HOTELS IN SYRIA -SYRIA HOTELS - فنادق سوريا
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Welcome to SYRIA
We are very pleased that you have decided to visit Syria. Our Travel Agency is staffed by experienced and efficient personnel fluent in Arabic, English & French.
range of services cover the following:
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WELCOME TO SYRIA
enter an old souk (bazaar) in Syria, you will realize that history is something
alive and tangible, something you can see, touch and smell. In Damascus, if you
walk down the Street called Straight (Midhat Pasha), you might feel that you
were walking alongside Saul of Tarsus, suddenly transformed into St Paul on
seeing the light of faith, the light on "the road to Damascus".
The glass- blower at their brick furnaces, might remind you of their predecessors, who first invented coloured glass 3,000 years ago. In the thirteenth century, two Italian brothers came to Syria to learn the skill of glass-blowing, which they took back to Venice, and started fashioning "Venetian" glass.
A journey through a Syrian town is a journey into both the past and the present at the same time. You might happen on a Roman arch, built centuries before Christ, under which you might find a shop selling the latest electronic gadgets. Or you may pass on Ottoman caravanserai, bustling under its evocative Arabesque designs with present-day commercial activity.
Damascus, the world's oldest inhabited city, contains Greek ruins built over Aramean temples, and minarets rising over Crusader remains. The Omayyad mosque, a great edifice of Islamic civilization, became a prototype of Islamic architecture, from Spain to Samarcand.
In Aleppo, a grand fortress rises before you, on the very mount where, in the year 2,000 BC, Abraham is said to have milked his cow, giving the site of the city its name, Halab (in Arabic "to milk"). The long, winding stone bazaar of Aleppo is one of the most beautiful in the East, replete with locally-famous coloured silk scarves, perfumes, and soaps still made to ancient recipes.
On the northern coast, your imagination can wander back unhindered by the modern ships you see- to those early sailors who set forth from this very shore, taking their coloured glass, their cloth of gold, their carved wood, and their alphabet to the far-flung regions of the known world.
The villages of Syria, whether they nestle in mountain valleys, or cluster along the coast, or border a great desert, are unique in their traditions and in the native costumes of their inhabitants. Maaloula, a village not far from Damascus where the houses are carved out of the mountain stone, still speaks Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ.
These settlers preserved their original characteristics despite the numerous conquests (Greek, Roman, Persian among others) which they were to experience. In 636 AD, when Muslim Arab tribes entered Syria from that same Arabian Peninsula that had given it its original inhabitants, they brought with them their language, Arabic, and their religion, Islam, both of which endure in modern Syria today.
Culture in Syria
Culture in Syria is linked to its
heritage and to the influences inherited from the various civilizations which
succeeded each other over its lands: its libraries are full of rare manuscripts
and priceless paintings and works of art. These libraries are found in the
various cultural and educational institutions but the most important of them is
Al-Asad public library, The modern and contemporary cultural edifice which
contains most of the rare and priceless manuscripts beside great numbers of
books, publications and paintings old and modern.
The availability of these reference books encourage cultural activities in Syria. Not one week passes without intellectual conferences, fairs and seminars are held in universities, museums, cultural centers in Damascus and all other Syrian towns and townships.
Several exhibition halls exist which present the latest masterpieces of Syrian plastic art painters.
Al-ASSAD library is considered "The national library" of "Syrian Arab Republic". It was inaugurated on /November 16/1984/ under the leader president HAFEZ AL-ASSAD's auspices. The library lies in the west part of Damascus city and overlooks into [UMAWYEEN square]. The library covers an area of [22000 m sq], and it is surrounded by a landscape ground (gardens) which extends on a space of [6.000 m sq]. The complex (buildings) of the library comprises of nine floors.
Being "The national library" of the Syrian Arab Republic, AL-ASSAD library's first task is to gather all books and daily issues in addition to all kinds of literature connected with our "ancestral cultural legacy", then to sort out these materials to serve researchers and scholars and benefit them. The library has interest also in modern cultural legacy of all its kinds. As for our ancient cultural legacy (scripts) the library tries to gather all what is available of these scripts to preserve them by conserving maintenance and storing in suitable "warehouses".
