Syria

Take golden desert ruins revealing grand civilisations of the past; treasure-filled souqs that have been trading for centuries; exotic cities teeming with classic architecture, culture and cuisine; and warm people ready to extend the hand of friendship and you have the superb, stirring land of Syria that simply must be seen.

Syria Tours & Travel

Articles on Syria

castle of the knights

Posted on Wed, 6 Oct 2010 by Sue Elliot

Lawrence of Arabia called it ‘the finest castle in the world’ and it sounds like Intrepid traveller Tara Samson agrees… “One of the last sights I ever expected to see [...]

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shopper’s paradise in syria

Posted on Wed, 21 Jul 2010 by Sue Elliot

In ancient times all roads led to Damascus and even though camel caravans no longer take this route, if you are in the market for an amazing bazaar experience, follow [...]

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syria’s secret recipe

Posted on Tue, 22 Jun 2010 by Sue Elliot

Syria is renowned for its ancient ruins, impressive mosques and traditional handicrafts, but Intrepid’s Jess Lee has another treat on her Top 10 list in this amazing country… “Bahar, the [...]

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strong coffee in syria

Posted on Thu, 28 May 2009 by Sue Elliot

Rita Fargiorgio knows that part of the fun when travelling is taking time out over a cup of coffee.. “I just had to stop, in the middle of the street, [...]

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Transport

Intrepid believes half the fun of experiencing a new country is getting there, and getting around once there! Where possible, Intrepid uses local transport options and traditional modes of transport - which usually carry less of an environmental impact, support small local operators and are heaps more fun.

Depending on which trip you're on while in Syria, you may find yourself travelling by:

Accommodation

Travelling with Intrepid is a little bit different. We endeavour to provide travellers with an authentic experience to remember, so we try to keep accommodation as unique and traditional as possible.

When travelling with us in Syria you may find yourself staying in a:

About Syria

At a glance

Trips Available: 0
Capital city: Damascus
Population: 22.5 million
Language: Arabic
Currency: SYP
Time zone: (GMT+02:00) Beirut
Dialing code: +963

Best time to visit Syria

The climate of Syria is a typical Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters - although inland conditions can vary. Generally, the hottest months are July and August; the coldest month is January; the wettest months are December and January. Travellers visit Syria from March to May for mild weather, fun in the sun and viewing wildflowers, or for regional festivals in Palmyra and Bosra. To avoid the crowds, and maybe even see a little snow in Damascus, winter is a good time to travel. So no matter what time you choose to go, Syria is a great place to travel all year round, depending on what experience you want.

Syria weather chart

Culture and customs

Crowds visiting the Great temple of Damascus, Syria Young smiling Syrian girl standing in doorway
Modern day Syria is blessed with ancient, time-worn traditions and a culture that has been enriched over the centuries. Artistic traditions that have lasted for hundreds of years can be seen in the embroidered scarves of local women, the melodic music played in bars, the traditional food served and sold in the souqs and the ancient houses that still stand in antiquated glory. Although modernisation has come to Syria’s big cities in the way of infrastructure, the internet, mobile phones and foreign cuisine, this has largely not come at a cost to ancient traditions, which are still celebrated and revered by most of the population.

Most of Syrian society is quite conservative in that contact between women and men and public drunkenness is frowned upon by most. However, Syria’s attitude towards drinking alcohol and dress is generally considered to be less conservative than many other neighbouring countries.

The hallmark of Syrian culture is kind hospitality – a throwback to the ancient days of welcoming travelling strangers to share dinner and shelter while journeying through the desert. Visitors will be disarmed by the genuine welcome and hospitality that they receive when visiting Syria. Being invited into people’s shops and homes for tea, coffee or a meal is common, and it’s considered impolite to decline. With such a proud ancient culture expressed through traditional handicrafts, song, dance and clothing, getting to know the customs and folklore of Syria is a sensory and spiritual pleasure.

Eating and drinking

Intrepid believes that one of the best ways to experience a country is by eating! Whether you're sampling street food, savouring a cheap eat or indulging in a banquet, there are endless options to choose from wherever you are in the world.

