey and camel rides, or horse-drawn carriage rides up the Siq.  I had heard stories of persistent selling tactics but we found that a polite “No, thank you” was enough.  Of course, everyone will ask you once!

Mini Travellers
It's definitely possible to visit the Lost City of Petra with toddlers! Leave the buggy and bring a little extra patience.
It’s definitely possible to visit the Lost City of Petra with toddlers! Leave the buggy and bring a little extra patience.
Discover your inner Indiana Jones and explore the Lost City of Petra, Jordan. Bring the toddlers, too!
Discover your inner Indiana Jones and explore the Lost City of Petra, Jordan. Bring the toddlers, too!


61 thoughts on “Exploring the Lost City of Petra with Kids

  1. Leiha says:

    Wow, Petra has never been on my radar, even tho I watched and loved all of the Indiana Jones movies, LOL but your photos have definitely put it on my radar. I can’t believe how beautiful it is and that everything was carved into rocks. Amazing!

  2. Hendrik says:

    Great, these are some of the best shots I have seen of Petra so far. I truly get an impression about the uniqueness of this place, really beautiful….Which cam did you use for your photos here?
    800 steps – that’s truly quite much. Cool that you made it without donkeys 🙂

    • Emily Cole says:

      Thanks Hendrik. It is a fantastic site. I used a Nikon D3300, and the kit lens. It’s small and light enough to carry around all day. We were pretty tired after the 800 steps I tell you!

    • Emily Cole says:

      I’m sure you can take a day trip there – it will be worth it! It will cost you extra if you go to Jordan solely to see Petra though.

    • Emily Cole says:

      It was a lot of fun! Although I’m not sure that Bee will remember it, but that’s an excuse to take him back when he’s a bit bigger 😉

    • Emily Cole says:

      I’m sure your monster would have a great time 😉 We saw other people with even younger babies in slings there so we weren’t the only crazy ones!

  3. Sandy N Vyjay says:

    The magnificence of Petra comes alive in your post. Loved the photos, they bring the grandeur of the place in vivid detail. Yes the Indiana Jones movie brought this surreal place to our homes. hope to get there some day. can see the kids loved it too.

  4. Taís says:

    Petra is a place that really fascinates me! Every time I read some post about there I just get even more excited to visit it one day! I loved that you went there with your kids and your family photos are lovely. If I have kids one day I would love to explore these places with them. Great post!

  5. Erica Coffman says:

    I love this post! Petra has been on my list for a long time. As I get closer and closer to having a kid, I find myself planning trips based on whether or not it would be kid friendly. I’m glad to see that I can hold off on Petra until I have a kid. Makes the next couple of years of planning much easier as I try to get all of the non-kid-friendly places out of the way!

    • Emily Cole says:

      I agree with you – there’s a few places we didn’t get to go to before we had kids and now we have to wait until they’re a lot bigger before we can go. Have fun planning!

  6. Carola says:

    Interesting to see Petra through parents’ eyes.
    I visited in December. As a solo traveler I could fully focus on taking in all the datils and take a couple of off-the-beater path hikes (including the High Sacrifice one).
    But it is interesting to read how the experience changes once you have the little ones.
    Happy continued travels!

    • Emily Cole says:

      It definitely changes we you take kids – you don’t always get time to look at everything as as soon as your attention’s somewhere else they run in opposite directions. But it was great to spend time together as a family and see their faces when they met the camels!

  7. lydia@lifeuntraveled says:

    Very interesting to read a post about Petra which covers more than just the Treasury. It’s hard to imagine how these ancient civilizations managed to build such wonders. I’m quite shocked at the entrance fee though – that’s really expensive! I’m with the kids – I also find Elephant Rock fascinating! 🙂

    • Emily Cole says:

      Thanks Lydia. It’s quite staggering what the Nabateans managed to achieve. Yes, it is expensive but worth it. It’s most expensive if you only visit Jordan to see Petra – a measure designed to encourage people to spend more time in Jordan!

  8. PackYourBaguios says:

    I’d love to visit Petra some time. I teach ancient civilizations so this would be right up my alley. I recently watched a documentary about Petra and the engineering for the time was very advanced!

    • Emily Cole says:

      Oh, you would love it in that case. I’m sure you’d be able to spot things we didn’t! Yes, they were advanced , especially with regards to water conservation and transportation.

    • Emily Cole says:

      Yes, we don’t always bother with a pushchair. There’s no point in Petra, the ground is too rocky. A sling is much easier.

  9. littlemisswayfarer says:

    Petra is such a beautiful destination to visit… still on my bucket list. From what I see on your pics you all had a whale of a time! Great that the kids liked it as well 🙂

  10. Milijana says:

    Petra is on my bucket list for many years already. But, my mum is too concerned over safety issues of traveling to Jordan. After reading your post, I have decided to send it to her to show her that even families with little children go to Petra these days! Thank you!

    • Emily Cole says:

      I can understand your mum’s reservations. We looked into it carefully before we went. Unfortunately the threat of terrorism is high in many parts of the world. We felt safe the whole time we were there, and the Jordanians take safety seriously with scanners at hotels etc. But the tourist industry in Jordan is suffering quite badly because of the war in Syria 🙁

  11. Maria says:

    Petra is one of those destinations ranking high on my list. Your lovely pictures and the joy you show on them shows the great time you had there. Really interesting post.

  12. Danijela WorldGlimpses says:

    Oh, I just love Petra! I was so impatient to go, for several years, until I was finally able to visit. Amazing place, I’m stunned by the rocks that change color according to the weather and the mastery of Nabateans to have carved such a place out of the cliff! 🙂 I’m so glad you had so much fun there!

  13. Only By Land says:

    Of course Indiana Jones was filmed here, I completely forgot, I should have seen that straight away growing up in the 80’s! My daughter would refuse to go in her push chair too, she’d want me to carry her, which adds to the pleasure of a long walk in the heat! You made some amazing shots, it looks like a memorable day and when the kids are older no doubt they’ll want to go back!
    Only By Land recently posted…Kiev to MoscowMy Profile

  14. Mark Melbourne Australia says:

    Really great coverage and pics Emily, saw Petra on a National Geographic special on Youtube last night and was amazed, then did a #Petra search on Twitter and found your blog.
    Many thanks, Your tip to start out early is vital in my books for any of the worldwide attractions to miss the crowds.
    We have just returned from Italy and was a must for places like the Colosseum, Pisa, Vatican etc.

    • Emily Cole says:

      Thanks Mark. Petra is truly incredible, do visit it if you can. I think that starting out early is essential if you want to get good photos in the Siq without too many people.
      I am really keen to go to Rome as I’ve never been and I do love ancient ruins as you may be able to tell!

  15. Mini Travellers says:

    This has been on my list FOREVER and seeing you there with your kids means I can definitely take mine. Onc for next year now I think. Thanks so much for linking this up to #MondayEscapes

  16. jo says:

    Fantastic photographs of a really stunning place. I don’t think many people would think of taking kids there but yours look like they are having a wonderful time! #MondayEscapes

  17. Christine says:

    I visited in 1994 and loved it. Do they still show Indiana Jones in the hotels?! It was on an almost continuous loop in the place we stayed – but I’m sure they must have given up on this by now! #Mondayescapes

  18. Annie says:

    Maybe it’s the Indiana Jones nerd in me, but this looks so cool. I’ve always been mesmerized by the Middle East and this is definitely on my bucket list. Thanks for sharing; I can’t wait to take our son!

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