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As Tourist In Damascus, The Capital Of Syria

In October 2017 was I lucky to be granted a 10-day tourist visa to Syria, almost 2 years before every other “traveller decided to travel to Syria”.

Friends and family told me I had to be insane and that I must have a death wish to want to visit Syria in 2017. Everyone knows there is a brutal war raging in the country that is heading into its 7th year now.

The people I told about my plans were all saying the chance of entering Syria was around zero and, if I did manage to enter, I would most likely end up getting killed or kidnapped.

So when I finally managed to secure a tourist visa to Syria, I booked the first flight possible to Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, since there are currently no easy flight connections to Damascus and Syria.

It´s now really easy to visit Syria, click here to read about travel guide about how to get the visa in less 48hours.

Damascus,Syria

Streets are full of people and Shisha houses are full.

Over the 10 days, I travelled around Syria, I visited DamascusAleppo (Read About my visit to Aleppo by clicking here)Homs with the countryside around it, and the Mediterranean coast before I went back to Lebanon for my flight back home to Europe.

I went to Syria with an open mind and with no political intentions at all.

How´s Damascus these days, after the war

To obtain a visa for Syria these days, you will have to get a recommendation from someone with contacts inside the country, fill out some paperwork, wait for around 9 – 10 weeks to get an answer and pray that you will get accepted.

Most people don´t even receive an answer.

Damascus

Local families in the street, all souvenir shops are open.

I left my hotel in Beirut in the afternoon with a shared taxi heading for Damascus and I would be lying if said I wasn’t excited about my trip into Syria.

The trip between the two capitals is no more than 120KM /75Miles, a journey that used to take only around 2 hours to travel between before the war, including immigration procedures.

With the circumstances these days I would be happy if I could just make it across the border and into Syria at all.

Leaving Beirut proved to be the most time consuming on my whole trip to Damascus since I got stuck in the notorious Beirut traffic jam when leaving the city centre.

When entering the immigration office on the Lebanese side of the border I noticed early on that myself and the 5 other westerners I was travelling with was not the only foreigners crossing the border.

There were another 9 Europeans together with the tens of locals exiting Lebanon at the same time as me (the border is open 24/7). Exiting and get stamped out of Lebanon only took a few minutes.

Here´s a short video from my trip to Syria, filmed with GoPro.

The first thing I noticed when entering the Syrian side of the border is how organized and calm everything was. People are lined up in queues.

There are no soldiers around and only a few welcoming border guards. To make a long story short, the Immigration on the Syrian side took only around 20 minutes before I was stamped into the country and ready to go.

I entered Syria just in time to hear the 7 PM call to prayer from the Mosques in the distance.

When leaving the border to head towards Damascus there are a few military checkpoints to go through.

None of them was any problem at all and every single soldier greeted me and my friends with a big smile, a handshake, and a “Welcome to Syria My Friend.”

The first thing to notice when arriving in Damascus is all the street life going on; young couples holding hands in the streets, shops open everywhere, shawarma stalls next to tea and coffee stalls and, in general, the streets are full of people like in any other country.

There are no signs of war going on except the few relaxed soldiers sitting on a street corner.

Damascus

Traditional Resturant in an old home.

I only went for a fast dinner and a few beers in a traditional restaurant full of people before heading to bed.

I wanted to be fully rested and up early to explore the streets of Damascus the next morning.

After waking up early to walk around of the oldest cities in the world, I left my hotel in the old city and you quickly notice the smell of fresh bread.

The milkman is on his bike delivering milk around the old narrow streets and the fruit and vegetable stalls are full of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Established between 10,000 to 8,000 BC, Damascus is credited with being the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.

Things To do in Damascus

When walking around the old city, you start to wonder if there is even a war going on. There´s absolutely no damage here. All shops are open and the streets are bustling with life.

There are a few military checkpoints here and there but you don´t really notice them.

Even here the soldiers are happy to see tourists. Shopkeepers are overwhelmed with happiness when they see that tourists are back in town.

Syria, Damascus

A milkman in the old streets of Damascus

You are completely free to travel around Damascus on your own. You can take photos of everything you want except for military checkpoints and government buildings.

It´s very easy to forget that you’re in a country that ravaged by war when visiting Damascus but then you suddenly hear rocket hitting the terrorist-infested Jobar district only two km away in a straight line from where I’m staying and enjoying life.

Between 10 – 30 rockets, I could hear a day.

Just like before the war, there is plenty to see in Old Damascus – The Umayyad Mosque, the 4th holiest place in Islam, take a walk around The Souq al-Hamidiyya (old market), visit The Damascus Citadel or just get lost in the narrow streets filled with a century after century with history.

Umayyad Mosque,Damascus

Umayyad Mosque, the 4th holiest place in Islam

Umayyad Mosque one of the holiest sites Islam and a must visit in Syria.

Umayyad Mosque, The Mosque was a Christian Temple before it becomes a Mosque in 634.

