Syria Travel Info
With some of the world’s most precious ancient ruins, medieval souks that hum with the banter of hagglers, cities that pulsate with life, Islamic mosques, byzantine churches and a landscape including cedar forests, blasted moonscapes and sparkling Mediterranean shorelines, Syria is an enchanting mix.
What to see
The capital is the world’s oldest inhabited city. Stretching into the Jibal Lubnan Ash Sharqiyeh mountains, it is full of history, fables and culture. Walk through the Old City, which is steeped in tradition and seek out landmarks such as The National Museum, which houses Syrian relics and the Ummayyad Mosque, which stands on the site of an ancient temple to the Aramean god Haddad and is one of the most important structures in Islam.
A Roman city full of atmospheric ruins, some of which have been restored and are still in use today. Examples include the second century amphitheatre cocooned within a fortress, which seats 15,000 people, the Roman baths, the Cathedral of Bosra and the Mosque of Omar.
Top experiences / sites of particular interest
Home to a labyrinthine souk full of treasures and surprises where commerce continues as it has for hundreds of years and you’ll find Syria’s finest mezze.
In the heart of the desert stands this vast set of ancient ruins. Known as The Bride of the Desert’, the magnificent remains date from the reign of Queen Zenobia, who fought off the Romans and then conquered Egypt.
Established by one of Alexander the Great’s generals, this ancient city in a picturesque setting features a long street lined with enormous classical columns.
Krak des Chevaliers
The epitome of the dream castle, this Crusader fortress, whose name means The Castle of the Knights, stands preserved and proud today and is the finest example of these types of building.
One of Syria’s most important pilgrimage sites, with people flocking to pay their respects at the ruined church and tower here.
Tiptoe around the eerie remains of abandoned Byzantine towns, many of which are only partially explored or documented.
When to go
Weather & Seasons: Syria enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with hot dry summers (May-October) and cool winters (December-March). The end of summer can sometimes bring baking hot Khamsin winds in from the east. Bearing this in mind the best time to visit is March to May, during the spring.
Important Dates and Festivals: The country has a large number of religious events as well as festivals and fairs that take place throughout the year.
Getting there / around
Flights: There are international airports near Damascus (DAM) and Aleppo (ALP).
Road: Getting around is straightforward using the reasonable main roads, and buses are both efficient and good value. Smaller roads can be more unreliable though and the railway system is erratic at best.
Short Trips: Take a week to explore the Euphrates and the big empty space to the east of the country by journeying from Damascus to Deir ez-Zur, via Palmyra then heading along the border towards Aleppo, stopping at the dramatic Mesopotamian citadel overlooking Lake al-Assad.
Longer Trips: Take two to three weeks to tour much of the country, covering the best bits by setting off from Damascus to explore Bosra to the south before heading into the desert to watch the sublime light fall on Palmyra. Continue north via Homs to see Krak des Chevaliers before pushing on to the lively seaside town at Lattakia. Double back to Hama before continuing north to Apamea, the Dead Cities and finally Aleppo.
Overall Country Guides: There are comprehensive Syria guidebooks from Bradt and Footprint .
Syria & Lebanon: Lonely Planet produces a combined Syria and Lebanon guidebook. Places in Syria published by Frances Lincoln is an itinerary-led Grand Tour of the country’s highlights.
History Guides: For an introduction to the ruins and heritage sites pick up a copy of Syria, An Historical and Architectural Guide , published by Melisende or Monuments of Syria , available from IB Tauris.
Culture Guides: Kuperard include Syria in their Culture Smart series of guides to customs and etiquette.
Country Maps: Freytag & Berndt produce a map of Syria . Complete country coverage at a good scale is also available from Reise Know-How , who publish a combined Syria-Lebanon map.
Combined Maps: Cartographia also combine these two countries whilst ITMB combine Jordan & Syria on their map of the region.
Eland’s excellent anthology Syria Through Writers Eyes gives a great introduction to the history and culture of the country.
Colin Thubron’s classic Mirror to Damascus sees the master travel writer tell the enthralling history of Damascus from the Amorites of the Bible to the revolution of 1966, creating a vivid portrait of the city and its inhabitants.
The Street Philosopher and the Holy Fool is Marius Kociejowski’s humourous and profound account of five trips through the country.
Paul Theroux writes well about his travels to Aleppo, Lattakia, Krak des Chevaliers and Damascus in a chapter in The Pillars of Hercules . William Dalrymple also discusses Aleppo and Damascus in From the Holy Mountain , offering up penetrating insights and observations.
Tuck into national dishes such as kubbeh , minced meat, onions and nuts, yabrak , vine leaves stuffed with rice and minced meat, ouzi , pastry stuffed with fragrant meats and drink shay na’ana , mint tea.
Pick up Berlitz’s Arabic Phrase Book to help get by.
The Syrian pound (S£) is made up of 10 piastres .
All visitors require a visa before entry.
Hep A, Hep B, Rabies, Typhoid and Yellow Fever inoculations are recommended.
There is also malaria present in parts of the country.
Safety, FO travel advice
Syria is generally safe and welcoming although the country has a history of tension with its neighbouring countries.
Useful Telephone Numbers
Syrian country representatives can be found
in the UK at 8 Belgrave Square, London, SW1X 8PH. Tel:- 020 7245 9012
and in the US at 2215 Wyoming Avenue, NW, Washington DC, 20008,Tel:- 202 232 6313.
There are no tourist boards in either country.
For more information visit www.syremb.com , www.syrianembassy.co.uk or www.syriatourism.org .