Syria is one of the Middle Eastern countries that hasn't been subject to mass tourism, mainly because it's not been promoted as one so far. Some of the world's finest architecture can be seen here, notably the Crusader Castle (Crac des Chevaliers) and the still well preserved Roman theatre in Bosra. Syria's Damascus and Aleppo are each other's rivals in being the world's oldest and perennially occupied city.
Syria is one of the Middle Eastern countries that hasn't been on the mass tourism radar which makes it an even more exciting place to discover!
This Syria Destination Guide together with our Syria tour suggestions will tell you all you need to know about the highlights of a visit to Syria. For some useful information on Syria visit our Syria Country Guide. Check out our Aleppo Destination Guide or Damascus Destination Guide for more local things to see and do during your trip.
One of the significant mosques in Islamic religious architecture and the most famous mosque in Syria, its most notable feature is a rather remarkable square minaret that dates back to the 8th century. The columns and pillars inside show early Byzantine markings.
The Mameluke hammam (a dormitory of sorts) used to be one of the many stopovers on the holy Hajj route to Mecca. This was built around 1372 for the convenience of millions of pilgrims who undertook the holy trek every year. It has 11 huge bathing halls and is said to be the last important building that was erected in the city.
On the outside this magnificent Roman theatre appears to be a huge black bowl of a fortress, but even from the first view, it promises to be unlike any other amphitheatre you’ve seen in your life. Once inside across the drawbridge (yes, there’s a drawbridge!) you step upwards and inwards into a yawning, gaping passage that leads to an almost endless space with rows and rows of seats surrounding you. And for a moment in time, if you’re the imaginative sort, you can almost picture events of Syrian history taking place here. Even if you’re not, it’s truly a majestic sight to behold, one that’s sure to leave you speechless. Hidden for hundreds of years by the fort built by the Abbayids back in the 13th century, this spectacular Syrian national treasure was restored in 1947, a task that took 20 years to complete.
This is open to tourists everyday between 8.00 a.m. to sunset; mark it as one of the must-see spots in Syria. It can be covered in a day trip from Damascus.
On the way to Serjilla from Al Bara, you come across the dead city of Bauda. While it can’t be categorised as a tourist attraction, it is still worth a visit for the sarcophagi, a church in complete ruins and an eerily complete pyramid tomb.
This is not a frequented destination by any measure, and gets even fewer tourists than Bauda does, but amidst the ruins of the dead city of Jerada is a modern, functioning village. The most striking feature of this dead city is the watch tower, built in the 5th century. And like the village, this watch tower still functions.
The city of Ruweiha doesn’t really merit being bracketed as a dead city, because it’s still inhabited by scores of people who live in buildings that are still in good shape. An old church that serves as a farmhouse today was known as the Church of Bissos in early years and was actually the tomb of a local bishop.
The Turkish Genocide on Armenians forced millions of Armenians to seek refuge in Deir ez-Zor. Today, you find a mausoleum for the dead and a museum where the memorabilia displayed speak volumes about the state of these refugees during the horrific massacre. The descendants of these refugees come to offer their prayers at the church even today.
It’s quite an arduous climb up the road to the ancient Monastery of St. Moses, the Deir Mar Musa, but the view of the monastery is worth it. The small doorway that leads to the inside of the stone monastery, for a spectacular view beyond, is quite breathtaking.
The Lone Roman Temple in Dumeir, a little town near Palmyra, is a temple that was restored somewhere in the 19th century. It stands out among the rows of closely packed houses. Unfortunately all entrances to the temple were blocked by the Arabs, so you’ll have to make do with walking around it and imagining what it looks like inside.
This Roman era temple was built to honour a rather strange blend of gods, and lies in ruins now. It is a testament to the sense and sensibility of the Romans who, in order to accommodate local beliefs, erected this temple for a god that was most likely local-born. Even though the Romans built this temple, this site was considered holy long before their arrival.
