Cupping the Gulf of Aqaba at the northern corner of the Red Sea, Aqaba offers more than sands and sea. In between lazing on its beaches and taking snorkel and scuba trips over coral reefs, visitors can explore historical ruins and bustling souks or the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Petra. Here are some ways to spend a day in Aqaba.
Dedicate this morning to Aqaba’s most prominent historical landmark: the corniche-set Aqaba Fortress, aka Mamluk Castle. Admire this 16th-century Ottoman fortification, and reflect on its role in one of World War I’s key battles—when Lawrence of Arabia and his Bedouin forces seized it from the Turks in 1917. Roam the courtyard and then the ramparts for stellar views of the Red Sea. Afterward, head for the nearby Archaeological Museum to check out its prehistoric and Roman exhibits.
Alternatively, if this is your only stop in the region, take the opportunity to visit UNESCO-listed Petra on a day trip to this rose-red city, carved from rock 2,000 years ago.
If you didn’t strike out to Petra earlier, kick back on Aqaba’s beaches. Hit the public Palm Beach or a private beach club and enjoy the warm sun and cool waters. Perhaps catch a glass-bottom boat to see the underwater world without getting wet, or join a snorkel-stop cruise to Pharaoh Island—a barren islet ringed by fish-filled corals. For your own snorkeling trip, head to the Aqaba Marine Park, where protected reefs await. Drift above the brilliant corals or try scuba diving on an introductory course. Qualified divers also have lots of options, with numerous dive trips available to outlying coral gardens.
As dusk falls, join locals on a stroll along Aqaba’s corniche to drink in the sunset-and-sea views. Then, head into the bustling Old Town to scour the market stalls and shops for souvenirs such as glass lamps, pottery, jewelry, and spices—remembering to haggle to avoid overpaying. Finally, if it’s a Friday, return to the seafront for Souk by the Sea, a pop-up event featuring craft stands, food stalls, and live music.