Travel guide to Syria

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Syria is much more than that reported on television news. The country has a very friendly population, ancient ruins, beautiful mosques, and one of the most impressive crusader castles in the world.

Facts

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Local name
Al-Jomhurya al-arabya as-Surya
Capital
Damascus (6,000,000)
Size
185,180 square kilometres
Principal Languages
Arabic
Principal Religion
Islam
Inhabitants
17,000,000
Government
Republic
Geography
The Mediterranean and Lebanon on the East, Turkey in the North, Iraq in the West and Jordan and Israel in the South enclose Syria. The most fertile area is that north of Lebanon, which constitutes the only coastal stretch in Syria. This area is a sharp contrast with the stony desert by the borders of primarily Iraq, but also Jordan. Between these two border regions - a cultivated steppe region, the mountain cattle, and Jebel Ansariyya with an average height of 1000 above sea level - are situated.

Travel preparation

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Best time to visit

For the most successful visit to Syria it is a very good idea to visit the country during spring or autumn - when temperatures are humanly-bearable. During summer the temperature can reach 45 degrees Celsius - and perhaps even higher. During winter you should be prepared for some rain, which could possibly spoil some of the pleasures of the many outdoor activities.

Literature

Lonely Planet Middle East Lonely Planet Syria Travelkit Lonely Planet Jordan and Syria

Local conditions

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Currency

Syrian pound (SYP), locally known as Lira

Net cafes

For a long time, the Internet has not been popular in Syria. However, times are changing, and the first Internet café has opened in Damascus, and more are surely to follow.

In case of emergency

In case of emergency, please call one of the following numbers when in Syria: Police (112) Traffic police (115) Fire department (113 or 91) Ambulance (110)

Tipping

Tipping is not commonly used in Syria. However waiters in exquisite restaurants expect some extra for their service. And if you do not add a service fee to the bill, waiters have been known to add an unknown sum on top.

Timezone

Syria is two hours ahead of GMT.

Weight and Measures

In Syria, the following units of measure are used: Length: Metres Weight: Kilos

Photography

As a rule of thumb excessive precautions are not required in Syria besides common politeness and respect. However do please note that sacred buildings may have special restrictions.

Drinking water

Generally you can safely drink the tapwater in Syria. However, people with a weak stomach and children are advised to drink bottled water. Others may naturally also drink bottled water in order to lower the risk of a bad stomach.

Electricity

Electric current operates on 220 volts AC, 50 cycles.

Behaviour

Syrians are not as specific about clothing when compared to other, more religious countries. However, proper clothing and behaviour is a must when visiting mosques and other sacred places. Otherwise the Syrians are generally tolerant and have a friendly attitude towards tourists, and they will often invite you for a cup of tea in their private home.

Business Hours

Office opening hours are from 8 a.m. to 2.30 p.m. Saturday through Thursday Banks are open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday through Thursday Shops are open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Food and drink

As with most other middle eastern countries, the Syrian kitchen is an interesting experience. It is very similar to the food served in other Arabic countries, yet a few specialities make Syrian food unique. One of these specialities is the Marya: Thin dough filled with minced flesh and spices, folded and cut. For people interested in dessert, they could be tempted by a halawat al-jibna; an ice-cream dessert with syrup, cream cheese and pastry-like dough.

Holidays

New Year's Day, 1 January Revolution Day, 8 March Independence Day, 17 April Labour Day, 1 May Martyrs' Day, 6 May Other, not fixed holidays Easter (March or April)

Accommodation / Hotel

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Camping

Camping is a possibility when visiting Syria. In Damascus, you will find one single campsite.

Hotels

You will find many hotels in all areas of Syria. The standard varies, but several of them have a unique history with for instance signatures from Lawrence of Arabia and Agatha Christie in their visitors' book.

Bed og breakfast or guesthouse

B&R / Guesthouses approved by the authorities cannot be found in Syria. However, you may be invited by one of the locals to their home with perhaps the possibility of spending the night.

Hostels

Many hostels are found in Syria - though the organised, standardised hostels well-known throughout Europe cannot be found in Syria.

Local transport

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Planes

Syrian Air offers domestic flights between larger cities in Syria. Domestic flying is not expensive. However, please note that the transfer time together with check-in time increase the total travelling time to almost the same as a bus would take for the same route.

Bus

Karnak is the old, national bus company, with its characteristic orange and white buses crossing the country. However the bus company has experienced increased competition from private companies which have undercut this old monopoly. Added to this is competition from highly modern luxury coaches which do not compete on price, but on service and speed.

Trains

Just recently Russia has delivered modern trains to Syria, and they are of a fine quality and run on schedule between the larger cities. Trains are inexpensive, but unfortunately the stations - unlike the bus stops - are situated far from the city centre.

Taxi

Microbus and service taxi are the two terms to know when entering a Syrian taxi-rank. Microbuses are small vans, typically going on shorter trips between towns close to each other. The buses leave when they are full, and that means quickly! The service taxis are about the same size as an ordinary passenger car, and they also do not leave until they are full. They are rather expensive compared to the microbuses.

Car rental

Some of the large Western car rental companies are found in Syria. Prices are similar to those in Europe, and sometimes even higher. Therefore, please check the local companies first, not only concerning the vehicle but also concerning insurance. Please note that petrol is expensive in Syria.

Other Transport

Male travellers may safely use hitchhiking as a means of transport in Syria. It is commonly used, and car drivers do not hesitate to take passengers. In return, they do however expect a small amount of money. Women travelling alone should really take the bus.

Special conditions

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Syria welcomes tourists, but this does not mean that borders are wide open. Citizens from other countries with Syrian representation must hold a visa before going; otherwise they will be denied entry. All other people will get a visa at the borders or in the airport for payment - depending on citizenship. Due to the tense political situation between Israel and Syria - and Syria's refusal to recognise Israel as an independent state, you cannot enter Syria if you in any way look like you have been to Israel. Israeli passport stamps are prohibited, and so are other signs of previous visits to Israel. Besides all this, a study card will save you a lot of money in museum entrance and at other attractions. Prices may often be only one tenth of normal prices if you have such a card.

Find your travel arrangement to Syria here

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