Apart from amusing road signs outside Ma’arat that beseech drivers to “Make less speed – a place of many inhabitants”, Ma’arat also has a remarkable museum in an equally impressive Ottoman Khan, where you’ll find relics, mosaics and other remnants of the neighbouring dead cities.
If you want to hear the language that Jesus Christ spoke, your destination is the village of Ma’loula in the mountains of the Anti-Lebanon. It is perhaps the most famous of the last few remaining places on earth where Aramaic is still the lingua franca. Keeping with the peaceful lilt of the language is the array of little houses of blue and white that line the little valley in Ma’loula, with the Mar Sakus (Monastery of St. Sergius) looking down on them from the mountains. Giving this monastery company is another Christian convent, the Mar Tekla (Convent of St. Thecla). These two are the most ancient monasteries of Ma’loula. This village is one of Syria’s best known Christian centres.
Looking down on the hamlet of Ma’loula, almost as if looking out for it, is one of the oldest monasteries in Syria, the little Church of Mar Sakus. Extensive carbon dating and age studies have proven its existence for more than 1700 years, with some structures like the iconostasis, cedar beams on the roof and the altar being older than that. The architecture is splendid and timeless, and some of it is rumoured to have Greco-Roman origins.
If you want to see the tomb of a Christian martyr, be sure to visit the Convent of Saint Thecla. She was a disciple of Saint Paul and is worshipped in the village of Ma’loula even today. Her final resting place is one of Syria’s best known pilgrimage sites, and is in a cave near the convent.
Palmyra is known as the bride of the desert – here is where ancient caravans from Mesopotamia, Persia, India and the Mediterranean converged and traded wares. During the reign of Zenobia, the desert queen, this was a bustling cosmopolitan city. The colossal Temple of Baal rose up in the heart of this city. Even though the city is now mostly in ruins its magnificence hasn’t dimmed by even a fraction. Be sure to ask about the Valley of Tombs when in Palmyra.
The first sights that greet you in Palmyra after the seemingly endless desert are some scattered towers and then, virtually rising from the sand is the Cardo Maximus, the huge Temple of Baal and the city of erstwhile queen Zenobia, who’s famed for defying the Romans. The city is commercially buzzing with enough street bazaars and markets, temples, tower tombs (Valley of Tombs) and even a little theatre for your entertainment.
Far from the deserts and ruins of Palmyra, or so it seems, is a green stretch of land with lanes winding in and out. These lanes lead to lovingly tended groves of olives, pomegranates and dates; these groves are all you see from the road for miles and miles.
The tall Church of Qasr ibn Wardan along with a Governor’s palace is built in a Constantinople style, suggesting that these materials were imported from far off places. The ruins are enormous and as majestic as the structure must have been in its heyday. There is a large courtyard in the middle with rooms all around that were meant for both official and personal functions. The church is very tall, suggesting that there were no standard ratios of height and width that were followed when it was built. There are stairways to the top of both the buildings which offer a panoramic view of the flatlands below.
Most Christian buildings in Seidnaya have recent origins, not later than early 19th century. The one that stands out not only for its name and the number of followers it attracts, both Christian and Muslim, but also for the fact that it’s one of the most ancient convent structures in all of Syria, is the tiny Chapel of the Virgin Mary in Seidnaya. Founded in the 6th century by the then emperor Justinian, this incredible icon is rumoured to have been painted by St. Luke and has been one of the most frequented holy centres since then.
The striking valley of Wadi al Nadara is steeped in Greek conventions from the early times, and offers a very attractive view of the villages on either side, which with their riches and prosperity are in stark contrast to most of rural Syria. Parts of Wadi al Nadara can be quite steep, with very narrow lanes running through the houses that line the valley.
The most famous attraction of this valley is the Crac des Chevaliers, which overlooks Wadi al Nadara. On the valley towards the coast line is the 13th century St. George monastery.