This is the picture that best describes Syria. The Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, a definite tourist attraction but also a place of pilgrimage. A city that prides itself as being the ‘oldest continuously inhabited city in history’, in a country which claims to be one of the oldest civilisations in the world. If you look closely, you can also see how well-maintained the building is despite being over 2000 years old, and how spotlessly clean the floors are. Considering its age, its location and history, Syria is by far the cleanest country I’ve been to. The people work tirelessly maintaining their places regardless whether it’s in a building or on the street.
This is an intriguing country to visit. Despite being labeled by US State Department as a dangerous place full of terrorist, Syria has one of the most friendly and charming people in the world. It is also definitely safe for any traveller including solo women traveller and crime rate is one of the lowest in the world, a lot lower than any European or Western country.
With a size which is slightly bigger than California or two-thirds of the United Kingdom, Syria has a population of just under 23 million. Most of the country is covered with desert and therefore most of the population concentrate on the more fertile strip of the Euphrates River. The economy relies heavily on agriculture and oil. Tourism has largely been undeveloped and that is always a good news for any traveller.
- Damascus is the capital city. With 2 million people, it is Syria’s economical and financial centre. The Old City of Damascus is a UNESCO world heritage site. It boast many attraction that hasn’t changed for centuries. This includes the Umayyad Mosque, one of Islam’s most important monument after Mecca.
- For shopping with a difference go to the Street Called Straight where small vendors, perfumers and craftsmen will intrigue you the same way they’ve been doing for generations or visit Souq Al-Hamiddiyyah to find a bargain and taste a handmade ice cream.
- For a sample of its beautiful architecture, visit the many caravansary including Khan As’ad Pasha or better still visit Azem Palace and linger around its magnificent courtyard gardens. Visit the various quarters of the city, the Muslim, Christian and Jewish quarters all reveal something interesting. Then sample some of Damascene cuisine at the reknown Al-Khawali restaurant.
- The ancient ruins of Palmyra is arguably the most breathtaking destination in the country. Spend the day just wandering the site which includes Temple of Bel, the temple of Gods before proceeding to the Great Colonnade where most of the other attractions are fed unto . By evening get to Qala’at Ibn Maan, located on a hilltop and enjoy the spectacular sunset.
- Aleppo is Syria’s second city. Aleppo has been a trading and commerce city since the Roman. Make sure you walk around the city to get nearly the same feeling as a few centuries ago. The city is well-known for its authentic souq atmosphere, which is a must visit. Go to the Citadel for breathtaking views of the old city.
- Bosra boast one of the most spectacular Roman theatre
- The Dead Cities are a collection of small towns scattered on limestone hills, from the Roman and early Christian periods which is now largely uninhabited or ‘ghost towns’. The atmosphere has been decribed as eerily scary as if its residents have just left the cities.
- Hama is well-known for having the world’s largest Norias (a waterwheel)
I have listed some important links that you might find useful when travelling to Syria. These includes information on visas, currency, getting there, getting around, accommodation and other travel related tips.