The High Institute of Music
The Syrian Conservatory Institution
is the premier academy for the study of music in Syria.
Students develop high musical competencies in areas such as performance, composition, and production.
One of our primary goals is to fosterwestern music and to convey oriental music to the world.
Dar Al-Assad for Arts & Culture
Just off a central roundabout in
Damascus, adjacent to the Higher Institute of Drama & Music off Beirut Street,
looms a tall marble building. Combining Western architectural features with
The new Dar Al-Assad Opera House for Arts & Culture, opened in 7th May 2004, is Syria's most recent attempt to boost its arts and culture scene and bring international performances to the country.
Syria (الجمهوريّة العربيّة السّوريّة Al-Jumhuriya al-`Arabiya as-Suriya, the Syrian Arab Republic is one of the larger states of the Middle East and has its capital in Damascus. Syria is bordered to the north by Turkey, to the east by Iraq, by Jordan and Israel to the south, and by Lebanon to the south-west. In addition, the country has a short coastline on the east Mediterranean Sea.
Syria has a population of 21,906,000 people (UN, 2009 estimate), of which 6 million are concentrated in the capital Damascus. A moderately large country (185,180 sq km or 72,150 sq miles), Syria is situated centrally within the Middle East region and has land borders with Turkey in the north, with Israel and Lebanon in the south, and with Iraq and Jordan in the east and south-east respectively.
The population of Syria is predominately Arab (90%), with large minorities from other ethnic groups: Kurds, Armenians, Circassians and Turks. The official language is Arabic, but other tongues that are occasionally understood include Kurdish, Armenian, Turkish, French and English. The Syrian Republic is officially secular. Nonetheless, it is greatly influenced by the majority religion of Islam (80% of the population, split between 74% Sunni Muslim and 16% other Muslim, Alawites and Druze). There is a large Christian minority that amounts to about 10% of the population.
The President of Syria is Bashar al-Assad, who replaced his father Hafez al-Assad soon after his death on 10 June 2000. Having studied to become an opthalmologist (eye doctor) in Damascus and London, Bashar was groomed for the presidency after the 1994 car accident of his elder brother Basil. As a consequence, he joined the army and became colonel in 1999. Bashar's modernising credentials were somewhat boosted by his role in a domestic anti-corruption drive. More recently, however, after an initial period of increased openness. Bashar's position as head of the Syrian state rests on his presidency of the Baath Party and his command-in-chief of the army.
Assad's regime and the Baath Party own or control the vast majority of Syria's media. Criticism of the president and his family is not permitted and the press (both foreign and domestic) is heavily censored for material deemed threatening or embarrassing to the government. A brief period of relative press freedom arose after Bashar became president in 2000 and saw the licensing of the first private publications in almost 40 years. A later crackdown, however, imposed a range of restrictions regarding licensing and content. In a more relaxed manner (perhaps owing more to the fact that these matters are largely beyond possible government control), many Syrians have gained access to foreign television broadcasts (usually via satellite) as well as the three state-run networks. In 2002 the government set out conditions for licensing private, commercial FM radio stations, ruling at the same time, however, that radio stations could not broadcast news or political content.
Other destinations in Syria
Get in Syria
Almost every national can get a visa at the border, regardless of the fact it is not officially written or recommended. But do not buy a bus ticket that will take you all the way across the border. They will always leave you there because it does take 2-10 hours for US citizens and they will not tell you that in advance at the time of purchasing of the bus ticket. Buy a ticket to the border via minibus/shared taxi (servees) then do the same when you get to the other side. US citizens cost U$16, while others are more costly, Japanese are U$12/14, Singaporeans are $33, Austrailians/New Zealanders are about $100. They only take US$ or Euros. You may only receive a 15-day single-entry tourist visa and will have to go through this process if you ever re-enter Syria. When you exit Syria, you will have to buy/pay an exit card for about $12.
