Defined by mountains, deserts, fertile orchards and a diverse cultural population, Syria is one of the most ancient civilisations on earth. The country is bursting with ancient and modern history to discover, and was once one of the most-visited countries in the region. In the aftermath of a long, destructive civil war, Syria is slowly opening back up to visitors and emerging into a more peaceful era. Our tours there prioritise safety and aim to help bring some business back to Damascus, Aleppo and the coastal cities that have been deprived of tourism in recent years.
In the southwestern corner of Syria, Damascus is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. It’s sometimes called the ‘pearl of the East’ due to the ancient beauty of its architecture, and the lush nut orchards and olive groves that surround it. The heart of Damascus’s walled Old City dates back to the Roman and late Byzantine period, with the Umayyad Mosque – one of the largest and oldest in the world – being a must-visit attraction. Explore the labyrinth of souqs filled with spices, textiles and gold set the scene for people-watching, before taking a walk down Straight Street – an old Roman road that runs from east to west through the Old City.
KRAK DES CHEVALIERS
Built by the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem in the 12th century, this is one of the best-preserved medieval castles in the world. Krak des Chevaliers was one of the most important military bases during the Crusades of the 11th to 13th centuries, and its architectural features describe the history of the castle’s construction – from its Byzantine beginnings to Frankish renovations in the late 12th century, and added Ayyubid dynasty fortifications in the mid-13th century. On visiting the fort today, you’ll spend lots of time exploring and taking in the commanding views from the top.
Aleppo was once Syria’s largest city, and the country’s key trading centre. Like Damascus, it’s one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities, having been mentioned in texts dating from the 20th century BCE. The old city and ancient souq were damaged during the battle for Aleppo in 2012, but the covered bazaar has since been restored. Visiting Aleppo, you’ll spend a full day exploring the remains of the Citadel, the bazaar and the large, medieval palace that offers panoramic views of the metropolis – stopping at a typical Syrian café along the way.
LATAKIA AND THE COAST
The city of Latakia is set on a low-lying peninsula that juts out into the Mediterranean Sea. In the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, this was one of the most important trade hubs in northern Syria. Still today, it’s the country’s principal port, linked by road to Aleppo, Tripoli and Beirut. Untamed Borders tours to Syria explore the surrounding coastal region, from the colonnaded temples of the Amrit archaeological site to Arwad Island, if the weather is good – before finishing in Latakia.
Hama, on the banks of the Orontes River, is the fourth-largest city in Syria and famous for its 17 ‘Norias’: large, wooden water wheels that irrigate the famous city gardens. Visitors can walk through the old City alongside the Orontes River, listening to the creaks and groans of the water wheels while continuing to wander through the cobbled streets past the ancient Azem Palace and hidden Hammams.
You must apply well in advance for your visa to Syria, in person at the Syrian embassy. Some nationalities cannot get visa authorisation. Contact us to check your country’s status.
Syria’s climate is Mediterranean on the coast, with mild, rainy winters and hot, sunny summers. Inland, the climate is dry and subtropical, with scorching-hot summers. Winter temperatures can be close to freezing in the north of the country and in Aleppo, whereas the hottest parts of the country reach over 35C in the summer.
For up to date exchange rates please have a look at www.xe.com.
Power is generally reliable in Syria although it has recently been rationed in some parts of the country. Two prong European style plugs – type C, E and L – can be used.
Most guesthouses and hotels have adequate Wifi. 3G works in cities.
Syrian’s diverse cuisine reflects its history and neighbouring countries. While every city has its own specialties, some must-eat dishes include manakish (a pizza-like flatbread spread with cheese, meat, zaatar or tomato); shawarma (meat kebab grilled on a skewer and served in homemade bread); and kibbeh (bulgur wheat dough stuffed with spiced lamb mince). Thanks to Syria’s supply of fresh vegetables and fruit, it’s possible to travel here as a vegetarian.
You can drink alcohol in Syria, and Old Damascus has a thriving nightlife based on pubs, clubs and drinks kiosks.
Arabic is Syria’s official language, but many other languages are spoken, including Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, Circassian, English and French.
The majority of Syrians identify as Sunni Muslim, but the diverse society includes Kurds, Christian denominations, Yezidis, Jews and others.
While there are no strict rules about clothing in Syria, it is a conservative Islamic country, meaning that it’s important to dress respectfully. Men should wear long trousers and a t-shirt or shirt. Women are advised to wear long-sleeved clothing that covers the shape of the body, keeping their shoulders, knees and neckline covered.
SAFTEY & SECURITY
The FCDO Advises against all travel to Syria. We avoid travel to parts of the country and take precautions in the areas we do travel. Contact us for information on where we do and do not guide in the country, and how we work to minimise risk for our guests and staff.