Food lovers will be spoilt for choice in Syria. With rich culinary traditions dating back centuries and a wide range of fresh produce, spices and herbs, eating in Syria’s souqs, cafes and restaurants is a real treat.

Things to try in Syria

1. Meze

The best way to sample the flavours of Syria is to indulge in meze - an array of small dishes all served at once. Choose from smoky dips, tangy cheese, spicy vegetables, fresh melon, garlic-infused yoghurt, olives, bread and cubes of meat.

2. Sweets

Syria has a strong tradition of baking sweet pastries and cakes – no wonder locals have a sweet tooth! From cakes covered in honey and pomegranate molasses, to layered flaky pastries and deep fried crepes, there’s no point dieting here.

3. Nuts

For a low-cost snack, wander through the souq of Damascus where nut sellers have been trading for centuries. Pick up bags of roasted pistachios, almonds, walnuts and macadamias for a hit of salty goodness.

4. Dried Fruit

Alongside the nut sellers, you’ll also see loads of dried fruit vendors. Dates, figs, prunes and apricots are plentiful in Syria, and the process of drying and preserving them has been an important part of Syria’s economy for centuries.

Geography and environment

Syria is located in the south-western corner of Asia and shares borders with Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. Consisting mainly of mountains, steppe and desert, Syria’s landscapes are typically arid, except for the area around the Euphrates River which is more fertile. The Euphrates is truly the lifeblood of Syria, providing roughly 80% of the water used in the country (this is particularly significant for farming and cultivation). Although much of Syria is uninhabitable, many of Syria’s cities, like Damascus and Aleppo, have remained centres of antiquity for centuries. Many old buildings, mosques, churches, souqs, houses and shopfronts have been preserved and retained – something that will intrigue and delight travellers.

History and government

Tourist lookouts from top of Krak de Chevaliers in Syria Tourists visiting the ancient Palmyra ruins in Syria

Early History

Syria’s civilisation is one of the most ancient on earth and visitors will see many reminders of this when visiting the cities and ruins that have stood for centuries. Occupied by many different groups (including the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and Romans), Syria has seen a variety of different cultures and religions come and go since 3000 BC. As an important stop on the overland trade route, Syria’s cities flourished as main trading centres until a sea trade route was discovered in the 15th century, thus eliminating the need to travel overland through Syria. Over the years, Syria was subjected to many attacks from foreign invaders keen on establishing a stronghold in this important territory, including the Mongols. From the 16th to the 20th century, Syria remained a part of the Ottoman Empire and enjoyed relative peace.

Recent History

After World War I, the League of Nations divided the rule of Syria between the United Kingdom and France, but by 1920 France had complete rule of the territory. After many revolts, clashes and attempts at independence, Syria was finally granted its independence in 1946. What followed was a time of political instability, mainly caused by the fragility of Middle Eastern politics and surrounding countries during the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Ruled by Hafez al-Assad for more than three decades (from 1971-2000), Syria is currently ruled by his son, Bashar al-Assad.

Top Picks

Traditional Syrian Moutabal

Top 10 Must-Try Foods of Syria

1. Qatayef

Often served during Ramadan, this sweet, pancake-like desert item is usually filled with cheese or nuts, raisins and spices before being deep-fried and covered in cinnamon. Just try stopping at one.

2. Fattoush

A favourite with vegetarians, this hearty salad is packed with pita bread, lettuce, cucumber, tomato, and sometimes feta and peppers. Spiced with sumac, this is no ordinary salad.

3. Moutabal

This smoky and spicy eggplant dip is a great introduction to Syrian food and can be found almost everywhere in Syria.

4. Muhammara

With its origins in Aleppo, this hot and spicy dip made from peppers, walnuts and olive oil should definitely be tried in its native environment. Eaten with bread or as the perfect accompaniment to grilled meat, muhammara adds a spicy dimension to the meal.

5. Shawarma

Popular across the Arab world, shawarma should definitely be sampled in Syria. This meat and salad wrap can be found at street stalls everywhere in Syria, where the local pomegranate sauce adds a little fruity twist to this Middle Eastern favourite.

