Once in Syria, you cannot miss the souks - the busy marketplaces and bazaars that sell you everything from food to souvenirs to silk to handicrafts to camel humps and even Syrian dreams. Souks don't necessarily mean street bazaars - there are some glitzy shopping malls too. The old city of Damascus is a shopper's paradise, spread across narrow lanes and main roads. The Aleppo souk stretches for 20 miles and you might require at least two days to cover all the little shops and stalls on this stretch.
Here's a friendly warning - a local proverb goes "An Aleppine can sell even a dried donkey skin." So before indulging in some heavy duty shopping, pretend to just be wandering about, see what you'd like and then begin shopping.
You will be sure to pick up some great local souvenirs whilst visiting the fascinating bazaars of Syria. Read our Syria Shopping Guide below and we will tell you all you need to know to get the best deals whilst shopping in Syria. After a busy day spent haggling in the bazaars you'll probably be needing some rest and relaxation, so check out our Syria Restaurant Guide to find some places to chill out. For some local tips, and some suggested places to shop, check out the local shopping scene in our destinations below:
Hamadiyeh Souk: The most happening souk in all of Syria, Hamadiyeh Souk is situated around half a kilometre away from the old city of Damascus on the way to the Umayyad Mosque. This souk has its origins in the Ottoman Rule under the then ruler Sultan Abdul-Hamid and is named after him. It has a high iron wall around it. This is one of Syria's most bustling commercial areas, and is a one-stop place for all your shopping needs. Handicrafts, food, mosaic, silk, embroidered brocade, and all kinds of souvenirs can be found here.
Souk Al-Warekeen: For the finest in Syrian and Arab literature, among other books, head to the Souk Al-Warekeen and Katebeen, on the way to Hamadiyeh. The name roughly translates to ‘a market of writers'. Even if you're not the poetic sort, pick up a book of some light Syrian poetry and allow the muezzin's call from the nearby Umayyad Mosque and the call of the birds to transport you into a different time.
Souk Al-Saghah: This is a jewellery-only souk, contained within four walls because of the expensive items on sale inside. Window displays take your breath away and make the souk look like a piece of jewellery itself. Hone your bargaining skills to perfection before you go looking for some stunning pieces in antique and contemporary jewellery.
Souk Al-Qishani: This was actually an old bath known for its marble tiles. Today it's a dowry souk.
Souk Al-Aragheel: The very effervescently named Souk Al-Aragheel is near the Hamadiyeh Souk that sells personalised hookahs, and the name literally translates to ‘Hubbly Bubbly Market'! With a name as effusive as that, it's no wonder that this souk gets the most number of tourists who're on the lookout for hookahs that they can personalise to gift to people back home.
Khan Jumrok: Khan Jumrok is also known as ‘Souk Tafadely Ya Sit', which translates to "Come on in, lady!" This is a garments-only market, catering mostly to women. Silks, cottons, brocades, and embroidered keffiyehs are some of the many fabrics that you get here. The shop owners and merchants are an enthusiastic lot and add to the pleasure of shopping with their friendly banter.
Souk Al-Qababiya: If wooden accessories are your thing, this is the bazaar to go to. Qababib actually means ‘wooden slipper'. You will find wooden home accessories, wooden handicrafts, wooden slippers and lots more here.
Look out for keffiyehs, the traditional garb of Arabs, made of thick garments with lace fringes in either black or red. These are actually meant to be worn by men, and come with an 'iqal', the black rod to tie it with, but they're loose enough for summer wear and colourful enough to show off anywhere in the world. They're available in a variety of colours.
Silk being one of the prime exports of Syria, do look up some silk merchants. Remember to visit a few to get an idea about rates and perfect your art of bargaining before you venture to buy. You'll find stunning brocade work embroidered with silver or gold thread. You can also buy hand-printed cotton clothes and garments, with the trademark Samra gold embroidery of Hama.
For the artsy traveller, you can buy brass pieces that are mostly engraved by hand, with embedded silver in various designs. You can also look at intricately painted cloth portraits and wall hangings of heroes and personalities of Syrian folklore.
You also find hand-woven rugs made of pure wool, with intricate designs and sturdy enough to last a life time. Another souvenir you can pick up is mosaic tiles embedded with mother-of-pearl and coloured wood. And if glasswork fascinates you, be sure to look for glass blowers who will make pretty table pieces, glasses, lamps and other showpieces as you watch them.
With all these in store and more, Syria is a must-shop destination for the shopaholic tourist!