When I decided to travel to Syria the first thing everyone said was of course: ‘are you crazy!?’. An understandable reaction but it didn’t change my mind. I found out it was safe to visit Syria and their outstanding tourist attractions were on my bucketlist for many years. For many years this country was topping the bucketlist of many travelers and no wonder because there are so many amazing things to do and places to visit in Syria. But when the war in 2011 started, everything changed...
First I will list the best things to do in Syria before I tell you more about my trip, about the safety issues traveling to Syria in 2021, give you some more Syria travel tips and an ultimate Syria itinerary to start planning your trip.
Apart from Palmyra and Latakia, all the Syria attractions and tourist destinations listed below I was able to visit myself on a 1-week Syria itinerary. At the end of this blog I will also show you my Syria itinerary and tell you more how I traveled around and got passed all the checkpoints.
For many years this was the most iconic Syria tourist attraction, but unfortunately it suffered heavily during the Syrian War and a lot of this historical site got destroyed. This archeological site and the most popular tourist attraction in Syria was built in 200 AD by the Romans. The ruins of this city are so iconic that I remember them from one of the first travel books I once got when I was a kid. Palmyra was one of the reasons I badly wanted to visit Syria.
As of June 2021 you are able to visit Palmyra again, but unfortunately I did not get a permit to travel to Palmyra in 2019. Yes, you needed a special permit. This has nothing to do with your visa, this permit has to be personally approved by the high officials in the military.
Some tourists are lucky to get a permit (no extra costs, just safety measures), some are not. But on the other hand now I have a valid reason to travel to Syria again in the future.
2. Krak des Chevaliers
One of the most preserved medieval castles in the world can be found in Syria on a hill not too far from the city of Homs. It was built in the 11th century and its size is truly impressive. It endured the Syrian war pretty damn well, but looking at its majestic size I am pretty sure it will still be there another thousand years from now. Krak des Chevalier was one of my Syria highlights.
When I caught the first glimpse of Krak de Chevalier I was in awe and after taking many photos from outside we toured for almost 2 hours inside the castle. Our guide was telling one interesting story after the other. There are many hidden rooms and the view from the top is amazing. Read more about it my Krak des Chevalier blog.
When we sat down for a tea after visiting Bosra we heard that we were the first European tourists in 9 years! I couldn’t believe my eyes, because when you travel to Syria make sure to include this in your itinerary if possible! The Bosra amphitheater and the ruins of the old city are one of the best things to do in Syria in 2021 for sure.
Sorry Italians, but the massive amphitheater in Bosra is much more impressive than the Colosseum in Rome. This place blew my mind and writing about this place to visit in Syria makes me smile again. On the other hand it also makes me a little sad knowing that this unique tourist attraction has been unable to visit for so many years. Bosra is located in the south of Syria on the Jordan border, about 1,5 hours drive from Damascus.
Behind the Amphitheater you will find the ruins of the old city of Bosra dating back to 200 AD. Incredible to walk through as well and even our guide had not been in 9 years time. He was just as much a tourists as me. According to his words most of this Syria attraction has endured the war pretty well.
For videos about visiting Bora click here to see my Instagram stories.
Now that I first told you my 3 favorite things to do in Syria I can start with the capital. Being one of the oldest capitals in the world, Damascus obviously is a meltpot of cultures and a piece of ancient history can be found on every street corner. Small doors opening to amazing courtyards, hidden underground churches, the big Damascus souk and of course the the most impressive Umayyad Mosque, one of the best things to do in Damascus. Also don’t forget to get lost in the narrow streets in the Christian quarter and for a good rooftop restaurant with views over the city go to Naranj.
One of my best Damascus travel tips is to go on a guided city tour and I can recommend you the following guide: Ghassan +963 933 334 416. This amazingly friendly and patient guide was a legend, so kind and calm. He is a Christian living in Damascus all his life, who can tell you the hidden corners in the Christian quarter as well as in the Muslim areas.
On top of that one of my Syria travel tips is to go out at night! Yes go party in the Christian Quarter in Damascus, there are many bars and even some rooftops. It is totally safe in Damascus to walk around on your own at night. At least that was my experience!
See here the videos on my Instagram story about Damascus here including the party, sleeping in a mosque, the churches and getting lost in the narrow streets.
The second biggest city and a major Syria tourist attraction before the war. Not that long ago it reopened its doors to international tourists and when you are visiting Syria try to add this to your Syria itinerary. Unfortunately two of the best things to do in Aleppo got completely destroyed during the war: the Aleppo Great Mosque and the Aleppo Souk. The mosque is closed for visitors as it is one big construction site, but the souk is open, although only reconstructed for about 10% at the moment.