If going by land, and you are planning to get a visa on the border, bring US Dollars or Syrian Pounds. Foreign currency will not get a good exchange rate and at most crossing there are no facilities for credit/debit cards. Travelers cheques are also not accepted.
American citizens need to beware of sanctions on Syria. While traveling and spending money in Syria is permitted, you may not fly with Syrian Arab Airlines, and more importantly, many US banks err on the safe side and ban all business with Syria. Some credit or ATM cards may not work, although many Americans today experience little problems in this regard. Be wary, however, as some travelers have had their bank account access frozen, regardless of whether or not they informed their bank of travel to Syria.
Syria has three international airports: Damascus International Airport (DAM), 35km (22miles) SE of the capital, Aleppo International Airport (ALP) just northeast of Aleppo in the north of the country, Lattakia International Airport (LTK), south of Lattakia, main sea port of the country. The first two airports have regular direct flights served by Syrian Arab Airlines and the British airline bmi to Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, while the third one for the time being is connected only with the capital city of Egypt, Cairo and with Kuwait (through jazeera Airways, since mid 2009). Flights from Damascus and Aleppo compete with other international carriers serving the same destinations, and Syrian Arab Airlines has code share arrangements with many airlines, including the Turkish Airlines flights to Istanbul.
Damascus international airport is served by many of the larger European carriers to the Middle East including Lufthansa, bmi, Turkish Airlines and Aeroflot. Low-price tickets from Europe can sometimes be found, but until the recent war in Lebanon, cheaper fairs could sometimes be obtained through Czech Airlines, Cyprus Air or Malev. Royal Jordanian can be reasonable through Amman. Some low-cost airlines from the Middle East such as Air Arabia (UAE/Sharjah), flydubai (UAE/Dubai) and jazeera Airways (Kuwait) serve Damascus frequently, and many other Gulf carriers such as Gulf Air, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways have up to several daily flights to Damascus. To cut down on airfare from Europe some people catch a charter flight to Turkey (Antalya) and then take the bus to Aleppo.
The only connection to America is served by Conviasa in a non-stop flight from Damascus to Caracas.
Upon arrival, a free entry visa can be delivered to almost all travelers if they are being received by local Travel Agency. Call the Syrian Embassy in your home country for more information.
Syria levies a departure tax of 550 Syrian Pounds (~US$13) at land and sea borders. Since Summer 2009 airport departure tax is included in the ticket price, and airlines will put a manual stamp on your boarding pass.
There are two international train connections to Syria: Tehran - Aleppo - Damascus and Istanbul - Aleppo
Flying to Istanbul followed a train/coach down to Damascus is a very cheap alternative to flying direct to Damascus(£200 return flights from the UK to Istanbul) it takes about 36 hours max to Aleppo (leaves on Sunday morning; see. Contrary to popular belief it does not continue to Damascus, you have to change trains. Seat61 is very accurate and should be consulted.
All trains from Istanbul (Haydarpaşa train station on the Asian side of the Bosporus) are operated jointly between TCDD (Turkish) and CFS (Syria) and are by far the cheapest way into Syria from Europe, flying to Istanbul and continuing by rail can cost €200 - €300 less than a flight to Damascus.
Recent track renovations across Turkish rail network resulted in Toros Express driving Istanbul to Gaziantep (from which another train into Syria can be caught) being suspended, and it is not certain when and if it will resume service. However there are still daily night trains Istanbul to Adana, which is a short bus ride away from Antioch and Gaziantep, the former of which has extensive bus connections to Aleppo while the latter has twice weekly train connection with the said Syrian city.
Buses run from Turkey, with frequent connections from the city of Antakya (Hatay). You can also travel by bus from Jordan & Lebanon.
When arriving into Damascus by bus, make sure to move away from the bus terminal to find a taxi to the centre of town. Otherwise, you run the risk of paying several times the going rate, which should be around SYP150, as cars posing as taxis operate next to the terminal.
