Damascus tours and excursions
Driving and bus tours
The bigger hotels are connected to travel agents that can set up a guided tour of Damascus by private taxi or a group tour by bus. Good travel agents like Silk Road Travel, Adonis Travel and Jasmin Tours organise day tours of the city including the National Museum, the Azem Palace, the Umayyad Mosque, Saladin's tomb, Straight Street, the Christian Quarter, shopping in the Hamidiyyeh Souk, and a drive to Qassioun Mountain in the evening. They can also organise private tours to Palmyra, Aleppo or a village in the Anti-Lebanon Mountains by air-conditioned car.Tel: (011) 223 0500 ; (011) 513 4850 ; (011) 231 7597.
Sednaya and Maaloula
A small Christian settlement in the hills 27km (17 miles) north of Damascus, Sednaya is believed to be the place where Noah planted the first vine after the Flood. The sixth-century Convent of Our Lady draws thousands of pilgrims to its miraculous icon of the Virgin, believed to be painted from life by St Luke. A taxi-ride (25km/15.5 miles) through the spectacular Anti-Lebanon Mountains takes you to one of the most picturesque villages in the country and another Christian enclave, Maaloula. Here too there are several churches and it is one of the few places in the world where Aramaic, the language of Jesus, is still spoken.
A three-hour bus ride northeast of Damascus, in the middle of the desert, is the ancient Roman settlement of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The modern town of Tadmor has hotels, restaurants and the Archaeological Museum with ceramics, sculpture and jewellery found on the site. The ancient town requires at least a day to visit, with the Temple of Bel, the Great Colonnade, theatre, agora and forum. Further out are several spectacular tombs and the Arab castle of Qalaat ibn Maan has spectacular views over the city.