6. Shanklish

Commonly served on meze plates, this tasty ball of sheep or cow’s cheese is often covered in spicy chilli, thyme and pepper for a zingy flavour offset by the plain breads and mild, cool yoghurt-based dips served alongside it.

7. Kabab bil Karaz

Another unique, mouth-watering dish from Aleppo. Experience a beautiful blend of sweet and sour with this dish of minced lamb, cherries, pine nuts, spices and bread. Locals love it, and once you discover it, you will too!

8. Fuul

This flavoursome Syrian staple is a popular breakfast item with locals and visiting vegetarians. Featuring slow cooked beans and lentils garnished with lemon and olive oil, this is a tangy and tasty way to start the day.

9. Kahwa

Kahwa is the term Syrians use for coffee, which is served strong, thick and sweet like in many other Middle Eastern countries. Cities like Aleppo and Damascus have many open-air cafes and traditional coffee houses, so sitting with a cup of kahwa is a great way to pass the time like locals do.

10. Kleeja

These cardamom and cinnamon-spiced sweet treats can be found in souqs, street stalls and sweet shops all throughout Syria, although Aleppo’s strong spice-trading history means that Kleeja in Aleppo tend to be spicier.

Shopping

Display of handcrafted, wooden Backgammon boards in Syrian store

Just try keeping yourself away from the labyrinthine souqs and open-air markets of Syria! Shopping in Syria is a sensory experience, with food and spices intermingled with hand-made clothing, artisan wares and antiques. Choose to shop, chat, take photos and sample sweet nibbles along the way.

It's a good idea to check with your local customs officials to ensure that you are able to bring certain items back into your home country. Australia and New Zealand generally have strict quarantine laws.

Things to buy in Syria

1. Copper and Brass

Ornately engraved copper and brass pots, trays and tea sets can be found in most souqs and markets. The quality is exceptional in Syria, and makes the perfect gift for friends back home.

2. Backgammon Boards

Fans of addictive backgammon should invest in a new board while in Syria. The craftsmanship is generally excellent here and there’s nothing like playing on a brand new, exquisitely carved board.

3. Leather Footwear

Soft and super-comfy leather sandals and slippers can be found in most souqs. Pick up a pair to relieve tired and hot feet.

4. Soap

Aleppo is known for its traditionally made soap. With main ingredients of olive oil and bay laurel, it’s been reported that this was the preferred soap of none other than Cleopatra!

Festivals and Events in Syria

Eid al-Fitr

During the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is observed by most in Syria and is thought to be a time of spiritual rejuvenation. For this month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset - refraining from eating and drinking during daylight hours. Eid marks the end of fasting with three days of feasting and celebration, with Damascus being one of the best places in the world to witness these festive celebrations.

Silk Road Festival

This four-day festival is a sumptuous celebration of Syria’s place on the old Silk Road. Syria’s cities are ornately decorated during this time as concerts, shows and parades showcase the cuisine, costume, dance and culture of the Silk Road.

FAQs on Syria

SYRIA:
Australia: Yes - in advance
Belgium: Yes - in advance
Canada: Yes - in advance
Germany: Yes - in advance
Ireland: Yes - in advance
Netherlands: Yes - on arrival
New Zealand: Yes - on arrival
South Africa: Yes - in advance
Switzerland: Yes - in advance
United Kingdom: Yes - in advance
USA: Yes - in advance

Only when there is no Syrian embassy or consulate in the passport holder's country may an entry visa be issued at the border, such as New Zealand & Dutch passport holders. Depending on your nationality getting a visa at the border is often difficult and problematic.