Damascus

The Entrance to The Souq al-Hamidiyya is an old Roman temple.

Damascus

The old bazaar is crowded with people, here you can everything

If you get tired of walking around the streets, just walk into an art gallery to have a look at modern art in Syria, relax in a local Hooka cafe while looking at bustling street life or listen to a local storyteller. Everything here is just like it was before 2011.

Damascus

A local art gallery

But like before 2011, so is the Old Town of Damascus the place you to stay to explore.

The only real reason to head into to a modern part of Damascus is if you need to do some proper shopping at a western-style shopping mall or to visit a supermarket just as well-stocked as any supermarket back in Europe or America. Everything is available here.

Damascus, Syria

Food Selections are just like Europe

Damascus,Syria

European Cheese

Syria,Damascus

Jack Daniels, or Jagermeister? Alcohol shops are everywhere in Syria.

Overall, Damascus is so completely opposite of what the media has been telling us for the last 7 years. So I wonder if the journalists have actually ever been here themselves.

Christian churches are located right next to  Mosques. Both are filled with people. Even the Jewish Synagogue in the Old City of Damascus is still open.

You will see Christian weddings around the city and Priests walking around in public. And in general, are Damascus residents enjoying life.

Damascus

A beautiful girl looking at her friend taking wedding photo.

Damascus,Syria,Christian

A Christian Wedding, You see Christian Weddings every day.

In the afternoon, the bars and pubs are filled with locals that enjoy a few beers and drinks together with watching European football on big screens.

And all of them are welcoming to you as a tourist. I went out drinking with the locals to 2 am before walking back to my hotel on my own.

Damacus

Locals Out dancing.

Syria is much more than you would expect from the media

Locals out enjoying live music

I was lucky enough to walk around and explore Damascus for 3 full days. Never did I experience any hostile or unfriendly people.
Everyone was so happy to see that tourists are back in town.

Visiting Damascus in 2017 as a tourist feels just like being home in Norway or walking around Barcelona or any big western city. Damascus is very safe and ready to welcome tourists back.

After 3 Peacefull days in Damascus was it time to leave the capital and travel north to Aleppo. Click here to read.

Click here! to read about my visit to the world´s most impressive castle, KRAK DES CHEVALIERS & THE VALLEY OF CHRISTIANS.

Travel report from Damascus the capital of Syria from 2017

Travel report from Damascus the capital of Syria from 2017

 

Friends and family told me I had to be insane and that I must have a death wish to want to visit Syria. But in the end so was Syria amazing and everything western media write a complete lie

Friends and family told me I had to be insane and that I must have a death wish to want to visit Syria. But in the end so was Syria amazing and everything western media write a complete lie

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oiiioo

Saturday 13th of March 2021

I was lucky enough to study Arabic in Damascus back in the 90s, before tourism changed the city. It was the most beautiful city I have ever visited. I rented a room in a Christian family in the Bab Touma area. In the summer I would sleep on the roof and wake up to the morning prayer from the Umayyad Mosque. We would have power cuts in the old city almost every night (I could watch sections of the city turn black from my roof), and all the shops and cafes would lit candles. So beautiful. I would lover to go back, but I know it would be very different now. The Souq looks similar on the photos, but there were no cars on the square in front of the Roman temple.

Jeseph

Sunday 18th of October 2020

The media hasn't really said anything bad about Damascus, the fighting isn't there. Secondly, you're clearly trying to paint yourself as a contrarian, so why should we believe your account any more than anyone else's? Although like I say, Damascus isn't where the fighting is.

Christian L.

Sunday 18th of October 2020

Fighting did happen in all the suburbs of Damascus https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Damascus_(2012%E2%80%932018) and during my visit to Damascus 2017 did we have mortars falling all over the old city sent from terrorist groups just outside the city centre.

Φωτογραφίες δείχνουν την Συρία πολύ διαφορετική από ότι μας την παρουσιάζουν τα ΜΜΕ | Τι λες τώρα;

Tuesday 15th of October 2019

[…] [unusualtraveler] […]

Scorpian

Monday 7th of October 2019

Such a great post about a country which may not be a popular tourist destination! Appreciated.

Nick A

Saturday 22nd of June 2019

Your article touched a chord! I spent 3 summers in Syria in the 80s (two stays of 4 weeks and one of 6 weeks) and found it, like you, amazingly friendly. I wouldn't say easy, as officialdom could be heavy, and the muhabarrat (secret police) were everywhere. Locals would even point them out to you, so not always so secret. But people were great, you were never on your own. I remember being 'adopted' by a group of students in Homs, a Druze family in Salkhad, and a market trader in Deir ez-Zor. Ironically (given recent history), Raqqah was the friendliest. So, as you say, a truly warm place. Interestingly, women were freer than in many other middle east countries I've visited - but you had to balance this against the pervasive climate of caution, sometimes fear, that I couldn't deny existed. Not sure how I'd feel about going back now...