This is normally a two-man operation, with one person trying to distract you, while the driver puts your suitcase into the trunk of the "taxi" and locks it.
When traveling from Lebanon, service taxis (taxis that follow a fixed route only, usually from near one bus station to another) are a convenient way to reach Damascus, Homs, Tartus, Aleppo or other Syrian towns. A shared service taxi from Beirut to Damascus will cost about $10 per person ($20 to Aleppo) and $120 (in January 2010) for a private taxi. In most cases it is necessary to buy a Syrian visa before leaving home, often costing about $130 or less, depending of the country of residency. It's possible, to obtain free entry visa for tourists if being received by a local Travel Agency. It is also possible to arrive by car from Turkey. A private taxi from Gaziantep Airport (Turkey) will cost about $60.
Service taxis run from Dar'a across the Jordanian border to Ramtha; from there microbuses are available to Irbid and Amman -- the stop in Dar'a permits a side trip to Bosra, with UNESCO-recognised Roman theater and ruins.
Get around in Syria
The taxis (usually yellow, and always clearly marked) are an easy way to get around Damascus, Aleppo and other cities. Arabic would be helpful: most taxi drivers do not speak English. All licensed taxis carry meters, and it is best to insist that the driver puts the meter on, and watch that it stays on. Most drivers expect to haggle prices with foreign travellers rather than use the meter. A taxi ride across Damascus might come to £S30. Taxis from the airport to the downtown Damascus cost about £600-800, slightly more at night. Private cab services (which advertise prominently at the airport) charge substantially more.
However, there is also a bus from Baramkeh station to the airport for 25 S£ per bag and 45 S£ per person
Cars can be rented at various Sixt, Budget and Europcar locations. Cham Tours (formerly Hertz) has an office next to the Cham Palace Hotel, which offers competitive rates starting at about USD 50 / day incl. tax, insurance and unlimited kilometers.
Sixt rent a car is one of the premier car rental companies in europe, has recently opened in Syria at the Four Seasons Hotel with its brand new fleet, Rates starting from 40 USD per day (All Inclusive).
If you have never driven in Syria before, make sure you take a taxi first in order to get a first-hand idea of what traffic is like. Especially in Damascus and Aleppo, near-constant congestion, a very aggressive driving style, bad roads and highly dubious quality of road signs make driving there an interesting experience. There are basically no rules that are actually enforced or adhered to – so always expect other cars to run red lights, or cut you off, or drive in the wrong direction (providing pleasant little adrenaline highs if this happens on a highway at night and the oncoming car has no lights). It might seem as if the system is working, but Syria has one of the highest traffic fatality rates in the world, so do be careful.
The only road rule that might come in handy is that, as opposed to most of the rest of the world, in roundabouts, the entering cars have the right of way, and the cars that are already in the roundabout have to wait. Aside from that, it seems that motorists are fairly free to do as they please.
If you have an accident in a rental car, you must obtain a police report, no matter how small the damage or how clear it is who is at fault – otherwise, you will be liable for the damage. Police (115) probably will only be albe to speak arabic, so try to make other drivers help you and/or call your rental agency.
Gas (marked as "Super", red stands) comes at SYP 40 a liter, diesel (green stand) at aprox. half the price (March 2010). If you manage to get out of fuel (try to avoid it), which is quite easy wherever eastern of Damascus-Aleppo highway, or mountains western from it; you can manage to find some local able to sell you few litres from canister, but prices may be high (say SYP 70 a liter). Usually gas stations are only in bigger towns and major crossroads in the desert, so try to refuel whenewer you can.
The microbuses (locally called servees, or meecro) are little white vans that carry ten, or so, passengers around cities on set routes for about £S10. The destinations are written on the front of microbus in Arabic. Usually, the passenger sitting behind the driver deals with the money. You can ask the driver to stop anywhere along his route.
Often, microbuses will do longer routes, for example, to surrounding villages around Damascus and Aleppo, or from Homs to Tadmor or Krak des Chevaliers. They are often more uncomfortable and crowded than the larger buses, but cheaper. Especially for shorter distances they have usually more frequent departures than buses.
