Mini Travel Guide: Syria

Learn more about traveling to Syria in this mini travel guide that comes to us via the lovely Kat Fallon! This is one of many Mini Travel Guides, in which expats and locals share their insight into what, exactly, makes their favorite country so awesome. 
mini travel guide to Syria

I spent 10 months in Syria studying Arabic at the University of Damascus and teaching, first at the United Nations Relief Works Agency and then at the Iraqi Student Project, an organization helping Iraqi refugees as they apply to U.S. universities.

must go in Syria

Must Go in Syria

Crac de Chevaliers

This ancient crusader castle, close to the Lebanon border, will make you feel like a kid on a playground. T.E. Lawrence, or Lawrence of Arabia, said that Crac was “perhaps the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world.” It is filled with chapels, tunnels that lead to who-knows-where, and preserved frescoes- all available for your exploration! Wander the underground rooms by holding up lighters and climb through the chipped-away windows.

Deir Marmousa

Marmousa is an active monastery in the mountains of Syria. To reach it, you can take a taxi from the town of Al Nabek into the desert, and be prepared for a steep climb up the winding footpath. A few monks reside in Marmousa, and welcome visitors to stay overnight for no charge except for a bit of work preparing food and cleaning dishes. Marmousa has a simple, tiny church and many cave-like rooms built into the mountains, which serve as the perfect place to read.

Must do in Syria

Must Do in Syria

Walk the streets of the Damascus Old City

Push your way through the crowded alleyways. Buy some vegetables or fresh fruit and or clothes, and trip over the enormous roaming cats. Chat with a man sipping sweetened tea outside a smoky café. Watch the sun set behind the turquoise tint of a minaret. The Old City is a wonderful place.

Go into the Omayyad Mosque

This mosque, also known as the Great Mosque, is the fourth holiest place in Islam and absolutely stunning. Walk around the open courtyard and feel its significance from the intensity of those praying around you. For all of you non-hijab-wearing ladies, you will be provided with hooded “special clothes” before you enter the mosque.

Shop at the Aleppo souk

Aleppo has one of the most beautiful markets in the Middle East. It is at the foot of Aleppo’s Citadel, and it filled with enough covered alleys to explore for days. Look through the gorgeous scarf and jewelry selection (which is much cheaper than in Damascus).

Must eat in Syria

Must Eat in Syria

Street food

Grab a falafel sandwich with tahini and mint, a shwarma sandwich right off of the stick, a delicious banana milkshake, or a piece of baklava steeped in syrup. Yum.

Meze at an Old City beit

With the lovely ambiance of open roofs and vines winding down the walls, the Old City “beits,” or houses, are an unbelievably cheap and delicious option for dinner. Order a meze- a selection of small dishes like tabbouleh, fattoush, some minced lamb kibbeh, hummus- and feast! Don’t forget to order the polo, delicious mint lemonade, as well.

Argileh

While it’s not so much a food (though in Arabic, it is said that you “drink” it)… smoke that hookah! Argileh, Nargileh, sheesha, hubbly-bubbly for all you Brits… it has many names, but wow, it goes down smooth in every single café that lines the beautiful Old City alleyways. Try Art Café Ninar near Bab Sharqi in the Old City; it is filled with rotating art exhibits, cheap beer, and you will find yourself smoking a never-ending hookah right next to a poet or an artist.

Cultural travel tips in Syria

Cultural Tips for Travel in Syria

Understand how politically charged things are- don’t mention Israel (you won’t be able to get into the country if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport), don’t ask anyone about politics, and don’t say the president’s name (Syrians often refer to President Bashar Al-Assad as simply “al ra-ees” or “the president”). And dear lord, if you encounter any protests or a hint of violence, walk away and don’t take pictures.

Knowing a few phrases of Syrian Colloquial Arabic will give you so much street cred!

cheap travel in Syria

Travel on the Cheap in Syria

The buses are the way to go. It costs only about $5 to get from Damascus to Aleppo.
Why stay at a fancy hotel when you can meet so many people at hostels? Syria offers a great selection of dirt-cheap hostels, from the quirky (I stayed in a hostel with a rope ladder and two brown rabbits) to the simple.Note:

Ultimately, things are changing rapidly. Syria is in a violent and unpredictable state, but the wonderful people and beautiful country cannot be forgotten. While I would not (for real, for real, and the U.S. Travel Advisory would agree) advise that you travel to Syria right now, sometime in the future consider going to this historically rich and culturally beautiful place.

Thanks so much for sharing, Kat!  Have any of your ever travel somewhere on the ‘do not visit‘ list? Any other Syrian travel tips?

photo one by blottesque, for sale here, photo five by reflections of light, for sale here.

7 Comments

Sara

Always lovely to read about a country that would deny me entry because of my ethnicity. Sounds like a great place.

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Rachael

My friend Jen spent 6 weeks there for an intensive Arabic language studies program and all of the postcards she sent me were totally blank…She said if she wrote anything it was going to be examined and possibly confiscated.
For denial of entry with anyone with an Israeli stamp, though, I think I'll put Syria at the bottom of my "travel to" list.

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Girliest Nerd

I have a great idea for a travel book so you heard it here first folks, haha! I'd call it the 'Axis of Evil Tour' (tongue in cheek of course) and travel to all the countries Bush talked about.

The ruling class of a particular country and their policies and practices may be "evil" but the people living there are not… and that's very, very important to remember. It's also why it's important to travel. Of course, be safe above all. Jordan would be a great country to see in the Middle East for the curious.

I've been to quite a few countries on the 'do not visit' list, yay 😀 Not on there but I've also been to Burma which people at the time I went thought I was particularly nuts to visit. Granted this was before the recent mass protests (I went about 8 years ago) and things were a bit more stable… as much as a brutal military dictatorship can be.

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Jenny

Syria was off my map until I started hearing about it in the news – something about constant negative press really makes me want to go re-humanize the people who live their normal, nonviolent lives there. When people hear that my travel want list includes Iran, Syria, East Timor,Iraq,Rawanda (and a ton others), I get a lot of blank stares. Thanks for sharing some of the amazing things Syria has to offer – I hope your message is heard!

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DaniellaBella

All countries have good and bad points. I worked with a lovely girl from Syria and her telling me stories about where she grew up and where her family live made me want to visit there at some point in the future. Often she would bring food for us so I'm so excited to eat there too!

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melina bee

I have several family members in syria and had the pleasure of visiting dammascus twice in my teens. I had such a great time, it is so so culturally and historically rich. I hope this post reminds people that just b/c the politics of a place isn't awesome, doesn't mean there isn't a rich, wonderful culture behind the news stories. my heart goes out to those affected by the current turmoil (including my fam)

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