Please note that it won't be possible to attain a visa or enter Syria with Israeli stamps in your passport.
Tips will be appreciated by Syrians, but remember to tip discreetly (no need to grandstand here). If you're satisfied with the services provided, tip as appropriate. Generally, add 10% to cafe and restaurant bills and leave loose change for street vendors. It's also a good idea to tip local guides and drivers - US$2-4 per day is acceptable.
Internet access in Syria is growing, with internet cafes and Wi-Fi hot spots increasingly becoming more common in large cities, especially Damascus.
Mobile phone coverage is good in the larger cities. Coverage may not be available in more remote areas, especially if travelling through the desert. Ensure you have global roaming activated with your mobile carrier before you leave home if you wish to use your mobile while in Syria.
You will have to adjust to different standards of hygiene and sanitation whilst in Syria. Toilets are usually of the squat variety and this may take some getting used to, although Western-style toilets can be found in some tourist areas. Bring your own toilet paper and soap as these are rarely provided.
Fresh juice = 40-50 SYP
Street cart snack= 50 SYP
Dinner in a local restaurant = 400-500 SYP
Although tap water is considered safe to drink in Syria, drinking filtered water is a safer option. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water. Ask your leader where filtered water can be found; some hotels we stay in may have drinking water available. It's also advisable to avoid ice in drinks and peel fruit and vegetables before eating.
Major credit cards are usually accepted by shops and hotels in touristy areas, but are less commonly accepted by smaller vendors, in remote towns and in rural areas. Make sure you carry enough cash for purchases, since credit cards aren't always an option in Syria.
ATMs are common in Syria’s large cities and are easily found in and around shopping centres, tourist areas and hotels, although many don't accept foreign cards. ATMs are far less common in rural areas and smaller towns, so you're advised to be prepared for this by having enough cash before travelling out of the city.
Absolutely. All passengers travelling with Intrepid are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.

For more information on insurance, please go to: [site:intrepid_insurance_link]
Jan 1 New Year’s Day
Jan 24 Mouloud (Birth of the Prophet)
Mar 8 Revolution Day
Mar 21 Mother’s Day
Mar 31 Easter Sunday
Apr 17 Independence Day
May 1 Labour Day
May 5 Orthodox Easter Sunday
May 6 Martyrs’ Day
Aug 8 Eid al-Fitr (End of Ramadan)
Oct 6 Anniversary of October Liberation War
Oct 15 Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice)
Nov 4 Islamic New Year
Dec 25 Christmas Day

Muslim festivals are timed according to lunar phases, which change each year, so the dates above are estimates only. For a current list of public holidays go to: http://www.worldtravelguide.net/syrian-arab-republic/public-holidays

Health and Safety

Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:

From Australia?

Go to: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/

From New Zealand?

Go to: http://www.safetravel.govt.nz/

From Canada?

Go to: http://www.voyage.gc.ca/

From US?

Go to: http://travel.state.gov/

From UK?

Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/

The World Health Organisation

also provides useful health information:
Go to: http://www.who.int/en/

Responsible Travel

Syria Travel Tips

Intrepid is committed to travelling in a way that is respectful of local people, their culture, local economies and the environment. It's important to remember that what may be acceptable behaviour, dress and language in your own country, may not be appropriate in another. Please keep this in mind while travelling.

Top responsible travel tips for Syria

1. Be considerate of Syria’s customs, traditions, religion and culture.

2. Dress modestly and respectfully. Shoulders to knees should be covered, especially when entering places of worship.

3. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water instead.

4. Always dispose of litter thoughtfully, including cigarette butts.

5. When bargaining at markets, stay calm, be reasonable and keep a smile on your face. It's meant to be fun!

6. Learn some local language and don't be afraid to use it - simple greetings will help break the ice.

7. Shop for locally made products. Supporting local artisans helps keep traditional crafts alive.

8. Refrain from supporting businesses that exploit or abuse endangered animals.

9. Please ask and receive permission before taking photos of people, including children.

10. When on community visits or homestays, refrain from giving gifts or money to locals.

11. Ramadan is the fasting month for all Muslims. During this month no food, drink or smoking is permitted during daylight hours. While non-Muslims aren't expected to fast, it's recommended to try to avoid eating, drinking or smoking in public during daylight hours.

Further reading

Recommended reading

Title Author
Road to DamascusElaine Rippey Imady
Syrian EpisodesJohn Borneman
Syria: A Historical and Architectural GuideWarwick Ball
Demystifying SyriaFred Lawson
The Monuments of Syria: A GuideRoss Burns