By bus or coach
Air-conditioned coaches are one of the easy ways to make longer hauls around Syria, for example, the trip from Damascus to Palmyra. Coaches are cheap, fast and reliable way to get around the country, however the schedules, when they exist, are not to be trusted. For the busy routes it's best to simply go to the coach station when you want to leave and catch the next coach, you'll have to wait a bit, but most of the time it's less of a chore than finding out when the best coach will be leaving, and then often finding it's late.
The Syrian railways are reasonably modern. Rail travel is inexpensive and generally punctual, although railway stations are often a reasonable distance out of town centres. The main line connects Damascus, Aleppo, Deir ez-Zur, Hassake and Qamishle. A secondary line serves stations along the Mediterranean coast.
In the summer, on Fridays, a little steam train leaves from the Hejaz Railway Station in Damascus (which has a good restaurant) and climbs into the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. Many locals enjoy the ride to picnic in the cooler mountains.
While traveling by bicycle may not be for everyone, and Syria is by no means a cycle tourist's paradise, there are definite advantages. Syria is a good size for cycling, accommodation is frequent enough that even a budget traveller can get away with "credit card" touring (though in the case of Syria, it might be better to refer to it as fat-wad-of-cash touring). There are sites that one can not get to with public transportation like the Dead Cities and the people are incredibly friendly often inviting a tired cyclist for a break, cup of tea, meal or night's accommodation. The problem of children throwing stones at cyclists or running behind the bicycle begging for candy and pens (such as in parts of Morocco) does not seem to have appeared in Syria. Locals young and old alike will, however, be very curious about your travels and your bicycle and if you stop in a town you can expect a large crowd to gather for friendly banter about where you are from and your trip.
Wild camping is quite easy in Syria. Perhaps the biggest challenge is not so much finding a place for your tent but picking a spot where locals will not wander by and try to convince you to come back to their home. Olive groves and other orchards can make a good spot for your tent, except on a rainy day when the mud will make life difficult. Another option is to ask to pitch your tent in a private garden or beside an official post like a police station. It is unlikely you will be refused as long as you can get your message across. A letter in Arabic explaining your trip will help with communication.
Unfortunately, the standard of driving skills in Syria is extremely low and other road users tend to drive very aggressively. They do seem used to seeing slow moving traffic and normally give plenty of room as they pass. Motorcycles are perhaps the biggest danger as their drivers like to pull up alongside cyclists to chat or fly by your bike for a look at the strange traveller and then perform a u-turn in the middle of the road to go back home. Perhaps the safest option in this case is to stop, talk for a few minutes and then carry on.
Finding good maps tends to be another problem. You should bring a map with you as good maps are hard to find in Syria. Free ones are available from the tourist bureaus but they are not very good for cycle touring. Even foreign-produced maps can contain errors or roads that don't exist, making excursions away from the main route a challenge. Asking several locals for the right road is a good idea when you come to a crossroads. Without good maps it can be hard to avoid riding on the main highway, which while safe enough (a good wide shoulder exists on almost all the highways) is not very pleasant due to the smokey trucks and uninteresting scenery.
You should think about bringing a water filter or water treatment tablets with you. Bottled water is not always available in the smaller towns. Finding local water is easy. Tall metal water coolers in many town centres dispense free local water and water is always available near mosques. The Syrian word for water is pronounced like the English word “my” (as in “that is my pen”) with a slight A afterwards and if you ask at any shop or home for water they will happily refill your bottles.
Arabic is the official language. It is always a good idea to know some words ("hello", "thank you" etc.). Surprisingly many people speak at least (very) rudimentary English. It would however be worth your while to learn basic numbers in Arabic in order to negotiate taxi fares. Personnel working with foreign tourists (like tourist hotels, restaurants, tour guides, etc.), gerenally can communicate reasonably well in English.