So why bother going you might ask yourself when it is almost completely destroyed in the Syrian War? Right now the Aleppo great Mosque is under construction and they are rebuilding it from the ground. The Aleppo souk was in total 12 kilometers long and is a living history. Here I met several people, sat down and had tea with them while listening to their stories about the past, the war and the future. Strolling through the remains of the Aleppo souk was one of my Syria highlights, an emotional experience.
Aside from the destruction there is the Aleppo citadel, a castle on top of a hill. The Aleppo castle is survived the war and is an amazing place to visit in Aleppo. You can climb all the way to the top of one of the watch towers which will give you a 360 view over this massive city.
At night the area around the citadel is extremely lively and the walk around the castle walls is like a boulevard with tea houses and restaurants dotted along the way. We went out partying, see my Instagram stories. Visiting Aleppo on you trip to Syria will be totally worth it and don’t forget to eat traditional Aleppo Kebab.
6. Beehive Houses at Al Jaboul Lake
Because of the ongoing war in the Northwest of Syria the highway between Hama and Aleppo is closed. To visit Aleppo you have to make a detour through the desert, but that will bring you to the remains of the famous Beehive Villages. These mud houses were designed for life in the desert but deserted already for a long time. These deserted villages now became one of the Syria tourist attractions. You can find them around the Al Jaboul Lake.
7. Salt Lake (Al Jaboul Lake)
Syria has its own salt lake worth adding to your list of things to do in Syria. It is located just an hour Southeast of Aleppo and perfect to add to your itinerary together with the Beehive villages. The highway towards Aleppo follows along the Salt Lake for a bit and you can’t miss it. The friendly workers will surely invite you for a tea when you stop here.
Personally I was not a really big fan of Hama. Not saying it is not worth visiting, but it is not topping my list of best things to do in Syria. Hama is famous for its impressive waterwheels and historical irrigation system. The wooden water wheels can reach lengths up to 30 meters in diagonal. The city is dotted with a lot of them.
The narrow streets in the old city are also worth strolling through and there you will find a restaurant hidden in an amazing courtyard. It reminded me a bit about my trip to Iran where I found loads of these kind of places. The name of the restaurant is Aspasia. When visiting Hama definitely go here for dinner or lunch, see the videos on my Instagram Stories 2.
At night the streets of Hama were like one big night market, almost like Thailand style. It also was the most conservative place I have ever been after Iran.
Unfortunately Homs is one fo the places that suffered a lot in the Syrian War and many Syria tourist attractions got destroyed. I definitely don’t encourage you to visit remains of a war zone, but what I saw in Homs was unreal. Strolling through the endless destruction in Homs, made me rethink about a lot of things in life. The sad reality of what people do to each other…
In the middle of the destruction in Homs there is a beautiful restored mosque. It was one of the most impressive things to do in Syria. While sitting inside a beautiful restored mosque in the heart of the most worst destructive area in Syria I simply lost it. Visiting Homs will be emotional, though worth it on your trip to Syria!
Visiting Sednaya was put on my Syria itinerary instead of going to Palmyra. Looking back Sednaya was a great place to visit in Syria. This mountain village located 1,500 meter above sea level is most famous for its Greek Orthodox Monastary on top of a hill. According to the legends of the Christians AND the Muslims Holy Virgin Mary appeared here at the Our Lady of Saidnaya Monastery. Climb up to the top of the monastery for amazing views over this mountain village.
Sednaya is located only 30 kilometers north of Damascus and easy to visit on a day trip from Damascus.
According to many Syria travel guides similar to Sednaya, but to me visiting Maaloula was even more interesting. To me visiting Maaloula felt like a fresh wind. Most places to visit in Syria are Muslim orientated, but Maaloula is more about the history of Jesus Christ. Maaloula is one of the only 3 remaining villages where they still speak the Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ.
There are several things to do in Maaloula, like visiting the Saint Sarkis Monastery, the Saint Thecla Monastery, the statue of Virgin Maria, a walk through a narrow canyon and the taking in the view over this beautiful mountain village from one of the viewpoints.
All these amazing places to visit in Maaloula made it one of the best things to do in Syria for me! It is about 30 minutes north of Sednaya, fairly close to Damascus as well.
The religious music that was coming from the speaker of the Saint Sarkis Monastery on top of the hill and blasting over this mountain village literally gave me goosebumps. You should see my Instagram Story about Maaloula. Another amazing moment was a lady that came came to pray in Aramaic inside the church. So many magical moments, I really loved visiting Maaloula!
Because of the way our Syria itinerary was created we had to skip Latakia and I got a lot of ‘shit’ for it from Syrians. Just for fun of course, but according to many of my followers this is one of the best places to visit in Syria. Fancy some days at the Mediterranean Sea then visit Latakia. The 4th biggest city in the country houses several historical buildings in the city center, but is more famous for its beautiful bays, beaches and delicious seafood.
