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Damascus Travel Guide

About Damascus

Travel advice for Damascus is constantly changing due to current events. Keep updated with the latest Syria travel advice.

Until 2011, Damascus was one of the jewels of the Middle East, a city famous for friendly locals, mediaeval architecture and a straggle of bazaars that could have sprung fully formed from the pages of Arabian Nights.

Now, however, things are very different. While much of central Damascus remains unaffected, the suburbs are the sight of an ongoing battle of attrition between government forces and rebels of varying ideologies. Outside the city, Syria is blighted by one of the bloodiest civil wars of modern times as well as an Islamist insurgency led by the brutal jihadis of ISIS.

That such a state of affairs exists is made even more tragic by the fact that, in its pre-war days, Damascus was being described as ‘the new Marrakesh’ thanks to its atmospheric alleys and the centuries of history.

Founded between 10,000 and 8,000 B.C, the Syrian capital is the oldest continuously inhabited city on the planet with the Umayyads, the Romans, Mamluks and Ottomans among those to pass through.

Traces of their rule can still be seen in the magnificent Azzam Palace, the hulking, fortified Citadel and the Mausoleum of Salah al-Din – the Mamluk leader better known in the West as Saladin. But nowhere is this multi-layered history more apparent than in the Umayyad Mosque, which is considered the fourth-holiest place in the world for Muslims but has been alternatively an Assyrian temple, a monument to Jupiter and a Christian church.

Modern Damascus has much to recommend it too, not least in the bazaars, Souq al-Hamidiyya in particular, that spread through the city’s winding streets. Although there’s little in the way of alcohol, the area also boasts convivial cafés that serve sweet tea and even sweeter baklava pastries as well as a dose of local gossip. These simple pleasures, along with the chance to see magnificent palaces and monuments, once made Damascus one of the loveliest cities in the Middle East. Here’s to hoping it will again when the fighting stops.

Key facts

Population:
2,500,000
Latitude:
33.519067
Longitude:
36.294442

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Sultan Hotel

For many years now the best budget option in Damascus, the Sultan is popular with travellers for its excellent location near the old city, its friendly and helpful staff and the basic, but clean rooms with an unchanged motel-style1960s décor. It is advisable to book ahead.

Four Seasons Hotel Damascus

The Four Seasons Hotel is the top hotel in town, and with 23 storeys it has become a landmark on the Damascus skyline. Set in a landscaped park, opposite the National Museum, it is only a short walk from the old city. The rooms are sumptuously decorated and have great views over Damascus and the Barada River.

Cham Palace

The Cham Palace, located right in the heart of the city, is one of the oldest luxury hotels in Damascus. The rooms command great views over the city and Mount Qassioun and the lobby is a popular meeting point for Syrian businessmen. The hotel has five good restaurants, including the Étoile d'Or, the city's only revolving restaurant, on the top floor.

Omayad Hotel Damascus

Centrally located, Omayad Hote Damascus is a popular four-star business hotel in Damascus. The hotel has a grand lobby and spacious soundproofed rooms with air conditioning, satellite TV and a free Wi-Fi internet connection.

Beit Rumman

Beit Rumman is a recent addition to Damascus's burgeoning boutique hotel scene. Located in Bab Touma, Beit Rumman is a converted, 17th-century house complete with its own cellar and courtyard. It offers six bedrooms, each uniquely decorated.

Beit Zaman Hotel

This impressive, 300-year-old Ottoman palace is located in the heart of Bab Touma, a vibrant neighbourhood. There are 28 rooms on offer, and while the room rates are marginally cheaper compared to other boutique hotels in Damascus, guests have complained that Beit Zaman can be a little sterile. Nevertheless, the hotel is in the heart of the city, and it boasts a well-maintained inner courtyard.