Due to the general lack of ability by the public at large to communicate in English beyond basic phrases, Syria is a great place to force yourself to learn Arabic through immersion, should you wish to improve your Arabic skill.
The unit of currency in Syria is the Syrian pound or 'lira' (£S). All prices are now in even numbers of pounds, so the subdivision 'piastre' is obsolete.
Exchange rates (current in January 2010):
In recent years, a number of ATMs have become available in most major cities: banks, main squares, and 5 star hotels. However, it should be noted that not all ATMs access the international networks. The Real Estate bank has the widest network that will accept foreign cards but cards may also be used in machines run by the Bank of Syria and Overseas and the Commercial Bank of Syria. There have also been instances of foreigners finding ATMs not in working order. Outside of big cities, ATMs (that accept foreign cards) may not exist (e.g. in Palmyra) and it would be wise to carry enough cash when leaving big cities to complete your tour in the countryside and return to the city before running out of cash. Also note that US issued bank cards may apparently give additional problems. Bank Audi is apparently the best to try if you have a US issued card.
One thing to keep in mind is that exchange rates using the ATM system are lower than the official rate which is still lower than street rate. Many private money changing offices exist, but will change cash only. It is nearly impossible to change traveller's cheques in Syria, so do not rely on them but bring cash or credit cards instead. (If you're feeling lucky or desperate, the Commercial Bank of Syria may be able to exchange them.)
Credit cards are becoming more widely accepted, and are even accepted at many smaller shops and budget hotels. Don't count on acceptance, though, as it is far from universal. It is also virtually impossible to get an advance on your credit card in Syria if you are out of Damascus and Aleppo.
An international student card reduces the entry fees to many tourist sites to 10% of the normal price, if you are younger than 26 years. Depending on who is checking your card it is even possible to get the reduction when you are older than 26 or have only an expired card. It is possible to buy an international student card in Syria (around U$ 15). Ask around discreetly.
In the souks (especially the Souk Al Hamidiya in the Old City of Damascus where you can easily "get lost" for a whole morning or afternoon without getting bored), the best buys are the "nargileh" waterpipes, Koran, beautifully laquered boxes and chess/draughts sets and (particularly in Aleppo) olive soap and traditional sweets. The quality of handicrafts varies widely so when buying laquered/inlaid boxes, run your hand over the surface to see that it is smooth, check, in particular, the hinges. In the souq haggling is expected. Bargain ruthlessly.
Eat in Syria
Falafel, deep-fried chickpea patties, are available for 15 to 30 SP. Another popular vegetarian meal is Foul. Don't let the name put you off. It's actually pronounced “fool” and this fava bean paste – topped off with cumin, paprika and olive oil and served with flatbread, fresh mint and onion – is not only tasty but satisfying and filling.
You may also be able to order a salad of Fatoush with your soup. Chopped tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and herbs are mixed together in a dressing and finished off with a sprinkling of fried bread that resembles croutons. Cheese may also be grated on top.
Meat wraps such as shwarma cost 35 to 50 SP. A half-chicken with bread and mayonnaise dip to take away costs 175 SP.
Lunch or dinner in a fair restaurant costs 450 SP. An expensive restaurant lunch or dinner will run about 1000 SP.
Drink in Syria
Generally you can drink water from the tap, it is extremely safe, but if you're unsure ask the locals first. This water is free compared to bottled water, which comes at anywhere between 15-25 Syrian Pound for 1.5 litres.
Fresh fruit juices are available from street stalls in most towns. A large glass of mixed juice (usually banana, orange juice and a few exotic fruits like pomegranate) costs 40-50 SP.
Beer is cheap, costing from 35 SP in a shop and anywhere from 50 to 100 SP in most budget accommodation and local bars for a half litre bottle or can. Syrian wine can be found starting at about 150 SP and Lebanese and French wines are also available in a higher price bracket, starting at 350-400 SP.
Tea is served in a little glass "Earl Grey style" without milk, sweetened with sugar. Add the sugar yourself as the Syrians have a collective sweet tooth and will heap it in.
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