The city of Tartus was my first stop in Syria, regarded the safest city during the Syrian War. This Mediterranean coastal city is your base for visiting Amrit, the best preserved temple in the world of the Phoenacians dating back more than 4,000 years ago. Our guide himself did not visit this famous archeological site in more than 9 years. You can also find several tombs here in the countryside close to Tartus. Read more about visiting this Syria tourist attraction in my Tartus travel blog.
Unfortunately some amazing things to do in Syria are not safe to go at the time of writing this article.
14. Qalaat Al Madiq
In Qalaat Al Madiq you would be able to find amazing Roman ruins of an old city that has a similar feel to Palmyra. There is also a castle on top of a hill worth visiting. Only in May 2019 the Syrian Armed Forces retook this town from the rebels. Tourists have been back visiting Qalaat Al Madiq. It is one my list of places to visit in Syria when I return.
Unfortunately due to time restrictions I had no time to visit Daraa on my trip to Syria. But if you after all the dusty desert towns also want a slice of green nature then make your way South to Daraa. Here you will find canyons, green hills, waterfalls and more spectacular nature just 10 kilometer from the Jordan border.
Just like Busra it has not been visited by foreign tourists for many years. Im not saying it is safe to visit at the moment, I would leave that up to your Syria travel agency to decide. Daraa is where the Syrian conflict got sparked with the arrest of 15 youngsters when they painted anti-government slogans on buildings.
In case you get a chance and you feel it is safe to visit I would add this highlight to your Syria itinerary.
Is it safe to travel to Syria?
Of course that is the first question I would like to discuss. Obviously I didn’t wanna risk my life to see all the Syria attractions so I did a little research. Mainstream media are not the places to do your research. When you are ready to travel to Syria in 2021, Im pretty sure you are aware of that already.
I reached out to people that lately took a trip to Syria. How? Social media, blogs, etc. These are the people that can really tell you if it is safe to travel to Syria. Instagram is a good source, but you have already found my Syria travel blog and I can tell you I did NOT feel uncomfortable or whatsoever on my week long trip to Syria.
Syria travel advice
Yes there is a negative travel advice for Syria and that is because officially there is still a war ongoing. Well, let me tell you that is not where you want to go and you won’t even be able to of course. All the things to do in Syria that I am showing you are safe to visit. My advice is to go travel to Syria with a reputable local travel company.
The company I used to travel to Syria with Golden Target Tours. The company is run for more than 30 years by a Syrian man called Khaldoun Alamy. Write them an email and tell them you come through me, he might have a nice offer for you! ;)
My trip to Syria
This Syria travel blog is written based on MY OWN experiences on my trip to Syria at the end of 2019. It was MY OWN idea to travel to Syria, no one has forced me to go, nor did anyone force me to write travel blogs about Syria.
To date it is the most expensive trip I have ever done in 7 years around the world as a full time traveler. My tour was arranged with an independent Syria travel agency running Syria tours for more than 30 years.
All my videos about my trip to Syria can be found in my Instagram Stories highlights, I recommend you to have a look to see the good, the bad and the ugly about traveling to Syria in 2019. There are 3 different stories on my Instagram @traveltomtom: Syria 1, Syria 2 and Syria 3.
The reason I wanted to visit Syria was not only to see all the fabulous places to see in Syria, but also to get in touch with the amazingly friendly Syrian people and show the world that NOT everything about Syria is negative!
Yes I feel deeply saddened for those Syrians that had to run for their lives and are not able to go back to their homeland. But let me assure you that I travel to learn, to become a better person from all that I experience on the road. The only people I wanted to support with my trip to Syria are those Syrians I met on the street, the locals.
Best Syria itinerary in 2021
To tick off all the above mentioned safe things to do in Syria I recommend you travel to Syria for at least 1 week. At the moment almost all trips to Syria start from Beirut, Lebanon.
Day 1: Beirut to Tartus/Latakia - (A,B)
Day 2: Krak des Chevalier - Homs - Salt Lake (C,D,E)
Day 3: Aleppo (F)
Day 4: Hama - Palmyra (G,H)
Day 5: Sednaya - Maaloula (I,J)
Day 6: Damascus (L)
Day 7: Busra - Daara (K)
Syria travel blogs
I hope all my Syria travel tips, places to visit and things to do were helpful for your upcoming trip to Syria. I also wrote a couple more personal Syria travel blogs about my first days. In my blog about Tartous you can read about my first impressions of Syria and the border crossing from Lebanon to Syria. In my Krak des Chevalier blog you can read all about my visit to one of my favorite things to do in Syria.
Curious with which Syria travel agency I arranged my trip or any other questions about my trip to Syria then please send me a message on my Instagram @traveltomtom and I am happy to help you out sending you my contact and help in any other way I can.
Enjoy your trip to Syria!